In a city not best-known for musical subtlety, there are but a few bands willing to stake a claim on music that relies more on unspoken intuition than on sheer visceral energy. And though these bands might find themselves playing to smaller audiences than their pop-punk brethren, it's fairly easy to tell which band is getting more musical pleasure from what it's doing. Such is the case with Motion Picture Massacre. Though the group was formed less than a year ago, the ability of the quartet to compose, improvise and explore the more ambient side of rock instrumentation has meant that they are an anomaly among local bands. But it also means that when these four guys are playing, the end result will -- at the very least -- be interesting.
With all but one member (guitarist Sean Fitzgerald) able to claim history in the local rock scene, Motion Picture Massacre has been through and out the process of reaping limited creative satisfaction from playing genre-locked music. Though they remember their former band experiences fondly, they all are certainly pleased by the musical freedom they now have.
"I was just kind of playing stuff in my room, and they (guitarist Michael Blaise and bassist Henry Mays) were in another band but had expressed an interest in doing something a little more spacey than what they were doing at the time," says Fitzgerald of MPM's formation. "Joe (drummer Joe Cannon) was also in another band, and he wanted to do something a little more experimental, so we got together. I think the main goal was for everyone to be able to write their own stuff and to have creative freedom with what they were doing."
"It's so much easier to be behind what you're doing when you're more involved in creating it," says Mays. "You're more apt to push it further than if you didn't have anything invested in it."
Given the group's creative process, each member is indeed quite invested. It's a delicate blend of improvisation and well-structured composition that leads to the group's meditative space rock, and as a result, all four members of the group contribute considerably to its creation. ("We all have equal input," says Cannon, "as long as we can all show up for practice.") Simultaneously dense and ethereal, it's a sound influenced by the organic (read: American) and electronic (read: European) post-rock movements; two distinct sounds that are both marked by a disdain for common time signatures and rock cliché. Not to mention vocals. Since MPM doesn't have to rely (or be restricted by) lyrics and lead melodies to guide each song, the compositional burden is simultaneously shifted back to the players, allowing each member to explore various creative avenues within the song.
Oh, wait. This is starting to sound like a bunch of theory-laden noodle-rock performed by music-school nerds who forgot about rock & roll a long time ago. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although the music of Motion Picture Massacre is more demanding than your standard, 4/4, 3-minute rock song, it's music that's decidedly devoid of pretense. (After all, we are talking about four guys who make their living by working in downtown bars.) The group's sound springs from the members' ability to easily interact with one another, and this means that there isn't a whole lot of analysis going on at practice. So despite the exploratory nature of the music, it's an entirely organic process that brings it forth.
"It all starts out free-form at practice," says Mays, "and then we go with whatever's working best at the time and structure things around that. It's not like a jam band where we just go off. The music actually has constructed parts and phrases."
"Whenever we get together, the first few minutes of practice we just start noodling on something and it turns into a new song every time. Something branches out of something else," says Blaise. "Whether or not we finish them is a different story."
"We have half of eight songs right now," laughs Cannon, "but we haven't been able to finish any of them."
But they have, in truth, been able to finish enough songs to ensure that a Motion Picture Massacre show is an interesting one. Though the music's hushed overtones and lack of lyrical focal points may seem to indicate a giant snooze fest, MPM utilizes various cinematic elements to deliver a visual accompaniment that is no less evocative than the music itself. Although the band is hesitant to do an all-improvised set ("When you're on stage and you screw up, you've kind of screwed up the song for everyone else," says Mays), the focus of the group is to deliver an unforgettable live performance.
"I'm really into a lot of the new IDM (intelligent dance music) stuff and electronic stuff," says Fitzgerald, "and I'd like to see us do more of a blending of that sort of thing and live instrumentation. But you go to see a band like Plaid and it's just two guys up there with laptops. It's not that much fun to watch. They could be up there playing solitaire for all I know. When we started, we had a really good package as far as having stuff going on onstage and in other parts of the bar where we were playing; movie screens, projections. Lately though, we just haven't been putting it together like we should be."
"We'd like to do more of that, but we don't really have the money for it," continues Mays. "But it would be great to be one of those bands where people say, Ã?Man the CD is good, but you really need to see 'em live.'"