Maserati, hailing from Athens, Georgia, started out at the turn of the millenium as post-rock experimentalists along the lines of Tortoise and Labradford. Interestingly, they found the post-rock genre somewhat limiting, and, over the past decade, the band has evolved. These days, with the release of their most recent album, VII, Maserati sounds, as they state on their website, as sleek, sexy and sophisticated as the legendary Italian sports car it takes its name from. We had a chance to speak with guitarist Coley Dennis about, among other things, their affinity for Blade Runner, reverence for the band Suicide, and...video game music.
KP - How did the band originally form?
CD - In ‘99, I met our original bass player, Steve Scarborough, in South Carolina. I was living up there, in Greenville. He & I were into the same kind of music. A little later, we went to a show in Athens, and while we were there we met our guitarist, Matt Cherry. The three of us started talking, and we told Matt that the two of us were planning on moving to Athens in the near future. We started playing together, and Matt recommended a drummer he had been playing with, who wound up being our original drummer - Phil Horan. The four of us clicked. For the first month and a half, we just jammed, didn’t try to write much. We were playing Sonic Youth-ish guitar jams back then...
KP - So was that primarily the kind of music you guys were into back then?
CD - Yeah...Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine...indie, guitar-driven, experimental music, I guess, for lack of a better description. We started mining that vein. The house we moved into in Athens didn’t have a P.A., so we started writing songs, and they all just kind of wound up as instrumentals. We started out working that way, and we never really found a place for vocals. We started writing that first batch of songs, and we said to ourselves, “let’s keep it this way; it feels right.” No need to force vocals where they weren’t necessary. So that’s how our first EP started, and the band formed.
KP - Are you still pretty much based in Athens?
CD - Yeah. Three of us live in Athens, and our guitarist, Matt Cherry, lives in Atlanta.
KP - What’s the music scene like in Athens these days?
CD - It’s always changing. It kind of ebbs and flows like any music scene. There’s always something going on. The outsider, weirdo pop vibe usually seems to keep it’s head above water. Here recently there’s been heavier rock stuff popping up, which is kind of exciting.
KP - Maserati’s sound seems to have morphed a bit over the years. Listening to VII, it seems like your sound has gravitated more toward an electronic sound, and there seems to be more of a dance element. Has the change in personnel caused some of the change in your sound, or is it something that just happened?
CD - I guess that’s kind of a two-part question. Over the span of 13 years, your tastes tend to change, and you start listening to other styles of music. New things are exciting, and we knew right from the beginning that we wanted to continue to grow, and not make the same record over and over again. I think that, over that span of time, a lot of ‘post-rock’ bands kinda got stuck in that genre, and we knew we didn’t want that, we wanted to branch out and do more interesting things. We wanted to take chances, and that really came to fruition when we started playing with (drummer) Jerry (Fuchs) in 2005; he was bringing a lot of new things to the table, propelling the band in an upbeat, more danceable direction. We were really excited about that, and dove in, and it really fit with where we wanted to go.
KP - You referenced the fact that you have always maintained your status as an instrumental band, and that it has worked out well for you. I did notice, though, on the new album you do feature vocoder-ed vocals on one track - “Solar Exodus”. Will you consider adding more vocals in the future, or was “Solar Exodus” more of a one-off?
CD - We’ve always tried to leave it open, and step out of our comfort zone. Actually, there are several songs on VII where we felt like we had stepped outside our comfort zone. “Solar Exodus” is one of them. When we were writing that song in the studio, it was still kind of ‘in pieces’, and Chris (McNeal, current bass player) had the idea that we should do some kind of vocoded vocal. It wasn’t until way into post-production when the record was nearly done that we got the idea and wrote the lyrics. When we finished it, we were super-excited. It’s different for us, but it’s cool, it works, and I think the vocal really makes that song. We’re stoked that it came together the way it did, and it wound up being one of my favorite parts of the record.
KP - Earlier you mentioned your previous drummer, (the late) Jerry Fuchs. How did his passing impact the band, and how did it affect you personally? (note: Fuchs died tragically in a freak accident in 2007, falling down an elevator shaft)
CD - It was a huge impact. He wasn’t just our bandmate, he was one of our best friends. When that happened, it was devastating. It took awhile for us to come to grips with decisions about what the band should do, what’s right, and what would he want us to do. We had to decide if we would finish the record that we were working on with him. It was emotionally heavy for everybody. He wasn’t just an amazing musicians, he was a loved, dear friend. It took a lot of soul-searching, and I feel like we made the best decisions we could.
