Exploding Math Lab returns to the stage but don’t call it album release night, “this ship has sailed”
WILMINGTON ââ Halloween 2019 was the last time Exploding Math Lab (EML) took the stage. It wasn’t planned like that. The group has already hosted an album release party to kick off their 2019 recording of “Straight Into the Sun”. The CDs had arrived, the merch was done, and the date was set for March 2020 at the Reggies 42nd Street Tavern.
Then it was the time of the Covid.
“My wife told me every Monday during the pandemic to get out of the house because I was so gloomy,” lead guitarist Ben Schachtman told Port City Daily (full disclosure: Schachtman was the editor of PCD before heading to WHQR last fall).
The group normally trained the first of each week at a friend’s house 15 miles west in the middle of nowhere in Winnabow. It stopped when warrants and restrictions were put in place.
âWe didn’t know if it was Covid or if our friend didn’t want us anymore because we were too loud,â drummer Stephen Guilliams joked.
Last Monday, in their new rehearsal space at Loud Music, they were dusting off the rust before their first concert at Reggie’s. Saturday’s line-up is three, with Raleigh band Thirsty Curses and local rock band Sean and Her Dilemma. Exploding Math Lab joined at the last minute when Sean Binkley issued an invite.
âThey are true to themselves and treat rock and roll with the dedication it deserves,â said Binkley, âwhether it’s their stage outfits or their incredible reach across the audiovisual spectrumâ .
Saturday’s performance isn’t an album release show the band were hoping to have 15 months ago. It’s not an album release show at all, actually.
âThis ship has sailed,â singer Will Copeland, aka Willie Pete, said during practice.
In fact, EML is already working on its next release, bassist Jeremy Roberts confirmed. âWe have already worked on new avenues,â he said. âWe’ll be playing a few on Saturday night.
EML will also include songs from “Straight Into the Sun” on the setlist. Making the album was a change from how the band used to record before. EML worked with Frank Stroehmer at Umbilical Recording Studios in Wilmington for their self-titled debut album.
They also self-recorded stuff at the start. “I think we destroyed it for the safety and well-being of all,” Schachtman joked.
On “Straight Into the Sun” the band traveled to Overdub Studios in Durham and recorded it live with John Plymale (Meat Puppets, Superchunk). âHe’s good at pulling studio album quality sessions from live performances,â Schachtman said.
It was a one-session marathon, completed in about 12 hours. The band settled down on a Saturday, recorded on Sunday and did a few overdubs on Monday.
“[A]Almost everything was recorded in one day, from sunrise to sunset, âSchachtman explained.
The idea was for “Straight Into the Sun” to capture the laid-backness and energy of the band, as they bring their frenetic movements and rhythms to life. âBy doing it live, you have less control, but what you get on tape is the sound of the band,â Roberts explained.
Authenticity is important and inherent in EML. There is also a shroud of mystery involved in the songwriting process. For example, Copeland prefers to keep his words close to the vest. He remembers the first time he agreed to jam with Schachtman after working together at Osteria Cicchetti.
âIt was like having his pants down,â Copeland compared to the exhibit of his writings.
Together, the two laid the groundwork for EML’s most played song, “If In God We Trust,” which can be heard at every show. âIt’s a lot of our influences and experimental weirdness and a lot of rock and roll – and that has continued to evolve live over the years,â Schachtman added.
âThis is our ‘Whiskey River’,â Copeland said, referring to a Willie Nelson tune, which the country icon opens every gig with.
“Wouldn’t it be great if Willie ever decided to just open with ‘Carolina in My Mind’?” Schachtman joked.
âNo one would ever believe it,â Copeland replied.
The camaraderie of the group was established years before their formation. Copeland and Guilliams played together in the FEMA Region Four, before launching Exploding Math Lab. A few members had joined but left before Schachtman and Roberts, who had been together in No Labels Fit, got on board. EML was officially launched in 2016, creating a loud and playful sound.
âA foot rooted in a dirty past and a foot that moves forward,â described Sean and Her Dilemma’s Binkley. âIt’s technical without being pretentious and heavy while keeping a groove that makes your head spin. “
Binkley was a fan of the band before sharing bills with them over the years.
“I love the little shimmy of Will’s feet, I love that Ben looks scary but isn’t.” I love that Stephen embodies the sheer joy behind the drums, and I love that Jeremy has a boastful air and tone that sets him apart from other great bassists in this town. Honestly, I’m a fan of these guys, âBinkley said.
