Over the past few days I have had the chance to really dig in to the Invalids disc Eunoia and find myself craving more. This Oregon/Pennsylvania two piece just released their debut on Tuesday and I have dug through all I could to find out more about the band including Pete Davis’ solo material. Needless to say, I have been pretty excited about Eunoia and jumped at the opportunity to interview Pete Davis (guitars/programming/vocals). Yes I exceeded the standard 5 Questions, but I had a lot to cover!
Cal: One of the things that surprised me a bit when I read the profile on your bandcamp page is that you and bassist Nick Shaw live on opposite sides of the country from each other. Considering how fluid and tight the music is, it wasn’t what I expected to read. How do you feel that it effects your writing process? Do you guys plan on continuing the project this way?
PD: Haha well, it actually works out quite nicely the way we do things. We communicate musically using a program called Tabit (www.tabit.net), which is a tablature-based MIDI sequencer type thing. This is where I put in all the parts, sometimes from riffs I made up on my guitar, and sometimes just out of my head (to learn later and realize they’re way harder than I thought lol). This is also where I do (most of) the drum programming. I actually write all the music, then when a song is completed, I send the completed tab (with guitars, bass, and drums tabbed out) to Nick and he decides whether or not to add or change things based on his own skills and playing style. Most of the really awesome things he does, like the sick tapping riffs in Sherman and School Social, were his additions. I had originally written the songs to be done with a fake bass using VST (virtual studio technology) much in the same way I do the drums. Now that I have a real, flesh-based musician doing the parts, I can write them in cooler ways (like Cranes and Steinborgium, for which I had Nick in mind the whole time I wrote it).
I had a friend tell me that I should never meet Nick; that the mystique of us being somewhat strangers is a really interesting part of our bio or whatever. Lol I had never really thought anything of it, but figured it would be an interesting side note. Now it seems it’s a big selling point, from what people in blogs have been saying. I’ve actually done a similar thing with my Surface Area album (surfacearea.bandcamp.com), where Jon, the drummer, and I collaborated without ever playing together. He and I had actually met before, though, so it didn’t sound as cool.
Cal: I have been a pretty vocal critic of the last 5+ years of the math rock genre (even to go as far as saying the genre died after American Don). Bands like yours and Maps and Atlases are taking the genre in new directions and potentially bringing it to a broader base of fans. What is your view on the current state of math-rock? Where do you think Invalids fits in?
PD: What I like to say to people who have never heard “math rock,” or who are otherwise really put-off by the term, is that it’s a broad spectrum. There are certain aspects which are characteristic throughout the whole spectrum, like focus on instrument technique, odd or otherwise complicated time signatures or rhythms, etc. But on one side of the spectrum we have really zany, noisy bands with brain-melting time sig changes and an almost (or completely) impossible-to-follow direction; bands like Tera Melos (less so on Patagonian Rats) or Nuito. Then there is the opposite end of the spectrum, more focused on melodic guitar work like tapping and fingerpicking, laid over relatively simpler meter usage. Bands like This Town Needs Guns are more toward this end, or The Bulletproof Tiger, Maps and Atlases (old stuff more so), etc.
My goal for Invalids was to be a good blend of both sides. I wanted there to be a sort of catchy pop punk sensibility amidst a storm of chaotic noodling and variation. I just can’t do verses and choruses and stuff like that; my choir conductor in college (lol choir) was very adamant that music should be changing constantly. Be it the notes, the dynamics, the lyrics, whatever, but nothing should ever be repeated in such a way that it could have just been copy/pasted. I completely agree. That’s one of the best parts about math rock for me, because pretty much all of it has a very linear (as opposed to cyclical) song structure.
Still, I wanted to set Invalids apart, at least in some ways, because I feel like the genre is somewhat contingent upon experimentation. I figured out Maps and Atlases was doing tph triplets (as I call them; tap-pull-hammer). Then I saw (in youtube videos :-0) Nick Reinhart using his right-hand index and middle fingers to play two separate notes. And I heard Tim Collis and I had no idea what he was doing lol. But I figured I would try to do something similar, but something I didn’t hear anyone doing. So I started trying to do tph triplets with two fingers at once (this is why open tuning is so beneficial). I tried to do rolls with three fingers on my right hand, or slides with both hands, or focused polyrhythms like quintuplets. I tried to not use a pick at all. It was never really about skill or technical proficiency or anything; I really just wanted to try new things and happened to build some chops in the process
Cal: The music on your “The Pottsville Conglomerate” solo record is a stark contrast to your work with Invalids and is more folk leaning with lush harmonies and vibrant overdubs. In our original correspondence you mentioned that audience for your solo work was a lot more narrow than that of Invalids. Why do you think that is? (I think it would be the other way around)
Here are two different versions of the track “Diastole” from Invalids and Pete Davis Solo
- Diastole (from Invalids – Eunoia)
- Diastole (from Pete Davis solo single)
PD: Haha, well, it kind of depends. Invalids is much more poppy and catchy, so casual listeners who aren’t really aware of/interested in cool things like key changes or accidentals or polyrhythms, etc., can still get something out of it. Pottsville is just super heavy. Also, it’s depressing as hell lololol. I love music that is just gut-wrenchingly sad, and I’ve always had a hard time finding good examples of it, so I figured I’d try to write my PD solo (or I guess like super solo) material to fit my own desire of that musical emotional agony. Plus the songs are like 10 minutes long. I personally love it, of course, because I wrote it to love it, but I definitely get that not everyone is as into super-depressing epic indie music with creepy lyrics and screaming bluesy a cappella spirituals as I am.
