Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Zoos of Berlin - Taxis LP (playing 7/31 for Phono-Phest at the Crofoot in Pontiac)

“Just madness…” Dan Clark says, shaking his head.

Zoos of Berlin recorded their forthcoming full-length in what may has well have been an elevated mountainside base-camp. Or, maybe that’s a stretch for describing their six week residency on the 4th floor of the Russell Industrial Center. But bassist Dan Clark, rolling eyes and sighing, recalls the tiniest errands becoming arduous expeditions, involving lengthy bike rides through dark, cluttered street-like factory halls, boarding freight elevators, biking over freeways and lugging the loot back up to his band mate’s station, where they often recorded until sunrise.

Collin Dupuis, drummer and sound engineer, ribs Clark over never bringing a back pack while biking down from the mount, to which Clark sensitively shouts back that his car was dead. Indeed, his trusty steed of a minivan “truly gave everything” to this band, acting as custodian for amps and human musicians for years before expiring.

When I meet Zoos, they’re in the process of enhancing their new rehearsal space to accommodate recording, led by Dupuis’ knowledge of positioning sound-traps, testing with frequency sweeps and setting up sound-proof walls with oriented strand board. It’s not anything new for the band – as they had to build their own makeshift studio inside their dauntingly dusty and cavernous, 5000-square-foot space inside the Russell.

“A massive cavern,” says Clark, with keyboardist Will Yates to his left and singer/guitarist Trevor Naud just entering with this new space with a light clatter. “Within that cavern there was a caged-off area, a rectangular area, that we built floor-to-ceiling walls of wood pallets.” The moveable walls (made from scavenged wood) sound-proofed the cyclone fenced rectangle. Their own private shop inside the former auto parts factory was also equipped with a sink, a table/kitchen area, and another room, which former member Kevin Bayson designated as sleeping quarters. Food consisted of various organic treats from Trader Joes, salsa, sandwiches, pickled garlic and hummus.

“So, clearly this mountain has a nice delicatessen,” Clark submits, “and a gas station where I can buy ice, and,” his tone begrudgingly bristles, “…a Coney Island that will not let me bring my bike inside.”

Dupuis said the trick was gaining control over “the decay of the room” leading to sound bleeding through. Dupuis also notes the red, thick velour curtains hung around their recording space, (acting as sound barriers). I imagine their own personal Twin Peaks-ian red room.

Plus, with all those bike rides in the wee hours of the morning through a hallowed out factory, Yates said “it was like The Shining, basically.” Indeed, as Naud put it, “very Kubrick-ian.”

Perhaps it’s fitting that it would take considerable time and elbow grease (dusting, mopping, moving) before even pressing the record button. The Detroit quartet is the first to admit that they have a formidable and sweeping scrupulousness – particularly when it comes to the sculptor-esque diligence in approach to their recording. (After several years as a full band, they have only released an EP – Taxis is their first proper full length).

“We definitely got to make the album that we wanted to make,” said Yates, “by doing it ourselves it allowed us to make it a little more idiosyncratic.”

“That’s really what came out of it,” Dupuis says after rehashing all the Russell prep work, “would the album be as interesting…” if the band had gone a more traditional route? “In our minds,” said Dupuis, referencing the inspirational atmosphere of a spooky, crumbling cement factory, “it’s a whole psychological aspect.”

Dupuis used the space to capture all natural reverb, to add swooning warmth to the sound’s fuzzy accoutrements. Dupuis “re-amped” the vocals through a guitar amp, then recorded the sound of Naud’s wispy vocals wobbling through the halls of this unsung monument, or lachrymose reminder of former automotive prominence.

“The silence of that space,” says Naud, pausing, “this all sounds…poetic. That entire building is so expansive, you can site Kubrick, it just had this really strange quality, the building itself is an entity or character.”

For Zoos, it’s understandable that their anecdotal regaling of Taxis production would become consumed by the quirk of its setting – for one, some of the songs collected here have been written for six years – giving them an almost Gene Kelly like muscle-memory discipline in mastery of their chugging guitar riffs, bouncing keyboard buzzes and tightly locked rhythms.

Naud and Clark began collaborating in 2002, with Dupuis soon joining to provide the drums. This eventually turned into what would be finalized as the current make up of Zoos of Berlin (with Yates). Guitarist/trumpeter Bayson played with the band for few years, up until last fall, and contributed to both recordings.

