So then, “Derby” is ready to receive. Horn-like sounds pulse and quiver, tense and release as Dyer floats above with her own agenda. Things get groovy – as far as Buke and Gase get in that electronic manner – as she repeats “will you come back another way,” and I can feel Sanchez behind the wheel, driving parallel to her vocals. As “Pink Boots” begins, I am inspired yet again by the collective results of imaginative and experimental impulses. Not a single waste of space, not a single moment unused; Scholars is the antithesis of filler, a remarkable feat of musical innovation. I am convinced – as I listen to the clink and rattle of various sounds, Dyer’s persistent messages, the tickle of electronic samples and synths, the heavy bass notes – that this chaos is brilliance. And I can’t get enough.
This feeling is only exemplified by “Wrong Side” as it bounces back and forth, as “Grips” wraps me around its finger, in the curious pause that is “Qi Ball,” the bizarre and jagged dance that is “Flock,” the universe that fits inside of “Eternity,” the deep breathlessness within “No Land,” and finally, the lingering mystery and abrupt ending of “Ranger.”
For those familiar with Buke and Gase’s previous work, this is quite the departure in some ways. Three years ago, they embraced electronic music, and developed Arx. This device has mostly replaced their namesakes, the buke (bass ukulele) and gass (guitar-bass). They have joined the cacophony of electronic performers: now triggering sounds, changing effects on their instruments, and controlling vocal harmonies all with the punch of a button. And although this album is under 40 minutes, it was distilled down from 60+ songs and hundreds of hours of recordings – one reason why not a minute (or second) is wasted or unworthy. Because for how many electronic-focused bands and musicians exist today, pouring their work into the world, there is no comparison. Buke and Gase create entire universes unto themselves, symphonies within single songs, blurring time and space with their new discovery and creation. They will never not be in a league of their own, no matter what they use to make their music.
I had the wonderful opportunity to ask Dyer and Sanchez some questions about the new album, their new processes, and how "Scholars" began not only as the title of their record, but a possible-new moniker for the band.
I loved how you've explored the medium of electronic music, and evolved since your last release, General Dome (2013). More specifically than just "electronics," what has most affected the changes in your sound for this album compared to your previous work?
Our process up until the writing of Scholars has been to record our improvisations only as references which we then learn how to play, recreating the improvisations into more contrived interpretations. We had followed this process and completed an album shortly after the release of General Dome but ultimately shelved it because we weren't confident in the music it had produced, realizing that our long-standing process was no longer getting us the results we desired. We now multitrack our improvisations and use the original recordings directly. We developed Arx as a way to perform with samples in a less predictable way, so during our recording sessions we're kept on our toes, needing to respond to the random samples and sounds we've built into the program as well as each others reactions.
As part of embracing electronic music, you two developed Arx (mentioned above). How is this device more than a simple sample pad?
As mentioned above, Arx is software that we developed to be, in a way, another character or performer for us to improvise with. We created a library of samples which, along with our effects pedals, it manages, and with the push of a button we're able to switch ALL of our sounds at random, throwing us curve balls that we then need to respond to as we record. When you have a pedal with presets you can quickly become familiar with the settings which might lose the excitement of discovery. With this process, we're kind of in constant rediscovery mode.
Your bio says that "Scholars" began not as the title of your new record, but a possible-new moniker for the band. What was the thought behind re-naming your work together, and what caused you to keep Buke and Gase in the end?
Since we met and began making music together, we've aspired to be "unboxable". By having a name that specifically references our instruments we realized we were ultimately being labeled and therefore limited by our instruments, despite having developed them to do the contrary.
How did you decide which effects and modifications you wanted on vocals for this album? Even for each part of a song?
It's a part of the Arx process, and creating the music is the same as recording and producing it. #ArxLife
Then on the instrumental side, what are some of your favorite instruments and sounds are we hearing in "Scholars," "Derby," or "Grips"?
On Scholars, we like the kick samples, on Derby we like the alternating bass/synth sounds and the horns, on Grips we like the soaring guitars and lead-synth.
Repetition is a huge part of what makes something memorable or catchy, and it's not something we've never done before (see on Riposte (2009) "Sleep Gets Your Ghost", "Outt!", "Revel In Contempt", or General Dome (2013) "HardTimes", "Hiccup", "Houdini Crush"). But for this album we challenged ourselves to sit with these ideas longer than we naturally would, leaning into the repetition as a way to become more emotionally connected with it.
I really love "Wrong Side," and sense there's more to the lyrics, "your right is wrong for me." Can you elaborate on the meaning behind this song?
The lyrics for this were improvised and then competed pre-#MeToo, during the (never-ending) 2016 debates around governmental control of women's right to choose. To me it is very literal (something I aspired to be for this album) and says everything I want it to. "My feet walk for me, my mouth sings the way my heart wrote for me, but you're too "right" to see that your right is wrong for me." It also implies that my right isn't necessarily right for others, as in the final gasps of the song:
"lost for days in this hollow resolve
i forget your skin and what sounds you like
i forget i willed your absence to face mine"
I urge you to take from this what feeds you the most, but for me it speaks directly to a moment in my life when i needed to remove myself from a hurting loved one in order to confront my lack of self-attention. Put on your own O2 mask before helping others.
What are you most excited about with taking this album on tour? What's the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is recreating the sounds in a way that is true to the album despite using different tools to perform than how we originally created them. For example, we wanted to both stand (we've traditionally had to sit in order to control all our sounds and instruments), and the only way Aron could do this (he mainly plays the percussive and Gase/bass elements) was to recreate his parts on a drum pad and midi trigs. Every performance reveals something we could improve, so from show-to-show we're updating and relearning our parts.
Catch Buke and Gase on tour!
16 Denver CO: @larimerlounge ------- photos from this show will be available after April 16th!
17 Salt Lake City UT: @metromusichall
19 Seattle WA: @timbreroom
21 Portland OR: @mississippistudios
22 San Francisco CA: @slimssf
23 Los Angeles CA: @zebulonla
30 Houston TX: @whiteoakmh / @marginwalkertx
01 San Antonio TX @ Aztec Theater
02 Dallas ,TX: @gasmonkeygarage
14 Lawrence KS: @granadatheater
15 Minneapolis MN: @skywaytheatre
16 Chicago IL: @ House of Blues
17 McKees Rocks (Pittsburgh) PA: @roxiantheatrepgh