Courtesy of Kai Nealis and Ithaca Underground

March 11, 2016

Speak For Themselves: An Interview with _____

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Five underscores and no letters seems like a questionable name for a band; everything has to be called something, right? Not according to Brad Nathanson ’17 and Carsten Thue-Bludworth ’17, the two members of _____. Their band name doesn’t have any pronunciation; you’re not meant to say it. And while on the surface this might seem like a gimmick, they have the music to back it up. Their recorded output is limited so far to one promising EP, The Linden Sessions, which jolts and tumbles with a compositional vivacity and surety of form indicative of a band much deeper into its career than _____. Truly, it’s a sound that speaks for itself, a sound that doesn’t really need a name. In anticipation of their inaugural performance at The Sun’s Big Red Desks Concert Series — an idea in the vein of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts in which local and up-and-coming talent will perform for online dissemination in the Daily Sun offices — I sat down with the two members of _____ to talk about how they came to be, their main influences and their outlook on performance, composition and music in general.

The Sun: First off, tell me about the band. Who plays what and how long have you been playing?

 Carsten Thue-Bludworth: I play drums and keyboard, and sometimes guitar, too. Mainly drums, though. Brad plays guitar.

 Brad Nathanson: We both like each other’s instrument better, so a lot of times during practice we’ll switch and play and jam. [Laughs] I mean, I’m just kidding, I’m a guitar player for sure. But it’s fun to switch it up. For me it makes you think on your feet and not fall into just playing what you’re comfortable with.

 Sun: Are you guys in other bands or is this your main project?

 B.N.: Are you in any other bands? Are you cheating on me? [Laughs]

 C.T.: [Laughs] No, I’m not in any other bands.

 B.N.: we both were in bands before college. I’ve been playing guitar for I think eight years now.

 C.T.: Yeah, that’s as long as I’ve been playing drums.

 Sun: How long have you guys been playing in _____?

 B.N.: We were matched up randomly freshman year, and we always talked about playing music together pretty seriously. But since he didn’t bring his drums up to school, it was always just playing acoustic guitars in our room or outside somewhere. We lived together the next year with a bunch of other people, and we still had this dream of playing together, which never really happened. We both stayed in Ithaca this past summer, and Carsten’s mom drove him up from Florida with his drum set. We both just played music; that was our main goal. This summer was the point where we stopped talking about doing it and actually did it. And then when the semester started, we just sort of went right into it.


Courtesy of Kai Nealis and Ithaca Underground

 Sun: So you’ve actually only been recording for a few months now. Do you have anything other than The Linden Sessions?

 C.T.: That’s all we have recorded so far, but we’ve been writing a lot more and we hope to record before the semester ends. We want to have ten or twelve songs recorded by that point, but as of now that one EP is all we have.

Sun: Are you planning on any kind of tentative release date or do you have a timeframe for your new music?

 B.N.: We talked about staying here for spring break and doing it all then. If that ends up happening then we would probably release something this semester. I think something that we enjoy more than recording is performing live for people, because a lot of our stuff is supposed to happen in front of you. When we perform, we don’t necessarily even know what’s going to happen. Sometimes when we record something it feels a little restraining, because in reality our songs won’t really be the same any two times.

This past semester has been dedicated to doing shows. We’ve had two or three so far, and we have three or four coming up. I really think that if someone is interested in hearing our music, they see us perform rather than listen to us online.

 Sun: So speaking of your performances, what is your live dynamic like? What do you try to go for when you perform? Do you go in with a set, or do you just jam?

 C.T.: We usually try to do a mixture of both, though I’ve found that it really depends how we’re feeling during the set, in the moment. Just the other weekend we had a show that was a lot different than our other performances, where we jammed a lot more. We did a switch jam where we played each other’s instruments, and we played some extended versions of our songs which had some new stuff that we had never played before then. It all just kind of happened in the moment. That being said, we do go in with a few songs in mind that we’ve written for a kind of basic outline.

 B.N.: Another important aspect of our live stuff is that there’s only two of us. Some people might think that that could feel empty sonically, but for us I think it’s really freeing. It’s because I never feel like I’m held back from other melodies or sonic ideas beyond Carsten’s rhythms, and I’d say the same for Carsten, too. He’s not clashing up against anything other than what he wants to do. As a result we’re basically able to be creating all the time. Because the compositions are pretty bare, things somehow always work out.

