Catching up with Descolada (while they can still be caught)
Tony Plichta isn’t listening to us. He pounds the air, phantom sticks thundering on imaginary drums. He doesn’t even seem to know he’s doing it. It’s as if he’s forgotten where he is — what he’s supposed to be doing. A few feet away is a tumble-worn stereo, and as it plays, Tony’s possessed hands reach up to hit each invisible cymbal. His feet stomp out each kick of his unseen bass drum.
It is a warm evening in Montford, and though he’s so close that I can hear the rustle of his clothes as he flails away at the empty air, Tony is very, very far away right now.
In real life, Tony plays drums for the Asheville-based Descolada, and the album he’s so lost in is his own band’s first full-length studio recording, Paradise Lost. This particular song reaches a volcanic crescendo — it’s half angry hardcore rock, half symphony. Then, as abruptly as an earthquake starts, it stops.
“The drums are bad as s••t! I missed the snare at the end, though.” Tony is back with us.
The rest of Descolada isn’t even listening. They’ve heard the album enough — they recorded the thing, after all. Instead, they talk about being at Starlight Studios in Stone Mountain, Ga., where Paradise Lost was created. They describe it in manic terms — a happy, chaotic battle against time at the end of a month-long tour. Descolada recorded the album live, allowing them to hammer out the 12 songs in just under three days.
“If just one person messed up, we had to do it all over,” says Robby Pitts, the group’s bassist. “About halfway through the second day, the music just starts messing with you. You start feeling like you’re swimming in it. It makes for great music.”
“It was like a dream the whole time,” says guitarist Dave Lynch with quiet reluctance. He doesn’t elaborate. Descolada is his first real band, and though he’s been interviewed before, it doesn’t seem to come easily to him. Instead, he just shrugs and smiles.
“The worst part was coming back to the real world,” says Robby. “Back to our jobs.”
The rest of the band groans in agreement.
Descolada has had its share of troubles, both in the real world and in the land of bands. They parted with guitarist Daniel Will shortly after the release of Paradise Lost, and they’ve had mixed success getting the group to pay for itself.
“For a long time, it just seemed like it was just one thing after another would go wrong for Descolada,” says violinist Meg Mulhearn, who also contributes keyboards and vocals. She takes a quick puff from a slender cigarette, considering her next few words. “It’s like that for any band: You end up putting everything you have into it. Emotionally. Physically. Monetarily. That’s what this album is for me — it’s a reflection of all that.”
And something of that turmoil informs the whole record: Descolada’s sound is a mixture of eerie grace and thrashing rage, with Mulhearn’s mad bowing playing counterpoint to Tony’s vivisecting percussion. The guitars and bass fill in the sonic middle, fleshing out a dark, almost morbid, mood. At other times, the result is a blaring bitterness mixed with existential longing. Theirs is violent, beautiful music.
Or, at least, it can be. Even the band agrees that Paradise Lost only partly captures them. When they listen to it now, they hear the flaws — particularly the places where they wish they’d been a little more in control during the rushed recording and mixing process.
“It’s a good chronicle of where we were,” says Mulhearn, stubbing out her smoke. She notes that the current band’s grown a lot since then, and they expect to be tighter still by the time they start an upcoming tour that will span from North Georgia to Flint, Mich.
“We’re proud of Paradise Lost, of course, but it’s not as reflective of who we are right now as it could be.”
“I don’t think it’s the best thing we’ll ever put out,” says Tony. “But we put a lot of emotional stuff into it, and for now, it feels good.”
And then another song starts up, their 13-minute, ancient-history-themed epic “1066.” And from nowhere in particular, Tony again picks up his intangible sticks and begins drumming madly into the night.
Catch Descolada before they leave town, at Vincent’s Ear on Tuesday, July 6 with the Ahleuchatistas.