The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Escape Velocity

These Are Powers On Bringing The Noise & Not Being A Rock Band
Alex Denney , January 29th, 2009 09:27

Former members of Liars and sundry American noise talk to Alex Denney about the genesis of pan-American trio These Are Powers

Sounds stupid to say it, but These Are Powers are sort of a noise pop supergroup. As feted Brooklyn oddballs Gang Gang Dance's recorded output takes on ever more lustrous shapes it's left to a clan comprising ex-members of Liars, Knife Skills and Brenmar to carry the torch for future primitivism of the grass roots variety, and it's a tag they're wearing increasingly well.

Talk among the band tends naturally toward the spiritual but with second album All Aboard Future the three-piece explore a sound that embraces the ugliness of Einsturzende Naubauten as well as inevitable traces of Liars' ruinous industrial past. One might easily suppose 'Easy Answers' was the sound Philip K Dick had in his head during intercourse, whirring camera clicks lending a paranoiac edge to an already deeply disturbing slice of autoerotica.

Frontwoman Anna Barie stands out as the lucky recipient of all this psychosexual turmoil, a shrieking conduit for the band's energies who can often be found writhing oblivious on the floor at their acclaimed live shows. Everything is grist for the mill of their often tortuous self-expression, an approach epitomised by percussionist Bill Salas' increasing reliance on found sounds to lay the foundations of their ragged, tribal riddims - the Quietus decided to learn more about these eponymous powers…

You're based in New York and Chicago variously which must add up to a lot of air miles - how've you been keeping the project ticking over?

Pat Noecker (bass): It's not so bad really. Most people think touring is this chaotic lifestyle but it's the one place we get consistency. And our van can run on vegetable oil.

Anna Barie (guitar, vocals): I wanted to grow things from the roof of the van but it's a little difficult. Things you can smoke. If you were able to have a water filter running through the van that would be pretty cool. Grow some Echinacea to keep your immune system going…

This is your first full-length with Bill Salas on board as drummer - Bill, did you have more input into the creative process this time around?

Bill: It's been approached differently for all three of us. It was on the agenda to try and push ourselves in a different direction, I wasn't just this drummer for hire. But if it's going to really work I have to be open to criticism, even if it stings the ego a little.

Pat: I've had plenty of ideas shut down 'cos they weren't new enough. The greatest fruit of your creation doesn't come without a little friction. And because we're playing on an equal footing people can help you grow as a musician. ¬(About the record) There are a lot of different sounds and there's a lot more space in the songs. It's, uh, abstract sounds used to create beats and sound patterns used to create songs…

Anna: (laughs)

Pat: There's a broader range of sounds. The new stuff's poppier and more abstract at the same time. We feel that's an accomplishment for us as a band, to really craft sound in a pop sense, without being unoriginal.

You seem to share a certain neo-tribal sensibility with Gang Gang Dance, and you've both cited Timbaland as an influence on your approach - do you hear much of a link there personally speaking?

Pat: I think Gang Gang Dance have the same approach but the difference is we made a really sincere effort to make the sounds we use. It's just more original that way, I don't like just using these things which are there on a keyboard interface. It's like if you're cooking pasta; do you want to use a jar of Prego to spice it up or do you want to start from scratch?

Any other crucial factors helped shape the record?

Anna: We worked with a Chicago engineer called Butchie Fuego from Pit Er Pat and Griffin Rodriguez who's in a band called Icy Demons. Butchie has a studio called the Ship Shack, we chose him because we thought he'd understand where we were coming from and that we weren't trying to make a rock record.

Pat: It's a small scene in Chicago but you'll get the same kids coming down to shows, it's dedicated… rent prices in Brooklyn are so high nowadays, I'm not sure they're really allowing people to function. One of the reasons we chose to record in Chicago was we knew we wouldn't end up with these huge bills looming over our heads.

Brooklyn's not all it's cracked up to be, then?

Pat: Well everything west of New York was dead when I moved there. When I moved in '97 there was no scene in Brooklyn. Then they started throwing these warehouse parties which gave bands a chance to play and it all grew from that. Now it seems people are trying to make a decision about whether they want to stay there. But the silver lining of this recession is that when Wall Street sucks the rent becomes more liveable - crime might go up but rent stays down. There are too many condos in Brooklyn, it makes you want the economy to turn to complete shit so they'll all become free houses.

You've been mentioned in the same breath as a number of first-generation no wavers but don't seem particularly sold on the tag yourselves - why's that exactly?

Bill: I was personally really into those bands, it was how I'd always envisioned punk to be. Because I'd grown up with hip hop, and I had this vision of punk as being all about breaking down stadium rock clichés. And when I heard some of that punk stuff, like The Ramones or whatever, it didn't really interest me.

Pat: John Cage could be considered 'no wave' because of his approach.

Anna: There've been a lot of no wave bands reforming to perform their old records recently. But we don't consider ourselves to be new wave or no wave. We're not even a rock band.

These Are Powers new album All Aboard Future is out February 16th on Dead Oceans