Interview with X-Ray Press

Mike, Paurl and the rest of the gang

Uvb-76 is an obscure Russian radio station that infrequently makes cryptic transmissions; an almost perfect metaphor for what Russia has become post cold war era – irrelevant and furtive. A vestige of a bygone era characterized by xenophobia and paranoia, and as much as the threat seemed external it was very much internal, we feared change and so did our enemies. Uvb-76, the recent album from X-Ray Press, manages to characterize the highly mutable and often desultory nature of the human mind. At its core X-Ray Press is Paurl Walsh and Micheal Pausit. Other members include Adam Kozie, Mike Sparks, Kelley Wyse and Max Stein. Who they are matters, but I think they would argue that a better question is, “What is it that we do”? To answer this question requires a bit of an open mind as we have to realize that everything that we do can be attributed on some part to unscripted events and how we respond to them. X-Ray Press they could be called experimental, but a better way to characterize their musical style would be extemporaneously playful. In their universe there is order but it’s only used for emergency purposes and the idea of comfort zones are relegated to the places that they strive to get away from. Their ideas are off-hand nods to their own subconscious thought, and in a way they manage to channel the chaotic and noisy reality of the conscious mind, a place that is often characterized as something neat and systematically organized. In this interview, as we delve into what their purpose is, we realize that they want to change people’s preconceptions about music. The goal here is transformation, progression, and ultimately evolution.

X-Ray Press live

So what exactly is the concept behind your latest release Uvb-76?

Paurl Walsh: The record sort of parallels many themes a bit abstractly in the sense that it never calls them out directly but uses them as general guides to inform the content.  These would be themes of alienation, mental instability, listlessness, and a lack of purpose in one’s life.  Throughout the arc of the record, these concepts become resolved in an almost “Zen-like” manner, culminating in the final track “Everyone, This Is The End (And Everybody’s OK)”, which is basically a bittersweet homage to the transitory nature of humanity.  But enough about all that!  We just really hope that people enjoy the music.

Michael Pasuit: Just to think we’d have as heady an answer if you asked about scotch or bathroom jokes, too.

So what are the most striking differences between BRKN TYPE, your first release, and Uvb-76?

MP: When Kelly replaced Max on Rhodes organ instead of a guitar, we knew there would be some obvious changes, but they are also very different people in terms of approach, and that definitely shows in the differences between the albums.  Immediately after that first personnel change, we took a week in February 2008 and rented a studio space in Bend, OR to explore the new dynamics.  We wanted to get out of our comfort zone in Seattle to have a true “band intensive” where we could dedicate ourselves to playing 12 hours straight each day.  I think our musical and creative palate expanded greatly.  Along with some emotional scarring, we left that first outing with the seeds of three or four of the songs on UVB-76, including the “Everybody, This is Everyone” motif that provides the endcap themes.  We knew that next chapter of X-Ray Press would start to get a little more abstract and less reliant on aggression-as-function.

There was a bit of a hiatus between your album releases, to what do you all attribute this to?

PW: For the most part it wasn’t a hiatus for us.  It takes us a really long time to write songs.  Due to the collaborative process and the complex nature of our music, writing a 17 song concept album took us an eternity.  We also needed to get our new member (and new instrumentation) up to speed during that time, as well as more recent lineup changes that have pushed things back.  I’d like to get the next release finished a lot quicker though.  It’s taken us far too long to get this full-length out.

How do you feel about how the media and critics have categorized you all thus far? Do you feel the picture is accurate, or do you feel fettered by the many labels that have been placed upon you?

MP: We couldn’t be more pleased about the early critical reception of the album so far.  There have been times over the last few years where we’d get a little frustrated playing some sparsely scattered rooms but get amazingly positive and genuine accolades from sound technicians and other bands.   With the completion of UVB-76, we knew we just had to get the music in as many hands as possible, and just stand by it.  The “math-rock” label is a bit limiting in informing a listener what to expect, but there’s only so many descriptors out there to use in defining genres.  In a sense, you only are what people say you are, so to demand a more accurate opinion from a critic, as long as they’re not being lazy or biased, is just a waste of energy that could end up driving you crazy.

PW: I agree.  And I don’t think labels bother us so much, but to call us a “math-rock” band is probably an incomplete description.  Uh, let me just stop myself there…  This is one of those age old rock band beefs that every group encounters at some point.  I think it’s best to shut up and let the listener decide what genre you fit into!

X-Ray Press - Uvb-76

You guys are really starting to pick up a lot of steam I have read back to back laudatory reviews what do you attribute this new found critical acclaim to?

PW: We’ve been working very hard over the last few years to clarify what we’re doing as a band, both musically and professionally.  We feel that the hard work shows on the new record, and I think that’s a big part of it.  Also, working with Terrorbird in promoting the new record has been immensely helpful.  We wouldn’t be talking right now if it wasn’t for them.

