Talking math and music with Oakland’s Silian Rail
Chico, CA 95928
Oakland two-piece Silian Rail do more in one song than your average four-piece does on an entire album, and they don’t even have vocals in the mix. They don’t need them.
Guitarist Robin Landy and drummer Eric Kuhn have spent the last four years putting just their instruments to work in creating a complicated brand of math rock (or post rock, if you prefer) that is more full, warm and beautiful than the often cold and clinical fare produced by the genre. There are no solo-heavy epics, and the emphasis isn’t solely on the calisthenics of odd times and tricky breaks. Here, there are sweet melodic hooks sparkling across the intricately constructed roads that Landy uses to navigate the shifting territory of Kuhn’s wild and unpredictable drumming. The duo is actually creating something closer to atmospheric rock, while simultaneously jumping around and going nuts within the scenes it sets.
And since they’ve been touring they’ve been coming to Chico to play shows with like-minded crews like La Fin du Monde and Birds of Fire. They even released a split-EP on Side With Us Records with defunct local crew Red Giant.
The band’s last full-length, Parhelion, was released on Parks and Records, and it just put out a five-song acoustic EP in June that is available for download at www.silianrail.bandcamp.com. They’re already planning to record again soon after their week on the road with L.A.’s Summer Darling (who will be joining them at Café Coda on Friday, Aug. 12), and the CN&R caught up with the duo by phone about this crazy music they play.
There seems to be a lot of common ground musically between you and some of the local bands. Do you feel a connection?
Landy: Yeah, for sure. … Now that you mention it, I feel like there’s almost more similar bands in Chico than maybe in San Francisco. For being such a small town there’s definitely a good understanding of our music and where we’re coming from with it. It’s cool.
You play some fairly complex music. Is it necessary for someone to have a background in music to enjoy what you’re putting out?
Kuhn: I would say, I hope not. I think we try to make music that maybe can go both ways in that regard. There’s certainly a lot of intentional craft and intricacy put into the music, which if you do have an understanding of music on that level, that’s obviously something that’s hopefully potentially rewarding about listening to it, but we also try to play with a general melodic and emotional sensibility that hopefully can connect with people regardless of whether they’re aware of or paying attention to the technical stuff.
As you head into the studio, do you think about how to get that emotional side onto the recording?
Landy: I think that it is something we always pay attention to, trying to capture that same energy. We track most everything live for that purpose. Most of our songs are not generally played exactly the same way every time. We’re definitely going to try and incorporate some new sounds as well into the next album. You know, just to introduce some new textures and keep it interesting, so to not repeat sonically the ideas of the last album.
As a two-piece, is pulling some of this complicated stuff off part of the fun for you?
Kuhn: I would say it’s definitely a unique challenge, and that aspect has kind of guided us toward things that we wouldn’t have done if we weren’t a two-piece. Truth be told, we actually recently have started considering adding a third person to the band. The longer that we are a band, the more we kind of develop a sound toward a more diverse and rich sonic palette.
Landy: We’ve toyed with the idea before and been somewhat reluctant … just because there is kind of a magic about being a two-piece, and hopefully us specifically, that we were hesitant to disrupt.
Do you ever get the urge to play just a straight punk song or a polka or something?
Kuhn: In our practices, actually, quite a lot, we will spontaneously go into something intentionally really straight and dumb and play it for longer than whatever we’re doing merits. Occasionally, we’ll do like a really straight pop-punk version of one of our songs.
Landy: I never thought that we’d get to talk about this in an interview. This is great.
Kuhn: This is actually probably our most favorite part of the band. Usually it’s something more like, butt-rocky, classic rock. We’ll do Silian Rail if it was John Cougar Mellencamp at an arena rock show, or something.