We tend to think of microwaves as a clean radiation force, but maybe it really is disguised chaos.
That's the way the Pittsburgh band Microwaves plays it -- without the disguise. The band, which formed in 2000, has no use for the niceties of pop or rock, attacking with a furious blast of angular, chopping guitars, aggressive free-form drumming, lurching time signatures and shouted vocals.
Whether you file it under noise, thrash, avant-rock or no wave -- they don't like labels much -- it's a turbulent yet exhilarating ride should you dare to buckle in.
Microwaves dates back to 2000 when it formed with drummer John Roman (The 1985), guitarist/vocalist David Kuzy and a string of bassists including Steve Moore (Zombi), Adam MacGregor (Conelrad) and now Johnny Arlett.
Two years after "Psionic Impedance," the trio returns with a fifth album, "Regurgitant Phenomena" on the Ohio-based label New Atlantis Records, that clocks in with just 30 minutes of mayhem.
We talked with Mr. Roman about the band's latest phenomena.
This is one impressive slab. Can you offer a glimpse behind the creative process? Like, how do you do this?
We pretty much write and assemble things like any other band when it comes down to it. Dave will usually have a couple of guitar parts written that I'll try to fit drums to. It's not always instantaneous and can sometimes take months to write a single song that might only last two minutes. Lyrics are almost always the last thing that we graft onto the compositions, but almost essential in helping the song fully realize itself.
This record doesn't seem like too much of a departure from what you've done. How would you compare it?
Even though the new one has a lot more ups and downs and in a slightly shorter time span, I think it might be our most song-oriented release.
In terms of structure?
Yes. We purposefully attempted at least in structure to write in a more pop format this time with things like an intro, then a verse, then some sort of refrain. We'd push everything in that direction until it seemed like it was reaching its limit. Then we'd throw the monkey wrench in and screw with it. It used to be that the monkey wrench would appear a lot sooner, but then that became boring so we tried a new approach.
It's difficult to discern the lyrics. Are they more for the overall sound?
Yes, but they also help to create a feeling rather than a finite message. I've heard certain bands talk about the listener being able to take away what they like, but I really feel that these were written even more purposeful with that sort of thing in mind. I wanted them to be purposefully abstract. Clear and obvious messages can be a bit boring sometimes.
The musicianship is stunning, but potentially weird question: Does this sound normal to you?
Most people grow up on some kind of bubblegummy stuff. Where did you go astray?
From the beginning. The bubblegum didn't interest me much back then. I actually kind of hated music until I was about 15 years old.
And what caught your interest?
Iron Maiden, Celtic Frost, Kreator. Thrash metal, I guess.
Was there a drummer who most influenced your style?
Probably a combination of Denis Belanger from Voivod and Alan Myers from Devo. You know, total robot-rock vibe.
I assume not many bassists can fit between you and Dave.
No, they can't. That's the entire reason we were working with just two people for so long. It's not even as much ability as one might think. A lot of it really has to do with knowing what sounds right. It also helps when someone knows the value of something that sounds wrong, if that makes any sense. Too many bands focus on playing all the right notes, but sometimes the wrong ones can be pretty great and have a lot more impact. It was an uphill battle at first [with Johnny], but we could tell he had the basic building blocks and he eventually caught on in a big way.
What is the general landscape for avant/noise/no wave right now? More or less interest than when you guys did your last stuff?
For us, it's about the same, but I can tell you things just generally seem so much more fickle right now. Things come and go in a matter of months as opposed to years like it did back when we started. If something goes away, it seems to spring back up with almost a whole new scene in half a year's time, then it's gone again and everything's back to square one. Honestly, I don't pay that much attention. I'd rather just work on the music.
What kind of audience do you have outside of Pittsburgh?
Mostly people who want to hang out and get weird. Beer drinkers and hellraisers, mostly. Throw an intellectual or two in the mix.
People who like ZZ Top?
Anything else to say about the project?
No drugs required to listen to the record, but it couldn't hurt to try.