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Escape Velocity

Irreality Check: Disappears Interviewed
Robert McCallum , January 21st, 2015 13:47

The Chicago post-punk band released their new album, Irreal, this week. Before they come to the UK next month, Robert McCallum talks to their frontman Brian Case about the record, reinterpreting Bowie and the importance of maintaining forward momentum

Photograph courtesy of Zoran Orlic

Rather than an onslaught that feels eager to impress, over their seven-year lifespan Chicago outfit Disappears have crafted a back catalogue that instead bowls the listener over with a quietly intense ebb and flow. While their general linchpin is Krautrock so angular and repetitive it crawls under your skin, jerking and lamenting in a way that cannot be ignored, their output splices in elements of garage rock, shoegaze, contemporary avant-garde and free jazz. The band has seen Steve Shelley join and leave - a weight many less gifted bands would simply buckle beneath - with the Sonic Youth man working with them on 2012's Pre Language. Arguably their most accessible work to date, Shelley lent a discernible character to the record without it ever losing the band's own distinct identity.

On Irreal, their fifth album, though, the band delve even deeper into their established sonic palette, with an outcome that's crushingly stark. It's rendered with the kind of cohesion that results in a tight aesthetic without ever feeling in any way controlled, the band possessed of a deft way with knowing when to throw something in or strip it all back, allowing a carefully placed string or eerily warping echo the time and space to breathe. While there's due caution in using the word Lynchian, Irreal's densely-packed textures would be a fine fit for one of the film-maker's darkest movies. From the title track's lost-down-the-rabbit-hole guitar solos to 'Mist Rites', a climactic track that echoes round your skull to a point that's nothing short of dizzying, the record's little short of exhilarating.

Before they embark on a three-month world tour, the Quietus spoke to singer and guitarist Brian Case at his home in Chicago.

Something that is omnipresent in Disappears' records is a strong use of repetition. What power do you think this holds for you?

Brian Case: I think for us it's more a way to get someone's attention. Instead of presenting a lot of ideas that someone can grasp onto, if you present one thing, I think it gets people into the same frame of mind or zone that you're in. From there you can start to expand, or drop in details. So for us it's just a way that can centre the room and bring everybody to the same point. From there you can start to explore a little more.

Do you have to get into a mindset to write and record like that?

BC: At first it was harder to do, it felt more physical. Kind of like it was endurance, and we had to build that up. But now it's become just a part of the language that we use with each other, so it's almost second nature now. Before it was more of a conscious thing; like, let's make this go for as long as we can, or here's the idea, let's see how far we can take it. Now it's already in us.

In an age where bands often drown everything in reverb and delay, your sonics are noticeably different.

BC: We're definitely considering the choices we make. I love delay and reverb; I love them to death! I use them all the time but they're way more effective if you take them away and then reintroduce them. If it's just washed out the whole time then that's a mood, it's cool, but I feel like a mood without another reacting to it doesn't translate the same way, it doesn't come across with the same intention. So we try to just play with it. When you have something and then you take it away, you notice. You can do that with a child. If they have a toy and then you take it away, all of a sudden the situation is different.

The record feels simultaneously accessible and abstract.

BC: Yeah. I don't think it's got a lot of modern composition or a 20th-century classical level of abstraction or concepts. It still has vocals and there are still melodies in there that you can attach to. There is a structure to it but I think in the broader sense of rock music, it would be towards the edge.

On that front, how do you see your music fitting into a wider cultural context?

BC: I don't! Our whole thing is that we're just trying to create this world, separate from what's happening around us, and the music is how you get there. I don't think we're up on too many musical trends or current flavours, we're really just trying to make our own world. I guess I just don't think about how it fits in. I mean we're using modern sounds to some degree and we're using modern gear. Our brains are in the modern world, so that's got to affect it, but musically we're just trying to separate ourselves from that.

Do you think the line between music and different forms of art can become blurred?

BC: Yeah. A lot of people think music is purely entertainment, but I don't think that. Even music that is made for entertainment is artistic. Taylor Swift for example, she's talking about some weird things and she's doing some weird production. That was a choice. One verse has a horn that is a sample and then the next one it's a live horn. So why did she do that? That was an artistic decision. I think it's all art, I just think it's consumed in different ways.

Do you see the writing of a record as a statement of artistic intent then?

BC: I think so. We know when we start to write a record we think of it as a piece; keeping in mind what we have already written and what we think it needs. I think that's probably the same way someone works on a painting or a design. You're looking at it and you're thinking what it has and you're then thinking, what does it need? So I guess so.

You recently did a show in Chicago where you played Bowie's Low. How did that come about?

BC: The David Bowie exhibit came to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago last year. We had worked with the MCA on a few projects so they asked us if we would be interested in interpreting a record. I think I said Low before I asked anybody else. It just seemed like the one I would want to see a band do. They asked us before the show opened so we had about six months to get it in order. It was awesome, it was so fun.

How do you go about reinterpreting someone like Bowie?

BC: That was weird. The A side of that record is somewhat straightforward rock music. So we got through the A side relatively quickly. Then we went back and listened to it. We picked out some of the details and got a little more into it. Through doing that we figured out how we could focus on something differently, how we could make something our own. It was cool. The idea was just to learn a record that's a huge influence for us but is also considered important. I'm positive it's going to influence our new stuff in some way.

Do you think you'll ever play Low again?

BC: We've been asked to play it again already, which kind of surprised me! I think we'll do it again. We recorded it in audio and video and have plans to release it. It was a lot of fun to do and people were just excited to see it happen, so there was a really good energy. We worked so hard on it, so it would be a shame if we only played it two times!

Just to wrap up, you say you're going to write new material before you go out on tour - what are the future plans for the band?

BC: I think we'll get a new record recorded this year and hopefully it will come out around the same time next year. We just like to stay busy. It keeps us moving forward. If we don't keep it up front then daily life starts to seep in and then it becomes harder to have momentum.

Irreal is out now via Kranky. Disappears play The Lexington in London on February 6 with support from The Oscillation; head here for full details and tickets