Human Qualities: Explosions In The Sky

Success, integrity, quantum physics?

Explosions In The Sky have subtly conquered the world but stayed true to themselves. Guitarist Munaf Ryani explains just how they’ve done it, before talking quantum physics…

In today’s capitalist, consumerist, conservative, cut and thrust world, it often seems, on the face of it, that creativity suffers at the hands of business. The government is withdrawing funding to the Film Council (not to mention everything else), Simon Cowell rules the charts, and a book written by a fucking meerkat becomes a number one bestseller. These are, it seems, dark times. But, really, if you just look beyond that superficial surface, creativity is thriving. Beyond the mainstream, away from the dispassionate ruling mindset that equates talent with record sales, whose motivation is money and nothing else, there are many, wonderful glimmers of light. Explosions In The Sky are just like their name – bursts of optimism and hope in that dark universe, burning brighter and brighter and brighter with every year they’ve been together. They easily sold out their April show at New York’s Radio City Music Hall – which holds some six thousand people – and in May, they’ll be in London playing to a sold-out crowd at the Camden Roundhouse. That’s pretty good going, really, especially given that there’s been a four-year break between their last album and, ‘Take Care, Take Care, Take Care’, their latest offering.

“It’s one hundred per cent surprising,” says guitarist Munaf Rayani, “that this has taken us as far as it’s taken us. Because we’ve never felt the pressure of a timeline, like ‘Oh, we must have an album out this year’. We’ve taken a few years between records, but it’s with the mentality that a lot of people write music ‘Go go go go!’ and then you write stuff that’s only half good and comes up a little short, in the fear that people will forget about you if you take your time. But our mindset is that good music has no expiration date. We’ll take whatever it takes us.”

They are, clearly, a band who go against the grain, who do things their own way for their own reasons. That they’re so successful is testament to that undercurrent of creativity beneath the homogenised mainstream, proof that you can do what you want and not just survive, but thrive.

“Commercial viability is all subjective these days,” he continues. “Indie music has definitely made its way onto the television. I mean, we’ve been a part of a commercial or two, or had songs in films or trailers, but we try to be very selective about where we are lending our music. A lot of thought goes into every decision we make on a case by case basis. Our songs showing up in these different places offers us a very undercover way of infiltrating a collective consciousness. Even if you don’t know our name, perhaps you’ve heard our music, and there’s some great beauty in that, to me.”

Of course, some may call them sell outs for doing so, but they’d be wrong. There isn’t, and never will be, anything wrong with making money from music, so long as money isn’t the reason to make music. It’s all about intention.

“If the motivation is solely money,” elaborates Rayani, “then I think you’re misguided. But if a woman makes a sculpture that is so striking to the eye and somebody comes in and they want to buy it for $100,000 and with that $100,000 that sculptor can feed a child, can help their mother, can allow themselves to continue to make art, that’s wonderful. It’s easy to say, ‘Oh that woman sold her sculpture for $100,000, she’s a sell-out’, but no, no, no. You don’t know the meaning of the word ‘sell-out’ is, or what’s at play here. While it might have been embarrassing for her to sell this thing to whoever, I bet it wasn’t embarrassing to feed her children, or to continue to do art. It’s all perspective. We could be die-hard punk rock and call bullshit on everything, but where’s that going to get you?”

It was almost twelve years that Rayani, along with Mark Smith, Chris Hrasky and Michael James, formed the band in Austin, Texas. Deciding to be a leaderless, democratic band, they opted to make instrumental music; long, expansive and experimental swirls of atmosphere that – again, just like their name – built up and up and up into a fiery crescendo that, in the end, just couldn’t be contained. Literally. On April 26th 2007, Explosions In The Sky were freewheeling through ‘The Only Moment We Were Alone’ for the finale of an already-incredible gig at the now-demolished London Astoria when Rayani’s amp started to smoke, before quietly beginning to flame. He laughs at the memory.

“I remember that day,” he chuckles. “I didn’t even notice – and it was my amp! I was playing my melody, readying to go into another part, and I could hear my name being called. ‘Munaf. Munaf! Munaf! MUNAF!’ And I didn’t pay much attention at first, but then I turned around and the thing was smoking. But things like that happen. You can’t account for everything. So naturally, and especially in our case, the show comes with a number of follies. It’s almost like a comedy show. We’re trying our best to stay on the line, but we trip and we slip and laugh. Because what else are we to do? Getting angry wouldn’t help. So we laugh off our troubles and try to move forward. But I remember when that happened. The crowd was very kind to us. They could easily have got a little unsettled but somebody helped us out, we got another, smaller amp and we finished the song. It makes for a memory, you know.”
It does indeed. That moment stands out in Clash’s mind as one of the most memorable moments at any gig, testament to the power of the band’s music. Not, of course, that it directly caused that amp to smoke.

“Well, we don’t know that,” chuckles Rayani. “It could have directly caused that amp to blow up. We could start talking quantum physics and some really deep, existential type stuff, that maybe the powers of the room blew the fuse, but…that’s ridiculous! I only learned the words ‘quantum physics’ yesterday!”

It’s unlikely that anyone will ever know what, on that April day, caused Rayani’s amp to ignite. But, if there’s one band whose music could have that effect, perhaps it would be Explosions In The Sky. Four years on from that night, ‘Take Care, Take Care, Take Care’ continues their legacy boldly and proudly. It’s a work of beauty and integrity, an expression of the power of pure creativity. It’s proof that, in today’s capitalist, consumerist, conservative, cut and thrust world, that good music made with the right intentions, can still flourish. Let the fires start to burn…

Words by Mischa Pearlman
Photos by Nick Simonite

This article features in the new issue of Clash Magazine out now. Subscribe to Clash Magazine.

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