Houston Calling

SXSW preview: Death is not a joyride.

February 27th, 2009 · 1 Comment



Death is not a joyride. takes the term “art rock” to a new level. With costumes, masks, and a multitude of instruments, this experimental collective has earned itself accolades for its energetic and bizarre live performances and original music. With The Human Zoo, the Austin-based band — Lionel Gonzalez (guitar, synths, piano), John Gouda (drums, glockenspiel), Andrew Noble (viola, mandolin), Kacy Ritter (vocals, synths, harp), and Joseph Salazar (bass, synths, organ) — creates a visual spectacle that continues to earn the band devoted fans.

In preparation for the band’s showcase at SXSW 2009, Death is not a joyride. multi-instrumentalists Joseph Salazar, Kacy Ritter, and Andrew Noble recently answered some questions for Houston Calling.

Houston Calling: How did Death is not a joyride. get started as a band?

Joseph: We met through a series of ads in the Austin Chronicle. I had known John through playing in several bands together. Kacy had known Lionel since high school. Actually, Kacy and Lionel grew up in Houston. We met Andrew, originally searching for a guitarist, but when we found out he could play viola that was pretty much it — he was our viola player. We played our first show in 2006. After a series of demo tracks, we recorded our first full-length album with John Congleton, of The Paper Chase, in the summer of 2007. Since then we’ve just been playing shows and touring when we can in support of that CD.

HC: Have you played at South By Southwest before? If so, how was that experience?

Joseph: This will be our first time to play SXSW for an official showcase. Every year we’ve gone to see so many bands during that week, and seen some amazing shows, and it is great to finally be a part of the actual festival itself. Plus, we are really happy to be playing with Moth!Fight!, which is one of our favorite local bands.

HC: Your band obviously has some interesting influences yet has to be one of most original ones ever created. What do you consider to be your primary musical influences and how do you think those play into your songs?

Andrew: My primary influences are classic rock, and classical music.

Kacy: Musical influences: Dresden Dolls, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Mars Volta, Bjork, whatever. One of the beautiful things about our collaboration is that we are come from different backgrounds both musically and artistically. I think this creates an amalgam of sound that is unique because we don’t have one favorite band as a whole, and we are not trying to synthesize a particular genre.

I think one of the other really important things about Death is not a joyride is that we are influenced by a lot of visual art as well, and we are all committed to developing that part of our project. I am a visual and performance artist myself, currently about to finish my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at UT, and this has played a huge part in our creative presentation. We work on all of our artwork ourselves, including everything from the masks to concert posters to album artwork.

Joseph: I think we are all inspired by artists who want to explore new sounds and be a little adventurous. Right now, I’m listening to a lot of bands like Gang Gang Dance, Animal Collective and Black Moth Super Rainbow. Bands like that, which have great songs, but also incorporate a wide array of unusual sounds and production techniques to make something that sounds very unique. Bands you might describe as experimental or art rock?

We also love theatrical live shows. Bands that offer something a little more than just getting up on stage and playing their songs.

HC: How do you approach the songwriting process? Is it a collaborative effort, where everyone brings ideas and you work from them, or does one person primarily bring in the ideas and you branch out from those?

Kacy: There is no primary songwriter in this project, and we all have a hand in what is created. It can create a struggle sometimes, but ultimately it means that what we produce is conceptually and texturally diverse.

Joseph: Usually one person has an initial idea and then we develop that into a song. Everyone has brought ideas that have turned into songs. Some songs start with a riff or melody and then we all play along and come up with parts. Some songs are written, recorded and arranged on a computer, with parts being e-mailed or transferred on CDs. Then we go back and learn how to play the song. It usually depends on the type of song and the direction we want to take with it.

HC: How much of an influence was producer John Congleton on The Human Zoo‘s sound?

Joseph: The album was pretty much written by the time we went into the recording studio. John Congleton definitely had a big influence on the sound, especially on songs like “Masochism In The Trade” and “Rats at the Fair.” We have already given him some new recordings we’ve been working on for him to listen to, so hopefully he can be much more involved in whatever we do next.

HC: How has digital technology changed the way you record and/or write your music?

Andrew: We use the computers and the synthesizers. Digital recording makes it easy to arrange a song from a series of recorded sections. This is helpful when we are trying to determine song lengths and structure. We have a nice collection of virtual and real synths and drum machines that we use frequently. It’s amazing how far technology has gone since the days when you needed an expensive studio with real, not virtual let alone digital, recording equipment and synthesizers the size of a dresser to make a good sounding piece of music. Plus the equipment we use probably has a combined value of under 10 grand, so almost anyone can do this.

Kacy: One of the other benefits of digital technology is that you can try out a lot of different ideas and listen back to them without having to be an “active player” at the same time. This is important for us because we can get an idea of what we are doing sonically and try to be — at least a little bit — more objective in understanding what is being created.

HC: Being from Austin, how do you view South By Southwest and what are you hoping to get out of it this year? What are you most looking forward to at SXSW?

Andrew: SXSW is a big party, and parties are fun. Someone said that Austin is the only town cool enough to bring the coolest bands from all over the world to it, instead of our citizens having to travel to see them. I think that’s the coolest thing about SXSW, the free airfare. This is our first time playing in the festival, and what I’m most excited about is having a wristband and being able to see the bands for free. My biggest hope for our band for the festival is that more people experience our music because sharing the music you make is  what music making is all about.

Kacy: SXSW is a huge event for Austin, and it really brings a sense of international occasion to our city, which is relatively small. The idea of being able to network with so many great artists in such a short period of time is really exciting!

HC: What are some of the bands you’re looking forward to seeing at this year’s SXSW?

Dinaj: St. Vincent, Amanda Palmer, Monotonix, Cursive, Dredge, Crystal Method, Sage Francis, Beach House, Thee Oh Sees. We heard Gang Gang Dance was playing but can’t find them on the schedule.

Death is not a joyride. play its official South By Southwest 2009 showcase at 9pm on Thursday (3.19.09) at Wave (408 E 6th). The Human Zoo is available now.

Here’s a video of Death is not a joyride. performing live:

Visit the band online at www.dinaj.net.

Tags: Interviews · Music · Show listings · SXSW

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 SXSW previews // Mar 21, 2009 at 4:38 pm

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