Autolux caps a season of touring at the El Rey Friday
Alone in Autolux’s Studio 23 recording facility near downtown Los Angeles, Greg Edwards had completely lost his bearings inside his musical structures. For the last few years he'd been sifting for melodies in shards of sound, piling layer upon layer of noisy guitar loops, replaying them incessantly at ear drum-decimating volume.
“It got strange and fragmented. I’d just listen to loops for long periods of time and wait for melodies to present themselves,” Edwards said recently, clad in a black button-up and wine-dark jeans, a muted color scheme consistent with the band’s monochromatic bent.
Roughly four years had elapsed since the release of his band Autolux’s acclaimed debut, “Future Perfect,” and efforts to record a follow-up had faltered. Their contract with record label DMZ -- helmed by their former producer T-Bone Burnett and his partners, Joel and Ethan Coen -- was absorbed into Epic Records and executives accustomed to Good Charlotte and Mudvayne started advising them on how they needed to make “the right record,” an affront to the art-rock sensibilities of a trio regularly compared to Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine.
The buzz after “Future Perfect” had earned the band opening slots with Beck, Elvis Costello and the White Stripes. P.J. Harvey enlisted drummer Carla Azar to play on last year’s John Parish collaboration, “A Woman A Man Walked By,” and the band’s influence spread. But they were in a holding pattern.
When aligned with Burnett and the Coens, few L.A. bands matched the trio’s pedigree and high-mindeness. Prone to literary allusions and armed with an assault of scraping shoegaze guitars, thundering drums and ethereal voices, their art-rock aesthetic was actualized when the band created a soundtrack for an audio gallery tour in the Natural History Museum’s “Sonic Scenery” exhibit.
They did all this during a time when L.A.’s scene was often smugly dismissed. An effusive review on the record on popular indie rock website Pitchfork described Los Angeles as a “cesspool of pretty little coke-fed nihilists and skid row after-parties 10 times more populated than the actual shows, with vacuous neo-dance-punk sets by a B-list celebrity DJ.”
Despite the praise, though, the waiting continued and the label concerns mounted. Edwards channeled his frustration into the work. “I got completely into it and idea after idea starting coming out of crazy chaotic loops. I knew that no record would come out of it, but it served its purpose.”
Through the gestation period, Edwards and company watched as the music industry contracted and had to learn to adapt to the waiting game. “We created an entire immune system. At first, we had no idea what it would look like, only what would kill it and what would make it stronger,” Edwards said of the creative process during this time. “There was a lot of fragmentation. We temporarily lost our solidarity and the chaos stopped progress. But once we got back together, we found that it had pointed the way towards a new direction.”
Songs emerged piecemeal, in forms ranging from coherent sketches, to warped Neil Young-style ballads, to Azar excavating guitar fragments from Edward’s late-night squalls. Obssessed with field recordings, Edwards arrayed a weird architecture of noise, sampling everything from the closing of an old freezer door in a farmhouse outside of Copenhagen, to an archaic out-of-tune piano that only played three chords.
Music blogs wondered on the band’s progress; the long-promised record became almost an indie rock analogue to Dr. Dre’s “Detox.”
Late last year after the band had resolved its label issues, an unmixed version of “Transit Transit” landed in the hands of Phil Costello, a long-time fan and co-founder of TBD Records, best known as Radiohead’s American label, though the L.A.-based indie has developed a strong roster of American bands, including Angelenos Local Natives and Henry Clay People. The label released "Transit" on Aug. 3, to mostly positive reviews (though Pitchfork didn't like it too much), and the band has been on the road ever since. They conclude their American tour Friday, confident that throughout the long process, their patience had been worth it.
“We had enough songs to release an album years ago, but we scrapped them. They felt contrived,” said bassist and vocalist, Eugene Goreshter. “It’s almost like a no-win situation; you want to do something really amazing and different, but if you stray too far, it becomes like, 'What are they doing?' ”
-- Jeff Weiss
Photo: Autolux's Carla Azar, left, Eugene Goreshter and Greg Edwards. Credit: Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times