What types of subject matter do you all feel passionate about and ends up being a common theme within your music, and how do you feel your sound is able to capture these feelings?

MP: From a lyrical perspective, Paurl and I were in a bit of some psychological distress when the lyrical themes started taking shape.  We actually helped each other out through some tough times during the album, and there was no avoiding those themes of alienation in the lyrics.  Somewhere along the way, we learned about the UVB-76 radio station in Russia and were actually able to find some audio clips of the “buzzing”– it was eerie how closely it matched the opening motif of the album, which was already in place.  It made perfect sense to marry the mystery of the radio station with the themes of the album.

Some could argue that all you are doing is making a bunch of dissonant and discordant noise (obviously not me) but how would you feel or how would you respond to that?

PW: Honestly, I would agree wholeheartedly.  In a lot of ways that is a primary function of our aesthetic, to take the “ugly” and make it beautiful, or at least frame it in a new context that makes the listener hear it as being consonant.  We hope to bring elements of hardcore, punk, and noise to the modern chamber art song and still make it accessible to the average listener.  It’s an ongoing experiment in the truest sense of the word.

MP: Paurl and I spoke a while ago about the term “experimental” being a really misused clarifier.  The real point of an experiment is to test a specific hypothesis or idea, but in music its mostly used to define loose, obtuse arrangements or noise jams.  Its almost the exact opposite meaning if you think about it.

How do you all decide on the direction or shape a song is going to take? It seems as I stated in my review “This album is structured around creating order out what some may describe as sonic chaos” so how do you all go about doing this?

MP: No one has ever written down a riff or song structure and brought it to a rehearsal.

PW: Yeah, we usually start out by improvising together until something interesting pops out, then we latch on to that one idea and start structuring changes around it.  We sometimes take those initial ideas home and work on bits individually, but usually the whole song is worked out in the room together, democratically.  It takes us FOREVER to write a single song this way, but I feel that the end product is more naturally imbued with each of our unique musical personalities, which is another big part of the X-Ray Press experiment.

Is the direction the band takes with music how you had initially envisioned it or did your sound all come as a result of a wonderful accident?

MP: We never have any preconceived notion of what each song will eventually sound.  There’s definitely never a conversation where anyone says the song should sound like this or that.  It’s always, for better or worse, a truly a collaborative effort, sometimes in the most harrowing sense.  There’s some wall-punching involved, but when you trust the talent and creativity of three other people in the room, you need degree of patience to let the song find itself, as hippie as that sounds.  I’d imagine its some of the more organic math-rock song writing process out there, which hopefully sets it apart from sounding too mechanical or  re-hashed.

PW: It Is a very organic process, and we do try to let our imaginations run wild, but I would add that we do all that within an invisible framework.  I feel like it’s part of my job in the band to make sure we stay within that framework without limiting our creativity too much.  It’s a strange line to walk.

There seems to be an interesting dichotomy when it comes to success in the music industry. It seems that making music to please the masses necessitates that as an artist you have to tone down any inherent complexity/weirdness and make yourselves seem somewhat similar to the popular artist during any given time. Why do you all think big record labels feel like people do not want to hear thought provoking music or step outside of the pre-established music parameters?

MP: For major labels, music is business and at the end of the day it seems more people want to tap their feet than listen to something “challenging,” not that I even feel that X-Ray Press fits squarely into that description. We’re not offended by it and I don’t think that any band playing more abstract music should get offended by it either.

And to follow up do you fear if you all caught the attention of a major label and were signed, that those in charge would make you tone down your sound?

MP: I hope not.  I don’t think anyone would listen to us and even try to imagine a more commercial version of us.  Those options are already out there.  And unsigned.

If you took a snapshot of all the great bands you find that they fall into 4 categories. There are bands that have a great sound and stay consistent throughout their careers. Then there are artists who tend towards abstraction and change up their sound a bit. Some even manage to mature and evolve with each successive release .Then there are hybrids that may possess more than one of these characteristics. Where do you all see yourselves right now and where do you feel like you would like to be further down the road?

MP: Before we go off the deep end pretending there’s a grand scheme here, at the end of day, we’re just making music that we find interesting ourselves.  If it happened to take on certain characteristics that’s fine, but nothing is mapped out.  Down the road, I think we definitely want to move forward and progress.  I doubt we’re sure what that even means at this point.  Hopefully there will be elements that refer back to the EP and UVB-76, but I don’t think we want to create the same album all over again either.

X-Ray Press - BRKN Type

How would you all characterize the Washington scene right now. Are you all unique in your approach to making music, or is it sort a conglomeration of similar types of bands a la the early 90’s grunge scene?