EML builds its music organically. Although the sound of the group is global, their atmosphere is discreet. The songwriting process follows the same pattern: someone will come in with a riff here, another will start a beat there, the bassline is added, and then Copeland goes to the mic. Even to this day, he only reveals his words at go time. And he won’t talk about inspiration to write them either.
âWe focus more on his melody than the words,â Guilliams explained when it comes to creating the music around him.
âIt took me a few months before I really knew what he was singing about on a song,â Schachtman said.
Copeland lowered his head and burst out laughing.
He and Guilliams returned to discuss the best way to make risotto (apparently Copeland’s basil oil is the trick), while Roberts and Schachtman plugged in amps. âCheck it out, check it out,â Guilliams said, as the mics were tested.
Then the group embarked on a âLiving on a Prayerâ. Turns out EML opened for Bon Jovi – OK, a Bon Jovi cover band, really. It was Downtown Sundown on Front Street a few years ago.
“Sorry to fake Bon Jovi for drinking his beer,” Schachtman apologized.
Exploding Math Lab, Sean & Her Dilemma and Thirsty Curses will perform at Reggie’s, 1415 S 42nd St., Saturday, June 19, 9 p.m. ET. Doors open at 8 p.m. and coverage is $ 8.
After meeting the band in practice on Monday, PCD had a few follow-up questions about their next show and the new music they’re making.
Here is the full Q&A:
Port City Daily (PCD): Are you still starting to practice group freestyle âLiving on a Prayerâ? Or was it just a special case?
Ben Schachtman (BS): This specific performance was a unique treat. But it’s not uncommon for us to sing songs like this. Part of that comes from our time in the kitchen – we would change the lyrics, like singing âOver it – fuck sautee tonightâ to âSister Christianâ by Night Ranger.
PCD: Do you play covers during your sets?
BS: We do. We used to play âAneurysmâ by Nirvana and we also did âNational Anthemâ by Radiohead and âI Want You (She’s So Heavy) by The Beatlesâ. Each of them had something about them that we felt we fit into our own odd intersection of styles and interests. Nirvana and the Beatles, we play pretty straightforward, but the Radiohead kind of shifted us into something heavier.
PCD: You said you didn’t come together as much during the pandemic; can you tell me how this has affected you personally creatively and as a band?
BS: It was hard. A big part of the process is bringing in a riff or a drum beat or even just a sound idea and then seeing what happens when four people start playing it. So it was hard to really get out of the door, you know?
PCD: You are also already working on the next album – will EML’s sound change or evolve in this batch?
BS: We’re working on space and breathing – making room for weird noises and textures, etc., but hopefully without losing the basic idea of âârock and roll. We were also better at telling each other which parts are going where. It’s less territorial, more “Hey, that would look cool if you tried this or that” kind of thing.
PCD: Will you also record it live in a day like the previous one?
BS: It’s up for debate. The live recording experience was amazing, even if it was exhausting. It’s great to be able to capture the real sound of a performing band, and we’ve all gladly traded in a few imperfections here to keep that going. That said, we’d be willing to go crazy, a la Spector or Rick Rubin, live in a bungalow for a month and build something more elaborate in the studio – but it is expensive and time consuming and we all have problems. day jobs. But if someone wants to foot the bill for this, and make sure we’re covered at work, then yes.
PCD: Jeremy, you talked about enjoying the layering / tracking of albums, as well as playing them live in one frame. You wonder if you’re going to explain a bit about the nuances of doing it one way or another, and what draws you in each.
Jeremy Roberts (JR): In âindustry standardâ mode, you start with a click track set to the beat of the song, then play drums on top of it, then add guitars, add more bass, add vocals. You have a lot of control over the construction of the song, and you can easily edit individual parts. It’s crucial for something like technical metal or fusion, or for really layered music – but the flip side is you never really play as a band.
Will Copeland (WC): Also, because you’re locked into a set BPM, it’s a lot harder for the songs to stray away, so you don’t get that part where a song slows down or speeds up a bit.
PCD: What’s your favorite EML song to perform? Why?
BS: I don’t know if we would all agree on this one day, but I think âIf In God We Trustâ is a good bet. . . . Gun to your head, you gotta play a song in front of a giant crowd, I’ll go with that one.
Stephen Guilliams (SG): It was the first song we wrote and performed as a band. It came very easily, very naturally. It’s fun to play, it captures a lot of stuff about us as a band.
PCD: What are you most looking forward to on Saturday night when you come back on stage?
BS: Seeing people dancing, or jumping up and down, or looking up from the bar when you hit a good game. Human reaction and interaction.
PCD: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
BS: Usually some of us rush out of work – but the beers have been shot, and usually there’s the last minute writing of a setlist.
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