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By: Eliot Fearey

What happens when you put a self-described jazz geek from Seattle and ex-BMX rider from east of LA in a recording studio for half a year? It’s an unlikely combo, but the beats are far from the oil and water reaction you might expect. During the spring and summer of 2008, Brooklyn based musicians David Bratton and Earl Muehlenbach produced the delightfully quirky album Oars. Simply put, it’s a jam. Drawing upon an eclectic assortment of influences, anything from Coltrane to Metallica, Bratton and Muehlenbach have created an album unlike anything else you’ve heard. Listen—it’ll make you want to dance.

Thirsty: You guys worked together before, under the alias Wimbledon, what makes Oars different?

Earl Muehlenbach: This time David and I are branching out to fully discover what it is we’re trying to do. It’s a healthy chemistry. We’ve talked about whether or not we had certain objectives coming together, but really it’s just about jamming. We’re on a bubbly tip right now and into a lot of the same beats and melodies.

David Bratton: I think a lot of people talk about their agendas. When they set out they say, “I want to make this kind of music, do this kind of live show and have this sort of experience.” It can turn into a trap. Once you start playing, those ideas can end up being clichés. It’s better to do what just comes naturally.

Thirsty: It took six months to record the album. Was there a lot of experimentation along the way?

Earl: Well, the recording was pretty Mickey Mouse. We ended up having to do a lot of post-production to make it sound like a big studio recording. We rented a space and would have to go in on off-hours, sometimes sneaking in during the early morning or waiting until the metal group next store had finished. There is a lot of background sound on there…

Oars - Oars (2008)

David: But, I don’t know if the listener can really hear it. There are a couple of instances where the neighboring band’s kick drum sneaks in. There are also cases where the background noise was intentional. One night we stuck the microphone outside the tiny window of the practice space during a huge rainstorm to record the thunder. That’s on the record.

Thirsty: Does one person take responsibility for different parts of the song or is it a collaboration through and through?

David: Really a collaboration through and through.

Earl: We’re just trying to concentrate on playing well-crafted songs. Just make it happen if it needs to happen.

Thirsty: Each track on the album is a mix of sounds one wouldn’t necessarily expect to hear in combination.

Earl: That’s just my fear- that we sound totally schizophrenic.  It just happens.

David: You know, you don’t hear that mix when there is a single songwriter in the band. One gets a single focus. All the sounds that you are hearing on our album come from the collaborative nature of the work.

Earl: We really went out of our way to make every moment exciting and not have anything that was dragging. I remember Dave telling me that he wanted everything to be a riff. If you separate every melody, bass line, or guitar, it’s all got to be great.

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David: Yeah, that’s one of my theories. I feel like every element of the song, whether it’s the drums just by themselves, like if you isolate each thing, just the vocal or whatever, that it should be a memorable piece. Then, all together, it’s like super. Certain bands are really great like that. You’ll listen to a song and then the next moment you’ll be humming the bass line, and the next one you’ll be singing the words, next thing you're tapping your feet. So, it’s like multiple songs sort of combined into one thing.

Thirsty: Where are you guys playing in Brooklyn these days?

Earl: Our favorite club has been Zebulon; they took us in immediately. It’s a beautiful club, they owners are really beautiful people and the environment is exciting. That place has taken over the whole Brooklyn experimental scene and, at the same time, is keeping a lot of the old stuff alive. It’s really fertile soil over there.

David: There are a couple of places around here where the owners take great interest in the music. Then there are other places in Manhattan that take your money at the door, ask what band you are there for and make a check next to the name of the band. It’s too “businessy” for us. They are just using the musician as a prop to sell drinks.

Thirsty: Do you find that MySpace and the internet have been important in promoting your work?

Earl: Neither one of us is very savvy with promotion, but the opportunities for playing live in Brooklyn are pretty amazing. I’ve seen some bands do well just playing live here.

David: I’ve seen some of the greatest shows ever just walking down the street. I pop in and I’m blown away.

Earl: We hang out with them. It’s really amazing.

David: MySpace is a little too corporate for us. The owners basically make money by targeting adds at the people who are using the service.

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Earl: But it’s free…

David: Yeah, I like that.

Thirsty: Don’t you think it’s inevitable somebody is going to commercialize and make money off of any service?

David: Yes, but in Seattle you can publicize without the commercial aspect. It’s a different culture with community radio and local weekly papers, which cover the local music scene. It’s much more about the next blockbuster movie in New York—that whole element is very commercial. 

Thirsty: Is the vibe playing in Seattle totally different from that in New York and Brooklyn?

David: There are fewer places to play in Seattle, but there is a new house party resurgence. That’s cool. People play in basements and a lot of weird industrial spaces. They do that too in Brooklyn, but in lofts. It’s upstairs instead of downstairs.

Earl: It’s magnified here. Every night I have to choose which friend’s band to go see.


All opinions expressed by Eliot Fearey are solely her own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

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