Since their inception in 2008, Banned Books have been in flux. After a handful of lineup changes; numerous shows with the likes of Guerilla Toss, Deerhoof, Palm, and Xiu Xiu; and three EPs that span a wide range of sonic and narrative structures, they’ve claimed their rightful space in Philadelphia’s noise-rock scene. Now they’re poised to release their debut full-length, recorded at Gravesend Studios with Ava Luna’s Carlos Hernandez and Julian Fader. For all the cycles the three-piece has been through, Banned Books cohesion is impressive.
The first single, “Fuselage”, begins with a bang—Zane Kanevsky’s hard hits on the cymbals riding on heavy guitar lines—before letting up into a series of crisp, light melodic turns. Clean guitar riffs by Matt Dermond (processed using computer programming language Max/MSP) and April Heliotis’ rhythmic bass lines are skirted by a pervasive nervous rattle that never quite settles. It’s this careful balance between clear-cut melody and high-energy improvisatory moves that makes for a rare freshness and accessibility in sound. The cutting refrain, What’s the worst thing that could happen? sticks in memory, simultaneously a question within the song’s self-contained narrative and a testament to the exploratory ethos the group has adopted over the years.
Banned Books is due out February 23 via Ramp Local. You can stream “Fuselage” below, and scroll down for a talk with Banned Books about the record.
Matt and Zane, you’ve been working together for seven years, and April joined this past summer, correct? How have you grown as a group since 2009?
We have changed almost everything but the name of the band since the beginning in 2008. In the first few years, we passed through two drummers, Ben and Cameron, who both helped shape the band during their involvement while Matt and Zane traded off different combinations of guitar(s), bass and electronics. Zane began playing the drums in 2013 while we experimented with performing as a duo for a year. April joined on bass in Summer 2014 and is on drums for some of the newest material we have been playing at recent shows. Maintaining this level of interchangeability with the instrumentation throughout our history has kept things exciting and allowed us to each bring fresh ideas anytime things began to feel stale.
What was the process of writing your first full-length like?
Banned Books had just started playing as a two piece. Zane was practicing playing drums while singing at the same time. We began learning and experimenting with Max/MSP, and Matt started using it to develop his own software for processing guitar. We had a sonic framework, a few new songs and a handful of older tunes that we could perform as a duo. After a year rebuilding the band and touring the new ideas, our friend April joined up to play bass – we wrote the rest of the songs together. The oldest song on the album, “Everything I’ll Ever Need”, had been fermenting for over five years, since we started writing it the opening night of our first tour in Osnabrück, Germany.
What was it like recording the album with Carlos Hernandez and Julian Fader [of Ava Luna]?
They are so funny! We laughed a lot and there were all kinds of jokes happening that really kept the mood just right. Gravesend was very well-suited to our needs. We can’t think of many of other circumstances which would have better facilitated the result we got in the four days we spent recording with them.
We would also like to mention it was an equally good time mixing the record with Sam Owens at Figure 8. We drove from Providence the night before, mixed all day with him and then played at Shea. That studio is so cool and we really like his mixes. Our friend Alex Nagle also mastered the record.
Any especially notable shows you’ve played recently or are looking forward to?
We are playing at Palisades with Palm, Mothers and Jonah Furman on January 29th at Palisades. We are also looking forward to celebrating our tape release with two shows at the end of the month. The New York show is February 24th at Palisades with Guerrilla Toss, Big Neck Police and Hermit Thrushes, and the Philadelphia show is February 27th at Hong Kong Garden. We are also planning on touring in the spring and will be playing a few other dates on the East Coast before then that will be announced soon.