Reaching new heights
On a new album, the members of Doombird transcend rock, leave the past behind
Earlier this month, the Launch festival’s kickoff party at Ace of Spades was the setting for a reunion for two now-defunct local bands, Mister Metaphor and An Angle. Nostalgia is heartwarming, but the show also served as a reminder—both what the Sacramento music community once was, and also what it’s become, with festivals such as Launch reflecting a scene now burgeoning with sophisticated, experimental bands.
One such band is Doombird, a phoenix born, incidentally, from the ashes of An Angle.
Doombird, which also played at Launch, recently completed a full-length deserving of year-end lists. Recorded with Robert Cheek (the engineer behind Tera Melos’ Patagonian Rats), Cygnus channels the art-rock Americana of Grizzly Bear into sonic transmission fit for life on Mars.
Frontman Kris Anaya and keyboardist Dan Block bridge the old and new as An Angle’s transitioning survivors. Still, Cygnus bares no trace to its emo indie-rock origins, particularly, accusations of mimicking Bright Eyes.
Anaya attributes the growth to songwriting partner Joseph Davancens.
“I didn’t have Joe Davancens in An Angle,” Anaya said. “It was just me telling people what to do, and no one ever told me, ’Try to fight back. Try your own way.’ I think that’s the best part of working with someone on a song. You do something that’s close to you, and they realize that and encourage you to try it a little different.”
Anaya jokingly calls Davancens, a former member of the Golden Cadillacs, the scapegoat in the demise of An Angle—an ending set in motion after the two began collaborating. The impulse to begin a new project did not weigh entirely on Davancens’ input, however. The players in An Angle grew older, influences changed and Anaya’s writing drought meant he was on the verge of rewiring his entire style.
As such, the radical shifts proved too much for An Angle to simply evolve into Doombird.
“I felt like with the An Angle name it was hard to change that kind of sound and become something else,” Anaya said. “It was a hard transition. We [initially] got the guys from An Angle to come into the new project, but it wasn’t enough time. We needed a break.”
Doombird’s self-titled 2010 debut garnered fair local attention. Here, Anaya and Davancens altered the sound texture from indie Americana to electronica, but Anaya still felt he needed a breakthrough.
Unsatisfied with writing about his life, a boring night spent browsing French composer Claude Debussy’s Wikipedia page spawned a new idea for a concept record.
“[Debussy] is very similar to a lot of my friends: likes to drink, likes to do things normal people wouldn’t do,” Anaya said. “I figured, ’Maybe I can research other composers,’ and it turns out a lot of them are like that. So, I felt like I can connect with these people. I wrote first-person narratives pretending it was me, but it was them. That was how I was able to write again.”
And, he stresses, each song is born strictly from his own perspective.
“I hope people don’t think I’m representing [the composers] in the wrong way,” he said. “Whatever people think is untrue is just a personal vision of who I thought these composers were.”
Cygnus exists in an equilibrium of highbrow conceptualization within the structure of traditional pop.
“What helps rein it in is we always write with basic song form of verse-chorus-verse,” Davancens said. “So that puts a limit on what you do in terms of constructing a musical narrative. It’s a nice experiment to give yourself those limitations and do more in spite of them.”
As for the album title, Anaya spent far less time tying it to the composer conceit, but discovered it via Internet browsing, just the same—this time while searching Milky Way constellation images.
“When I looked up Cygnus, [I found that] in mythology, it’s a swan constellation,” Anaya said. “Swan. Bird. Doombird. So, Cygnus. That’s it.”