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Getting heavy

Volumen take a semi-adult turn with Science Faction

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On Science Faction, the new Volumen CD being released at a special all-ages show at The Raven Cafe Friday, March 10 (see sidebar), there’s no tiptoeing around the band’s intentions. The first track, “Side of a Box,” comes hauling out of the chutes. Shane Hickey growls “Is it real? Are you fucking insane?” to a filthy riff from Doug Smith’s guitar and a rhino-charging rhythm line from drummer Bob Marshall and bassist Bryan Hickey. Even Chris Bacon’s synthesizer has a dire tone to it, more siren than anything. When Shane ends with, “And it helps make up my thoughts only a little bit…from the side of a box,” there’s no exclamation point at the end of the lyric in the liner notes, but there could be—an emphatic point that this is a different kind of Volumen effort.

The fourth full release from Indy readers’ reigning favorite band was almost four years in the making. While it wasn’t necessarily day-in, day-out work, it did take that long from start-to-finish, and even aside from the length of its production, Science Faction is unlike anything previous from the band. Is it darker? More serious? A result of more collaboration and more time to tinker? A transition album for five bandmates who, save one, are now married and, in the case of two members, have little Volumen underfoot? Or, perhaps, just an emphatic attempt to shed the “joke band” label? Turns out Science Faction, released by local label Wäntage USA, is a little of all of the above.

“We wanted to make a record that was heavy—not like heavy metal heavy, but Black Sabbath, psychedelic heavy. We wanted it to have weight,” says Shane.

“The songs on this record got written a lot different than the original Volumen stuff. If you listen to ‘Miniature Action Jesus’ or the other stuff from How Do You Spell…? like ‘Volumen Theme,’ those songs were written by either Doug or Shane and they wrote pretty much the whole song,” says Marshall. “This album was definitely written more as a group.”

“I think this album is interesting in that it touches on a lot of different genres or feeling. We were just going through a crazy time in everybody’s lives,” says Smith, who started the band with Shane in 1996. “The band took us to Europe [a two-week 2003 tour through the Baltic states] and that played a huge role, us getting married, us having kids, us settling down—all of that had a lot to do with it. I don’t want to get deep, but I think it’s a more mature album.”

Without an understanding of Volumen, words like “mature” and “heavy” imply some sort of lame orchestra-laden, soul-searching affair, and nothing fun whatsoever. Here, it just means less outwardly silly and more rock oriented—it’s impossible for these purveyors of new-wave nerd rock to hold too much of a stiff upper lip. Science Faction is different, but it’s not unrecognizable—old favorites like “Dune,” which originated on Shane, Smith and Bacon’s score of the silent vampire film Nosferatu at the Crystal Theatre in 2000, and “Demonium,” an unreleased early version of the song “Pandemonium” that appeared on a 2004 Wäntage compilation, are both included.

“One reason we originally wanted to get this album out is to get all these quote-unquote ‘old’ Volumen songs out that aren’t on a record anywhere,” says Shane. “That was part of it at some point.”

But a vessel for exorcising versions of classic tracks is just one of many functions Science Faction had to fulfill before finally being deemed complete. It went through at least three name changes, until a dream by Shane and a chance conversation with Marshall switched it from Sleep Walk Dance to what it is now. An early version of the recording was handed to Wäntage boss Josh Vanek and deemed a concept album; Vanek asked them to rework it and “just get your point across,” Shane remembers. With the band recording everything in its own home studio, every re-recorded old song and freshly written new song went through its own series of changes.

“We tried a lot of different configurations—we tried recording upstairs, we got different mics, we got a new interface for the computer, we got a new computer. We tried all these different combinations and just really screwed around with different sounds. For the first year, that’s all we did,” says Shane. “Years two and three we weren’t really working that hard, but we started writing new songs…If we were paying somebody to do what we did [in the recording studio], we’d be broke. I mean, we’re already broke, but we’d be way more broke.”

Eventually Vanek and Colin Hickey, frontman for The International Playboys and Bryan and Shane’s consulting brother, made the band set a deadline. Vanek even threatened to send them to a studio if they didn’t wrap it up.

“I don’t know if it was the perfect way to do it, but we certainly learned a lot about recording,” Bacon says. “I think eventually it made for a better album.”

Volumen feel confident in the end result and, with Wäntage, are backing the release heavily. To help with promotions, the band hired an independent company, Fanatic Promotions of Los Angeles and New York, to help spur media coverage and radio play. A few weeks after the local release party, a 10-day tour will take the band through the Northwest, down to San Diego and back. Additional three-day-weekend tours—the best option considering families and other jobs—are also in the works to keep pushing sales.

Says Smith of the promotional investment and four-year buildup: “It’s a little nerve-wracking, just because we could be susceptible to criticism if people are like, ‘This is four years in the making? It’s not that great…’ I mean, we’re happy. This is the natural evolution, I think, for the band.”

Volumen play a CD release show Friday, March 10, at 8 PM at The Raven Cafe. Opening are three high-school bands and one group of middle schoolers. Below are some brief introductions to the new blood.

arts@missoulanews.com

New kids on the block: Opening for Volumen

Clockwise from top left:

Abstract Anthem
These three Hellgate High students—Emi Labuff, Patrick Carter and Willy Carter—and one homeschooler, Trevor Collins, have been playing together in some form or another since they were 13, which means for at least a couple years. Collins says the band is best compared to Bad Religion and System of a Down.

Happy Unit Gang
Vanek and Marshall discovered these seventh and eighth graders from Washington Middle School—Dustin Ryerson, Maia Hangas, Ben Haber and Lela Bayless—during the school’s talent show. “Our jaws dropped,” says Vanek. Bayless describes Gang’s sound as “like [The] Offspring, but, you know, worse.”

Zepher
Scot Gramm, Ki Imus, Rob Bridges and Jared Dowty from Big Sky High School play “hard, metal, prog, alternative, grunge, punk and screamo.” “We’re exploring all of the realms that people like to call ‘rock’,” the guys write on their myspace.com page, “and trying to make some cool sounds.”

Riddilin Que
Hellgate High students Wes Williamson, Ross Peterson and David Stickney plan to cover Volumen’s “Snakes” at the show. “Let’s say we’re like if Black Sabbath and Butthole Surfers had a child who got into a horrible wreck,” says Williamson. “And then, after the carnage, the kid looked like King Crimson.”

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