That being said, we have this dimension of using loops and effects that add to our sound and make it feel like more than just two people. Carsten will sometimes play keyboard and drums simultaneously, or maybe just keyboard. So one interesting thing about our live dynamic with the loops involved is that the second we hit the loop button, the song starts to grow and evolve on itself. So a lot of the times we’ll be inspired to play something new that is based off of something we’ve just played. That really mixes things up. We’ll have pretty organized compositions with spaces in between to just see what happens. But we also try to have some kind of mechanism for getting back on track.


Courtesy of Kai Nealis and Ithaca Underground

 Sun: That’s definitely important, because if you don’t have any way to reign it back in I bet your sets could get a little unruly.

C.T.: [Laughs] There’ve definitely been moments where I’ve been like, “I don’t know where we are.”

B.N.: But that’s something that we also try to do in a way. Because there are two of us and because the compositions are so simple, we’re able to switch so drastically from one feeling to the next. Even though we’re just two, it’s meant to be that way. The reason is because we like the freedom it gives us. We like disorienting the audience; not having them know what to expect next.

 Sun: That seems like a good dynamic. So, I’m sure you guys probably listen to a bunch of music, but in the context of _____, what do you guys try to draw on for your sound?

 C.T.: Some of the music that I started listening to which inspired me to bring in the keyboards was lots of Jason Lindner and his band Now vs. Now. It’s all instrumental; a lot of jazz fusion with electronic influences. But it feels really organic because it’s very much about the music rather than the words. That’s a huge thing for me.

 B.N.: And that’s a huge thing for our band, too. As you know, the name of the band is _____. The reason being that, for us, words don’t have as much of a place in the music as the sounds we create, partly because words have a specific meaning. Of course there can be different interpretations of different words, but the second you say a word someone gets an idea in their mind. Because our music is instrumental and because our idea is to make you change your perspective on certain things, we thought that placing a word in reference to our group wasn’t the right thing to do. So _____ is our band name. We’re well aware that it’s a difficult thing logistically, and we’re okay with that.

Sun: But at the same time there has to be a little bit of an element of just messing with people, right? You said that in your music you like to challenge the audience a little bit, so the name has to play into that to a certain extent.

B.N.: [Laughs] I wouldn’t say that there isn’t a purpose to it by any means, though. When someone is uncomfortable and outside their realm of expectations, that’s when music affects them the most.

Carsten and I come from different backgrounds in what we’ve done with music, what we used to listen to and what we still listen to, and it’s super evident in our sound I think. I was totally out of my comfort zone when we started playing together this summer. I had been in a pop rock band in high school and I listened to Jimi Hendrix and blues guitar players. Carsten totally introduced me to this “math rock” world of sounds. For me, it made everything exciting again. When you hear our music there are elements of very highly composed, structured, mathematical sections. And then we’ll break out into a jam that is much more about emotion, sort of seeing where it takes us. We like to call what we play “emotional math rock.” [Laughs] It’s because we think that math rock tends not to capture our emotive capabilities, and that’s what we’re interested.

 Sun: That makes a lot of sense. Math Rock has “math” in its name, and math is about as emotionless as you can get. So do you think that the pop rock and the jazz fusion elements come together more so than they are at odds with each other?

C.T.: Yea, I totally feel that way. Brad made it sound like I bring in all the math influence, but I don’t feel that way at all. Whenever we’re writing stuff I feel like it’s oftentimes him who has the crazy math ideas. I think we just try to write awesome music.

B.N.: One section comes to mind at the end of our song “Trace.” Carsten breaks out into this beat that we still to this day don’t understand. He doesn’t know how he wrote it, and we still don’t understand how it sounds fine, because it’s totally jittery. And over the top of that beat I’m playing very simple pentatonic blues scale riffs that build on themselves along with the loop. Eventually, it gets so hectic that you can’t even really enjoy it, and the second it peaks the song cuts out. I think that’s a good example of how these two different worlds and backgrounds can combine in a productive way.

Troy Sherman is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].