By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
There are plenty of bands that have their hearts in the right place, want to play music for a livable wage and not compromise who they are in the process. But unforeseen obstacles quite often derail these aims. Stories along these lines could fill a library.
Lucky for them, the musicians in Explosions in the Sky have continued to get better with age and to play to larger audiences.
The band already had a devoted following with their first couple of all-instrumental albums, which recalled their influences of Mogwai and Godspeed! You Black Emperor. Yet when Explosions' music was featured in the Friday Night Lights film and subsequent television series (as well as a Cadillac TV ad campaign), the exposure was immense. A whole new cast of fans latched onto the band. Those who were already fans hung on, too.
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With the 2011 release of their sixth album, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, the band has found itself playing some of the largest venues they've ever played in. They played at Radio City Music Hall earlier this year; this week, they'll play the first outdoor rock show at the new AT&T Performing Arts Center in downtown Dallas.
Mere seconds into talking with guitarist Munaf Rayani, it's pretty obvious how appreciative he and his bandmates — fellow guitarist Mark Smith, bassist Michael James and drummer Chris Hrasky — still are of their good fortune.
"I don't know if it's a completely conscious effort," Rayani says, "but we try to express a vivid humility throughout our lives because we're pretty lucky to be doing what we're doing, especially with the sound that we're making."
No, the band members no longer have to cut corners to live in Austin anymore. But there indeed once was a time when they had to move back to Midland, where most of the band members grew up, because the rent was cheaper. That was back when they were writing what became their third album, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place. It was also the beginning of their collaboration with Dallas-based producer, John Congleton. The collaboration continues to this day — Congleton produced Take Care.
"He's been an integral member of the album process for the last three records," Rayani says, making it sound likely that their collaboration will continue for the foreseeable future. "He is somebody that anybody should feel lucky to be recording an album with. He's very knowledgeable. And not only knowledgeable — he's not a Yes Man. He'll let you know, 'I don't know, guys, this doesn't sound very good,' or 'Perhaps we should try something else.' He's full of ideas."
For Take Care, there were plenty of ideas: Upwards of 50 fifty pieces were written, whether less than a minute or more than five minutes in length. A good chunk of the band's recording time was spent chopping those pieces down to six complete tracks that vary in length from three-and-a-half minutes to more than 10.
Admits Rayani: "We're not convinced that anything we write is golden."
But much of what they write very much hits all ends of the spectrum. And, in playing larger venues, the band's now given more room for their "total silence to total violence" sound to breathe.
"We have a couple of really great soundmen that have been working with us for a number of years who know how to push it to the mark," Rayani says. "We're not just looking to arbitrarily turn our distortion pedals on and get loud just to get loud. Everything is very calculated. We try to hit these levels very precisely."
And if they don't?
"None of us really have this outgoing ego in which we think we're the hottest thing going," Rayani says. "I think we have a sense of confidence that has allowed us to get to this point."