holy grails: boomslang goes to church


grails: emil amos, ash black bufflo, alex john hall, william slater and zak riles. photo by john clark.

Much like the music they create, some bands come together almost by chance.

For instance, take Grails, which will be among the many featured acts at this weekend’s Boomslang festival. A critically heralded instrumental ensemble with a sound that often suggests prog-laced psychedelia, its members came together a decade ago as moonlighters from other bands (Holy Sons and Om, among them) within a fertile Portland, Oregon music scene.

As such, their recordings are often aural quilts constructed when creative whims coincide with the professional availability of its members.

“Grails formed somewhat accidentally,” said co-founder and multi-instrumentalist Emil Amos. “So for years we had a pretty cavalier attitude towards all the basic expectations and responsibilities of a ‘rock band’. That kind of freewheeling, ‘let’s just party and get weird’ attitude ended up contributing deeply to our inherent sense of sonic freedom and a kind of non-need for identity. So in the end, Portland merely served as the place we all met each other, built the compositions and got drunk for over a decade.”

Some Grails’ recordings, like 2011’s Deep Politics are lavish sonic affairs that balance guitar textures and melodic frameworks that recall pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd but with more global and ambient leanings. Other works, like its six volume Black Tar Prophecies series (the last three of which will be issued in a single CD package next month), are more open and experimental.

“All the Black Tar songs are generally made at home in a consistently experimental state of mind  whereas a studio record like Deep Politics is a bit more focused compositionally and costs more money to make,” Amos said. “So there are benefits to both scenarios. In the studio we can emulate old Giallo-era Italian recordings of string sections and big, pleasing drum sounds. But at home we’re forced to submerge deeply into mood pieces and sonic manipulation, which is usually just as rewarding but in a different way.

“The three songs on Vol. 6 were specifically cooked up in an exploratory state… just crashing sounds into each other until they formed a logic and took a shape of their own.”

But what happens when a pack of industrious, indie-minded instrumentalists take to the stage and present music created like a lab project at home and in the studio for a live performance setting with a curious audience in attendance?

“When we’re recording, the timeline and methods are very disjointed,” Amos said. “Sometimes I’ll drop into a studio to record Holy Sons material and bang out a couple drum beats that end up sitting around for six months. (I’ll) go on tour with Om and give the files over to Alex (John Hall, guitarist and keyboardist for Grails). Two years later we somehow have a record.

“But on stage we all come together as a unified cohesive beast. The recordings are pieced together in post-production that eventually creates a kind of cohesion. Live, there’s an immediate cohesion.”

Boomslang 2013 featuring Pallbearer, Thou, Grails, Inter Arma and Locrain performs at 7 tonight at Embrace Church, 1015 N.Limestone. Tickets are $15. For a schedule of all Boomslang events, go to http://boomslangfest.com/schedule.


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