Featured Music: Wednesday, April 17, 2003
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Slow Ride

The Audiophiles know that good emocore takes time.

By KEN SHIMAMOTO

Sitting in a TCU-area bar on Derrick McDonald’s 23rd birthday, the talk is mostly about the war with Iraq, which started a couple of days earlier. While his girlfriend Margie feeds the jukebox, McDonald and fellow Audiophiles guitarist Jordan Roberts watch the troops going over the berm on CNN. The Audiophiles don’t feel quite like they’re going into combat, but pardon them if they’re a little keyed up these days. After only 10 months of playing local gigs, the Audiophiles feel they’re ready to take the next steps: releasing a split e.p. with their Dallas buddies, the Danes, recorded at that band’s 9 Volt Studios, and slightly upping the number of gigs per month.

The Audiophiles take their time. It’s been more than two years now since McDonald and singer Brad Simmons first had the idea of putting together a band. The two spent the next six months recruiting other like-minded musicians, then rehearsed for a year before booking their first show in May 2002. “If we’d gone out and showed ass the first time, we probably would have quit right then,” said McDonald. Instead, that premier gig was an unqualified success; the Audiophiles brought out 200 fans while headliner Chomsky drew only 20. Since then, the Audiophiles have played a meager number of shows, a little more than a dozen, but each gig has been well received.

Early on, the band cut a three-song, bedroom-recorded c.d., The Cautious Observer Demo, which the musicians now feel is unrepresentative of their sound. Listening to that demo e.p., it’s possible to hear a lot of subtleties that aren’t always discernible in a live setting, where soundmen more accustomed to mixing punk or metal have a habit of burying Heath Frederik’s spacey keyboards or some of McDonald’s more intricate inventions in the overall roar.

The thing is, the Audiophiles aren’t your typical local rock band. They don’t write pop songs. Rather, their music is a dense, multilayered affair, deceptively simple on the surface, half Velvet Underground drone and half Radiohead atmospherics — a mixture that can be either hypnotic or monotonous, depending on your mindset (anybody remember Bedhead?). That’s not to say that there’s no dynamic variation in the Audiophiles’ music, just that it takes place at an almost subliminal level, definitely at a lower level than most of the rock you hear in Clubland these days.

McDonald and Roberts rely on a multitude of effects. Roberts uses one of those digital pedalboard gizmos, while McDonald favors good old-fashioned analog stompboxes. This helps the duo create a shifting textural landscape for Simmons’ dream-like lyrics. Roberts might start a song by using a sampler to create a simple repeating figure, then play shimmering chords over it, leaving space for McDonald to add melodic spice, creating a rippling line or playing a Floydian slide part. When Roberts kicks up the song’s emotional intensity with a blast of distortion, the effect is both visceral and cleansing, for those with ears to listen. “I want to tell stories, but I can’t do it on the level of ‘I’m sad because my girlfriend left me,’” said Roberts. “The way we approach it is more like creating a mood and letting it build.”

Roberts believes it’s important to contact the sources of emotion while writing songs. “When I started playing guitar,” he said, “I’d try and play things that described the way I was feeling, which wasn’t very good a lot of the time. Even now, I’ll try and think of things like how I felt when my grandfather died. Those emotions stay with you, and I think they’re pretty universal.”

McDonald adds to the point: “People probably think that we’re serious all the time, but really, we’re a bunch of cut-ups” — and it’s true. Spend an afternoon with the Audiophiles and you’ll hear the banter of a bunch of friends who are obsessed with pop culture — movies, horrible ’70s sitcoms, Spinal Tap. According to Roberts, the original impetus behind the band was Chelsie Zachman, now his girlfriend, who encouraged Simmons to take some poems he’d written and have McDonald set them to music. “She also found our first drummer” in the chat room of Dallas’ top record store.

Visually, the Audiophiles are an incongruous crew. Simmons is your typical brooding frontman (Morrissey’s a big influence) who smokes too many cigarettes and spends too much time on his cell phone. When not working with the band, he’s modern rock program director for KTCU/88.7-FM, a connection that’s garnered the Audiophiles fewer hookups than you might expect. Bassist Nic Wright, who played his first show with the band in February, is debatably the skinniest guy on Fort Worth’s rock scene (although Soviet Space’s Jim Keith might have him beat), while drummer Jared Jackson, another new addition to the lineup (and who also pounds skins for the Danes), is a stocky fella. McDonald’s a dead ringer for Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood, while Roberts looks like a fugitive from Speedtrucker in his John Deere ball cap.

The band is grateful for the support and encouragement it’s received from other musicians. When the Audiophiles performed in the lounge at the Ridglea Theater on a night when the Washingtonian emo popster group Death Cab for Cutie was playing the main stage, they got a surprise: Death Cab bassist Nick Harmer cornered Roberts and talked to him for 30 minutes about how “great” the Audiophiles’ music was. “I’d have done the same thing to him, but he beat me to it,” said Roberts.

The Audiophiles recently signed with Spune Productions, the booking agency that handles the Chemistry Set, the Danes, Hi-Fi Drowning, Red Animal War, and the Snowdonnas, but they’re as concerned with the quality of gigs that come their way as the quantity. “We want to play the right kind of shows, where audiences are likely to accept us,” said Roberts. Even as they prepare to cast their bread out on the waters of The Biz, the bandmembers value their integrity above all. Before returning to his birthday beer and CNN’s war coverage, McDonald made the point: “We’d rather burn bridges than kiss ass.”


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