No story about Ahleuchatistas would be complete without drawing a comparison between their inimitable name and indefinable sound.
But for a band that began with a classified ad seeking players to make “out of this world music,” that could be considered a compliment.
“Our bass player, Derek Poteat, placed an ad in the Mountain Xpress,” remembers guitarist Shane Perlowin. “He was looking for a guitarist or keyboardist or whatever to make ‘out of this world music.’ So I called, and we hit it off and formed an improv-based rock band that was short-lived, like six months.” Realizing the connotations behind improv, he is quick to add: “Not so much a jam band, but, like doom improv or something.”
And though Poteat and Perlowin’s initial collaboration met an abrupt end, it wasn’t long before drummer Sean Dail arrived on the Asheville scene and made an impression on Perlowin, completing the Ahleuchatistas lineup.
The three met at a house show where Dail, who was brand-new in town, was performing with another band. Perlowin remembers being instantly “floored” by the new drummer.
“I went and talked to him right afterward,” Perlowin recalls. “He was playing grindcore metal stuff, but I asked him about other kinds of music. Just from his playing, I was curious to see if he listened to more avant-garde stuff or progressive rock. We ended up talking at length about other music that we liked. That was our first conversation, and he told me about Cuneiform Records. And actually, the first thing I asked him if he enjoyed was [legendary avant-garde/experimental composer and multi-instrumentalist] John Zorn’s band Naked City.”
That initial conversation would foreshadow much of what was to come of the band’s career. After five years of pounding out their instrumental, improvisational blend of avant-garde math-metal and punk rock across the country, the Asheville three-piece has gained national notoriety, signing to Cuneiform in 2005 and most recently partnering with Zorn’s Tzadik Records to re-release their second album, The Same and the Other.
For Perlowin, who cites Zorn as a “tremendous hero,” it was a dream come true, not only to receive praise and support from his idol, but to have a second chance to release the album that he considers the most representative of the Ahleuchatistas’ sound.
“I was completely starstruck,” Perlowin says of their first conversation. “And my respect for him has only increased throughout this whole thing, in every aspect of the way the label is run. You get worried, because I’m basically meeting one of my idols, and it’s like, what if they’re an a**hole or something?”
But, according to Perlowin, his experience with Zorn has been the exact opposite. In fact, Zorn seems to be something of a fan.
“He’s this extraordinarily busy person, but here he is taking the time to call me on the phone,” Perlowin marvels. “He even went so far as to call the album a masterpiece. It’s beyond my comprehension for him to say that. In terms of living heroes, I don’t think I could really be starstruck again. And having him behind us like that was validation for all this hard work we’ve been doing for so long.”
As for The Same and the Other, it’s no surprise that Zorn was so receptive. Perlowin says it was undeniably the band’s most natural effort, recorded in less than five hours, and for all practical purposes, in a single take. It was, he says, “a moment in time where everything worked.”
It was also the band’s most political release, which Perlowin credits to timing. Written just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the album’s cover art features a stunning image of falling bombs and distraught women donning hijab headscarves along with song titles like “Ecstasy Combat Boots,” “Falling Bards,” “RPG 1” and “Shots Rang Out at the Press Conference.” And though the album is completely instrumental, Perlowin feels the music has underlying political tones as well.
“I think from a listener’s perspective, it’s disruptive music that, for the most part, kind of thwarts expectations in any kind of administered cultural sense,” he explains. “At the time, it was almost that we just wanted to upset a listener’s expectations. And I think it worked. I think people hated it probably, in the sense that there are all these ideas that are actually lyrical and narrative in a musical sense, but they’re not put into a format where there’s enough repetitions for you to get your groove on. As soon as you begin to, it’s gone. That was our attempt to not make music for complacent listeners.”
This time around, in addition to the original 12 tracks, The Same and the Other will feature five bonus tracks recorded specifically for the Tzadik release and largely improvised. Perlowin says the new offerings are some of the band’s most experimental to date.
“I think it captures this element of our process that we haven’t really put on a record before, in a way,” he says. “I can’t really gauge it, to be honest with you, how out-there something is or what level of accessibility some type of music has. But to me, I think some of it’s definitely the most out-there s**t that we’ve put out.”
[Dane Smith is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]
who: Ahleuchatistas with Juan Prophet Organization
what: Prog-rock, jazz and punk collision
where: Grey Eagle
when: Wednesday, March 26. 8:30 pm. ($6. 232-5800 or www.thegreyeagle.com)