MAKE's debut LP, Trephine, got folks' attention: The 2011 offering made many best-of lists, including the Indy's, and garnered a flurry of press. Last Wednesday at midnight, the band released the first post-Trephine EP, Axis, on its Bandcamp site. The titular opening track is a 17-minute drone-metal meditation, like an exploded Pelican riding a much slower, sweeter build than usual. Middle track "Chimera" weaves in hard-nosed metal textures and harsh roars from bassist Spencer Lee. Closer "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters" inverts the opener's slow invocation, yet deposits the listener somewhere different entirely; with the damaged resonance of a spacious piano phrase, MAKE closes yet another record with a thrilling, engaging ellipsis.
We caught up with guitarist Scott Endres to discuss the genesis of the new EP.
Indy Week: When we talked about Trephine, there was a semi-narrative core. What's the philosophy behind Axis?
Scott Endres: I suppose if there is any underlying philosophy, it's that the EP is a great format for material which doesn't necessarily fit in with a perceived greater whole. The next LP is going to be focusing on tying together stories of characters transcending the notions of salvation and utopia and/or characters who reach varying states of peace through epiphanies (i.e. Sisyphus as Camus sees him, Damocles, etc). One of the themes which came up through this, though, is the cyclical nature of our species and the cultures we invent, nourish or disregard. Tying that with the philosophy of Sisyphus (again, as Camus sees him) and his task (and, getting more meta, his stone) you have an ever-revolving circle or cycle. All the way from the stone to our habits as a species. Axis is just one meditation on all of this, and yet we didn't envision this as part of the next LP or the greater narrative we're working on. It's meant more as an introduction to the narrative, not that anybody would get something so esoteric but us—and that's perfectly fine—unless we actually explain it. I took this even further with the cover art which is supposed to represent an actual axis as the thing spinning, revolving and repeating.
So in short there is no narrative story or structure to Axis. It is simply three songs which we felt were representative of three modes of being we enjoy as a band yet didn't seem to fit in with the other material we are preparing for the LP.
Do you feel that Trephine excised a lot of the mortal anxiety you wanted to explore in making that album?
The title track is a good bit longer than anything on Trephine. Does that kind of patience come naturally to you three as a band, or is something you had to work up to?
Oh hell no. We never naturally write songs that long. That said, much of our material comes from jamming together with no preconceived ideas. We specifically had an idea to release an EP which contained this long droning jam we had one day.
And then we spent a good deal of time actually structuring and arranging it. Though there is still a good bit of improvisation throughout it each time we perform it, even on the record. For instance, I broke a string while doing a full-band tracking near the end. It was the low C string (in dropped C) and I really needed it for the part. But knowing I could go back and add tracks, I just decided to improvise some other stuff and we ended up really liking it, so it stayed.
Is it hard to play a song that long at a live show? I know how you play and that you tend to get onstage and off pretty quickly, and also that your sets tend to be of a tasteful length. Do you get self-conscious playing a really long song live?
Not really. I think we've only done the entire thing live twice and both times it reeled in probably closer to 10 minutes. I don't think a band who relies on minimalism and repetition has any right to worry if our audience is getting bored! Kind of have to be OK with that possible reality from the get go.
How about Spencer's piano at the close? That makes me think of the way the first Caltrop album closes, and it has a similar effect. Can you tell me a bit about that part?
I like to save studio time for improvising, making noises with things and general fucking around. The entire last song is comprised of improvised material which I later arranged at home. It's all either shit each of us played together or separately in this state of mind. I think at that particular moment we had a contact mic on Matt's ride cymbal going through my pedal board and out my amp. Matt was fucking around with the cymbal while I was turning knobs and suddenly Spencer just started playing the piano in the room. I think Nick [Petersen, of Track and Field Recording] heard us having trouble getting it miked so he came in and moved the overhead near him. Score!
What's the timeframe on the next LP, and what plans do you have surrounding its release?
Oh, timeframe on next LP... no idea. We're shopping some demos around in hopes we get signed. That's about all we know right now. Still not even halfway written.