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"I was listening to Labradford, stuff that didn't have any beats. We were like, 'Fuck the beats altogether,'" Suthers explains. "We would just go into this soundscape thing. We took it to the end of universe, basically. It was one loud, huge, long drone, just a bunch of waves. You lose all recollection of time and space listening to stuff like that. You become a microorganism somewhere in, like, the sea."
Talk about a crowd-pleaser. Sure enough, Suthers readily admits that Pteranodon -- although still officially active, with a new CD due out by the end of the year -- just wasn't able to connect with a live audience. "We only ever played a couple of shows," he confesses. "People totally didn't get it at all."
But anyone with a nervous system should have no problem getting Bright Channel. After Pteranodon was put into suspended animation, Suthers and Banks began jamming on a more accessible, groove-tethered sound. Stein quickly joined in, and the result encompassed every sonic frontier the players have explored over the past few years. But beyond its sinuous, bowel-wrenching rhythms, Bright Channel's music swims in iridescent melodies and Suthers's billowing, frostbitten vocals -- partly the result of his sporadic foray into solo acoustic performance, an outlet inspired by long nights listening to Nick Drake.
"I think we wanted Bright Channel, initially, to be a bit more tangible for people," Suthers points out. "More obvious melodies and hooks and structures. It's a more direct approach. It really helps a lot to work that out on an acoustic guitar first. It's not easy to get weird on an acoustic; you have to start getting creative with hooks and notes. But some of that early stuff we wrote was a little too poppy, so we're trying to make things a little darker and meaner."
Dark? Mean? Enter Steve Albini. When it came time to finally drag Bright Channel out of the basement, Albini's Electrical Audio Studios sat at the top of the band's wish list. Besides being the frontman for the famously abrasive post-punk and math-rock acts Big Black, Rapeman and Shellac, Albini is known for his extensive resumé of A-list clients, including Nirvana, PJ Harvey, the Pixies and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. So how does an unknown band from Louisville, Colorado, snag a world-class recording engineer like that? The old cold call, of course.
"Shannon just e-mailed him," says Suthers. "And he e-mailed us back at three-thirty in the morning. He was loaded as shit. He must have been, because he was like, 'I'd love to talk to you about working on your record. Give me a call.' We were like, "Oh, my God.' I pissed myself. I printed out the e-mail and carried it around in my pocket for weeks."
So in May this year, the threesome trekked to Chicago for a whirlwind five-day session. "It was absolutely amazing," Suthers remembers. "We hung out at his place and played with his cats. There are thank-you notes from Fugazi hanging up on his fridge. He's so down-to-earth, just this geeked-out, intense, amped-up-on-coffee dude climbing around the studio in a mechanic's jumpsuit all day."
But even if the notoriously cranky Albini had given them any static, all Bright Channel would have had to do was unleash its secret weapon, a holdover from the band's drunken, pseudo-Jackassdays. "A piece of advice: Don't ever fight Shannon with boxing gloves on," Banks warns. "She takes it way too seriously and hits way too hard. Bone-crushing blows."
"Yeah, Shannon will level you," Suthers confirms. "Brian refused to box her after he saw her knock me over a fucking couch once. I was just standing in the living room kind of jabbing lightly at her, and she hauls off and nails me. I went over the couch and right into a coffee table."
As funny as that scenario is in light of Stein's quiet, serene demeanor, neither Suthers nor Banks are laughing.
In fact, they look dead serious.