Music can conjure up a range of emotions usually through lyrics and the tone of one's voice. Austin, Texas-based Explosions in the Sky may keep its music within instrumental confines, but that doesn't dampen any reactions. In fact, it may bring out feelings even more.
Listening to the band's music is more of a journey than an exercise in repetition. It's not improvisational, rather it travels along like a story with definition instead of a chorus to sing along to. The process the band takes in arriving at a complete story is one that involves many conversations as well as moments of silence.
"One of us will present a melody to the other guys. If there's a hint of interest, we immediately take action," guitarist Munaf Rayani says by phone from his Austin home. "When something makes it past the initial phase, a whole conversation takes place. 'What are you trying to do?' 'What story do you have in your head?' That story evolves into the story we all have in our heads. The songwriting process can be a little frustrating for us, but it's very fulfilling upon completion. There's frustration, conversation, silence, waiting, hoping and then it's done.
"You'd be surprised at how often during our songwriting or practice that if it's not going where we want it to go, we sit silently. We are all thinking about the approach. That's been one of the strongest characteristics as a team, that we're constantly in communication — in practice, on stage, in life. We're talking to each other about everything."
The band is set to release its sixth album, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, in April. Among the tracks is the band's shortest, "Trembling Hands," a song that also includes the idea of vocals — emphasis on "idea."
"That song is a way for us to try and introduce 'vocals' — loosely, as another sound and instrument in place with all that is going on already," Rayani says. "Humming, whistling and chanting can add such a great layer if done properly. Short of putting actual lyrics on it, this is about as good as we're gonna get."
Rayani says the group had most of the song completed when one of the band members mentioned that he imagined a kind of chanting over the top. The group quickly did a demo and put it in place. "Boy were we pleased," Rayani says. "It was not accidental, but unexpected. It offers another melodic line and could introduce that into more of our music. It could be an interesting path to walk down."
The band hopes to incorporate a few of the Take Care songs into its live set, even before the album is released. Explosions in the Sky organizes its live shows so that one song flows seemlessly into another, all the while triggering samples, watching counts and beats and making their timing as good as it can be.
Rayani jokes that the band isn't at the virtuoso status when it comes to playing, so don't expect improvisation aside from those brief transition moments. "Even though we've been playing music for as long as we've been playing it, we're not technically proficient virtuosos when it comes to playing our instruments," he says with a laugh. "We're good at it, but the idea of improvisation — we're not familiar with keys. 'We're going to go from a D to a B flat.' What is a B flat? What are you talking about?"
For an instrumental band, coming up with song titles isn't always the easiest process, but the band keeps a list going of things that band members read, see or think up.
"When a song completes itself, we can decided what it sounds like," Rayani says. "'Trembling Hands' sounded like the image of being scared or being cold, but we thought about being so excited about something, when your heart starts to race because you've been looking forward to something or so excited to hear something or go somewhere or see someone and you get those nerves. It's a good shaking. That's what we were hoping for with that song."
As for the album, Rayani hopes fans will recognize the band's style but also enjoy that it's something new. "I think it sounds like us, but it's not us," he says. "If this music came on, I think you'd go, 'I think that's Explosions, but ...' That's what we're hoping for. We want to not be predictable."