Musuji produced its fourth release and second full-length album, Blanket Statement, during the pandemic lockdowns, so the members had to record their respective parts alone and email them to one another. (The album is now available on all major streaming services.)
In spite of the isolated creative process, the band, which has previously been called "Rage Against the Machine with a sense of humor" and is known for its manic stage presence, delivered its most mature work yet. Blanket Statement showcases a sonic progression that still remains true to Musuji's signature, unhinged sound.
Vocalist Arnie Blomquist, drummer Lucas Strickland, bassist Thom Whitney, saxophonist Ryan Eschenbach and guitarist Michael Zucker are happy with how it turned out. However, they found that being separated from one another during the production robbed them of a band tradition – the “high-five half hug” that has long allowed Musuji to celebrate when a take goes well and commiserate when one goes poorly. Whitney explains that the bandmates create a circle and "high-five both people on either side, and you hug the people on your sides.”
In years past, whenever a member of Musuji performed a particularly excellent take, someone else would yell out “High-five half hug!” Of course, takes don’t always go well, and some can go completely off the rails. Musuji has a solution for that, too.
“If somebody did something wrong, you’d go slap them in the face and be like, ‘Get focused!’ But it was a positive thing,” Whitney says. “This time around, there was none of that. It was literally, ‘Well I’m going to literally sit and wait until Arnie sends his stems.’” He’s quick to add that the bandmates have known each other for years, are friends and love each other, so any playful studio violence is always done in the spirit of camaraderie and never mean-spirited.
Zucker, a prolific solo artist in his own right and the newest addition to Musuji, produced the album. He says that in spite of the isolation, the band was able to record a ton of tracks, something they wouldn’t be able to do when paying for studio time. “We really focused on making a lot of tracks on our own and a lot of good tracks,” he says. “These guys sent me just a metric ton of performances that I combed through and edited and mixed. I’d say that was one of the silver linings.”
Whitney considers Musuji a hardworking band, which made the process easier for the members, as well. Strickland tracked drums for twelve hours in one sitting during the making of the band’s debut full-length, Chauncey the Wizard Wagon, before heading off that night to play a show. The members have raised cash for touring by shoveling snow off driveways, doing landscaping work, clearing crawl spaces and taking on plenty of other odd jobs off Craigslist. “We charged not anywhere near enough,” Whitney remarks. “But we didn’t get any handouts, for sure.”
The recording process and its emotional impact is lyrically addressed by Blomquist in “Electric Feels,” a song the band also filmed a video for. The music video was directed by Eschenbach, with cinematography and projection work by Tom Ludlow and Mike Dusman. The band shot some scenes at a studio, but also trekked through snowy mountains near Fairplay in early March, not the most hospitable climate for video-making.
“We almost got frostbite, especially me,” Zucker says. “Everybody at the end of the night would get back in our car, and our feet are like ice blocks from hiking seven or eight miles in sometimes waist-deep snow just to get the shots. It was crazy.”
“We would have to do shot after shot,” Whitney recalls. “Our hands were freezing, and we had gear freezing and locking up on us. I’m just glad we didn't have to bring our guitars up there, because we probably would have ruined them.”
The band spent fourteen hours in the snow that day. It’s definitely evidence of a strong work ethic, or a band with no regard for its own safety. You decide. Whitney is philosophical about the One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich-esque working conditions on the shoot.
“You remember that Life cereal commercial when they're like, ‘He likes it?’” Whitney asks. “We’ve kind of taken that ‘We play what we want’ mentality. It’s great when you get to play what you want with the people you want to play it with.”
Blanket Statement is now available to stream and can be purchased on bandcamp.com.
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