By Jonah Krueger, Contributor
[Photo by Harley Wince, Visual Media Director]
Q&A with bassist Jake Evans, drummer Bryan Sheets, and guitarist and creative force Demetri Wolfe of Athens math-rock trio Inoculous.
You guys played this same venue last weekend—does that contribute to a sense of comfort or familiarity?
DEMETRI: It’s a good time, you know. Casa Nueva has a comfy stage. I feel like tonight we are playing with more, I guess, like-minded bands. Last time we played with this awesome blues band. One of the highlights of shows is being able to fit in with the other bands, and I feel like tonight that will be more the case.
BRYAN: Yeah, Three Legged Chairs, specifically. I know their music, it’s fucking fantastic.
JAKE: And also Bat House. Bat House is fucking dope.
DEMETRI: But any stage we play is fun, ‘cause we get to play.
BRYAN: Getting repeat bookings is nice because it means we are liked there and they keep wanting us to come back. So, it’s just nice to know that you’re wanted as a band to play somewhere, instead of everyone being like, “No! Go away! Stop asking!”
Read more: Artist Profile: Andrés
It seems like you guys keep getting booked, so you must be doing something right. In fact, you guys have been playing a lot. Is that a part of the creative process?
DEMETRI: Well, in terms of the creative process, it is very unilateral. This is inherently a solo-project for me, where I’m writing songs and Jake and Bryan have been kind enough to listen to me and carry out all of my ridiculous requests and peel grapes and all that fun shit.
JAKE: Playing live isn’t really so much a part of the creative process at all. It’s more like actually displaying what we bust our asses on. It’s a nice feeling.
That’s a great segue, I was going to move us into some math-rock talk. Math rock is known for its relationship to music theory and virtuoso-type performances; are these things that you guys are processing when playing or writing?
JAKE: We don’t know what notes are!
DEMETRI: I’ve been studying music theory for a fair bit of time—I’ll say, over half of my life—and I’ve used it as more of a reflex than I have for, like, sitting down and thinking of what mode of the major scale is going to sound the best here. It’s kind of a reflex where it is like, I have a cool melody in my head, and how would that sound harmonized this way? How would it sound harmonized that way? A lot of experimentation doing that. I’ve been playing piano since I was three, and I moved to guitar. I actually moved to drums first, and I took guitar a year after that. I just loved guitar. Kirk Hammett from Metallica, definitely one of my favorites. I just wanted to do the all cool, crazy shit he was doing. Then I got really into shit like Animals As Leaders and Charlie Parker and I realized, “Hey! You can use the guitar as a solo instrument and do more shit than just shred!” I was like, “Oh, shit! That’d be cool.”
So, would you say that your music theory background is more of the back layer of what you are doing, rather than sitting down to go, “I’ll use this specific thread?”
DEMETRI: Exactly. Specific threads, I would say, that’s what like polyrhythms and shit are for.
Math rock also seems to be influenced by and incorporated into many different styles, from jazz to punk to emo. What bits and pieces of different genres have you guys decided to play with?
JAKE: I like to consider math rock as a love child of, like, Midwest emo and prog rock. Prog rock has all the fancy time signature changes and the very complex layering of just all the shit they have, and then there’s the somber, sweet sound of guitar from a Midwest emo band.
DEMETRI: One of my favorite memes ever is “math rock is just emo jazz.” And then, like, a couple says it at the same time, and they just start kissing. I just think that works so well.
JAKE: If your boyfriends in a math rock band, what’s he gonna do? Play polyrhythms at me?
DEMETRI: Plays “Never Meant” a half-step down.
Where do you see the genre headed?
JAKE: I feel like the genre is going to remain the same as it always has, which is just some niche thing for fucking music nerds or weirdos who like to not dance to music, you know? I like to consider it music for musicians because when I heard this shit, and I wasn’t very trained, I was like, “Who cares? They are just trying too hard.” But now I understand what goes into it and how wildly impressive it actually is.
DEMETRI: My thing is, I feel like people are beginning to conflate math rock with tapping the same seven chords in four over and over again. It’s creating an echo chamber of what can only be described as—like my friend Brock Benzal described it as “weather channel music.” And I feel like it’s a dangerous trend. Music is there to be explorative and experimental, and it’s cool to dive into your influences and bring that out, but it can be dangerous sometimes. I feel like especially when doing stuff as complex as this; if you feel confident at being able to do one type of skill, you’re really—I don’t want to say at risk of nullifying the genre because then I sound like a dick but… yeah”
Just earlier this year you released your first EP, Creature Beach. What was that like?
BRYAN: It’s an EP.
DEMETRI: It’s an EP. It was my first attempt at releasing something. This was kind of just like a—you know, I just need to have something to my name.
BRYAN: Hey! I exist!
DEMETRI: Honestly, I went into a basement in Virginia and just tracked it all in a day. There was no pre-production. The mixing process took six months.
The EP came with a pretty philosophical written bio—are the ideas brought up in that reflected in the music?
DEMETRI: That’s kind of just where my head was at when I was making it, and that was the arc of the story. I don’t want to say you can listen to the entire EP, and it can just be an 11-and-a-half minute song with three different movements ‘cause it’s not. But then what is it? It’s kind of up to you. That’s what it meant to me. In the second part of that, I kind of encouraged people to find their own meaning within it. Especially because it is instrumental, who am I to tell people what to feel from music with no words?
BRYAN: I like instrumental music because I feel like it just encourages people to attach their own meaning to it, rather than just have someone having like lyrics telling what the song is about or telling you what to feel. You kind of have to tune into what the person who wrote it was trying to convey with the emotion of the tone and chords and everything else put into it.
According to your most recent Facebook post you wrote, “Bands are dead.” Care to elaborate?
DEMETRI: Sure. “Bands are dead” is essentially a joke. It’s that people will take anything seriously if it comes from Facebook. And, you know, we have 200 likes, so maybe 40 people are watching our page in a period of 24 hours. So [Facebook], it’s an official-looking thing with a very unofficial looking tone, and I just thought it’d be funny. It got a lot of engagement! People were very ready to be defensive or joke back to me.
BRYAN: I was shocked at how many people commented on that. I was like, “Oh, damn! People follow us on Facebook? How about that?”
DEMETRI: It was very encouraging to know that people are listening and that people feel like they can share their opinions with us because then we’re not just performing music; we’re fostering a community.
BRYAN: We’re not a machine; we’re all just people.
DEMETRI: This is my crappy sense of humor, like, embrace it with me.
BRYAN: It’s the one joke he makes a year. He gets one.
I’m looking forward to next year’s joke then.
DEMETRI: Me too!
Stream Inoculous’ debut EP, Creature Beach, below.