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Interview: Sound Mass - my education and Theta Naught to play rare Austin gig

Readers of this column may be aware of our love of progressive, experimental or post rock music. Genre labels aside, what we like is fantastic, orchestrated music that steps outside the boundaries of traditional musical forms. When it is done right it sounds like the music Austin act, my education and Utah's Theta Naught make together with their Sound Mass project. The group will play a rare Austin performance at Lambert's Downtown BBQ this Saturday. The intimate upstairs space at Lambert's sounds like the perfect spot for this show.

Soundmass at Lambert's BBQ - The members of my education and Theta Naught perform a rare live show in Austin
Soundmass at Lambert's BBQ - The members of my education and Theta Naught perform a rare live show in Austin
Soundmass at Lambert's show poster
The Loyalty Firm

Imagine a "double band"; two drums, two bassists, two guitarists, two violins... you get the idea, a large, full group making incredible sounds and you have Sound Mass. We first heard the project live when the group closed out the main stage at Austin Psych Festival at Seaholm Power Plant in 2011. Despite being fatigued from three days of reverb and trippy visuals, we found ourselves entranced by this act, so we asked them some questions about the band and where the group is headed in an exclusive interview.

Advance tickets for the Sound Mass performance on Saturday at Lambert's are still available online. Our advice to grab tickets early as the venue space is limited. LES RAV, Benko and Baby Robots are slated to play following Sound Mass at 10 p.m.

For a taste of what Sound Mass look and sound like, check out their YouTube video on the left side bar. The set up for the band is different. Both drummers are placed at the front of the stage facing each other with their respective bands behind them. Sound Mass is anything but typical of a live music act.

Interview questions were sent via email this week and this is what happened:

Examiner: Sound Mass is such a cool idea. How did the collaboration with my education and Theta Naught happen?

Scott L Telles (Bass): We had a few days to kill in Salt Lake City during a west coast tour. Ryan Stanfield, bassist of Theta Naught and designer of artificial hearts, had heard My Education before, liked what he heard, and offered up a collaboration. Despite skepticism on my part of the viability of a two-bass outfit, we decided to give it a whirl. Before we knew it, we'd had both bands onstage at Kilby Court, playing together, and we'd gone into the studio and done an album! It all seemed to happen very easily and organically, and we discovered that the players in both bands were very simpatico.

Examiner: Your manager has mentioned that it is hard to describe exactly what Sound Mass is. Describe the project in three words or less.

Ryan Stanfield (Bass): improvisation, experimentation, collaboration
Scott: Two Bands Collide.
Brian Purington (Guitar): Spiritual Docking

Examiner: What is the goal or purpose of Sound Mass?

Brian: One of the best parts of being in a band is playing music for, and meeting like-minded people across the world. It's rare that you get to collaborate with some these people. I'm just enjoying the times we get to play and record with the Theta Naught crew, and hopefully I can get a pie shake or two along the way.

Scott: …the joy of playing together, the wild thrill of knowing instinctively where/when to change, when to play, when not to play...Sound Mass takes that thrill and amplifies it, magnifies it, to the point where there are 12-13 of us all playing together, with only the loosest of structures - if any at all - and puts us all on the edge, teetering along the narrow precipice between genius and oblivion, between something that sounds like a cohesive whole and something that just sounds like a big mess...and somehow we always pull it off! But I think it's that thrill of not knowing, that venture into the environs of possible chaos, that keeps us doing it, keeps us coming back for more.

Ryan: spiritual docking, pie shakes, aural gratification, fitting as many people on the smallest stage possible…

Examiner: Where does my education and Theta Naught derive most of your creative inspiration from? Are there artists you admire?

Ryan: inspiration - being 'in the moment' while creating music/art/performance --- with like-minded individuals/performers
Admiration - Fugazi, Iron Maiden, Faith No More, Miles Davis, The Bad Plus

Brian: Off the top of my head I would say Neu!, Pink Floyd, My Bloody Valentine, Popol Vuh, Nick Cave, and Slayer.

Scott - Our record collections are vast and varied, but there's a bunch of things we all agree on - we admire the inventive, original and restless auteurs like Eno, Zappa, Beefheart - we love bands that aren't afraid to take risks, like Godspeed, Mogwai, Hawkwind, Ash Ra Tempel, we love the pioneers of instrumental music from the Ventures to Booker T and the MGs to Bent Fabric and Popol Vuh...I could go on and on...

Examiner: I know you get this all the time but humor us, if you had to put a label on the type of music you make, what would that be?

Brian: Post-shoegaze-kraut-rock.

Ryan: easy listening
adult contemporary
classic rock in 100 years

Scott - We hate being pigeonholed, but we understand the necessity, especially in the present day, of putting some sort of filter on the vast amount of information we are all expected to process daily, so, fuck it - go ahead. Call us modern instrumental music, epic/cinematic in scope. Call us postrock, if you must. Hell we played Doom Over Leipzig last year - call us whatever you want.

Examiner: How important do you guys think the type of music you make is to the industry as a whole? Where do my education and Theta Naught fit in?

Brian: I don't know if we fit in at all. We really are just are doing this for ourselves. I'm humbled that anyone even notices us, much less likes what we're doing.

Ryan: moderate, at best </sarcasm>

Scott - This industry as a whole really doesn't interest us that much - we do this to please ourselves, not to please anyone else. Sure, we like it when people hear it, notice it - but that's not why we do it. We don't really fit in very well in the industry as a whole. For one thing, we're not in it for the money - if we were in it for the money we woulda quit a long time ago. Since you can't really make any money in music any more anyways, I guess the industry is starting to come around to our way of thinking!

Examiner: We have seen my education play a film score live, perform with Theta Naught as Sound Mass and play with crazy visuals. What is the next creative endevor fans can look forward to from the band?

Brian: The 2nd SoundMass record is going to be released later this year on Cleopatra Records (be on the look out of it). We are shooting for a Spring 2015 release date for the next official My Education record (to be followed with another European tour). Also James, Kirk, and myself are currently working on record for a chamber/drone project we have called Cinders. We are hoping to have it finished by the end of the summer.

Scott: We're working on scoring a World War II documentary right now and have begun laying down demos for a new album. We hope to return to Europe next year. That's about it for now!

Ryan: Earl farting on a snare drum.

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