Venturing into the Unknown
Pop experimentalists Maps & Atlases get excited about breaking new ground and finding out what their fans think of their music.
Should you be familiar with Maps & Atlases and their music, you’ll no doubt agree that it defies easy categorisation. Their debut album, Perch Patchwork, is as much experimental and progressive as it is intimate and personal. So difficult to pin down is their sound that even frontman Dave Davison finds it hard. “It’s always tough to come up with a good description,” he admits, “but if asked, we usually describe our music as technical or experimental pop music, because I think that at least accurately describes our approach to music.” Although it sounds very vague, it’s probably the closest and most accurate description you’ll hear.
The key word is “experimental”, and with the band’s second long player, Beware And Be Grateful, released this month, the boundaries are being pushed further as the Chicago four-piece challenge themselves and their sound to create something they can be truly proud of. “We tried to make an album that builds upon our previous work and to make the most focused, expressive and interesting record that we could,” explains Davison, and the result is an album which is more sonically expansive and technically challenging. “It includes a lot of new types of experimentation for us such as improvisation and the use of effects, to name a few,” continues Davison. Improvisation seems to be something which is key to the new record. Each track is given its own spontaneous energy and Davison is quick to affirm that “many classic albums have that feel and we wanted to have the best of both worlds: a deliberate, good sounding album, with spontaneity and a lot of live energy.”
Going a little deeper, Davison reveals that throughout the album there is a continuous feel of weight. Musically, there is an expansion on their use of texture, while the lyrics focus on the important and the meaningful. He explains: “Some songs are heavy and others are light feeling, sometimes in regards to the same subject.” More interestingly is how Davison explains his personal geographic references within the album. Many of the songs were written while walking and the lyrics reference certain locations so, for Davison, “listening back to the songs often makes me visualise those locations.”
Similar to their debut record, the preliminary tracking and demoing of Beware And Be Grateful mostly took place in Dave’s parent’s basement and, even during these early planning stages, the band’s long time friend and producer Jason Cupp was heavily involved. “Jason and I came upon this guy selling a pile of Casio keyboards on the street and thought that it could be fun to play around with them a bit in the recording process, so we ended up buying all of them,” recalls Dave. “We used them quite a bit when planning and demoing and, although there is barely any keyboard on the album, I feel that it did inform the final sound.”
The band would later head to Omaha, Nebraska with Cupp to record the album at ARC studios, a decision based simply on a desire to actually put together a record in the studio setting, which was a first for them. “It was a great experience,” says Davison. “The studio provided us with a lot of new sounds and instruments to experiment with.” But it wasn’t just the record that Omaha had a positive effect on. “It is a fantastic studio,” he acknowledges, “but I think that just having all of us hanging out all day in that new environment was significant in itself.” And, needless to say, the band were more than thrilled to be working with Cupp again, citing him as “extremely talented”. “It’s excellent to work with someone who is so capable of helping to realise ideas,” says Davison. “I especially appreciate the momentum that we are able to get going when we both get really excited about what’s happening, allowing us to go further down different musical paths working together than we might on our own.”
With the new record due for release this month, the band are dropping down on British soil, something which they are indescribably excited about given the success of their 2010 UK tour which was a complete sell out. “It is always incredible to travel to new places and have there actually be people at the shows and we feel really fortunate that we’re able to do that,” exclaims Davison. “Each time that we’ve come to the UK we have felt comfortable and people have been very hospitable to us, so we’re looking forward to returning.”
This hospitality spreads across Maps & Atlases’ worldwide fan base whose sheer dedication always leaves the band incredibly humbled. “I’m always really excited to have conversations with people while we’re on tour and often there are times when I feel surprised and excited by the insightful things they have to say about our music,” admits Davison. “I think that it takes a lot of dedication to listen carefully and internalize music and it makes me excited, because I love listening to music in that way.” Beyond touring the new record, the band have no set plans as of yet, simply taking things as they come. This could mean anything from more touring to festival slots, you name it. But one thing is for sure: with the release of such an ambitious, experimental record and a hugely devoted fan base, Maps & Atlases have a huge year ahead of them.
Words: Nina Glencross Photo:
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