|| Just as ironic
is the fact that Ester Drang's wide-horizon musical style isn't a
product of living beneath Oklahoma's golden skies. "None of us
would make that connection," he said. Instead, the sound draws
from a common appreciation held by McAlister, guitarist/synth player
Jeff Shoop and frontman Bryce Chambers. "We're all drawn to cinematic
and landscape-oriented music," McAlister said. "It's a shared
All three also share a common life-threatening experience -- an
accident that took place just outside of St. Louis in September
2004 that cost them everything but their lives. McAlister said the
ordeal couldn't help but impact their music. "I suppose it's
a cliché sort of thing with anyone who had a near-death experience,"
he said. "In an instant, our van and all of our gear was gone.
The accident took us off the road for a week, but we got right back
out with gear borrowed from friends."
It's only a coincidence, he said, that Rocinate opens with
the soaring track "Come Back Alive," a song Chambers wrote
before the accident. "In a way, it changed the song's meaning,"
The accident, however, didn't impact the band's love for touring
and performing, especially from McAlister and Stoop, who spent part
of last year touring with Sufjan Stevens on his Illinois
tour (They were among those clad in cheerleader uniforms at last
September's dazzling Sokol Underground gig). Like Stevens' epic
approach to recording, Ester Drang also uses a boatload of instruments
to fill out its sound.
"Our music is a collision of the three of us -- we all play
a lot of instruments," McAlister said. "We decided on
a palette of sounds, and left as much as we could to chance."
It fell on McAlister to pull together the string and brass charts,
working with a number of musicians including former Polyphonic Spree
violinist Daniel Hart. "We gave Daniel a license to construct
harmonies any way he wanted to. The strings, along with the flugelhorn,
gives the recording its '70s vibe."
Can the trio, along with additional bass player Jonathan Ford,
reproduce the album's dense, layered sound on stage? "People
are always pretty shocked by how well we do it," McAlister
said. "We try to make the live set as representative of the
recording as possible using electronics. In the end, there's an
energy there that's not on the record. I think you'll be surprised."
Published in The Omaha Reader March 8, 2006.
Copyright © 2006 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
suppose it's a cliché sort of thing with anyone who
had a near-death experience"