The Coma Lilies don’t need words to get their point across
The young members of Santa Rosa’s Coma Lilies are wise beyond their years. Their band has made quite a name for itself over the last five years, putting out its self-titled debut while the members were still in high school. The thing is, they didn’t just assemble in a garage and bang out a bunch of three-chord punk songs—instead they chose to ditch vocals completely and explore some of music’s more adventurous avenues.
Sure, the Coma Lilies get mathy, but for every odd-timed passage, there’s a swell of propulsion that keeps the music from hitting the tragic flat line many instrumental bands succumb to.
The members, now out of their teens, released their latest EP, Memento Mori, earlier this year. The album has more punch than its predecessor, but the members still make good use of a variety of strings, synth and electronic beats, which mingle flawlessly among a foundation of guitars, bass and drums.
The band came together when guitarist Michael Spector and drummer Gabe Katz met in high school. The two soon recruited guitarist Hunter Ellis, bassist Brian Kincaid and an additional keyboardist in Asher Katz. After winning a battle of the bands contest in 2003, they have gone on to play a number of gigs, including the Great American Music Hall. Spector and Gabe Katz spoke to the CN&R via e-mail about what makes the band click.
CN&R: All of you have been playing music since you were young. What were most of you listening to when you started playing, and where did it go from there?
Spector: It’s pretty difficult to say what most of us were listening to when we started playing, because we’ve all had very eclectic tastes since we were little. I’ll just throw some stuff out like NOFX, The Pixies, Lagwagon, Bob Dylan, Rage Against the Machine, Portishead, DJ Shadow, Nirvana, Tool, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, and Plaid. And now, in addition to all the stuff we liked before, an accurate cross section would be something like Tom Waits, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Propagandhi, The Mars Volta, Mr. Bungle and Fantomas and Tomahawk and all that stuff … lots and lots of stuff, really.
What’s the approach to writing songs?
Katz: Michael brings some clay to the wheel and starts spinning it, and then we all get our hands on it and smooth it out together, and we throw it in the kiln and fire it up.
A lot of listeners depend on vocals and lyrics to steer them through a song. Is it your intent to leave songs more open to interpretation by playing instrumental?
Spector: Making instrumentals limits our appeal in a lot of people’s eyes, but we think it makes us more appealing. When a song’s meaning isn’t dictated to you by the musician, then you have the opportunity to create that song’s meaning yourself, which can enhance your connection to the song. A lot of people will have a very similar reaction to a certain song, but because there are no words to limit or detract from the listener’s internal understanding of the song, the unique appeal of the instrumental remains.
You’re obviously all very adept musicians. How do you respond to people who view your music as simply an exercise in musical prowess?
Spector: It’s sort of a flattering idea, but the truth is, we’re not really a powerhouse of technical skill or anything. Some of us are more endowed technically than others, but complexity alone is never our sole objective when we write music. We aim for some sort of harmonious Jedi balance between accessibility and complexity, and we’re bound to sorely mess up that balance at least some of the time. Obviously, if someone thinks our music is just an exercise in musical prowess, we have totally failed to communicate any soul or emotion to that particular person and therefore we suck.
So, what are you trying to get across to people with your music?
Katz: We’re not trying to make you think fucking thoughts, we’re trying to make you feel fucking feelings.