On July 4th of 2012, I saw a band at a backyard show in Nacogdoches. Struck by their unique live performance, I asked to schedule an interview with them. Both band members worked full-time and in different cities; it took several months before I had enough material to merit a post, and by that time the blog reboot was underway. Though the band is now nebulously defunct, one member having moved to Austin, I think how they conducted their live shows demands mention.
If Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World, the Live Music Badlands of that world are East Texas. It is a land divorced from civilization; a land the soothsingers bid travelers to avoid in hushed voices, where phonascetics go to test their faith. The few musicians, eking out a living in the elements, are either jazz crews catching a break at the patio of a hotel bar, country bands pushing through another round of Texan towns, or evanescent groups of 16-year-olds playing music only other 16-year-olds could appreciate.
Chris Ahrens and Adam Lamar make up the The Silent Sounds, a different kind of band. Their style of music is heavy on guitar and samples, and could be compared to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai or Stars of the Lid. But what truly sets them apart is the way their music reaches the audience. Instead of using speakers, they transmit their music by radio to their fans, who are asked to bring receivers and headphones. This allows them to play practically anywhere, without violating the Noise and Vibration laws of Chapter 34 Article V of the Nacogdoches Code of Ordinances. They’ve played small, singularly personal shows in the middle of neighborhoods, in local stores, coffee shops and in the middle of parks, without a peep.
How did the headphone idea develop?
Adam: It would probably be cooler to say something like, “Since most people these days digest music through an iPod, blah blah blah,” but honestly, it was more of a joke when we first talked about it. The idea just kept growing on us, and then one day I got a message from Chris that said, “Well, I just bought a transmitter.”
Besides avoiding city ordinances, does it allow you to do anything that would be difficult to pull off using speakers?
Adam: Even what’s in the live sets now is always going to be more noticeable in the headphones as far as left/right separation goes. It’s also easy for us to do guerrilla shows since we can get in and out of a place quick, and no one really knows what we’re doing unless they saw the Facebook post and brought a radio.
What’s it like running a band in a small town?
Chris: The main problem with operating in a small town is the lack of music venues. In Nacogdoches there are bars that have bands, but none that were designed with musical performances in mind. One of the best things about a small town is the community. We know most of the producing musicians around and the small community lends itself to many collaborative projects.
Adam: It can be frustrating when people don’t go to a bar to see a band. They just go to the bar and you just happen to be playing there. We’ve both played in regular, you know, band-type bands, so we’ve been through that. This project is different enough that there’s a level of novelty to it that creates a general interest, but it’s also different enough that a lot of people just don’t get it. We’ve got a handful of people that like what we do and they really like it. As long as you’re making music you enjoy, it doesn’t matter how many people come out to the shows.
List your equipment.
Adam: Our setup is super simple — two guitars, a Macbook running Ableton Live and another one running Mainstage. We control Ableton during the set with a Novation Launchpad, and I’ve also got a Morley A/B switch in my guitar line so I can change presets during songs. The second Macbook is also running an Ableton session with more vocal samples, and it’s all MIDI mapped to a couple of KORG Nano controllers.
Where do you find the visuals for your shows?
Adam: From the $5 DVD bin at Walmart. Anything that has four or more black and white movies for $5 is a must buy.
Where do you guys draw inspiration from?
Adam: You can usually tell where my head’s at by keeping an eye on what I’m adding to our Spotify playlists. But good music always inspires me. Not necessarily in an “I’m gonna copy that” way, but more like the opposite of not wanting to work on music after having to listen to a shitty pop station for eight hours at the office. And then there’s days when Chris hands me a stack of 10 songs and says, “This is what I did this weekend.” I guess you could call that inspiration by demoralization. But if I had to just list people who use loopstations, then Dub FX and Lowercase Noises would be near the top.
Chris: Adam and I draw a lot of inspiration from each other. He has a more mechanical precise approach to music. I’ve never seen someone more focused on achieving a specific sound. He has an idea and he has the ability to reproduce it with tools. I, on the other hand, have a much looser approach. I like to push buttons and turn knobs. I may not know what I’m looking for but I always know it when I find it. I try to stay loose so that I can create happy accidents.
When it comes to music I would have to say that my musical inspirations are drawn mainly from the Butthole Surfers, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Built to Spill, the Mercury Rev and Dan Deacon.
Anything else you want to mention/promote/give advice about?
Adam: I’m mixing a record for The Sabotage Manual out of Austin. It’s good. You should get it when it comes out.
Also, Tim and Leela Bryant at The Runaway Mule have been big supporters since day one. They sell our CDs as well as stuff from other Nacogodoches artists. And they let us play live in their store. Go buy stuff from their website. There’s a page of links on our website. Everyone on there are pretty cool people.
Check out their website at TheSilentSounds.com and listen to their latest album below.