Passing Time: Explosions In The Sky

How a soundtrack project unlocked new directions for the Texan group...

Post-rock began as a definitive term for an indecisive genre.

Hell, it wasn’t even a genre. Slint’s skewed take on hardcore’s charred corpse sounded nothing at all like the avant-jazz infused wanderings of Tortoise, with only an approach, a shared discipline to connect them. It took the arrival of groups such as Explosions In The Sky to solidify the genre, to turn ‘post-rock’ into a single sound. But after 15 years, no wonder the American group are feeling so tired, so hemmed in.

Settling into the recording process to work on a new soundtrack project for upcoming film ‘Prince Avalanche’, Explosions In The Sky were able to take risks they might other not have afforded themselves. “We knew that the movie didn’t demand us to sound like what fans have gotten used to from us” explains Chris Hrasky. “Which was nice because we’re actually a little bored of that ourselves – the bombastic guitars and big drums. We were talking about pushing ourselves away from that and this was a nice chance to push ourselves away from that without the pressure of a full album. We wanted to do something a little more subtle, rather than bombastic”.

Allowing the film to guide them, Explosions In The Sky naturally found a new mode of writing. ‘Prince Avalanche’ is a slow moving offbeat drama from David Gordon Green, and it’s gentle portrayal of an out-of-sync relationships provided the Texan group with the perfect canvas to work on. “The tone of the movie dictated the tone of the music” the guitarist continues, “so it was fun to try things which we hadn’t really done on records before but which might inform what we do with records from now on.”

Directed by a close friend, ‘Prince Avalanche’ was shot close to the band’s native Texas. Visits to the set allowed Explosions In The Sky to grasp the mood of the film, while David Gordon Green often played rough sketches of the score between takes. “We would write demos at home and then give them to David and he would play them on the set, even” Hrasky enthuses. “Our visits out there, handing him music to play on the set, formed this little circle. Then when they finally finished and did this rough edit, they gave us that so we could start sculpting it a little more precisely.”

Working closely with the film maker, Explosions In The Sky also allowed another collaborator to enter their tight-knit group. David Wingo is a friend of both band and director, providing a bridge between the two, allowing further ideas to flow. “Wingo has scored most of his movies, and we’d become friends together over the years, so it was just this opportunity for us to work together on something” he says. “Collaborate with someone who we are very close to and could push us in different directions. He’s such a close friend that it felt like he was already in that world with us.”

The presence of David Wingo seems to epitomise the relaxed nature of the sessions which underscore ‘Prince Avalanche’. At times, the music feels almost palpably de-pressurised with Explosions In The Sky constructing the work in their own homes. “We did it in our own living rooms, using our own recording set up. It was pretty relaxed, so it wasn’t a terribly gruelling process by any means” Hraksy grins. “I think it was more to get a relaxed sort of feel. It just seemed like such a homegrown affair, the whole movie, that doing it in our homes made the most sense.”

When the music was completed, Explosions In The Sky handed the finished score to David Gordon Green – who then re-worked elements of his own film around it. “The final recordings were all kind of recorded to the actual scenes. I don’t think much changed when we handed it all over” the guitarist insists. “For one thing, it’s not like a big movie with big action scenes. There’s not a tonne of cuts, there’s a lot of long takes – it’s a slow paced movie. He would kind of edit based on the piece of music we would give him, building the visuals around the music.”

The results are curious and unexpected. At times sparse, the mood of ‘Prince Avalanche’ is contemplated, introverted, and studious – lacking the fireworks display orchestral riffs which buoy the band’s back catalogue. It feels like a stepping stone: the sound of a band in chrysalis, a band who need to change but aren’t sure what they should change into. “I think we’ve just finally reached a point where, with our next record is the hope is that people won’t think it sounds like what they expect from Explosions In The Sky” the guitarist says. “I think we’re at a point where we’re most interested in trying a bunch of different things, and if they don’t work, then they don’t work so we don’t release them. We’ve become open to expanding what it is that we’re trying to do”.

However the band are careful to warn against any contrived plans, any notion of ‘change for the sake of change’ – as Chris Hrasky explains. “I find that if you plan that sort of stuff too much then it just doesn’t work. If you say: OK, we’re going to change our sound.. I don’t think that ever works” he says. “It’s a natural change, I think it’s come from each of us. As we grow older I don’t think we need to keep writing these 15 minute massive rock songs because I feel like we’ve done that and done it pretty well. We’re all just looking for a challenge and want to make something unexpected so we can surprise ourselves as well”.

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'Prince Avalanche' is on nationwide release in the UK from October 18th – check out a review of the soundtrack album HERE.

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