"I certainly thought that would be it for the band," Ahleuchatistas frontman Shane Perlowin says matter of factly.
He's referring to the loss of drummer and founding member Sean Dail last year, weeks before the band was scheduled to leave for tour. Ironically, as he talks about the band's near demise, Perlowin is preparing to leave for a three-week European tour in support of the band's just-released fifth album. It turns out that Ahleuchatistas was more resilient than Perlowin guessed.
"I had no delusions about how difficult it would be to find someone," he continues. "I didn't even really want to. It was just kind of . . . Let's make a 'Hail Mary' pass and see what happens."
The "Hail Mary" was a bulletin on the band's MySpace page, not unlike the Craigslist ad that led to the bands formation six years ago. Miraculously, after receiving a promising response from a young drummer in Carbondale, Ill. and conducting a few phone interviews, the band met with Ryan Oslance for a three-day rehearsal "marathon" and just like that Ahleuchatistas was back in action. No small feat, considering the technical demands from a band characterized by their turn-on-a-dime tempo changes and mind-numbingly complex song structures.
And Perlowin, it seems, is more surprised than anyone. "Ryan showed up, and it was just nuts," he says excitedly. "There were people on the first tour—the guy's been playing our music for a couple days and then some rehearsals at this point—who didn't even know we'd gotten a new drummer."
Then, after pausing to consider the implications of his last statement, Perlowin continues as though something has just occurred to him. "It may have worked out really well because had we not had that pressure with the tour and all, we might not have done this rigorous boot camp of a process getting everything to a level of performance."
Nearly a year and a half later, things are back to normal. Rehearsals have been cut back to once a week, and Perlowin says the band's chemistry—a factor he once credited with their success—is as strong as ever. In fact, it appears that Ahleuchatistas has come out on the other side stronger, and busier, than ever.
The past year has seen the trio performing to packed houses in Europe twice, with another overseas trip planned for the spring. In the mean time, they're celebrating the release of the first Ahleuchatistas album since Oslance's addition, Of the Body Prone, a richer, heavier recording than any of the band's previous efforts. Musically, Perlowin says the band wanted to experiment more with improvisation – two tracks on the album clock in at nearly 10 minutes – pushing the limits of how much they could create in the moment while still maintaining the structure of the song. But even Perlowin struggles to put the band's sound into words.
"It's like, when you have something that is really jagged and angular, if the edges get small enough it looks like there's an arc to it, like it's rounder. Does that make sense?" he asks hesitantly, almost skeptical of his own explanation. "We were starting to move towards, you know, can things be even more amorphous, yet still rule based, still having themes and forms and whatnot. But then, when you play it, it will be different every time, but it will still be that same thing."
The most noticeable difference, though, is in the recording itself. For Of the Body Prone, the once "militantly dry-toned" Perlowin made a major break with the band's back catalog and began experimenting with effects pedals, loops, delay and a variety of other tools that were noticeably absent from pervious recordings. He says the decision came from a realization that the band was "never going to capture the live show by just recording it live in the studio."
Whatever the reasoning, the approach has been a success. Of the Body Prone has no trouble maintaining the ferocity and urgency that characterize the band's earlier work while adding a depth and vibrancy to the recording that only enhances the experience. And it's got people noticing. Last month, a glowing review of the record appeared in the New York Times. Perlowin says it was a "milestone" for the band.
"It's really just great to be included in their publication," he says. "We've worked pretty hard, you know. I was talking to a teacher that I work with, and she was saying, 'I think you have the hardest band name in the world to remember.' I was like, 'That's why it took five records to get in the New York Times!'
"And my mom's really proud of me," Perlowin adds with laughter. "Although she said that the new record was scary. Then I sent her a demo of some jazz tunes that I made and she loved that."
who: Ahleuchatistas, with Ventricles and io
what: CD-release show for Of the Body Prone
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Friday, Oct. 30 (9 p.m. $8. www.ahleuchatistas.com or www.thegreyeagle.com)