You can't put your arms around a memory, as one hopeless rock 'n' roll soul once sang, but you can ponder a memory's origins, observe its manifestations, and perhaps even embrace its spectral aftereffects. So it goes with Gowns' Ezra Buchla, who currently lives with bandmate Erika Anderson in the North Berkeley "towering, crumbling Grey Gardens-style Victorian manse" where he was born. "I've lived in this house my whole life," he says quietly. I've interrupted his late afternoon soldering on a modular synthesizer - another day's work with his father, synthesizer inventor Don Buchla. "I've had a lot of strange experiences, real or imaginary."
He says he's had dreams about a woman who was buried next to his house, beckoning him over to her final resting place or hanging off the roof by her fingertips in front of a window. Another time he discovered himself in the grip of a hallucination about an agoraphobic woman who locked herself in the attic till she starved to death. He then heard laughing echoing from that floor. Footsteps have also been heard on the floor above. And one night as a child, he woke up and saw that the trapdoor to the attic, above his bed, had disappeared. "My dad ignores it, but it's hard to," Buchla says. "For example, when the trapdoor disappeared, he said it was moved by rats, which seems impossible to me. It's too big and too firmly attached to the ceiling."
The stories sound like the stuff of Realtors' nightmares. Yet not surprisingly, Buchla doesn't mind the mysterious appearances - and disappearances - at all. "I like it here. It's pretty special."
Gowns' music, likewise, dares to venture into alien haunts, the eerie intersections between past and present, the strange spaces where AOR rock meets the avant-garde, places where the trio, which includes percussionist Corey Fogel, finds quiet beauty and moments of bristling cacophony. That much is evident on Red State (Cardboard), on which former Amps for Christ guitarist and oscillator manipulator Anderson and ex-Mae Shi vocalist Buchla, who studied composition at Oberlin College and the California Institute of the Arts, speak in spooked whispers over fragile bits of noise and through folk-song filters.
When the pair started the band, Anderson says, "we didn't really have grand ideas. We were just kind of hanging out a lot, and we thought, let's record really simple things in our bedrooms. But we did want to use technology to play with sound forms and make things textural and use digital editing as a composition tool."
"The funny thing is that our knowledge base for music is almost completely opposite," Anderson says, going on to describe their recent 15-minute live "noise valentine" version of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire" with Carla Bozulich. "I can sing almost any song on classic rock or AOR stations. I have all that oldies history or dumb classic rock history. Whereas Ezra's got a knowledge of all the new music composers and history. When we met, there was barely anything that was similar. Now they overlap more and more." May those meetings be happier - and as dramatic - as that visitor dangling from the roof. *
With Bran ... Pos, Kristin Miltner and Cliff Caruthers, Anti-Ear, and Core Ogg the Cool Man and Paul Baker
May 19, call for time and price
2948 16th St., SF