By Alison Geisler
4:40 PM EDT, August 14, 2013
There's a time and a place to color within the lines. And while neatly colored pictures may look nice and pretty, the process of staying within those boundaries isn't really "art." Art is messy. Music as art is noisy. That freedom to make a mess and see where it goes is part of what's helped keep Massachussets musicians Ken Topham and Joe Andreoli together as Giraffes? Giraffes! for much longer than the shelf lives of your typical group of dudes who met in college and started a band. The duo, with Topham on drums and Andreoli on guitar, play intricate, mathy, noodly music, largely entirely instrumental, and unique.
Andreoli's and Topham's paths to musicianhood crossed at Keene State in New Hampshire. "I didn't do any of that [band] stuff when I was in school, and I feel like I missed out on like, the real education and being able to do a lot more with music," Andreoli says. "At least be able to write music down, that would be nice." Topham did the band thing in high school and went on to study music while at Keene. "He really knows his shit," Andreoli says. "I kinda hack my way... uh, I hack songs, I guess, out of like, stone, or whatver. And Ken can actually build it up from the clay," he says of their differing musical backgrounds. "I'm actually teaching myself, finally, how to do anything, because I never play in standard tuning. And I'm teaching myself standard tuning," he says. Listening to him play, hearing that he's just learning the basics is kind of surprising.
"I went to one lesson when I was a kid. And he literally showed me like, the first scale. A first position scale in G, or whatever. And I went home and then I looked at it, and then I didn't practice at all," he says. "The next week came around and I'm like 'I don't want to go to practice anymore!' and my parents were like 'OK!' and then that was it. But just like last night, I was practicing scales and learning really basic scales, and I played it, and I'm like 'That's the scale.' I finally learned it," he says, while laughing.
Andreoli went on to talk about learning music as a kid, and how the textbook approach can squash creativity. "Music is so interesting. The fact that you can just like, make sound and have it make people feel stuff is just an incredible thing," he says. "But if you boil it down to just the basic aspect of it, you take the magic out of it. And I feel like with some kids maybe in band in school, these teachers are just kinda like, 'Alright, this is that, this is that, just practice it.' And with me, like when I went to that lesson, the guy was just like 'This is what you do.' And I'm at home looking at it like 'What do you mean this is what I do? What does this mean? How is this a song?'" he says. "I feel like yeah, some notes sound good, some notes sound bad. Work it out and maybe kids would have a better time."
Andreoli and Topham took experimentation to another level when they packed up and moved from New Hampshire to California in 2004. "Even though you're fucking broke, just going different places and experiencing different things and meeting new people, but being in a band, it helped us really tap into different communities," he says. There they were able to experience entirely new music scenes and make a name for themselves based on perspective, and not purely on where they came from and what they were putting out musically. After releasing two albums, SUPERBASS!!!! (Black Death Greatest Hits Vol. 1) in 2005 and More Skin With Milk-Mouth in 2007, they moved back to New England. In 2011, the duo released Pink Magick, nine tracks of the musical onslaught their fans have come to expect.
A classic example of the frenetic power Andreoli and Topham can harness into one song is "I am S/h(im)e[r] as You am S/h(im)e[r] as You Are Me and We am I and I Are All Our Together," a nearly 10-minute rollercoaster ride that takes us through frantic guitars, dreamy xylophone-laden calmness, and a driving simplified center, before hitting us with Alan Watts' "The Dream of Life" speech. Listening to it is an experience in itself. "Why are the song titles so weird? Oh, 'cause I'm weird," Andreoli says.
After this little jaunt of a tour, which brings Giraffes? Giraffes! to The Space on Aug. 16 as part of the Genre-ly Confused Fest, Andreoli and Topham plan to head back into the studio as they typically do during the colder months, to focus on writing and recording before putting out their next collection of sounds.
Giraffes? Giraffes!, with the Guru, DRGN KING, Oshwa, Art Decade, High Pop, Gulfer, Vasudeva, Chris Cappello, Poverty Hollow, Strange Mangers, Spillway
3 p.m. $15. The Space, 295 Treadwell St., Bldg. H, Hamden, (203) 288-6400. manicproductions.org.
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