Chicago-based four-piece Maps & Atlases aren’t a math-rock band. O.K., good, we’ve got that out of the way now.
Sure, there are some rather math-y elements to the band’s indie-folk informed sound, but not to the extent where those intricacies define their overall sonic contributions in the way that many would have one believe. While Radiohead comparisons aren’t terribly appropriate from a strict, musical perspective, they certainly are from a philosophical one. As evidenced on the band’s last album Perch Patchwork (released last year from Barsuk), lead singer Dave Davison and crew wield an enviable and rare talent for making the experimental feel anything but.
When the unexpected surprises rather than shocks, the result is something akin to the opening of a door that introduces the unfamiliar in scenarios that feel just comfortable enough to not only keep one listening, but to have one fully immerse themselves in a sonic that hadn’t been a primary part of their musical diet in the past. So, it’s really not a shock to learn that such craftsmanship is a point of pride for the band.
We recently spoke to Davison about the band’s approachable, yet experimental vision, dream journals and why art school is so musical.
Art school seems to be a place where so many band members meet for the first time. Was it easy to pick out the “music people,” when you’re there, or did you have to dig a little?
There were a lot of interesting and talented people at Columbia College, but since none of us were music majors it wasn’t as obvious who the other musicians were. Luckily I didn’t have to dig too much as Erin was working at a record store with one of my friends and I was introduced to the rest of the band with little effort on my behalf (laughing).
Your band successfully avoids easy labeling with your varied sound and dynamic style and eye for detail. It’s got to sting a little when fans or critics slap a simple label like “math-rock” on there and don’t dig any deeper, right?
I think that most bands feel uncomfortable with labels, but we kind of just try to do our own thing and not get too caught up in genres or get bent out of shape by being labeled. A lot of times I think people are just trying to provide a cultural context for the music, which is understandable.
Perch Patchwork is obviously an album with a fuller-sounding sonic than that of your EPs. I get the impression that prepping and recording a full album made you all want to spread your wings and get a little crazy, musically. Am I close, or is that just me making that up?
I think that you’re right! We wanted to make an album that had a larger sonic scope and we wanted to try using different instruments as they were appropriate to any given part or song.
O.K., so I’m not crazy then, good. As you were writing and arranging the record, how much thought was given to replicating the songs in a live setting, once you began to tour?
We really wanted to go into it without the live show in mind and to just focus on the songs and mood of each part. Working with Jason Cupp as a producer was really fantastic and he opened up so many exciting possibilities for the record itself.
Your lyrics possess a tremendous amount of whimsy. Any chance you’re keeping a dream journal and drawing from that when you write?
I should! We have a few dream inspired lyrics, but I always forget my dreams quickly, so it would be pretty interesting to document them and look for patterns.
From what I’ve read, you seem to place a lot of importance on making your music accessible, while still feeling distinct from other forms of music. These days, it seems as though that distinction flies in the face of what most consider pop. What elements of your music do you consider to be “pop-accessible”?
I think that while we all appreciate experimental music, we all grew up and are typically most inspired by songs that are in the pop format. I also think that part of it is that we want to make music that people can connect to and identify with, which I think is ultimately the goal of pop music.