IN FLIGHT “I feel like we’re moving,” says Ashton Bird (left). “We’re tunneling through people’s brains with our music.”
Don't be deceived by Tweak Bird's skinny discography. Although the duo are credited with only a handful of recordings (a few seven-inches and an EP), their nimble breed of psych/sludge metal has been simmering for decades. The line-up comprises Caleb and Ashton Bird — brothers who grew up on a sprawling farm outside the college town of Carbondale, Illinois. When not being home-schooled, the boys hung out in the woods for fun, but once they were older, musical instruments took over. According to Ashton, their first original creations were "eerily similar to the music we play now. Singing relatively pretty and jamming hard was just what naturally came out of us."
Cultivating their skills in basements and punk houses around Carbondale, the Birds cycled through a swarm of other players (Ashton figures he's seen about nine line-up changes), ultimately sticking to the two of them for the sake of control. But in the spirit of high-performance duos Lightning Bolt and Death from Above 1979, Tweak Bird don't need numbers to make sonic weight. The cavernous, bassy crunch of Caleb's guitar cruises without a hiccup, Ashton's drums serve as imposing punctuation, and, singing together, their voices straddle the line between an adolescent falsetto and a stray cat's yelp. Most of the pair's compositions are compact bursts banged out with the propulsion of DIY punk.
Boston is missing out on a chance to catch them live, since Tweak Bird were part of the now-cancelled August 20 Mondo Generator bill at the Middle East. But show postponements won't interfere with the duo's fascination with the æthereal. Their 2008 Reservations EP included both "Spaceships" and "Whorses." (Ashton once said that the latter was about an alien visiting Earth and meeting Native Americans.) Their upcoming full-length, Tweak Bird (Volcom Entertainment, August 31), carries on this theme with track titles like "Beyond" and "Distant Airways."
The initial lines in opener "The Future" sets up the new record: "Don't look now/The future's coming/In our minds, we are the chosen ones." For Tweak Bird, "the future" means a healthy dose of their typical sizzle plus ultra-spacy effects ("Round Trippin' "), a snake-charming saxophone ("A Sun/Ahh Ahh"), a flute ("Flyin' High"), and melodic nods to '60s psych-folk ("Sky Ride"). Ashton tries to break down the album's vibe: "I feel like we're moving." Then, taking from the refrain of "Tunneling Through," he adds, "We're tunneling through people's brains with our music."
Even with their urging you to break on through to the other side, Tweak Bird's intergalactic journeys never seem to take themselves too seriously. Consider Caleb's recent addition to his performing wardrobe: for reasons unknown to his own flesh-and-blood, he's begun to sport a Native American headdress. "What is the story with that? I don't know, man," says Ashton. "One day, he just showed up with it, and I was like, 'Ah, okay.' I don't know if that's weirder or us riding the motorcycle shirtless together" (on Tweak Bird's cover).
The camaraderie between the Birds is endearing. Pressed to offer an unusual detail about Caleb that only he would know, Ashton responds, "One quirk about my brother is that he's ultra-considerate," with the sincerity of a fourth-grader reading an essay about his favorite person. He could imagine working without Caleb for the long term, but it would seem odd. "I'd probably be looking over my shoulder wondering where he was. There's a certain amount of tour inside jokes I'd have to get rid of if he wasn't around."