Jake Danna has found himself creatively stuck in his electronic indie-rap project Curta. When he tours around the country, performs in his home town of Denver or works on new music, he often feels like he's creating work to match his audience's expectations — not necessarily what he's most excited about.
Danna’s latest musical project, Elyria Sequence, is in many ways the exact opposite of Curta. His experimental collaboration with electronic beat maker Brotherhood of Machines and producer 4Digit explores choppy and unrefined industrial musical soundscapes with a simple mission statement: Make music for the sake of making something.
Elyria Sequence’s debut release, Slab, out May 20, is a haunting electronic record, filled with droning and chiming machines and unpredictable, pulsing beats. Cut from twenty hours' worth of improvised material from jam sessions in early spring of 2018, Slab is a one-hour-and-forty-minute marathon of electronic improvisation.
“We didn’t go into it with a band name. We weren’t [setting ourselves up] for a second album,” says Danna. “We didn’t have some plans of something happening. We literally were just making all this music and in retrospect, thought, hey, this could be a cool album. We have tons of stuff here. In a pleasurable way that I haven’t had with other projects, it’s like that’s all that this band is: us just making stuff. It’s less calculated than anything I’ve ever done.”
On Slab, communication is almost entirely non-verbal; the only voices that make an appearance on the record are choppy AM radio programs Danna found on the airwaves, and even those are not decipherable.
Yet for an album that says practically nothing, Slab is tied to big things — particularly Danna’s search for something different in his life.
“For me, someone who really thinks about words and language a lot, writing a song carries a lot of weight. Just in the terms of how many ideas you put in it – all this crap, essentially. It’s like doing this for me just fit into my life and felt like a step back in a lot of ways, and just enjoying like, ‘Oh, I’m going to play with these drums on this song.’ It was almost like there was no thought while doing it, because you’re just trying to improv and be present in the moment.”
After Danna went on a lengthy national tour and ended up in Chicago in September 2018, about five months after laying down the bones of Slab, he decided, perhaps partially on a whim, to stay. Eight months later, he's fully embraced living there.
“I've always had good shows in Chicago and always had fun while here on tour. I went on tour in May last year with someone that lives here, and at the end of the tour, I stayed here for a month and had to move in Denver anyway," he says. "I was just like, I want to move to a different city, where I don’t feel like I have to drive a car and stuff. There’s also just so much crazy music stuff going on in Chicago; it’s really exciting.”
Danna has devoted much of his music to idiosyncratic beats and verbal expression. But by prioritizing a project considerably less in step with monetizing his art, he may actually end up breathing new life into Curta along the way.
“I’ve been writing for so long," he says. "Before I did music, I wrote poetry that I would perform, and then I started adding music to that, and then that turned into what Curta is, essentially. I just think that this has been such a cool way for me and my friends, who are musicians, to have a good time with music.
“Every project that I make, at the beginning, it starts just as me chasing something kind of spontaneous," he continues. "But with this, even more so, there’s no overarching idea that was restricting us. It really just felt like we’re just going to get together and see what happens collectively. It just felt different than anything I’ve done before, in that way. I feel like that was all we were chasing, and I’ve never really done that with a group of people continually. It felt amazing."
Danna’s relocation and new music project do not spell the end of Curta, nor his presence in Denver. But perhaps by leaving his comforts in music and in his city, he will no longer feel anything resembling being bound by the things that have been foundational to him as an artist and a person.
“I think everything bleeds into each other. I was super stable before I left Denver; I had a studio north of Denver, I was feeling very stable. But I think what this project provides for me, personally, is a lot of doing music in the most human, basic way.
“I’ve had friends who have had crazy career trajectories, I’ve had friends who have had terrible career trajectories," he says. "I arguably have had a terrible one, or whatever. I’m always thinking about these things and have all of this status anxiety. It’s so valuable, almost on a spiritual level for me, to just engage with music with no pretense.
“We talked about it. Nobody can digest this. There’s not really a formula for somebody to listen to this in their car, like an hour and forty minutes of crazy sounds," he adds. "But that’s exactly the reason we felt like, you know what? Fuck it. We should do this. Because that’s such a powerful thing for us that we’ve experienced. It’s like letting go.”
Xiu Xiu, with Elyria Sequence, 8 p.m. Monday, May 20, Oriental Theater, 4335 West 44th Avenue.