The sound is a swirl of gossamer baroque-pop and cinematic poignancy, pulsing with reverb and a waltzy punk-shred – a delicious blend of weird and pleasing pop, with a reverence for tone and precision, but healthily balanced by a jazz-like spontaneity; stately splendor with burning guttural coarseness.

“I will say that I am very difficult to please when it comes to the music that I make,” said Clark. “(That’s) one reason that the projects I’ve been involved with over the years have taken so long to finish anything. And, I can say unequivocally, that I am completely satisfied with this record.”
“To me,” said Naud, “it’s an album full of periods. It’s not like, a span of time. To me, it encapsulates a lot of the last few years of life, which is a great feeling and you can listen to something that’s completed and you go through each one of those (songs) and remember feelings of when that track was being worked on…”

“Recording the way that we did, we captured something that would have been impossible in any other way,” said Clark. “It’s always going to be…” he trails off after his plastic cup of microbrew spills onto the floor.

“I feel really satisfied,” Naud picks up. “Maybe (Taxis) has a sentimental quality to it…that sounds so fucking cheesy though.”

“It’s been preserved,” Clark offers.

“…Documented,” surmises Dupuis.

“This space that we’re sitting in,” Naud glances around us, “it’s a result of, maybe, the mania leading up to the completion of (Taxis). We kinda went the long away around everything,” (here, Naud’s speaking literally, but I can’t help picturing Clark on his expeditious bike rides as metaphor), “we operate as a band very differently than a lot of our peers, because we…and I’m making claims here…the route (of recording at Russell) is certainly not on the pie chart of things to do ‘the easy way.’”

“But it’s our way,” Clark says.

“It’s our way,” Naud echoes.

Yates laughs, warmly, “We are, like, the most preposterous band, in some ways, that I’ve encountered.”

But Dupuis notes that the days of painstaking preparation, whittling, rehearsing, and taking “the long way around” will come to an end thanks to the space they’re currently setting up, thus that recording is “less of a process.”

“Post Taxis (recording) has been the sort where we’ve been asking questions later, and just getting them down,” says Clark.

Indeed. Fans of Zoos, myself included, as well as their friends in other bands, often prod them beside bars on random weekend nights, or catch them off stage from a local performance and ask, almost nagging, when that next record is going to come out!? This definitely “fuels the fire,” Yates says. “We haven’t even put out the first one and we’ve already started writing and recording the next one.”

“It’s never been a lack of confidence,” says Clark, “or lack of ideas. We have a very particular goal in mind and are willing to set aside other considerations to satisfy this one requirement…which is, that it be…just so!”

“Well, it’s about to change though,” Dupuis assures, then quips, “it’s about to become like Motown (in the 60’s). Zoo of Berlin’s about to become Motown.”

“We are putting it out ourselves,” said Naud, who does much of the band’s artwork in-house. “Which follows the Zoos template, DIY for now…”

“…very different from what DIY usually connotes,” says Yates. Indeed, the quartet’s adroitness and chemistry aside, you also have Dupuis’s skill at the boards and their ceaseless dedication (and/or obsessive crafting).

“There’s a pride when someone comes up and says, ‘When’s that record coming out?’” says Naud. “That’s a generous comment, like, ‘Hey-here’s a kick in the ass, I wanna hear what you’re doing!’”

“Nobody else could have made this record,” says Clark. “Nobody else would have chosen to make it the way that we did…”

“…with dirt and grime rubbed in our skins,” Dupuis exclaims and their eyes all twinkle with a reminiscence of breaking their backs in that cage. Dupuis and Clark both agree though, that with this new space, with the new songs being written and recorded with comparative quickness, that they haven’t given much thought to Taxis.

“But we haven’t forgotten,” Yates says mock-ominously.

“We're relieved that it's complete--and especially excited to move beyond the walls,” Naud said. “We intend to move quickly and release a second LP in the near future. And we're self-releasing everything at this point... which is very en vogue, right?

Oh, and by the way…, Taxis can mean:
1.arrangement or order, as in one of the physical sciences.
2.Biology. oriented movement of a motile organism in response to an external stimulus, as toward or away from light.
3.Surgery. the replacing of a displaced part, or the reducing of a hernia or the like, by manipulation without cutting.
4.Architecture. the adaptation to the purposes of a building of its various parts.

Medicine The moving of a body part by manipulation into normal position, as after a dislocation, fracture, or hernia.

Or... just the plural of taxi.

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