These Are Powers explain themselves. Kinda.

by | Feb 25, 2010 | MUSIC

If you’ve managed to catch Chicago-by-way-of-Brooklyn band These Are Powers when they’ve played Nara Sushi or The Triple you could be forgiven for a degree of confusion when it comes to their sound. Termed “ghost punk” by the band, the trio manages to blend the noisy atonality of no-wave and post-punk with the dancier tendencies of contemporary electronic music. I talked to drummer/producer Bill Salas about the different facets of their sound and the difficulties of defying genre.

If you’ve managed to catch Chicago-by-way-of-Brooklyn band These Are Powers when they’ve played Nara Sushi or The Triple you could be forgiven for a degree of confusion when it comes to their sound. Termed “ghost punk” by the band, the trio manages to blend the noisy atonality of no-wave and post-punk with the dancier tendencies of contemporary electronic music. I talked to drummer/producer Bill Salas about the different facets of their sound and the difficulties of defying genre.

So I notice you’re playing Richmond at the Triple again. I managed to catch the last set you guys played there a year or two ago…

That’s the… before we go on… that’s the pool hall?

Yeah, that’s the one.

Cool, totally. That was a good show.

So for the people who might be interested in coming to see you next time you play Richmond, how would you describe your sound?

(chuckles) I love that question, and I still don’t know how to answer it very well. I think of These Are Powers as a very contemporary band and so we’re drawing from very contemporary sources. I think that’s pretty evident in the music. We’re also all of different ages, like significantly – between seven to ten years apart – as well as from completely different backgrounds. It makes for a unique melting pot of sorts when it comes time to actually start writing stuff.

That being said, how would I describe our sound? I guess essentially, the new stuff is heavily influenced by club music, heavy beats and trying to play with the idea of sound, abstract sound, in a melodic structure. I know that isn’t much of a description.

No, that works well.

That’s kinda the idea, the underlying theme in all the songs. We’re gonna work with a set number of sounds, kinda focus on each sound, make sure each sound is clearly as good as it can be. We more or less practice as a live band but we compose music like a solo electronic musician would. But we’re, uh… club music for the 21st Century.

Do you find people grasping at straws sometimes when it comes to trying to categorize what you do?

Yeah, definitely. I myself have kind of a difficult time putting it into a nice soundbyte. I feel like I have to explain it a little more than I can actually describe it sometimes. But in general, people seem to call us everything from noise, to post-punk, to club, to house, to left-field experimental electronic. It completely varies from article to article, from review to review. It’s cool with me, I don’t generally mind it. We’re very self-conscious of the fact that it doesn’t really fit in anywhere. That’s half the fun, for me anyways.

With the different backgrounds you mentioned, and the approach to writing where each member brings solo compositions to the collaborative setting of a live band, how do you forge a path to a common creative ground? Or do you even worry about a common ground?

I was a little vague earlier, so I’ll describe the process a little bit. So right now, Pat [Noecker – TAP bassist] and I are writing a little bit, we kinda laid the foundations. I also produce and DJ under the name Brenmar, so I make a lot of beats and remixes under that name. So what I’ll do is start off with some sounds, maybe a simple beat or a bar loop or something like that that I think would work for These Are Powers, then essentially just bring it to practice and set it out on the table and show everyone, or I’ll go through a different number of beats and sounds until we all agree on one. Maybe Anna [Barie – TAP guitarist/singer] isn’t feeling one but I really am, I’ll do something else later with it.

How does that translate into your live performance?

I’ll bring a group of sounds or a beat to the table and then we decide which one we really like then just work from there. So it goes from the studio to the practice space, then we’ll jam on it, more or less, as a real band, working on a riff or something laid down by the drummer. We’ll practice within that vein. Then we take it back to the studio and do some recordings, I’ll do some more editing and producing. Then the final live version that most people will see is a further enhanced reflection of the recorded version. But not always, because we’re usually playing new stuff that hasn’t been recorded yet. But every song is generally a work in progress. It’s not laid down until it’s officially out there,and that’s usually not until a year, a year and a half after its release, but it’s a very back and forth process. Sometimes Pat will come up with a melody line and he’ll show that to us and I might have a beat for it so I’ll just record it, sample it, take home a really rough cut of his melody, then basically compose a beat to it. I write all my beats on the computer then I use my hardware sampler to learn how to play them live.

Are there certain types of venues that you feel best convey the level of involvement you have with the crafting of the various facets of your sound? Like smaller places, or places that might seem a little odd, like the aforementioned pool hall for instance?

We’ve played in so many different spaces, sometimes the weirder the better. We’ve played kitchens, we’ve played bathrooms, we’ve played basements, pool halls, sushi restaurants (actually in Richmond also), we’ve played everywhere.

Generally though, our music is really intense on the low end so playing in a venue or a space that can accommodate that, as well as provide a comfortable atmosphere. Sometimes bars have really great sound systems but the downside is that you’re dealing with that bar vibe, everything’s all black and it’s 21 and over. None of us even drink very much at all, and we definitely don’t find ourselves in bars very frequently so tour is actually the exception, which is kinda weird.

I guess all spaces are kinda the way to go. We carry around our own PA, which helps a lot so we’re not at the mercy of whatever little sound system is at the space. But usually alternative spaces, art galleries, warehouses, lofts – that stuff is really fun, but we take it as it comes.

As you’ve made your way around all these different venues, have there been any artists you’ve felt a special affinity towards?

There’s a handful of bands in Brooklyn that I feel like are all kinda working on the same plane. We’re all drawing from a different set of influences, but we also play a lot of the same shit as well. We all use similar stuff and move in a similar direction. Groups like Lemonade, MNDR, Tan Lines, Javelin, a lot of these bands we’re gonna be touring with on the upcoming tour.

But Brooklyn has a nice little electronic-influenced… I don’t even know how to describe it. That’s what the critics are for, they tag the scene, I don’t even know what to call it.

Well, you seem like you do pretty well not tagging things so I won’t put you on the spot to start now.

But I feel like MNDR, Javelins, Teengirl Fantasy, Blondes, all represent this new little sound that isn’t entirely exclusive to New York or Brooklyn, though most of them have moved to Brooklyn in the past year, year and a half. MNDR’s from Oakland, Javelin’s from Providence, but it’s a little easier to work as a musician here in New York.

Also, a band like Gang Gang Dance, who have been around a lot longer, a lot longer than us even are doing something really special. They’re always a pleasure to see live.

So I noticed that the upcoming tour you mentioned is titled the “Teen Yoga Tour.” Is there any significance behind that?

It catches the attention more than anything. We get this spam e-mail in our band account we can’t figure out promoting teen yoga. It was Anna’s idea, I thought it was funny enough to work. It looks good on paper too.

I mean, it’s definitely eye-catching

Yeah, Anna had said we needed to name the tour. I had said we could but that it would at least have to be a song title. And she went ahead and pressed on with that name, which was cool. But there’s no real underlying significance other than that it just kinda sounds funny.

These Are Powers will be appearing with Lemonade at The Triple on March 13th.

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work:

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