Out of this world

No story about Ahleuchatistas would be complete without drawing a comparison between their inimitable name and indefinable sound.

Even in the Midst: After a half-decade together, the Ahleuchatistas have finally found a foothold in the experimental-music world. Photo By Joshua Hoffman

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.”

Juan Prophet Organization creates the soundtrack to your nervous breakdown

by Jason Bugg

If the movies of Tim Burton collided with a Tom Waits-meets-Bertolt Brecht nightmare, its official soundtrack would be the Murfreesboro, Tenn.-based Juan Prophet Organization. Combining equal parts whimsical singsong nursery rhymes with a sinister stomp and stammer, the band has created music that has been captivating and unsettling listeners for the better part of eight years.

But to simply write the band off as experimental noisemakers who forsake song craft in the name of art is just plain wrong, insists band member and violinist Grayson White. More often than not, White says, the band’s music is a stylistic collision between the main songwriters’ straightforward and experimental muses.

“We clash because we have different goals within a song,” White explains. “We come from somewhere between classical, jazz and more mainstream metal.”

But the band’s battles are more good-natured than catastrophic. It’s all part of the all-for-one, one-for-all mentality of the Juan Prophet Organization. Sure, this is a band with two distinct songwriters, Kris White and Jeff Holt, but it’s also a group of musicians with a common goal: to write heady music that makes the listener think.

“That’s why we play this music and live this lifestyle: to challenge people to listen to different kinds of music,” says Grayson White. I hope we can make people interested in different kinds of music and different ideas.”

The “lifestyle” includes a communal home and rehearsal space known simply as “Casa De Juan,” but it doesn’t end there. The band eschews management and press agents, simply because, according to Grayson White, “we, like, know how and with whom things are handled and because we are certainly not your cookie-cutter band.”

The feeling that the band can and will do everything (even the mundane things, such as consent to interviews) leaks into their music.

It’s easy for a band with decidedly metal influences to throw around ideas of musical diversity and flowery terms like “progressive” and “jazzy” to describe some of their leanings, but living up to them is another matter. Still, the Juan Prophet Organization easily meets these auditory expectations, and more. This isn’t gloom-and-doom metal with pseudo-artistic leanings; this is jazz-tinged metal that requires some actual thought to listen to.

The sound of the layers of music rubbing against each other is what gives the band its musical magic. It’s heavy, it’s progressive, it’s challenging and—more important—it’s good. But it’s not always accessible.

“I think we have a couple of songs in 4/4, but we kind of like to push the envelope a little bit,” Grayson White says with a laugh.

 

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)

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