By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The Undoing of David Wright wears one of its first-ever reviews proudly on its Web site. The quote is taken from a post on a local Christian music message board, calling the Denton band's live performance "everything that is contrary to peace, a sound mind, God's order, and love. It [is] the agony that Hell must be like...obviously inspired by the Demonic." And while the band's live shows sometimes include cross dressing, fake blood, bizarre crowd interactions and other theatrics that would frighten small children and Pat Robertson, their artistic inspiration probably has more to do with Bauhaus than Beelzebub.
"We were really worried about being billed a death metal band for a while," lead singer Lars Larsen says, "because that is not what we are trying to do at all. It goes deeper than that. We believe that there is a new narrative form evolving out of our current generation concerning mixed media and a new way to tell stories, and that is what we are interested in."
The band's approach to a good deal of what they do, from songwriting and recording to performances and marketing, is surprisingly thoughtful for a trio that some might dismiss as gimmicky. In true Bauhaus fashion, they speak extensively on theories of interaction between art and technology, calling electronic music a catalyst for engaging in rituals and stimulating senses in a live setting. "Right now we are experimenting primarily with these theories in music production, presentation and interactive media to create a mind-affecting space during our live performances," says Larsen, "and in turn to create our own version of reality."
This reality, which incorporates ideas from classic literature, philosophy, performance art and dystopian science fiction, has earned the band something of a reputation for outlandish onstage behavior. But if their lofty philosophical ideas sometimes get lost in the spectacle of their performances, it's only because the finished product is entirely compelling, with or without an academic explanation.
The Undoing of David Wright formed in 2003 when guitarist A-Train approached Larsen at a Fischerspooner concert and asked him if he wanted to sing in a band. "We just went around asking anyone that looked interesting to be our singer," he says, and Larsen, who had an afro at the time, was the first person to accept their invitation. Sick of the complacent emo and rap-metal music that had dominated the early '00s, Larsen and A-Train set out to make solid stage presence and thoughtful storytelling important in underground music again.
"Back in the beginning, the idea of the band was to play until everyone was so annoyed by us that they left," says Larsen, who describes the band's early incarnation as "a serious joke" that incorporated music almost as an afterthought to audience interaction. But when the two founding members met bassist Shingles Tuwear at a 2004 Undoing house show and invited him to join their band, the trio began to focus on more complex music and developed the sound that has made them cult favorites in Dallas' underground scene.
Their self-released debut We Dig With Fingers Crossed is an urgent and arresting mixture of early industrial influences like Cabaret Voltaire, post-punk-inspired dance-rock like Gang of Four and Moving Units and touches of erratic noise experimentations recalling no-wave groups like DNA and This Heat. Precise, crunchy bass lines and pounding industrial beats serve as a backdrop to A-Train's thin, angular guitar riffs and Larsen's manic vocals, resulting in a sound that is noisy and confrontational, yet quite danceable. But unlike most contemporary hipster acts that are content to create music half as engaging as Undoing's, the band's songwriting and production digs much deeper than house beats and new wave and instead takes a good deal of storytelling inspiration from progressive rock bands like King Crimson and Yes.
"We don't really have a songwriting process," says Aaron, "but sometimes we'll come up with a riff, guitar part or keyboard part, and then we'll say, 'Oh, this is going to fit best in a certain part of the story,' and that is what the song will end up being about." The track names and story outline for the band's debut, a concept album about 19th-century grave robbers, were mapped out before any of the music was written, and the band plans on taking a similar approach when they record their second album with the pAper chAse's John Congleton in August.
For that album, the band will tell yet another epic tale of adventure and violence, this time about a group of wanderers who travel to an uncharted land known as the 8th Continent. The album's detailed and complex story (which the band has already developed in full) will also draw on some of the band's ideas on the creation of an alternative reality through multimedia technology, but it will be far more than a mere Atlantis-inspired work of fiction. The band has taken their conceptual reality one step further and turned the 8th Continent into a tangible place, located just below Lars Larsen's Denton home.
The 8th Continent venue is housed in a garage/basement area with a stage designed specifically to fit the band's theatrics, providing just the right amount of space for a drum machine, synths and three bodies that are constantly bouncing around the stage during performances. Built and designed by the band members, friends and Larsen's wife, Heather, the space was originally conceived as a practice space in which the band could write the 8th Continent album. But after realizing the potential the space could have, the band decided to take it a step further and use it as a promotional vehicle to host its own concerts.
"One of the ideas is to make it our own private theater," Larson says, "a collapsing of this virtual world we've created into an actual physical space," which will in turn allow the band complete freedom to take their live performances and storytelling however far they want them to go. And although the band plans on opening up the space to friends and artists to perform in front of fans, they do not intend to make it a full-time D.I.Y. venue. Instead, it will be a place where they will showcase art, music and films that they like, with other artists and musicians appearing by special invitation only.
Mostly, the venue will serve as a temporary epicenter in which the Undoing of David Wright's ambitious experiments in music and performance art will be carried out, a place that will allow the band to merge all of their ideas together under one roof. And although the exact dimensions of the world they are trying to create aren't exactly clear yet, the trio doubts that they will ever convince certain critics that they belong anywhere other than somewhere below us, just on the other side of a river that no one wants to cross.