The combined age of Seattle foursome Newaxeyes is 100. Yes, they're Millennials—but the good kind, the kind that form an innovative band, perhaps this city's soon-to-be best, if things continue as they have in the 16 months they've been together.
"What you might call a 'Millennial perspective' deeply informs the conceptual aspect of our work, in that we interact heavily with information as a concept," says synthesist/bassist/sample-wrangler Jordan Rundle, at 23 the youngest member of the band. "We like to interact with the idea that all information is fundamentally the same. You derive your own significance to it. That comes out of the fact that we're heavily sample based; we appropriate wildly different sources from all over the musical spectrum and the conceptual spectrum."
Along with guitarists Will Hayes and Tyler Coray and synthesist/beatmaker/floppy-disk manipulator Bret Gardin, Newaxeyes purvey an omnidirectional approach to music-making that has roots in Cornish College study as well as voracious web-surfing and crate-digging in the service of scouring history for the choicest snippets to repurpose. Or in the case of their early crowd-favorite track "Lips," transforming a brief snatch of strings from a lousy Lipps Inc. tune into a sublime textural motif that stains your brain with a strange kind of optimism. Newaxeyes' music smears the boundaries of genres like hiphop, psych rock, noise, and musique concrète in the same diabolically clever manner with which they obscure samples. Pretty much everything's warped all the time, but the sound comes out very beautiful and emotive. The closest comparisons might be outliers like Fuck Buttons and Dälek. Newaxeyes stress that "elusive fifth member" Will Smith, their live sound guru and studio engineer, is key to their aural alchemy. Smith runs Hatchback Recording and is also a cellist and composer who studied with Hayes at Cornish under jazz great Wayne Horvitz. "We'd be in over our heads a lot of the time without him," Hayes says.
Newaxeyes are instrumental virtuosos who work like hiphop producers. With Coray's and Rundle's backgrounds in visual art (both do design work for Capitol Hill ad agency Creature, in whose basement bar/chill-out room the interview takes place) and Gardin's and Hayes's serious instrumental chops, Newaxeyes are a self-contained unit who can put on a spectacular A/V display, build a website, and design a logo like pros. But their music's anything but commercial; they're only in it for the art.
The band's rampant diversity makes them difficult to pinpoint, and consequently they've played on bills with noisers, psych-rockers, hiphop heads, and dance bands, and even covered a Horvitz composition with jazz musicians. "I don't think a scene exists for this stuff we make," Rundle says. "That's one of the most rewarding things about being a bit faceless; people bring us onto bills solely because they think we're a valuable thing to listen to."
Rundle says Newaxeyes songs "start from a place of utter chaos," but the four players scrupulously hone the initial big creative bangs into pieces that have discernible peaks and valleys. The titles on their first official release, the "Assange/Church" 12-inch due in late November on Sonny Mishra's DivineDroid label, refer to whistle-blowers Julian Assange and Robert Church, reflecting, as Rundle notes, the members' obsession with "government obfuscation and manipulation of information. Assange is an interesting, larger-than-life public figure. Conceptually, it ties into information free use and manipulation and the contrast to that, which is sort of occluding the truth and occluding the true nature of something, which we do in our music."
"Assange" combines deeply poignant guitar chimes à la Terje Rypdal's '70s ECM LPs with some of the grittiest, slitheriest beats heard this decade. It's an anomalous beauty. "Church" is pregnant with jet-engine roar, prowling guitar, and bass figures in the vein of Codeine, and a sluggish boom-bap that bumps with the doom-laden finality of mid-'90s Scorn. A madly scrambled blues vocal sample tops the track like erratically applied whipped cream to a lead pie.
"Our heaviest moments, we keep pushing it farther than people will anticipate," Coray says. "We like to test people's patience and expectations. When a lot of people talk about getting put into a trance or certain headspace, they think of a quiet, ambient vibe. I think you can put somebody in a trance through a complete wall-of-sound abrasiveness."
"There's no fundamental difference between beautiful, lilting textural stuff and the harsh, wall-of-noise stuff we explore that can be overwhelming in a completely different way, but it hits the same receptors, ultimately," Rundle concludes. "The goal is to wipe the difference. We're not working with two diametrically opposed concepts. Oscillating between them, we're trying to find a sound that can accommodate all that while still having a singular vision."