RUSH LIMBO: Doomstar! wrote everything on Colors in a flurry of composition during the month that led up to the recording date, avoiding formal elements of songwriting.
Of all the paths toward organizing a rock band — from a Nine Inch Nails dictatorship to a Beatles committee — my least favorite has always been the one where dudes just get in a room and bang out whatever tuneskis pop into their heads. It's just always seemed too easy.
So I was a little dismayed last week when I dropped into Doomstar!'s Central Square rehearsal space — they were prepping for this Friday's CD-release party for their debut, Colors, at the Middle East upstairs — and was treated to an hour's worth of nothing but seriously chill times.
Drummer Noah Bond points to Spencer Gralla's guitar-effects chain as if it were the esoteric machines in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. "Why don't we start this one off as a C chord, with a pedal?" Gralla obliges and strums out a loud, spacy chord. The song rolls along all full of starry, chiming guitars and busy drums. When it's over, Gralla heads out to grab some soda.
I'm still combing my notes to find that moment where someone bitched about someone else's drum fill or bungled a tricky key change or something, but there's nothing. I do notice a huge tapestry hanging on the wall depicting a gang of gnomes trying to capture a unicorn.
Doomstar! seem to have been teleported here from the '60s, a band of unassuming musical hobos who picked up some Minutemen rhythmic turbulence along the way. Bassist Jeff Johnson is in the middle of a seriously Middle-earth dwarf beard; they count overhead-projectionist Adam Bach (Fillmore-style oil-blob light shows) as a member; and the guitars warble through waves of acid flashback delay.
"Whatever feels natural for us is how we decide how it goes," says Bond about this off-the-cuff writing process. "Turning off your brain and just playing seems like the best way. For me, it interrupts your energy flow to stop."
Flow is key here. Having things pinned down is something they've been squeamish about — even when they're the ones doing the pinning. Before Colors, they made three recordings that they discarded without showing them to anyone. "Usually it didn't end up sounding like we did live," says Gralla. "And usually we were already tired of playing the songs we'd just recorded."
They grabbed another batch of studio time last fall with old friend Justin Pizzoferrato, who had a tiny gap in his schedule working on the new Dinosaur Jr. record at his Bank Row studio in Greenfield. They wrote everything on the album in the month leading up to the recording date, in a flurry of composition that, yes, eschewed formal bits and pieces of songwriting. Verses and choruses were tossed in favor of waves of abstract momentum, the band riding them through sheets of reverb to the very end.
Take the big opener, "Blue and Other Dark Colors," which is built around a sparkling, crystal-ball guitar riff. Gralla howls out incoherent lines through heavy reverb like a brain-damaged Wayne Coyne stuck at the other end of a tin-can telephone. (This is the vocal delivery of choice with Doomstar!) The band build, trance-like, through several subtle shifts in mood and then explode into a couple of monster major chords that blaze throughout the rest of the song, like the spotty vision you get after someone flashes a light in your face in a dark room. After that, the band needed to throw in two consecutive wandering ambient tracks to cleanse the palate.
Doomstar! started with Gralla and Bond ("Basically trying to sound like Lightning Bolt," says Bond) in Northampton a couple of years ago. Then they moved to Boston to reunite with college buddy Johnson. The three had all lived together in a UMass-Amherst dorm, and they worked on several bands in those days.
"Noah had this R&B project called Systematics," says Gralla. "Jeff and I were in a duo called the Hard Dicks. I drummed, Jeff did slam-singing. Noah didn't know what to think." Bond will complete the spartan-band fantasy this week when he moves into the Cambridge house the rest of Doomstar! already live in, projectionist included.
And the album initiates a new era of commitment for what up to now has been a transient project. "It's like hearing another band, really," says Johnson about listening to the recording. "Now when we play these songs, I almost feel like a cover band or something."
DOOMSTAR! + AMOROSO + VIVA VIVA + FACES ON FILM | Middle East upstairs, 472 Mass Ave, Cambridge | March 6 at 9 pm | 18+ | $9 advance/$10 doors | 617.864.EAST or www.mideastclub.com