By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The best music affects you on a physical level: Your spine melts, you feel yourself slinking to the music, becoming a part of it. Inhibitions break down as you become a marionette to the musicians' Gepetto. It goes far beyond air-guitaring or beating the steering wheel as you drive; your entire body is involved. The music can never be loud enough--it's that good.
But when such body-moving music comes from a band like The Falcon Project--a group whose members ain't exactly known for kickin' out the jams--it's all the more refreshing. Kind of astonishing, even.
"I think a lot of people expected me to go off and get in some band that does one note for two hours, and I ended up doing the exact opposite," says Wanz Dover, former Mazinga Phaser frontman and current singer-songwriter for the brand-new Falcon Project.
Dover, sitting alongside his bandmates at an Exposition Park coffee shop, notes that one of the band's songs from its forthcoming debut The Revenge of Sonic Soular is "meant for putting on infinite repeat and hopefully inducing some lucid dreaming." Then again, he insists, another song off the record ("Sonic Soular's Vengeance Dub") is more for "getting the groove on." Getting the groove on--not exactly the sort of phrase a longtime Mazinga fan might expect to come from Dover's lips. That band, as wonderful as it is/was, didn't exactly turn the mother out.
Yet Sonic Soular is an ambitious stab at forms as divergent as old-school dub; astral rock; hazy, ethereal sleep rock; trance; and raga-patterned meditational music. It's ambient and bluesy all at once, hi-fi low-fi, seductive "head" music (as the kids called it back in the day). In other words, psychedelic rock at the end of the century.
One thing it is not--at least as far as Dover is concerned--is "space rock," a term often used these last few years to describe the music coming from Denton and such bands as Light Bright Highway, Lift to Experience, and most certainly Mazinga Phaser, despite Dover's long-standing complaints. He bristles at the mention of the phrase, insisting it "cheapens" the music, lumps so many myriad styles into one lazy catch-all. Dover insists bands such as The Falcon Project and Mazinga have more in common with such "geniuses" as Om-era John Coltrane, the Miles Davis of Bitches Brew, and Ornette Coleman, men who turned songs inside-out, outside-in, upside-down, rightside-left--in essence, strung together a bunch of notes and turned it into Art.
To Dover, "space rock" is music propelled by novelty sci-fi themes, a genre defined by artists such as George Clinton, Ziggy-era David Bowie, and Sun Ra, whose music reeks of what Dover terms "space shtick--a theme, not a style." Dover has done his homework (and mine and yours, for that matter). For his frame of reference, he points to the likes of Roky Erickson and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Red Krayola, and the whole Trance Syndicate label, speaking with a fanatic's admiration about the pioneers of Texas psychedelia. The man knows his history--and more important, where he would like to stand on the time line.
"That term [space rock] really offends me in so many ways, because people don't know what the genre is in the first place," Dover says, repeating the lecture one more time. "They think it's something that was born out of Denton a few years ago. No, no, no."
Sonic Soular is the end result of Texas' freak-out-rock history: It's engaging, thoughtful, and moving, an unfeigned attempt at a range of ideas and styles that comes off greater than the sum of its parts. There are moments that echo Brian Eno, Spiritualized (which the band readily admits), The Orb, even United Future Organization (especially The Falcon Project tracks on which the saucy Lisa Lazo sings). It's spirited and fluid, music for head-nodding and heart-breaking. Still, it may be so all over the place that Dover concedes Sonic Soular could be the proverbial square peg.
"It might be too tripped-out for some of the harder-rocking bands, too harder-rocking for some of the more tripped-out bands, too groove for your straight experimental folks, and too experimental for people who want straight groove," he says, quite straight-faced.
Yet for all of its disparate sounds, Sonic Soular maintains a sense of cohesion because of its relatively simple concept: The disc is that old favorite concept, the soundtrack to an imaginary film. The idea was Dover's (OK, Brian Eno's, but who's keeping score) and was nourished by keyboardist Sean Kirkpatrick; it came to fruition in the form of a fictional superhero, Sonic Soular, who is, as Kirkpatrick explains, "our muse and for whom we transmit these messages for the people of the earth." (Seriously, who says you can't call this stuff "space rock"?) The scenes, which Kirkpatrick explains contained "some heavy sci-fi and blaxploitation imagery," were developed into the musical motifs that make up Sonic Soular. The booklet that accompanies the disc explains all of this in case the music itself doesn't convey its true thematic intent.
