NOISE: Uplift those Gowns


The Gowns sound awfully good to me - composed of former members of Mae Shi and Amps for Christ, the now-Berkeley art-rockin' combo is playing tonight at 21 Grand, opening for BARR, Marnie Stern, and Old Time Relijun. Atmospheric, willing to test those everchanging limits defining a pop song, punky in ways that Good Charlotte wouldn't understand...oh hell, I'll just let the Gowns' Ezra Buchla tell it the way he sees it for himself, Erika Anderson, and Corey Fogel:


I am writing from Highland Park, Los Angeles, a city in which I am a (permanent?) visitor. Erika and I lived here two years ago, when we began playing together as Gowns or the Gowns. It was an attempt to synthesize several of our musical interests: the formal minimalism and elasticity of folk music, the abrasion of Crass-era anarchist punk, the directness and lyricism of grunge rock, and the alienating, arguably anti-human time-bending techniques of modern digital signal processing.

We wanted to write songs you could be fooled into thinking you'd heard before. We wanted to tell the bleakest and most affecting memories and fantasies of our childhood and adolescence, like our favorite grunge bands seemed to be doing when we heard them on the radio in high school. We wanted the computers to take our mandolins and guitars and simple, desperate stories and subject them to another kind of intelligent process, a process appropriate to this time and place: Los Angeles, early 2000s? But not really, because I decided early on to use no samples or sequences, only the humans breathing directly into the shine and dust of the fuckup machine.

OK? OK. Whatever - I meant by that is pretty well documented by our first EP, Dangers of Intimacy, released by Whitman, a freaky denizen of Riverside, Calif., on his Folktale handmade CD-R label in 2005. The record is hushed, uncomfortable, maybe sexy? Hard to say.

We played around the country. The cracked digital storytelling gospel duo didn't fit in anywhere, too structured for "noise," too wimpy for "rock," too ugly and self-sabotaged for "folk," too simple and straightforward for "free" music. We fed equally on the blank stares, belligerence and love, and ended up in South Dakota among windy plains and mossy lakes trying to build a record. The resulting pieces were thicker, sometimes louder, more twisted, hard extruded slabs of story/song. After two years of compulsive retracking and remixing the resulting record is being released in March on Brooklyn's Cardboard Records.

Meanwhile we've relocated to a towering, crumbling Grey Gardens-style Victorian manse in North Berkeley. It is seriously haunted as fuck and cold. We've added a remarkable percussionist and focused the role of the computer considerably. The sound is a little fuller, maybe more psychedelic or something, although probably still a basically kind of over-the-counter, everyday psychedelia. Booze and pills does it for most people, but really it's enough to read the news, walk under the elevated train tracks, and watch your cat dismember a bird once in a while.

We've written and started to track another record. We've worked on our other projects. Maybe we've grown up a little? Hard to say.

Gowns play tonight, March 6, at 21 Grand as part of an all-ages Club Sandwich show with Old Time Relijun, BARR, and Marnie Stern. 8 p.m. The price is $7.