(originally published in Star News, additional Q&A after article)
By Brian Tucker
Kitchens play a part in birthing Exploding Math Lab, and not due to the band’s tongue-in-cheek name. The majority of the band met working in local restaurants, a close-confines work environment where people can bond quickly. It was there guitar player Ben Schachtman said they learned each other’s musical tastes. By 2014 they were a fun rock and roll band with an atypical sound.
“You spend eight hours a day listening to music. (In the kitchen) we listened to the ones you’d expect – Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss. Our singer Will Copeland likes The Strokes and singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan, lyrically focused stuff. Stephen Guilliams and I would play heavier stuff like Mastodon, Quicksand, Helmet.”
Exploding Math Lab has an album release show on Saturday for EP2 at Reggie’s 42nd Street Tavern with Wax Imperials and Subtle Fuzz.
Their music is caustically left-of-field rock and roll whose sonic exploration is conducted with garage band looseness and hints of psychedelia. Its music that would easily drive riders at skate parks and underscore surf videos. With a gritty-but-catchy sound, it’s dosed with hypnotic, thick riffs and coupled with Will Copeland’s cool vocals. The whole has a spaced-out, garage rock vibe and Copeland’s unique, soaring vocals are akin to a guttural marriage of Chris Cornell and stoner rock band Fu Manchu’s Scott Hill.
“That is the way he sounds,” Schachtman said. “We’ll be at practice and he sings through an old PA amp. There’s some studio stuff on there, its doubled, but yeah he just sounds like an alien.”
Disparate tastes within band members may not be obvious but the result is smartly unrefined musical stew – the crash of drums and grinding, out of control guitar work collide with heady melodies and block-of-ice, spaced vocals. Not at all bombastic, it’s more like the soundtrack of reckless endeavors or a future Wild West dystopia. If there’s a need for music in the post-apocalypse then the infectious track “Fickle” from their 2016 debut album will set the tone. After its gnarly beginning Copeland bellows, “Baby there’s a lot of fickle people I don’t who to trust…”
“We’re going for something a little outlandish, a little weird,” Schachtman says lightheartedly. “I think Will would agree with that, he’s a dystopian-ist. I think that’s where we are at the moment mentally. Will’s ready for the world to end so he can just live in the woods. We have, especially me I think, we have some heavy influences. We don’t want to be a metal band. We don’t have the disposition to be Scandinavian death metal.”
That’s clear in their approach to making videos and whose spirit seen onscreen echoes the early days of making them for MTV. For “Love Control” the musician’s heads poke through curtains and their bodies are tiny – puppet bodies on a mini stage playing instruments.
“That was a hot, sweaty day. We filmed that in an attic, but it was a blast to do,” Schachtman says. “We’re more lo-fi and DIY than anything else. Don’t take ourselves too serious. We like making rock and roll – we want to make it as good as we can, but we’re just dudes.”
Out this week, EP2 has a brooding quality (see “Cairo”) even as it veers into more groove-laden territory on songs. It shows them exploring different soundscapes and stretching what the band’s persona can be. It’s still heavy music but perhaps more cerebral, haunted, and seductive (see “Often”). Not bad for a group of guys who simply dismiss material if it wasn’t remembered at the next rehearsal.
“We were really bad initially at songwriting and direction, so we’d just play stuff. The decision process became that if more than one person remembered it the next week, and that was collectively stuck in our memory, we’re going to play that again. We get together and play music and if it still seems worth playing next week it becomes a song.”
Additional Q and A with Ben Schachtman
How long have you lived in Wilmington? Did the band meet at college?
I moved here first time in 2003. My wife went to UNCW, that’s how we met. We all met, the four of us, we met in working in kitchens. We all worked everywhere. We met working Osteria Cicchetti. Our bass player didn’t work in a kitchen with us but I played with him in No Labels Fit fifteen years ago. We’ve known each a long, long time. When we needed a new bass player we called him. Their front man (Brian Sanie) is something else. He’s awesome. I used to be the bass player (in NLF). I finally graduated to lead guitar (for EML).
Is that a different side of the brain playing bass versus guitar?
No, because I was a terrible bass player. I tried to play lead bass. I was not a good punk bass player, holding it down. I always wanted to do riffs and fills to the point Jeremy (Roberts) said, ‘you want to play guitar, just play guitar.’ Now I get to explore, maybe it is a different side of the brain, now I got a chance to explore that side of the brain.
What is the thinking when writing songs for EP2?
We had songs that were way too poppy or we were going down a technical path we couldn’t do it. Every once in a while we’ll have a conversation, but we’re really not the kind of band that maps stuff out. We get together and play music and if it still seems worth playing next week it becomes a song. We have some songs we’ve been kicking around for a year or two that will end up on the next EP. Some songs we’ll play and the next week play it again and then it will be in its complete form. (EP2) these were all new. These were all songs we were playing since the last one came out.
Between bands, No Labels Fit and now Exploding Math Lab, what did you do?
I split town, probably around 2006 I moved to New York City for seven years. I didn’t play in a whole band the whole time I was there and I hated it. It was hard to break in. Also my apartment was 225 square feet. No where to practice.