As Dover and Kirkpatrick elucidate the idea of a sci-fi themed soundtrack to an imaginary movie about a fictional superhero, there is hardly a drop of irony in the air. Kirkpatrick points to "Sonic Soular's Vengeance Dub," a groove-laden, percussively crunchy, soulful dub piece, as the climax of the movie/album marked by "explosions and new planets being born."
"The big fight scene," Dover pipes in enthusiastically.
Despite their active imaginations and astral aspirations, the members of The Falcon Project are firmly rooted in reality. They recoil at the suggestion that they are pioneers or leaders of at least a small part of Denton's brilliantly fragmented music scene, a not so far-out notion when you consider that Dover once booked The Argo and masterminded the Melodica Festival. Both Dover and bassist Will Kapinos attend the University of North Texas with careers in mind (Dover talks about wanting to pursue electro-acoustic computer music--let's call it film scoring), while Kirkpatrick, who has graduated from college, says he's never looked at music as a primary source of income.
"We're still so young, and there's a ton of bands around here that are better than we are. I'll be the first to admit that," says Kirkpatrick. Dover defines himself as a realist, adding, "Anybody who wants to make a living making music is a fool. We make music because it's fun and a good way to express yourself."
This wide-eyed fascination, this belief that making music is essentially rewarding simply because it's enjoyable, is exactly what makes the members of The Falcon Project so affable. They're a Denton-based band that wants to remain a Denton-based band or, as Dover modestly characterizes, "a bunch of college-town folkies who get together and jam out together a couple times a week." Kirkpatrick and Kapinos have been doing just that since 1994 in Denton's Maxine's Radiator. Kapinos is also the guitarist-singer for Jet Screamer, which just released an EP recorded by Dave Willingham--the producer of Sonic Soular, as well as albums by Mazinga Phaser, Sub Oslo, Light Bright Highway, and Go Metric USA.
In fact, Dover is prone to speak with reverence about indie-label success stories such as Gastr Del Sol's Jim O'Rourke (best known for producing the likes of Stereolab, John Fahey, and Smog) and Tortoise, artists not buoyed by mainstream popularity. He seeks success on the small scale--though indie-rock these days is teeming with miniature heroes.
Dover likes to talk about the evils of such events as the upcoming South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin; he bemoans the fact that bands go to Austin hoping to get "discovered," signed to a major, made rich and famous in a magical moment. His disdain for South by Southwest is part of the reason he continues to organize the annual Melodica Festival, a music showcase that Dover hopes will inspire some unity among Texas bands; performers in recent years include the likes of Lift to Experience, Roshanda Red Quartet, and Sub Oslo along with such luminaries as Tortoise and the Sea and Cake. He admits frustration with last year's festival--which was held in Austin only because The Argo was shut down--terming the event a "disaster" because of poor promotion and an ominous Austin vs. Dallas vibe; indeed, the thing went so poorly that it inspired a song on Sonic Soular called "Texas Is the Reason," which Dover insists is about the failure of Melodica in Austin. But Dover says he'll keep putting on Melodica because the people who appreciate it really appreciate it.
"People tell me that they had a great time at Melodica because there were good bands, no B.S., and no poseurs," Dover says. "People come out there to do some honest expression of themselves. Melodica does tend to shy away from bands who are just looking to get signed to a major label. We're not really interested in those bands. They're not welcome, and we don't want them."
The Falcon Project, which also includes drummer Matt Lawrence, actually began recording together while Dover was still in Mazinga Phaser, a band he left because he and the other members weren't on the same page musically. He doesn't talk about the specifics leading to his departure, only mentioning that at the end, they didn't rehearse much--something about different goals, tension, the usual junk. (Mazinga will actually release its first post-Dover record, a 30-minute EP, at the end of February on Erv Karwelis' Idol Records label--the same local indie handling The Falcon Project.) But he does say that finding common ground and getting along with his partners in The Falcon Project is a breeze compared with what he was used to.
Kirkpatrick adds soberly, "It's not that we don't have problems and tension; it's just that we talk about them when we do. We don't let them build up. Being in a band is all about breaking down a set of walls or building them up. And if you don't communicate and work on it actively, they're going up whether you realize it or not.
"Somebody told me the other night that our individual personalities were really starting to blend together and form a unit. They could put their finger on a sound that they could say was ours. That was one of the best things I've heard.