Cal: You say that the Maps and Atlases album “Every Place is A House” motivated you to learn the two handed tapping technique, how long did it take you to become proficient at it? Did you have any pitfalls along the way?
PD: I’m really not sure when it all came together. At the time I heard their song, I think it was around 2009. I was really interested in it and started doing nothing but tapping on my guitar whenever I played. I’ve never been much of a scheduled-practice kind of guy. I just pick up a guitar and improvise the whole time. I think the only song I officially know how to play all the way through that was written by someone else is A Spoonful of Slurry by Tera Melos (hence my youtube video). But it definitely started slowly. It took me a few days to get up to speed with what M&A were doing in the beginning of that song. Then I decided to switch to open tuning so that I could rely more on tapping and pulling single notes and no matter where I pulled off from, it would sound okay. I basically just played a lot, and I think after about three months I recorded the first three demos (Diastole, J Whiting, and Worth). I had written them probably a month or two before then, and could barely play them when I wrote them. Actually, I couldn’t play Worth. I had to practice a lot to get those ones down, and I guess that practice really helped.
Then I moved to California for six months to do an internship at Gallo winery, and while my wife and I were there, we lived in a 1-bedroom studio apartment with like 400 sqft. Needless to say it was cramped, so the only instrument I brought with me was my Yamaha Pacifica because it was small, light, and forgivable if something bad happened to it. But for six months I didn’t play any other instrument but the clean, unamplified electric guitar, and I don’t think I even brought any picks, so it was just the Invalids style all the way. Other things just sort of happened, like my speed with my left hand, or being able to slides across like 7 frets and land on the right note.
Cal: Speaking of that, a few select parts of your profile stick out including “We are nice and approachable and will teach you how to play the songs if you want” and the posting of the tunings that you used on the record. I can’t say that I have ever seen a musician so forthcoming about his writing and it seems that you are trying to make the technical/musician aspect of your songs accessible to all. Can you expand on this a bit and explain what made you want to be so transparent with the technical aspects of your writing?
PD: Maybe it’s guilt haha. Because of the nature of the “band,” we can’t really play shows (despite how much we’d both love to). Doing videos and sharing tunings or tabs and being as interactive as possible with people who are curious or into it is the best we can do to stay in touch, so to speak. Plus this stuff is really cool to watch haha. When I first heard Tera Melos’ Drugs to the Dear Youth I didn’t really like it, but after seeing youtube videos and watching how they were actually playing the songs, I was like who0o0oa and fell in love. So just in case anyone else might have the same feeling, I figure I might as well be as transparent as possible. Also who knows, maybe somebody will learn all the songs and start a touring band with us lol. But that would cause all sorts of issues with my being in grad school and all.
To expand more, since all the songs are already written in tab form, I’m planning on uploading them (as I have done in the past) to the database at tabit.net. Of course, they’re .tbt files, so they can only be opened in the program, but I can export a text file if anyone wants to see them. Or if they’re like “yo Pete show me how you play that riff at 2:55 in whatever” I could do a video or something. Haha I don’t know, I just want everyone to know that Invalids loves them and we can all be friends. This is a new thing for me, you know? We’re not really a fully-functional “band” yet, we’re still just a couple of guys that are into music and want to share our own.
Cal: You already have a full length record out this year, what else can we expect from Invalids in 2012?
PD: We’re really interested in doing a split with a friend of ours, so hopefully that works out. And who knows, we could end up doing collaborations or remixes from electronic artists, etc. The limits are endless, I suppose, because we’re entirely self-sufficient for writing and recording. If someone wants to go in on a project, we can comply in short order. But we’ll surely also be busy with other projects; I’m redoing all my old PD material now that I have much better recording techniques and skills. Nick does a LOT of bass-for-hire business for friends and has a post-rock project he’s constantly working on when he gets the chance. So yeah, surely more music at least!