Austin, Texas-based instrumental band Explosions in the Sky is known for cinematic post-rock that veers between expansive roars and delicate arrangements. The band’s latest album, The Wilderness, is a dramatic, enthralling departure that emphasizes keyboards and electronic sounds, along with more complex approaches.
Drummer Chris Hrasky spoke to the Weekly from his home in Austin before the band’s current run of tour dates. Explosions in the Sky opened for Nine Inch Nails at the Joint in 2013, but this Brooklyn Bowl appearance will mark its first-ever headlining show here.
When approaching The Wilderness, were there any particular things you guys wanted to do differently? We were pretty consciously trying to approach the whole record differently than we had in the past. In the past, pretty much all our records were the four of us in a room with guitars and drums, playing the songs. This one was much more about trying all sorts of different things, and different sorts of instruments, and building layers and not worrying so much about, “How do we do this live?” It was a very different process for us.
We liked the idea of trying to do shorter songs than we have in the past and tried to get to the point quicker. It took us a while. It was a challenge to not go with your default setting.
What were the biggest challenges of approaching the music from that different place? The main challenge, really, was allowing ourselves to throw away things that maybe we would have kept in the past, and just say, “No, we’ve done that. We already have other records that capture that same sort of thing.”
For some people in the band, it was a little harder to be willing to walk off a cliff a bit and to try something that maybe will turn out stupid, turn out bad, turn out unexpected. … There definitely was a bit of conflict within the band—some people really pushing for that and some people resisting that. That was the most work—getting members used to the idea of trying different things. But, eventually, we all came around and united as a team. (laughs)
I’ve never understood bands that make the same record over and over again. Don’t they get bored playing it night after night? It is strange. Maybe that’s why bands don’t generally last a long time. AC/DC’s been around forever, and they’re doing the same thing over and over again. But they’re doing it pretty well. (laughs) No, I agree. You get bored. And I think we were maybe getting a little bored with the way we typically did things. I feel like if you’re getting bored, then it’s probably time to either change or hang it up. This is our job, but at the same time, it’s a creative work. You should feel excited about it.
You’ve worked with producer John Congleton on and off throughout your career. What did he bring to the music this time? It was much more of a collaboration this time with him than it was in the past. There were a couple songs where we went into the studio and recorded versions of them with him, and he said, “Man, this sounds like Explosions paint-by-numbers.” We kind of knew that, and he said, “You gotta change this. You gotta think about this in a different way.” We would, and it ended up working.
There were tons of keyboards, tons of samples, tons of stuff like that, so we needed a lot of help from him technically that we hadn’t before. We really trust his judgment; we really trust his opinions; we love working with him. He is someone who, whoever he works with, wants to make the best record possible. Not just for the band, but for himself too.
How have these newest songs evolved live? It took a lot of practice getting the new songs ready. We’re all doing like 10 things at once. We’re triggering samples; we’re having to follow samples that we’re triggering with computers. It’s much more of a chemistry equation. That definitely took some getting used to.
A band is really good when they don’t really have to think so much about what they’re doing when they’re playing a song live. It’s total muscle memory. It took us a few weeks to get to that with these new songs, where you’d be playing, and then, “Oh, wait. I’ve got to do this other thing now. And after that, I have to reset this thing.” It’s turned out to be really fun and exciting, but it was definitely a challenge for us.
Your music has been used in so many different movies and TV shows and pop culture in general. What’s the most unexpected place you’ve heard it pop up? This year, a song popped up in a Ted Cruz campaign ad. To be honest, we were not very happy about that. We weren’t Ted Cruz supporters in any way, so we had to send a cease and desist letter. And they pulled it. But that was very surprising, like, “I guess we appeal to a broad spectrum of people.”
People kept sending us messages and Twitter things saying, “Hey, I don’t know if you guys knew this, but your song was in a Ted Cruz campaign video.” And I was like, “Oh, no.”
I saw on Facebook that you celebrated 17 years together as a band in July. Is there a key to that longevity? We’re pretty much best friends—that’s a big part of it. … Also, personality-wise, none of us really feels the need to be the leader or focal point of the band. We all feel like we’re equal partners in this, which we are. You feel invested in everything that you do; you don’t feel like, “Oh, I’m here to back this other guy up.” It’s definitely a partnership.
Explosions in the Sky With Rusty Maples. August 28, 7 p.m., $25-$45. Brooklyn Bowl, 702-862-2695.