KP - So Mike Albanese enters the picture, and he is your current drummer. How long have you been working with him?
CD - We’ve been working with Mike for about a year and a half. He’s been a friend of the band since forever. He’s been in Athens for the past ten years or so. He was a close friend, and he was a good friend, and, for lack of a better term, a student of Jerry’s. We had been doing all the demos for the new album with a drum machine, and had a good group of song ideas, and it came time to decide who we wanted to use on live drums. Mike was at the top of the list. We had full confidence that, if he was down, he could pull it off. He was into the challenge, and we were excited that he was willing to come on board and give it a shot. He did a lot of soul-searching too, coming in to the situation. It wasn’t a comfort zone at all, especially having been a friend of Jerry’s, and knowing the whole situation. We’re stoked - he’s doing a great job. We couldn’t ask for more out of him.
KP - I ran across some stuff on the internet about Mike being involved with a sub-genre that I wasn’t even aware existed. Apparently he’s also in a band that does...gaming music?
CD - That’s actually pretty big now. You’re talking about Bit Brigade. They do several video games live on a big screen, and they have a guy that plays the game live while they do the music for it. They’re actually in California right now doing some shows. They do games like Castle Vania, Contra, Mega Man. I’ve heard a few bands that do that sort of thing, and they’re by far the best. It’s like a rock band playing the video game scores - they do it really well.
KP - Has Maserati ever played Boise before?
CD - No, we haven’t. We been through that part of the country like, ten times, but we’ve never played Boise. I’m stoked that we’ll get to, this time around. I have no idea what to expect. I don’t know if people know us there, but I’m looking forward to it.
KP - Your music has an overtly cinematic feel to it. Have you been approached at all by anybody looking for a cool film score?
CD - We’ve licensed a few songs. There was a Michael Mann-directed thing called Luck - it starred Dustin Hoffman. We licensed a song for that. We’ve had a few commercials. We’ve never been approached to do a movie score - that’s the next thing we’d like to do. We were joking around when we heard that Ridley Scott’s working on a Blade Runner sequel, saying we would love to score it. We know it’s a huge pipe dream, but we would love to be involved with something that we know and respect like Blade Runner.
KP - On the new album, you have a track called “Martin Rev”. Who’s the Suicide fan in the band?
CD - I think we all are! I think when we originally came up with that idea, it started with a sequence, which had a Suicide-y feel to it. Whenever we come up with songs or ideas, we give them temporary, working titles, and we ended up calling that one “Martin Rev”, and it just kinda stuck.
KP - Suicide were an interesting band. Super-influential, but they were misunderstood and never really caught on when they came out in the 70’s.
CD - Totally unique, and a weirdo band for that time. Nobody cared when they were doing that stuff. They would open for punk bands in New York, and get booed off the stage.
KP - If you delve into the music press from the original New York punk era, you could almost make a case that they were hated by the rock critics of the time. It seems like only in the last ten years or so that they have gotten their due.
CD - It took awhile for everyone to catch up and see what outsider visionaries they were.
KP - You have your toes dipped in several genres - prog, post-rock, psychedelic, electronic, and even dance. Are there any contemporaries doing instrumental music that you listen to and admire?
CD - I wouldn’t say ‘contemporaries’. Our influences mostly run from the past. There are a couple of current bands that we’re into. The Swedish band Dungen would be one. There aren’t a ton of new-ish bands that we’re pulling from. I would say the majority of what I listen to is older stuff from the 70’s and 80’s. We do like all kinds of stuff, but I’d just as soon listen to Steve Reich, Sonic Youth, Can, Tangerine Dream or whatever else. I’m 36 now, and our palettes got fairly expanded when we were in our 20’s. We appreciate everything - not just ‘guitar rock’.
CD - Yeah. We just played out in Colorado last month, and we’re going to play in Michigan over the summer. Mike (Albanese) also plays in Pigs on the Wing. It’s fun. We started doing it for fun - just one-off things. David from the band STS9 is also in it, which definitely helps with fan base, and getting the word out. It’s like playing in a high school cover band, except all the musicians in the band are awesome. I’ve been a Pink Floyd fan my whole life, and it’s fun to get together with these guys and just BLAST.
Maserati will be blasting away and melting faces at Neurolux on February 28th, with special guests Dark Swallows.