Originally printed in the Event Guide
Ready to Erupt
By Aoife Barry
Chicagoans Mark Cartwright, Sam Scranton and Aaron With are members of Volcano! , an experimental rock band that touches on free jazz, improv and noise rock. The first ‘rock’ band to be signed to the Leaf label, they recently released their second album, ‘Paperwork’, the follow-up to the critically acclaimed ‘Beautiful Seizure’. Aoife Barry spoke to drummer Sam as the band made their way from Malmo to Gothenburg, Sweden.
Volcano! are in a noisy tour bus, on their way to a gig in Gothenburg. It’s only their second date on their European tour, but so far, says drummer Sam Scranton, things are going well – but he has no clue how the rest of the tour will pan out. “We’ve only played one show,” he says over the din. “It was pretty good, a little small but a receptive audience. I think we kind of expected it to be a small show, but we’ve never played here before so it’s hard to know. Sometimes you play in a small place and a ton of people show up; sometimes you play in a big town and no one shows up – it’s hard to know.”
So are Volcano! the kind of band to go a bit crazy on tour, or do they have a more laidback approach? “I think it’s gonna be fun. I dunno if we go crazy –maybe on stage…” muses Sam. “I think that our touring lifestyle’s not a very rock ‘n roll lifestyle. We played a show for maybe 20, 25 people yesterday and we had polite conversation afterwards and then promptly went back to our hotel room and did some emailing…I think that’s it. No insane partying…nothing like that.”
The band’s current tour encompasses mainly European dates – surprisingly, it seems that the band’s home country hasn’t been as easy to crack as abroad. “This time we haven’t really toured in the United States off of this album,” explains the drummer. “We pretty much just played some shows in Chicago, which is always fun because that’s where we’re from. In Chicago we know what to expect because we know people and we play there enough.”
In fact, it appears that there’s something about Volcano!’s sound that translates well with a European audience. “It seems like audiences are more receptive in Europe than they are in the United States,” says Sam. “It’s actually easier to tour here than in the United States. People seem more excited about our music here, people are more eager to put us up, and have us play shows … I think maybe people like weirder stuff here. It seems like that’s something that maybe people struggle with sometimes. I think that’s one of the challenging things about our music – it doesn’t settle down into one thing so they don’t know what to think about it. And I think that freaks some people out but I think some people get excited about that, you know?”
The reason for the lack of ‘settling down to one thing’ inevitably comes from the band members’ musical backgrounds. “I’d actually never played in a band before; well, that’s not true – in high school I played in a blues band,” says Sam. “I think our band wasn’t self-consciously trying to do stranger stuff. I think it was just the combination we all came from, that was [where] the music resulted from. In college I played jazz and I was into free jazz, Mark also, though he didn’t play that music he was really into it. At his radio station he was jazz director. So those influences came from there.”
“We would improvise because that’s something we were into. It wasn’t just that we were trying to make weird stuff – that just kind of happened.”
So is it a good thing that the band’s sound can’t be tied to one genre? “I dunno if it’s particularly good if we’re hard to classify!” laughs Sam. “I guess it’s good that we’re trying to do our own thing and that’s how it comes across, but I guess I don’t feel happy that our music is mystifying to people. But I definitely want to do whatever we want to do and then make something that we feel proud of – that feels like the most important part of it. But mystifying people or having people be like ‘what is this, I don’t get it’… I almost wish everybody was like ‘oh I get this, this sounds great!’“(laughs)
The band’s debut release, ‘Beautiful Seizure’, got pretty rave reviews – were they happy with the reaction to its follow-up? “It seems like the reaction to Paperwork was pretty good,” says Sam. “[But] I think it felt a little underwhelming in the States. It seems like we’ve gotten some really good reviews [elsewhere]and we’re happy about that.”
Were they nervous about releasing the ‘difficult second album’? “I don’t think we were necessarily nervous,” counters Sam. “I guess after the first one came out I didn’t feel crazy pressure to follow up. It felt almost like we were starting over again, there was of course anticipation, like ‘what are people going to say?’, but I don’t think it was ever terror or ‘how are we ever gonna live up to our first critical response?’ There was nothing like that, it was more like ‘oh, that’s pretty cool’.
When it comes to reviews however, it seems that Sam can take or leave them. “I don’t know, I read reviews and sometimes I think that people say good things; sometimes I read reviews and I think ‘did this person even listen to the album we made?’, and in those cases I don’t even care if people say bad stuff, if I think they’re totally off the mark, I’m just, ‘well this person is completely wrong”.” He laughs. “It doesn’t really affect me at all. And then sometimes I think people level good criticisms and with them I’m like ‘oh I think that this person was right in that way.’ It’s almost like I’m reading a review of someone else’s album.”
But at the end of the day, the thought of people enjoying their music is what spurs the band on. “Of course it’s nice to hear someone going ‘’Paperwork’ is the best album I’ve heard in my entire life’,” jokes Sam. “But mostly I feel excited about that ‘cause of the possibility of us being able to make more albums and tour and things like that. Of course it feels good to hear someone say good things, but negative things – somehow I don’t feel that terrible about them.”