BY SARAH BERMAN, DISCORDER MAGAZINE
If a never-ending laser beam were unleashed inside the Taj Mahal, would it make a sound?
Though they have no scientific evidence to back it up, all four members of Flash Palace are willing to bet it would sound like an intricately woven post-rock jam with carefully hidden Josh Groban samples. At least that’s the soundscape bassist Ellis Sam described while discussing his band’s debut EP Some Misinterpreted Sunsets.
“There’s probably a guy from Peru or Poland walking around and everyone has their shoes off,” explained Sam, who also supplies electronic samples and “vocal drones” on the record. “And this laser is just constantly bouncing around.”
Bouncing light is an appropriate metaphor, as the band’s creative process seems to involve a jumbled back-and-forth exchange between sounds and visuals. “We grew up with lots of TV and video games with lots of repeated imagery and sound,” Sam said. With a scene from the 1989 computer game Sim City frozen on the television screen in front of us—in a house where three of the band members live—lasers and architectural imagery somehow begin to make sense.
“We used to watch TV and put music on and try to sync it up,” drummer Mac Lawrie explained. A common practice among stoners and bored teenagers everywhere, this pastime seems to inspire poignant loops and transitions on tracks like “sasa” and “double/day.”
“We actually did that last night with Carl Sagan and Super Mario,” chimed in guitarist Samuel Dzierzawa. “He explains the fourth dimension,” added Jon Scherk, another multi-instrumentalist and singer in the band.
“These guys used to be in a band called the Butterfly Lovers,” explained Sam, noting the group sounded like a math-rockier version of Tool. “They put out a thousand copies of their first EP, and gave everyone at high school a CD. It was pretty sweet. I was a fan.”
“Then Jon and I were in a pop band called Us Us Us,” he continued. “And together we started this math rock band called Trusty Backpack. It was pretty awkward. Funny. Like lots of loops and me yelling a lot.”
It wasn’t until last year’s Shindig battle of the bands that the name Flash Palace finally stuck. “I just kind of blurted it out,” Sam recalled (the group was calling themselves Tigerhead at the time). “But I lisped it so it sounded like ‘Flesh Palace.’ So people were saying ‘sweet job Flesh Palace.’ It was weird.”
Flash Palace/Tigerhead didn’t advance to the semi-finals on that fateful evening. (Much to the chagrin of Discorder writer Brenda Grunau, who wrote that the foursome “rocked out like Tortoise.” She subsequently declared them “the best set of the night.”) [ed. For those curious both Flash Palace and Jody Glenham lost this night to Lengthy List of Lovers.]
Equally motivated by Enya, grapefruits and pre-show chicken burgers, Sam said Flash Palace creates entirely new soundscapes during each of their live performances. “We don’t want to play the same set over and over,” he said.
“We’re there to make one big piece of music that like, feels right to us,” he said. “In our sets we don’t try and stop our music—we just try and keep it continually going, which I think puts people off because they’re like ‘When do I clap?’ you know, ‘When do I yell ‘Yeah! Sweet!’?’”
“We work up to our shows,” added Scherk. “We get as many new ideas into that show so it’s interesting.” The young band recently opened for Brasstronaut at the Rickshaw, and has even had a chance to play alongside Deakin, a former member of Animal Collective.
But when asked if their shows have been well received, responses were decidedly modest. “Nobody booed,” Lawrie said.
Though the band’s recorded work feels undeniably fresh, Flash Palace’s musical influences are surprisingly vintage. “Marvin Gaye is one of my favourite musicians,” Sam gushed. “He just gets in that really spiritual place in his music and you can’t replicate that.”
And Sam makes a point of noting his love of Enya is by no means ironic. “My dad played me the Enigma CD and the Enya CD like every day,” he explained. “I put it on the other day, and the amount of subtle techno beats and then long delayed vocals … that kind of like new age sound kind of creeps in on everything I write.”
Apart from the “classics” (in quotations because Limp Bizkit was also mentioned in this category), Flash Palace are quick to praise similar bedroom composers.
“Azeda Booth is probably one of our favourite bands, and they’re probably one of the most underrated bands in Canada,” Sam said. “They’ve just made their own sonic world.”
Flash Palace are on their way to achieving their own sonic world, having recently moved in to a shared house in East Van. After years of angry neighbours, the band finally has a wood-panelled basement jam space to call their own.
“We’ve been here about a month,” Scherk said. “We were working out of our parents’ basements and always changing jam spaces. And so we thought having our own space would be the best thing to do.”
Beginning in 2011, the band plans to put shows on hold for a while to focus on recording a second album. “We’re going to record all our new album here. And do like, all the proper technical tweaks at a bigger studio,” Sam said. “We get in a room together and just keep on jamming out parts and like talk with our instruments a lot.”
“We’re going to work really hard on it,” he added. “I’m always thinking like, where can I take the sound. Like, I want to make this sound like it’s beside a hot dog stand.”
“That’s the golden chalice,” Scherk agreed.
Posted on December 2, 2010. Photo by Steve Louie.