Music » Song of the Week

Enon's "Mr. Ratatatatat"

Matt Schulz talks noise rock, free jazz and meaning nothing

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The thing about "Mr. Ratatatatat," the song that carries the biggest hook on Enon's first record in four years, is its instant dichotomy. The guitars are harsh if you listen close enough, and the bass beats against the side of the speakers like a big ol' Shellac groove. You'll notice these things when (or if) you stop singing along: As John Schmersal and Toko Yasuda trade vocals, the song's almost gentle verses and exclamatory chorus demand the most attention. That is, an abrasive backdrop is tamed by what's up front, but its character—now tucked beneath—remains intact.

INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: This song is certainly more straightforward than the rest of the record, but it still tucks disparate elements into a pretty rock-oriented groove.

MATT SCHULZ: Yeah, definitely.

Is that a conscious choice, balancing quirkier songs with something like this and then filling the rock song's space with detail?

I guess it is just a natural thing. That song is one of the older demos from the new record. We were playing that song last year, and we originally had about three or four tracks that we were getting together early. We haven't toured much lately, but when we toured we were playing them.

That was in one of the first batches, and I liked it. John sent it to me, and it reminded me where John [Schmersal, the male vocals of Enon] and I came from. We both lived in Dayton, Ohio in the early '90s, and a lot of the bands in Dayton in that time period were influenced by the Chicago stuff like the Touch and Go scene and the D.C. stuff on Dischord and Minneapolis, like the AmRep stuff. We had these three points of reference, and there were a lot of noisy rock bands in Dayton and probably the Midwest in general. Brainiac [Schmersal's former band], of course, grew out of that, but when I heard that song it made me think of that. It has that dissonance and that feeling, and I was really stoked. John and I don't live there anymore, but I still feel like I'm part of that scene somehow. We're perpetuating it out in a broader range than we were when we were playing in Dayton and Columbus. We're bringing that Dayton noise to Prague.

What about Dayton did you hear in this song? I hear what you mean in the way these really heavy bass notes sort of hang over the edges of the bars.

I can't really tell you what it is. But when I heard the song, the first thing for me was mastering the repetition. Being a drummer and trying not playing too much or overplay, with that song, the rad thing is the repetitiveness of the beat. It's a relentless thing. In general, the bass is dominant on the whole record, but that song is strange because it seems really catchy, but it's also really abrasive and heavy at the same time. It's a weird song, but I agree with you in a way.

You mentioned not playing too much. How do you do think about that when you play?

I guess the whole thing is to not think about it while it's happening. Since I'm spending most of my time on tour not playing—I get to play about 40 minutes a day—I think about playing a lot and what I'm going to do. I try to change it every night because, to me, thatis the best part about music: Having a song grow. I'll think about it during the day and go, "Oh, maybe I played too much." It's OK to be busy, but it has to move the rhythm along.

Some drummers will do something, and it's just like a flashy thing. To me, the best stuff is rhythmically interesting but still inside the beat in a way where it's subtle. My goal is to play as little as possible but to have as much syncopation as possible. I listen to lots of jazz, and my favorite drummers will do something in an odd place, but it doesn't disrupt the rhythm. That's the key. Playing busy is fine, like when you listen to the guy from Hella, Zach. He's constantly playing, but there's a pulse there. That's the thing: I guess it's not about busy or not busy as much as it is playing something inside the music that doesn't disrupt it. But I think it's better to always play less.

Sunny Murray's playing certainly comes to mind.

I feel the same way. He was one of the very first people to play free, and freedom is one of those things where it could actually mean a total lack of freedom. I was playing free music for a long time, and I've been really interested in it. But the hardest part for me was coming back to—you know, like I said, not playing too much, playing little, playing a beat. If you play free all the time, it's not freedom because you can't go anywhere else. What I decided is that there are particles and there are antiparticles: You have yes, you have no, you have lightness, you have darkness. You have to know the rules against which you're rebelling or you're not really rebelling against anything.

When I think about things I'm going to play, I hear the original beat I hear in my head, like when John would play me a song. From there, maybe the next measure, I'm going to deconstruct it a little bit. Once you know what something is, you can make choices against it. Know what I mean?

Oh, definitely.

So Sunny Murray is good because you can be like, "Oh, he's not playing anything." But he actually is: He knows right where the pulse is, and he's constantly fucking with the beat. To me, that's beautiful. It doesn't always work in our band, unfortunately, but I play in other groups where I have a higher level of choices. But it is rad to have a pop song structure to contrast. You can say, "So there's this, and I'll do this against it."

One last thing, which is a tough one for a drummer. What's this song about?

I constantly ask John and Toko [Yasuda, the female vocals of Enon], and I think they purposely keep things cryptic. I think the best lyrics are ones where you don't know what it's necessarily about. John and Toko had rather deal with images. Every time I ask them what a song is about, they're just like, "It's not about anything." I don't even ask anymore, and I'm in the band! It's either so top-secret that I can't know about it, or it really is about nothing.

Enon plays Duke Coffeehouse with Love of Diagrams and the Ex-Members Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $7.

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