Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hollow & Akimbo: Sharp fluidity

I sent a letter to Hollow & Akimbo. 

You haven't met them yet?

They're an Ann Arbor area trio that blend exuberant synthesizers over buzzy bass lines, muscled post-punk rhythms and whipping guitars under these affable-to-agitated lyrics that go from mid-high indie croon into creaky soulful falsettos, turning on a danceable dime. (This edgy, erratic and aerodynamic delivery, vocally, actually inspired that skeletal-sounding "akimbo" part of their name.)

One part rock, one part darkly atmospheric electronica, one part weirdly soulful synth-pop... And then, I don't know what the other 25% could be... In fact, it's really only just becoming to be...

The band formed less than a year ago. Local listeners will recognize Jon Visger's voice (as well as his abstract ideas on how to approach pop-song construction) from his comparable work with Mason Proper. Brian Konicek contributed his exceptional guitar talents to that band...but now the pair are making music together as Hollow & Akimbo. Mike Higgins, meanwhile, our percussionist, fostered a creative collaboration as the talented sidemen for Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr (a.k.a. Daniel Zott and Josh Epstein).

Sidemen no longer - the trio released their debut E.P. last month (Pseudoscience).
And next week they'll have a 5-song singles package (with remixes) of their latest song, "Singularity," (streaming above).
But tomorrow - January 17th - they perform at Woodruff's in Ypsilanti (36 Cross St.) with The Cold Wave and El Dee  

If anything, I'd say that Hollow & Akimbo sound like the results of an experiment where the musical mad scientists decided they weren't going to prevaricate over how far they'd explore one genre, vibe, mood, sound or instrument... Fuck synth-rock - it's always too much one thing or the other and often failing to realize all its potential or employ all of its feasible aural reactions. Most of their first batch of songs don't hold back from any grandiosity -when it comes to synth-effects, or dynamic guitars, or keep-keep-keep-going drum clasps, or those eerie atmospheric screeches splashing across the bridge (did I just hear a whale singing?) ...wait, there's Jon's voice teased up and breathless as the hyper-techno beat...with no turning back...

So anyway... I wrote them a letter.

And they decided to each take turns writing a sentence of response...

So this, really, is the comprehensive response (encompassing Higgins/Konicek/Visger)

In what ways did this band get you out of some of your comfort zones - and what, instrumentally and in approach, has distinguished this from your past projects? 
"This band has always been about exploration within the boundaries that come along with playing traditional instruments, but...informed by the strengths of electronic-styles of arrangement. How can we make each element distinct and interesting...on its own, while still serving the whole?

"We've been working on this batch of songs for a while behind closed doors. We'd made music together for a long time before this and we were finding that we suddenly had a clearer sense than ever about what we wanted to focus on..."

That clarity of musical vision in view, what did you wind up going for? 
"Musical notations of beautiful fluidity juxtaposed with sharpness, primitive yet somehow simultaneously sophisticated percussion and...a certain airiness that everything becomes engulfed in...

Hollow...airiness. I picture arms "akimbo" with your elbows out, yet, they're framing a "hollow' viscera of a body... That looks or sounds morbid. 
"We don't think of it as morbid, but otherwise you're not far off the mark on the imagery. The "hollow" side of the equation represents the ghostly, ethereal air that envelops everything, and the general wispy lightness of (Visger)'s voice. It's also represented in the lyrics in the more introspective, lost-in-your-own head kind of disconnection from reality....having trouble connecting with other people and the world. "Akimbo" speaks to the more rigid, skeletal frame of the rhythms, drums and more jagged guitar elements."

How'd the first show go and how has the live approach improved, evolved -or what do you hope to do next? 
"All first shows are nerve-wracking, no matter how prepared or disciplined you think you may be. No catastrophes, though. It was at Mittenfest, a festival, so a soundcheck wasn't realistic. But, we channeled our nervousness into positive energy and the crowd was feeding it back to us. We have the philosophy that a live show should always be more exciting than the recorded versions of the songs; not necessarily cleaner or tighter. The studio allows a thousand chances to get a moment right, the show only allows one, you really have to be living in that moment and communicate it to the audience.

The songs sound, from the studio, to be pretty meticulously crafted... that still translates live?
"We designed the songs to have sections where we can open up and improvise a bit live, without breaking the song or getting noodly. It makes it more fun for us. It especially manifests on the drum side, we're lucky that (Higgins) intuitively makes those moments really special.

So after a few months developing it...what's this band', identity, aura, vibe...what's it come to represent for you...
" distilled subset of our musical interests. We aren't trying to make it encompass all the different things we would like to create in our lives. It's very pure in that sense. We just want to have a great time making great sounds, and are perfectly comfortable potentially being a rare bird. We're fortunate to have Quite Scientific Records, who completely gets that and sees it as a strength instead of a weakness..."

Hollow & Akimbo, that much more energized by the recent addition of Higggins, have new music coming out soon, as we mentioned. But, they're already working on the next batch of songs. The letter they'd sent signed off:
"...we just want to create, create, create..."

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