Ben Chasny and Donovan Quinn have had a lot of experience playing in bands, Mr. Chasny with Six Organs of Admittance and Mr. Quinn in Skygreen Leopards among many others.
It’s part of what makes them appreciate their work as a simple acoustic guitar duo, New Bums, coming to town tonight for a show at Thunderbird Cafe in Lawrenceville.
“We’ve been in tons of bands. We’ve both been at it a long time,” Mr. Quinn said in a phone interview this afternoon from the car bringing him to town. “Before we ever started working together, we knew each other and had mutual friends. We started talking about music, books and movies and everything else, and we found that we had a lot in common.
“But at the same time, Ben has a very different working method and a very different mind than I do. We felt that it would make for an interesting collaboration, how we could meld our two styles and turn it into something new.
“It’s really collaborative. We write the songs together, we do the arrangements together, we recorded it together. So it’s not really like any of our other projects because everything is based on the collaboration and we tried not to include anything that wasn’t just us.
“It’s just different. Every time you collaborate with someone — if it’s truly a collaboration — it’s always different. A lot of times, people aren’t really collaborating with other people, they’re just working with them. They have parts and contribute them and it’s really a collection of individuals. But with this band — and our other bands — we really, really just try to consider what other people are doing and let that affect what we’re writing or playing. It’s not better or worse. It’s just different every time.”
Their collaboration began more than four years ago.
“When we first came up with the idea for New Bums, we both lived in San Francisco and Ben lived just a few doors down from me,” Mr. Quinn said. “We’d get together and have some drinks and listen to records, and it wasn’t until 1 in the morning that we would break out the guitars.
“We started just playing for fun. We only started concentrating on the band about a year and a half ago, when we started recording and making plans to tour and doing everything together.”
But Mr. Chasny has since moved to Massachusetts, making the recording of their new album — “Voices in a Rented Room” — a challenge.
“But it has some benefits,” Mr. Quinn said. “Obviously, it’s great to be in the same room and work on something and be able to bounce things back and forth. But when you’re on opposite sides of the country, you don’t have to come up with an idea right away. You can brood over a mix or a song or a lyric, and you don’t have that pressure of having to finish everything before that person leaves.
“So some of it was spontaneous, with the two of us in the room, and the rest was when we each were alone and we had a lot of time. We recorded it in San Francisco, together, but there were overdubs and little tweaks we had to do from opposite sides of the country.”
Their sound has been described as “mellow” and “pastoral.”
“Yeah, people seem to think that,” Mr. Quinn said. “I definitely think it has a melancholy vibe, and both me and Ben can be on the sad-sack side of things. But I don’t think it’s mellow at all. There’s maybe one song in the album that is kind of serene. The other songs have an acoustic guitar base and we’re not screaming over it. People are thinking it’s mellow, but I think it’s emotionally brutal and dark. I never think, ‘This is something to mellow out to.’ I guess it just depends on the listener, whether they focus on the lyrics or the structure of the song or the instrumentation.”
In spite of their relatively short time together, Mr. Quinn said he has heard their sound evolve.
“One of the ideas that we developed was to keep things sparse, you know, and have a lot of open space and not try to fill things up too much, which has kind of become the standard sound for most kinds of music,” he said. “With digital recording, it seems like everything’s kind of bombastic and really full sounding. We kind of wanted to rebel against that a little bit. Even if the songs sound flimsy or off, we leave the mistakes in and that kind of thing. And as we’ve gone along, that feeling has grown stronger, and on this tour it’s gotten more and more loose.
“Usually on a tour, things get tighter, but also more predictable. We’ve been messing with the songs more and more and leaving more and more space, which has been exciting, and I think it’s kept the live show fresh so we’re not sick of it.”
You can catch the show tonight at 9 at Thunderbird Cafe, 4023 Butler St. Appearing with New Bums are Fenster and Pairdown. Admission is $12.