Homegrown drone

By MIKAEL WOOD  |  March 13, 2007

Gallagher says that for In the Absence the band redoubled their efforts to be original, making “shitty two-mic practice-space recordings” of the new songs before they entered the studio with producer Matt Bayles in order to “be able to take the music home and play along with it and mull it over.” The guitarist cites the end of “Garden of Light,” the CD’s nine-minute closer, as an example of the fruits of this labor. “I had certain parts of that song worked out before we went into the studio, but other parts weren’t set, so I just figured it out as we went. And that ended up being one of my favorite parts on the record. I wouldn’t have had the chutzpah to do that when we were recording [2001’s] Celestial. Back then I just concentrated on being able to play as well as I could. As time goes on, I think we’ve all kind of gotten the ability to let things go and see what happens.”

“They were exploring more expansive material than on previous releases,” says Bayles, who also produced 2002’s Oceanic and the 2004 Isis album Panopticon. “That meant spending more time arranging guitar and bass and keys on each song. Songs that might’ve climaxed with heavy distortion on a previous record didn’t necessarily follow that formula on the new one. So we all had to experiment.”

Turner acknowledges the precedent set by Tool in this regard, explaining that by continuing to innovate, the massively popular Los Angeles quartet have “certainly defied industry convention, and they’re to be applauded for that.” Still, he says, he considers the Melvins — the long-running art-metal outfit who once counted Kurt Cobain as a vocal fan — a more appropriate model for Isis. “They’ve always done exactly what they’ve wanted to, and they’ve made it through hundreds of situations intact. They make a living from their music without having to compromise the way they do things. That’s the path I imagine Isis taking.”

Did he imagine that path taking the band to Los Angeles? “The decision was born out of a desire for change,” he says, emphasizing the band’s de facto mantra. “Everybody needed to get out of Boston for lots of reasons that are kind of hard to generalize.” Well, not that hard. “Three-fifths of the band is from New England, but I grew up in New Mexico. I’d been in Boston for eight years, and the climate started to get me after a while. I was looking for a return to my original environment. We all agreed we liked the West Coast, and LA seemed like the most practical choice, since it’s more affordable than San Francisco.”

Although Gallagher and Caxide have subsequently moved back East, Turner says the relocation has been a boon for the band. “There’s a lot of stigma against LA. There’s this idea that it’s really surface-oriented and kind of a plastic culture. But because we’re not trying to make it in the entertainment business, we don’t feel the threat of that. Beyond that, I’m not shoveling snow for four months out of the year, and I live in a decent place that’s cheaper than my shithole in Boston.”

ISIS | Middle East downstairs, 480 Mass Ave, Cambridge | March 16-17 | 617.864.EAST

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