Moogfest Preview: Ahleuchatistas’ Shane Perlowin
Last year’s Location Location — the sixth album from avant-rockers Ahleuchatistas, and the first as a duo — is a remarkably revealing collection of songs. Moving between textured, drone-based pieces and tangled guitar-drums interplay, it shows the duo at its stylistic extremes, and covers plenty of ground in between. As it happens, that album was recorded in pieces, as guitarist Shane Perlowin and drummer Ryan Oslance figured out how to make the former trio function effectively as a two-piece.
The product of those experiments is the new, more cohesive album, Heads Full of Poison. Without losing any of the polarized elements — the intense, textural passages or the melodic rapids — the band seems to have found a new stylistic niche, more nuanced and versatile than anything it offered as a trio.
Naturally, Perlowin and Oslance are already testing those boundaries with new material. Their aesthetic restlessness is a defining trait, and one that links them directly to the spirit of instrument innovator Bob Moog, at whose titular music festival Ahleuchatistas will serve as Asheville music’s de facto representatives. This year, they’re the only local booked for an official festival set.
Shuffle’s Bryan C. Reed caught up with Perlowin by email to find out how the duo bridges cohesion and spontaneity, how it plans to address a festival audience and where the band’s music is headed next.
Shuffle: Location Location was recorded more piecemeal, as you navigated becoming a duo. Having settled into that configuration, how did you alter your approach for Heads Full Of Poison?
Shane Perlowin: Heads Full of Poison was, for the most part, written out, with several pieces composed in standard notation, then developed further in rehearsals and in concert. A lot of the sounds and strategies we arrived at on Location Location remain in our vocabulary and influenced the style and arrangement of the music on Heads Full… Location Location documents how two guys became a band.
Shuffle: From your standpoint, what do you get out of taking more time to rework and road-test your material before taking it into the studio?
SP: I think you end up with a more nuanced end result. There is a danger, of course, in losing the freshness of the music or in overworking it by spending too much time on it. But I think we avoided that by maintaining our commitment to spontaneity with each performance, and by the fact that about half of this album was written in August 2011 and not played together until our two-month European tour in October/November 2011. Ryan had literally not heard much of the music until we were performing concerts in Czech Republic. And, at that point, we began to develop the material as a unit, on stage night after night.
Shuffle: When you’re recording, how do you maintain spontaneity and improvisation, while still producing something that feels like a finished product?
SP: Our improvisations are not typically totally wide-open free-for-alls. They have rules, depending on the piece. We limit ourselves to a handful of ideas: a melodic fragment, a particular rhythm, the effects or preparations that we use to color the timbre of our instruments. In this way our improvs have a cohesion to them. You can navigate into uncharted territories from these agreed upon tactics, but you always come back to the pre-determined form. These improvised sections are interwoven with more calculated composed passages, that don’t allow quite as much wiggle room. But, still, even with the through-composed passages, we will change it up a little bit on every gig, but we remain together because we have played so much together. And not just in Ahleuchatistas. We have played a million jazz gigs together, Balkan music, we have backed up songwriters, played country gigs and improvised together. It takes time to develop that kind of communication, and you need to have chemistry right of the bat.
Shuffle: So, with Heads Full Of Poison finished and released, have you begun working on the next batch of material yet?
Shuffle: What’s been filling your live sets recently, or, what sort of musical directions have you been pursuing lately?
SP: On our recent Midwest tour, half the set was new material we have just started working on. It’s more rhythmic and textural. And we mixed in a few tunes from Location Location. I think we are going to play “Heads Full of Poison,” the title track, at Moogfest, plus this new stuff, plus a little Location Location. We’ll see.
We seem to be moving in two different directions right now, that will likely meet. One direction is very rhythmic and loop based; texture, noise, drones, soundscapes. And the other direction is stripped down purely instrumental, no effects, back to basics classic Ahleuchatistas melodic guitar riffs, taut drumming, with some tight twists and turns. Who knows where we’ll end up, and when.
Shuffle: Ahleuchatistas is the only Asheville act playing Moogfest this year (not counting the local showcases at Emerald Lounge), which seems to follow the festival’s tradition of including at least one local band each year. Does that status make it feel any different than any other gig?
SP: Well, it’s a great gig, in that we don’t get invited to play enough festivals, really. Maybe it’s a lack of management on our end. I feel that we ought to. Whenever we play a show people from all different walks of life get into it, regardless of what their stated musical preferences are. So, it’s nice to play such an eclectic festival with a lot of more established acts right here in Asheville. We were invited to play last year, but we were in Italy on tour.
Shuffle: I think the perception surrounding Moogfest is still that it’s a predominantly electronic festival, even if this year, in particular, seems to have a broader range of rock and hip-hop acts. How do you feel Ahleuchatistas fit into this mix — or do you?
SP: I think that AC Entertainment genuinely loves all kinds music. I also think that Bob Moog loved all kinds of music, and his technological innovations broadened the possibilities of every genre of music. Ahleuchatistas loves all kinds of music and we are influenced by it, so it makes perfect sense that we would be involved. And it’s an honor to be on the radar of the folks at AC Entertainment and the folks at Moog.
Shuffle: After Moogfest, do you have any plans made for touring behind Heads Full of Poison? Where might the tour be taking you?
SP: Yes, we are going to tour over the next year in support of the album, while working on new material. We intend to tour in Europe, either in December or April. We’ll do a handful of regional dates. And we are wanting to do a West Coast tour in summer 2013.
Shuffle: The new record was released by Cuneiform, too — has that changed the band’s operations at all, after self-releasing Location Location on Open Letter Records?
SP: Not really on our end. But it will definitely make this album more widely known and available. They have great distribution, do in-house press support, and radio support. So, I think it will permeate far and wide over the next year, and in the years to come. We are also super excited about the Heads Full of Poison double vinyl LP that is coming out on Asheville-based Harvest Recordings.
Shuffle: How did the Cuneiform deal come about?
SP: We had released two previous albums with Cuneiform, with the original trio. 2006′s What You Will and 2007′s Even in the Midst… Steve, the owner, like many people, was skeptical about this whole “we’re a duo now!” thing. But, then he came to a show we played in DC. He just loved it and was fired up and ready to go after that.
Shuffle: Are there any other developments in progress with Ahleuchatistas, side-projects, or anything else?
SP: We are collaborating with a singer from Geneva, Switzerland, named Antoine Läng, on a project called Blind Thorns. We recorded an album that is currently being mixed in Switzerland. It’s some seriously dark and ferocious stuff. We hope to see that out in 2013 and to do a little touring in USA and Europe.