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Sharks and Sailors

Submitted by RamonLP4 on August 1, 2008 – 1:59 amNo Comment
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Photography by John Van

On stage, Mike Rollin releases a soft cascade of notes that shimmer from his guitar. Unexpectedly, the notes segue into a blast of syncopated chords that churn an ugly black bile. Melissa Lonchanbon’s bass meets his guitar with a harmonic, perhaps a fraction of a frequency off, and the dissonant oscillations discharge fury into the air like St. Elmo’s Fire demanding everyone’s attention. Suddenly, at the front of the stage, a tide of metal dudes has rolled in - a sweaty dark clothed wave of men called forth by the riptide of Phil Woodward’s pounding drums and the dissonant amplified strings. Fists are clenched - thrusting the Dio devil sign. The crowd is screaming at the top of their lungs while their veins burst from their necks from the force of their voices. The song being played is instrumental but that doesn’t stop one blonde haired kid from reaching up with an arm dripping in the slick salty humidity of the atmosphere. He grabs the microphone on the stage and emits a guttural growl that would summon Cthulu. The black gang, though smiling, keeps to the task at hand and feeds the boilers through to the end of “Rickshaw” where they are met with wild cheers from over the gunnel of the stage.

Sharks and Sailors may, from this description of a recent show at Rudyard’s, sound like the most metal of metal bands - the darkest of the dark things to rise from the depths – but that would be misleading. The band is actually one of the most odd and original constructs to arise from Houston’s music scene - combining elements of metal, indie rock, and prog into a sophisticated machine like no other. Beyond the brutal pounding described above, their new album, Builds Brand New, employs smooth melodic pop elements (Thrill), jarring time signatures (Fix Your Radar), and lovely psychedelic shoegaze (Condor).

The band went for a quartet (with Allen Hendrix) to a trio during the making of the new album. When I ask them what differences they experienced, I’m met with a wry “Fewer strings!”

“There is also less volume,” says Phil. “We’ve already proven we can play louder than a 747. With a three-piece there is more space and we pay more attention to the vocals.”

Melissa, whose vocals are one of the wow elements of the album, says, “I’d never sung before, so singing was odd for me particularly because I’m not a very loud person to begin with but, when I go to a show, I want to hear people belt it out.”

That’s pretty typical of the band that never seems to want to take the easy route. “We push each other hard,” says Mike. “There are tapes of us tossing Fs at each other.”

Melissa explains the dynamic, “What happens is we hit this friction point where 98% of a song is written then we spew venom.”

“That just comes from the excitement and passion of almost having it done,” says Mike. “’Rickshaw’ was a song I wrote on this shitty Peavy Rage amp. It never had a pretty quality to it. While writing it, Phil and I got into an epic argument and Melissa got it all on video tape.”

As if on cue, Phil burst out a re-enactment, “Fucking help me here!!!”

“That’s not my responsibility!!” shouts back Mike.

“Just Point!” laughs Phil.

“What the fuck is that pointing thing?!!!” retorts Mike

“Just Fucking Point!” screams Phil.

After some composure is restored, I explain how I’m always surprised that despite their lack of theatrics people always give them their full attention. Mike attributes that partly to how their shows are structured. “It’s a drag when bands play then stop to tune or ask for a beer; all the momentum is lost. I never take the audience for granted or want to waste their time. That’s why we’ll have samples going off between the songs - to keep it seamless.”

I suggest that odd time signatures are normally a turn-off for non-musicians but Mike counters, “We were just listening to ‘Master of Puppets’ and it’s in 15 but you don’t really notice it because it’s done so well.”

“We make odd grooves but we don’t want to shove it in people’s faces.” explains Phil, “I’ll use a bass drum pattern against a guitar’s odd time signature where my beat smoothes it out. I can geek out on stuff like that but we’re not forcing it - that just comes naturally.”

While Phil elucidates on the matter, I point to two odd music notations on the dry erase board. “What does this mean?” I ask.

“Oh, that? See, there are two kinds of songs.” says Mike.

“Trucker,” explains Phil, “that’s a song that keeps your head bobbin’ - where you’re driving 80 in the middle of downtown with your rig and nothin’ is stopping you! And Alabama? That’s a song where you can substitute the lyrics with the word Alabama!”

Suddenly, the band that I previously described as sophisticated is laughing and shouting “AL-U-BAH-MUH!” at the top of their lungs.

Sharks and Sailors will celebrate the release of their newest album Builds Brand New at Walters with Ume and the Jonx on August 1st. The album will be available for digital download and as a limited edition CD.

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