Band Without a Leader

Explosions in the Sky puts their instrumental music, and only the music, front and center

Being in a band is not easy. The scheduling, the equipment, the fights--the rock 'n' roll life has a lot of hidden elements.

But Austin's Explosions in the Sky make it all seem easy. They may, in fact, be the perfect band. For Explosions in the Sky, creating instrumental music allows them to work on songs in a completely communal way--something many bands can only dream of.

"Typically, in a band, if there's a singer, there's the songwriter, and then the other guys in the band, and there's this dynamic of a leader," said drummer Christopher Hrasky. "I don't think any of us really wanted to be in a band with a leader, or be the leader."

Removing the words and lyrics removes the frontman and the hierarchy, creating a structure of collaboration and equality, which trickles all the way down into their music: The only thing front and center for Explosions in the Sky is the music.

How do they do this? How do they actually write these songs completely together, without ego, without individual ownership? What's the secret formula? Unfortunately, they don't really know.

"One thing we've noticed is that it's very difficult for us to really talk about how we do any of the stuff--we just never know what we're doing, exactly," said Hrasky. "When we stop touring, and we start working on a new record, at first, it's weeks of us just kind of stumbling around, like, 'How does this work again? How did we even come up with these songs? I don't remember even doing this.'"

Call it creative amnesia, or a living example of being so involved in the creative process that you actually succeed in getting outside of yourself. And it's not even like they sit around and improvise and call it a wrap--each Explosions in the Sky song is carefully and painstakingly composed.

"When we go into the studio to record, every note is written; every part is done and played 100 times," explained Hrasky. "I think it's always difficult for the four of us to really remember: 'Who came up with this guitar part?' Or, 'when did we decide to put this part in here?' I don't know--someday, I guess, we did. We structure songs and really pay attention, and take a long time to write them, but for some reason, something happens where none of us can really remember. ... There's not some magical moment; it's just kind of working at it and slowly putting it together so the details get kind of blurry."

If the focus is on the song, then the song becomes sharper, and everything else blurs in the background. And it's this fine tuning of each song that makes Explosions in the Sky's music more than just background music. On 2007's All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone (Temporary Residence Ltd.), each song completes a full narrative arc, with tension, climactic moments and denouements. The band doesn't continue working on anything unless everyone in the band agrees on it, and that intense dedication to their work is audible.

But there is a downside to that, admitted Hrasky.

"All four of us have to love something for it to get past a certain point and to make it onto a record, which I think is really cool, but, boy, it can be tedious and frustrating and lead to many arguments while we're working on stuff," he said.

And putting out the songs they love has also met with some critical disdain--with the last record, many critics pointed out that there's a certain predictability to their music.

"I totally understand that, and I think there's some validity to that," said Hrasky, "but at the same time, it's like, these are the songs we came up with that we liked, and that's how it happened."

But, continued Hrasky, "We've already kind of started working on stuff for the next record, and I do think, so far, this next record will be--I don't want to say a radical departure, or something like that, but it definitely seems to be having a much different feel than any of the other records have so far.

"But then you gotta worry about that, too. If you're too self-conscious changing your style and doing something different, it can end up being a total failure."

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