The Melismatics: We are one and a half years crankier
Photo by Jimmy Steinfeldt
Minneapolis band the Melismatics are beating the odds after ten-plus years together. The answer to avoiding stagnancy: a new album revamping their indie-rock sound. Rising Tide is understated, but has pulses and shots like soft bursts of light. This is an album that sounds like it may have come together as a happy accident.
Before the band's album release at the Amsterdam on Saturday, Gimme Noise spoke with Ryan, Pony, and Mark about how they have progressed since their last album and their extensive touring schedule.
Band members: Ryan Smith, Pony Hixon-Smith, Mark Wade, Ron Caron
Gimme Noise: It's been a little over a year and a half since the last album. How do you feel the band has changed since we last spoke for the release of MANIA!?
Ryan Smith: We are one and a half years crankier! Actually, I feel the band has never been more focused and musically tight, which might have something to do with the 170 or so shows we've played since then. We are able to work together very quickly and we have a better understanding of how we can operate as a unit than ever before. We set out to make "Rising Tide" in a relatively small time frame to capture the feelings, emotions, and subject matter of a very particular phase of life. So in short, I think we've really found our rhythm since Mania!
Gimme Noise: Do you feel the music has progressed into new territory?
Mark Wade: I feel like we're always progressing into new territory. I think specifically for this album, the tracks feel like they are the most cohesive they've ever been. I feel like this is our most mature album to date, but is still raw and less layered than Mania!
Ryan Smith: Definitely. We always try to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones, and to me that's what yields the most interesting results. Autopilot equals boring. We set out to make an album that was produced with only overdubs and instrumentation that felt vital to the song, which eventually amounted to subtracting tracks and layers in the process. Songs like "Rising Tide" have lush Brian Wilson-esque harmonies, which is something I've always loved, but we had never done on a record. "If You Want War" is a piano-based social commentary, which is a stylistic diversion for us. Mark Wade sings lead vocals on "Gravity" which is also a first for the band. There was also a conscious effort to have a consistent "vibe" throughout the album. It's a bit more introspective and melancholic.
Gimme Noise: What does the name Rising Tide mean?
Ryan Smith: Everything and nothing.
Gimme Noise: Any standout tracks?
Mark Wade: All of them!
Ryan Smith: I agree with Mark. I am excited about each and every track on this record. Some highlights for me at the moment are "Delirium," "Close To The Vest," "If You Want War," "Gravity," and "Rising Tide." The song "Halo" has been a fan favorite at shows and we are about to release a video for that one.
Gimme Noise: Ryan, you are trained in classical music. How do you feel that plays into the Melismatics' music? Do we hear any of that on the new album?
Ryan Smith: My classical training seeps through in the arrangements and production of the material more than anything. I like to treat guitars, keyboards, synths, and electronic elements as parts of an overall orchestration. Another way this background aided in the making of "Rising Tide" was with the string arrangements. We had the honor of working with great musicians like Rebecca Aarons on cello and Margaret Humphrey on violin. On the flip side of that coin, sometimes you have to know when to abandon any classic sensibilities when you are making a modern indie-rock album.
Gimme Noise: Pony, you grew up with two deaf parents. What drew you to music as a career?
Pony Hixon-Smith: Actually my father can hear music, but he has a condition called Aphasia which affects how his brain processes language by hearing. He can listen to music but doesn't understand lyrics. As a child he always had the radio on at home. He knew I loved music and encouraged me to play. At 12, he purchased me an acoustic guitar, and at 14, I got an electric guitar. My parents had a limited budget and couldn't afford for me to take lessons, so I had friends show me how read tablature and give me tips. I didn't hone in on any sort of skills until I started to play with people in bands. As far as performing, I had that down before the instrument. I used to lip-sync and dance to music ever since I was 6. I'd mimic whatever emotion the song felt like to me. My mom used to giggle as she'd kindly watch my performances for her.
Gimme Noise: What's the dynamic like being a couple in a band? Is it similar to working in any other job as a couple?
Pony Hixon-Smith: I think so. Ryan and I work easily together and were on the same page so its easy for us. I know that there are couples out there where it wouldn't be easy for them. Just depends on the nature of the relationship and the attitudes of the couple.
Ryan Smith: I think it works extremely well for us. There's an intimacy that translates into playing music together.
Gimme Noise: You guys tour so much. Where do you call home?
Mark Wade: I still call my home in Minneapolis home. But, we've got so many great friends in different cities that put us up, it feels like we have vacation homes all over the U.S.!
Pony Hixon-Smith: St. Paul.
Ryan Smith: I'm a ramblin' man...wherever Pony is!
Gimme Noise: Why did you decide on the Amsterdam to have the CD release? What can we expect to see that night?
Mark Wade: We wanted to have it in a place with great sound, a great stage, and a place where it's not a nightmare to find parking. It will be what people expect from a Melismatics' show, high energy, fast paced, things breaking, blood, but we've got a few surprises that you'll have to come to the show to see. We've also got a killer lineup: Tony Ortiz (of the Monroes), The Hounds Below (featuring Jason Stollsteimer of the Von Bondies), and our good friends Sick of Sarah.
Ryan Smith: We had such a great time at the Postmodern Rock 10 Year Anniversary show we did there not too long ago, so it seemed like a logical choice. It also seems like a comfortable venue for the audience on every level. We've got lots in store for the show this Saturday, October 12th. Our set will include many of the songs from "Rising Tide," but also songs from all 6 of our albums. We've got the string players from the album sitting in with us, and some other surprises up our sleeves...
The Melismatics will release Rising Tide at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall on Saturday, October 12, 2013 with Sick of Sarah, The Hounds Below, and Tony Ortiz.
18+, $10 adv, $12 door, 8 pm
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