Members of the DFW trio manintheraw, who describe themselves as indie math folk, know they play a niche genre, and they don’t care. For them, it’s all about the feelings music invokes.
“During our practices, we really just focus more on the emotions we went through that week as a band,” says Jake Hedke, 31, a vocalist, a guitarist and sometimes a mandolinist. “We’re not just like, ‘Check out this riff I just jacked off to.’ It’s about the emotional outpouring.”
The band is recording its first full-length album, Comfort in the Consistency, next month. Alex Bhore, former drummer for This Will Destroy You, who now works at John Congleton’s studio, Elmwood Recording, will engineer and mix the project. The group plans a soft release of a few tracks at South By Southwest and a full release on digital, vinyl and possibly cassette tentatively scheduled for October.
The theme of the album plays into the group’s concept of emotional rawness. Hedke says he hopes the record will give an opposite perspective to the typical musician’s persona.
“You can be anyone you want to be on the road,” he says. “For us, this record is very, very, very important to our personal lives. Family is so much better than being on the road, than being on the radio.”
Lyrically, the album will deal with tough experiences from the band members’ lives. Hedke’s mother died in an accident about two years ago, around the time drummer Andrew Halcomb, 25, joined the band. At that point, Hedke had already decided on the album title and the theme of finding comfort in day-to-day life.
Another part of the album draws inspiration from the members’ family lives. Hedke’s 2-year-old son Joseph appears in the album’s lyrics. Hedke and bassist Benjamin Law, 45, are both on their second marriages.
“It deals with having your family shattered and then choosing to stay in a family even [if] it’s not easy,” Hedke says.
“But it’s very rewarding," he adds. "In one of the songs there’s just a lot of anger, a lot of confusion, but also resolution.”
The track “Hallway Song” is about Hedke’s divorce. Hedke says the song “has a positive, dancey, fun sound, but the lyrics are heart-wrenching. It’s liberating.”
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In terms of sound, the group's music builds on the bones of math rock and post rock with a folksy overlay. Irregular time signatures change throughout a track, drums rest for a few measures while the guitars play feedback, and then a different beat will commence and jolt the song into a new soundscape. Hedke describes the effect as symphonic; he often writes the pieces in movements rather than a typical verse and chorus structure.
“We really feed off each other while we play,” Law says.
Halcomb says it’s “like picking up different brushes while painting. You have those different options to create in different ways.”
Another aspect of the math subgenre is overlapping rhythms.
“I’ll be playing four beats, Andrew will be playing five and Ben will just throw an accent in there,” Hedke says. “Ben’s playing is a whole different animal.” Law plays a seven-string bass.
“I like to throw a lot of harmonics in there,” he says. Between the seven-string bass, complex rhythms and changing time signature, “it sometimes sounds like four or five different people playing,” he says.
However, it’s not all disorganized jam sesh for the band. While the songwriting often springs from improvisation, once a track is “locked in,” the band tends to play it consistently, with only slight details changing from performance to performance.
The band members demonstrate a close interpersonal connection strengthened, no doubt, by the emotional intimacy of their playing style.
“We play honestly,” Law says. “After the second practice, we just clicked. I’ve never clicked with another band like I have with these guys.”
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At one point, Law describes the fulfillment of performing: “If anyone in the audience gets that ‘wow’ moment, then it’s worth it.”
“Did you just say ‘wow boner’?” asks Hedke, who’s a few drinks in.
Law comes back with, “Yeah, we’re the Cialis of math folk.”
When the time comes to divide up the tab at the end of the night, Hedke jokes, “Do you guys wanna do it three-way?”