The usual overcast Oregon skies were on a hiatus and the sunshine was very much welcome in the middle of January. Two friends, Luke Larsen and Grahm Doughty, are goofing around in a back alley, discussing how to pose for photographs.
“I think its funny how bands always go out in the woods and take pictures,” Larsen says. “It just becomes so clichéd.”
“What would be a really not cliché band picture?” Doughty asks. “Next to a car? With the Dumpster!”
Three years ago, they were joking with another of their roommates in their basement music room. But they never thought they’d actually form a band with the comical concept they came up with.
“One of us, it could have been me, was like, ‘man, wouldn’t that be funny if there was a band that just wrote and sang songs about space?’” Doughty says.
Space Music’s two members are both seniors at the University Of Oregon; Larsen, 22, is a music major and Doughty, also 22, is a History and English double major.
“I do most of the music in the band,” Larsen says.
“And I do most of the history and English,” Doughty, who writes a majority of the lyrics, quips.
Both have been playing music from a young age. Larsen started taking piano lessons at age 5 and Doughty began playing drums in 6th grade. Doughty, however, never thought he’d be singing lead vocals or playing guitar, two instruments he had significantly less confidence in compared to drums or keyboards.
Their musical style is often described as ‘synthpop’, as they use lots of synthesizers, electric drums, and sound and voice effects. Contrary to what their name suggests, their music doesn’t belong to the space music genre. According to Stephen Hill, in his essay Contemplative Music, Broadly Defined, space music is a genre of music within New Age and Ambient music that lacks conventional melodic, rhythmic, or vocal components. Instead the band is known for their up-tempo melodies and quirky lyrics.
While they’re both religious and are not afraid to bring that aspect of their lives into some their music, they’re not overtly Christian in their lyrics or message. Their songs include unexpected rhymes amid more serious heartfelt lyrics. For example, in Black Hole Dreams, the sensitive chorus, “I’m searching desperate galaxies for a beating heart to soar with me,” and the quirky rap bridge, “space matter, ladder to Saturn, climbin’ on the rungs and I get a bit sadder,” are interesting juxtapositions.
The Banker, released on January 18th 2011, was the first EP in their new three-chapter series of albums to be digitally released on bandcamp.com in the coming months. This first EP has less to do with intergalactic travel; instead of being just the subject matter, space is now more of the setting of their songs.
While their original songs started at as a parody, they’re now trying to branch out to a genre that is more true to their identity as musicians. The three-chapter series of albums will feature more elements from progressive rock, like intricate instrumental patterns. For example, the first track on The Banker, Light Years Ago, is an instrumental retelling of the main melody lines from their first album.
They explain that each of their albums as a whole has some semblance of a plot, through which all the songs move. They are now trying to be more intentional with the narrative in each album compared to their first CD, Black Hole Dreams, which was put together differently.
“That one was more like taking a bunch of random things out of different articles and magazines and putting it into one storyline and trying to make it work together,” Larsen says.
Space Music has played a number of live shows, mainly at churches or benefit events. Larsen says his favorite gig was a concert in the Onyx House basement. Despite the complicated set-up, he says he enjoyed playing in the small and intimate setting.
However, because they use a large number of recording tracks to build each song, playing live is difficult with only two band members. So, in order to play their musically complex and multi-layered pieces at shows, they have to recruit other talented musician friends to play with them.
“It’s funny to me that our music is so complicated and full,” Doughty says. “I think most bands start with recording something really simple that they can actually play live, instead of something that is almost impossible to play live, especially in a band of two people.”
“We’re always trying to cover ourselves,” Larsen says. “Poor acoustic covers of ourselves.”
Doughty says he wants to continue playing music after graduation, though he’s not sure in what form or capacity.
“Music is like the thing I really want to do,” Doughty says. “But I also have my degrees, you know, if I need to get a real job.” He currently plays the drums for a few Christian artists based in Portland, such as Mike Honholz, Anna Gilbert and Rend the Heavens, and spends his weekends commuting to various concert venues with them.
Larsen also hopes to pursue a career with music, but he’s planning on possibly doing so through writing. He started a music blog, The Feedback Loop, in November last year where he now regularly posts insightful and well-written music reviews. His review of the TRON: Legacy Soundtrack was featured in Relevant, a Christian online magazine.
“I started that because I realized that I want to apply for a bunch of internship positions at newspapers and websites,” Larsen says. “So, I wanted to have a sort of résumé of writing samples and practice a lot.”
Regardless of their plans for the band in the future, they continue to set themselves apart with their absurdist humor, which overlays their genuinely well-written songs. In the midst of parody, something sincere in their songs unexpectedly reaches out to listeners.
Some bands take themselves so seriously that it’s hard to take them serious. Space Music, on the other hand, is almost poking fun at themselves, making them endearing and enjoyable artists to listen to. Their close friendship shows in both their music and in the way the two joke around, posing for photographs with an axe they find in the alley and a cell phone.
“I never know if you’re smiling in these!” Larsen says.
“Well, I wasn’t and then you looked at me,” Doughty says. “We’re trying to do serious shots. That’s the problem!”
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