The members of experimental rock band Maps & Atlases -- bassist Shiraz Dada, drummer Chris Hainey, guitarist Erin Elders and guitarist and vocalist Dave Davison -- met as sophomores at Chicago's Columbia College; they all graduated in 2006. "I think it was a good thing for us to have a couple of years of screwing around and practicing and figuring out our individual identities as musicians," Davison says, via phone from the band's tour bus. "That's such an important time for discovering new music. So we were really able to work through these new discoveries by working on music together."
After a handful of EPs, the band's debut album, Perch Patchwork, came out a month ago on indie Barsuk. The album features prog-worthy chops and two-handed tapping guitar reminiscent of math-rock influences Don Caballero and Hella, but even with the keys and orchestra bells, the sensibility comes off as more folky and percussive than grandiose, and remains centered around Davison's unadorned vocals.
After several EPs, what were your goals going into your first full-length, Perch Patchwork?
I think there were a lot of specific little things that we wanted to try and do -- obviously, working with a lot more diversity in terms of instrumentation. There were a lot of little things -- like, we'd never done a lot of drastic tempo changes and we hadn't really done too many changes in time signature. So there were specific things we wanted to try to incorporate. I think it was an extension of the EPs in terms of the mindset of continuing to incorporate technical elements and different interesting things like that -- tempo changes and key changes -- but have everything be serving the song, and hopefully making songs that really stand on their own.
So much of the album has a major-key brightness to it. A lot of technique-heavy rock seems to end up being darker -- why is yours different?
I feel like this record, in comparison to our previous two EPs, we were kind of conscious to try to balance that brightness with a little bit of darkness. I feel like we are naturally oriented toward that bright quality, but on an LP, we wanted to have a little bit of a balance of those two things. As to why, I think maybe it's just more fun and naturally what we lean toward. I don't know -- that's a good question. A lot of the songs start off as really basic chord progressions that are laid out, and a lot of them, in their basic forms, they seem more like old rock 'n' roll or almost folky, basic songs.
"Israeli Caves" is a standout on your record, both the sound and lyrics. How did it come to you?
Lyrically, definitely, the verses were a part of a poem that I was working on, on and off for a really long time, that I wasn't necessarily trying to incorporate in a song -- it just happened. The main vibe of the song has this sort of spiritual component of looking at here and now and everyday things as being really special in their own way, I guess.
Does that theme tie in to other songs on the record?
I think there's a quality of amplifying really small details of everyday things and everyday life, and framing them in a song -- that is something that seems to be a reoccurring lyrical method. Just stumbling upon things, and thinking, "Oh, this is a really small thing, but it seems to be pointing to something larger and more important." So I think that a lot of times, those moments are inspirational. So yeah, looking at everyday life, the here and now, and thinking this is special and interesting -- I think that is, throughout our EPs and this record, a reoccurring theme.
That seems like a cure for the overblown lyrics in prog: heavy on ideas but often lacking in immediate details.
I think there is an abstract quality to some of our lyrics, but I think there's a soul and a heart to them, because they are really based in those kinds of moments. There's a tendency -- there are some songwriters who can do it really well -- to basically have a specific concept that they really want to work through in an overt way in a song. But I guess I've always been leaning toward the visual and really small things, and allowing them to do what they do.
Maps & Atlases with Cults and Laura Stevenson & The Cans. 9:30 p.m. Tue., Aug. 17 (doors at 9 p.m.). Brillobox, 4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. $10. 412-621-4900 or www.brillobox.net