PW: There are a TON of bands in Seattle right now, many of them very talented, but I don’t hear all that many that are grungy.  I would say that it’s a pretty diverse cross-section of musical styles, and that the type of music X-Ray Press is playing is very much in the minority.  But to be perfectly honest, we’re pretty used to that.

On your MySpace two of your influences are amongst my favorite bands and legendary post-hardcore acts, Drive Like Jehu and Jawbox. What similarities do you feel you share with these two bands?

PW: I think Jawbox has influenced us more in singing territory than anything.  They have a knack for floating very melodic (almost poppy) vocal parts over dissonant guitar work very effectively, and I feel we often play with that idea too.  As far as Jehu goes, I’ve always been enamored with the sprawling nature of their compositions.  Somehow their songs just keep barreling forward, ripping through section after section, with little or no regard for their own safety or the safety of their listeners.  I love it.

Which band do you feel is a greater loss to music At the Drive In, Sunny Day Real Estate, or the Receiving End of Sirens?

PW: SDRE all the way.  Seminal.  Important.  Pivotal.

You guys appear to be quite the thinkers, so do you all have a favorite philosopher/artist that you feel a connection to, and in some ways would echo how you all create music?

PW: EE Cummings is probably my favorite poet.  I’m constantly fascinated by how he broke the confines of poetry wide open with his fascinating use of experimental grammar, punctuation, spacing, and syntax.  I think his approach to writing poetry mirrors what we’re trying to do with X-Ray Press very nicely.  I’m also a big fan of Rainer Maria Rilke for his sheer emotional depth and compelling imagery.

MP: I like Alan Watts a lot.  He never seemed to get tied down by one philosophy or religion.  Only that you really can’t know what you believe until you really try to understand what others believe.  Its all relative.

Which song do you really feel really drives the crowd wild at your shows? And which venue do you feel is the most receptive to you guys?

PW: We love our children all the same.  Sometimes its tough deciding between which songs to open or close with or place in between.  Center of the Center of the Universe was the closest we came to expressing the full breadth of what we envisioned X-Ray Press to be on our first release.  Sort of a Nietzsche “become what you are” moment when we finished that.  And it’s always a crowd pleaser.  So many of our songs “peak” that its tough to logically think our what will work where.

So what does an X Ray Press show look like, and what do you feel is the overall make up of your fan base? College kids young adults etc… And what do you all think it is about your music that attracts this crowd?

MP: Its always a mix, but I would tend to lean towards young adults only because all-ages venues are tough to come by in Seattle.  I’d hate to push any blanket statement as to why.  When I was in college, I went to a show at least twice a month at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ — basically anything my record store clerk best friend would suggest.  I ate up anything and everything because I just loved live music.  Its an experience.  And if you relate to the songs and the band, it can really take you through something special. I actually was an audience member to Paurl’s and Adam’s before I was in a band with them, and I know they really brought it on stage.  It was more of challenge to match their emotive showmanship than to be myself as I tend to be more reserved.  Our new guitarist/keyboardist Mike Sparks also has a unique magnetism in his shows in By Sunlight.  He really feels it.  X-Ray Press shows in the past have always been high-energy, and I can’t wait to share the stage with this new line up.  It can only get better.

What attracts a crowd?  Clearly our devilish good looks.

Are there any plans on visiting the East coast any time soon?

MP: Hopefully, by the fall we’ll get out there.  I think this will be our sixth west coast trip and we still haven’t traveled east yet.  We’re looking forward to it.  Especially due to the proximity of major cities on the east coast.  It’ll be a bit less road weary.

PW: Yeah, we are itching to get to the east coast. East-coasters should definitely keep an eye out for us later this year.

I want to do a variant of a word association game, instead of words I will pick song titles and you give me the first word(s) that comes to mind when you think of these songs? Thin Mints, Center of the Center of the Universe, Roboto Sexo and Cubicle Racist…

MP: Kelly Wyse, Max Stein, Adam Kozie, Paris Hurley…

PW: Laughing, fighting, drinking, laughing.

So at this point in you all’s career is there anything that you can look back on and say I wish I would have done that differently? If so what results do you think it would have yielded?

MP: Not to dodge a question about self-criticism, but I’m a strong believer in butterfly effect, so if whatever we’ve done has brought us to exactly here and now, I’m definitely satisfied with that.

PW: What Mike is trying to say is that we are perfect and never make mistakes, which is why we’re extremely rich and powerful.

MP: Exactly.  No, seriously, we’d also like to think it’s still pretty early in the lifespan of this band.

Do you all wish to say anything to your fans and to the world in general before you guys get back to doing what you all do best?

MP: Thanks for the support so far, and looking forward to seeing you soon.

PW: Don’t let other people force-feed you music or art. Don’t ever become lazy and let others tell you what you like. There is a lot of really interesting, compelling, and beautiful work in the world that deserves your attention. Go find it.