When you’re in a band, there are certain activities that you can’t accomplish without everybody in the same room. Obviously, it’s a requirement for performances and their preceding practices. You can write lyrics on your own, but it’s difficult to compose and perfect arrangements without playing the parts all together and seeing how they work. As with relationships, distance between members is one of the most common culprits when it comes to bands breaking up. Some groups make it work, though, and Oulipo is one of them.
The quintet is spread across Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Asheville and Boone, forcing the band to construct its intricately psychedelic indie pop mostly by remote. Raleigh-based leader Ryan Trauley bounces bits of melody and rhythm back and forth with the other members, patiently producing songs in piecemeal fashion. For many bands, this would get tiring after just a few months. Oulipo has been working this way for about two years.
“I think it has its downside sometimes,” Trauley explains. “A lot of times we’re really psyched to work on stuff, but we can’t because we’re not all together.”
But Oulipo’s unorthodox creative process also has its benefits. The band’s stilted communication when sharing ideas led to a painstaking approach on last year’s Primitive Ways EP. The group’s second small platter improves upon 2011’s scattered — in name and style — That Is What I Said (And I Dove Into the Water), which assaults listeners with a barrage of ideas and sounds, many of which don’t sit well together. Primitive Ways goes a long way in fixing Oulipo’s problems, focusing the previous outing’s intricate skitters and bombastic melodies into neatly composed songs.
“I was really able to get a sound and a complexity that I was pretty happy with,” Trauley says. “I don’t think we could have gotten [that] if we wrote a bunch of stuff together in a couple-week period and mixed it and mastered everything in a few months or something. It took like a year from beginning to end. Because of that it sounds as good as it could possibly sound technically. But at the same time, I don’t want to do it that slowly this next time. You just get sick of listening to the songs. I want everything to be a little fresher, a little quicker, but to still have that same thoughtfulness and complexity to it in terms of production, in terms of melody.”
It’s easy to understand the desire to centralize recording efforts, but there are few apparent flaws on Primitive Ways. “Techtonic” is a dreamy single. Awash with ethereal effects and gorgeous harmonies and grounded by crunchy synthesizers, it’s elevated by a subtly catchy hook that you’ll likely be humming for a few days after each listen. “North Is Cold, Blood Is South” tidies the sprawling and chaotic rhythms of This Is What I Said, deploying them in a steady, ominous build that moves purposefully to its powerful conclusion.
“We’ve just been trying to move towards something that’s a little more complex while still melodic,” Trauley says. “We kind of all listen to the same music and collectively end up getting interested in a lot of the same stuff, so we all head down the same path.”
Apart from pushing Oulipo to take its time when writing and recording, the members’ different locations has allowed the band to occupy multiple scenes simultaneously. Frank Meadows and Nick Scavo are among the six founders of Asheville’s Apothecary, a multi-purpose arts space and music venue that opened last year. That connection has given Oulipo a reliable place to play in town — the band appears there on Friday — and provided a toe-hold in Asheville’s growing experimental music community.
In Raleigh, Oulipo is one of several ambitious pop bands gravitating around DiggUp Tapes, a cassette label that also functions as a loosely constructed artist collective, providing its members with a consistent source of inspiration and friendly competition.
“Frank and Nick run Apothecary as their space. They’ve done a ton in terms of getting us involved in Asheville’s scene,” Trauley says. “We’re all kind of originally from near Raleigh, so that’s our original home scene. With Asheville and Apothecary, that’s done a lot for us in terms of making connections for future shows.”
With a firm N.C. base, Oulipo is now concerned with refining its sound. Trauley says the band is working on new material that he hopes will be darker, more mature and more organic than anything the group has done to this point.
“It’s really important that we write really strong melodies and just have the production be really clean,” he says. “I want everything to be exposed.”
who: Oulipo, Albert Adams, Dogtooth
where: The Apothecary, 39 S. Market St.
when: Friday, March 8 (9 p.m. $5. facebook.com/ashevilleapothecary)