After five years in Greensboro's The Bronzed Chorus, guitarist Adam Joyce was ready for some evolution, but he felt almost tied to his own trademark sound: the drive and sparkle, the optimistic passages of instrumental pop blasting by like dirt bikes inside a crowded casino. Still, something had to change.
"We're ready to just do something different," says Joyce, sitting at a picnic table at his mom's house in rural Guilford County holding a Busch Light and a cigarette. "It started wearing thin, playing two-piece songs together. It's really quick to run out of ideas."
It's early May, and a slight chill settles across the gently sloping lawn with the dusk. The picnic table upon which Joyce sits is directly beneath his old bedroom, where he and original drummer Brennan O'Brien recorded their self-released debut, ThurtyThurty, in 2007, following it up with I'm the Spring in 2008. Nothing was wrong with the repertoire. Joyce was just bored.
"Even though I'm the Spring came out on August 29th, he says, "those songs are almost three years old now."
Now's his chance: Within the last year, O'Brien left the band to focus on raising his son. Hunter Allen joined, taking his multi-tasking predecessor's lead by playing drums and keyboards simultaneously. But Allen's other contributions, or his expansions on that role, might just be the change Joyce needs.
"I have lots of shit lying around," says Allen. He and Joyce share a house with two other musicians, and they describe a shoegazer's horde of nontraditional and modified gear within. "I particularly like the Atari; it's really warm, like a wood fire, really warm."
The Synthcart is an Atari 2600 system programmed to make music in 2002 by Brooklyn-via-Dallas artist and musician Paul Slocum. Using the original keypad controllers, Allen coaxes beats, arpeggios and simple synthesizer melodies through 30-year-old video game circuits. Each controller controls a different tone and can be used to select different sounds, beats and effects.
"There are so few things you can do with it that you end up being more creative," he explains. "It's not a game, just a new cartridge."
This four-bit synth fuzz is just the beginning. The band briefly considered expanding to a quartet for variety's sake. They practiced a few times with multi-instrumentalists Will Stephens and Brian Siedenberg but never got far.
"We're kind of having trouble with that, making it sound like The Bronzed Chorus, so we're not even sure if that's going to go," says Allen. "It was getting kind of complicated. Not complicated, but impractical, and it wasn't really going anywhere." For Allen, the band's future is as a duo with increased multi-instrumentalism and these strange new electronics. Like a seasoned gearhead, Allen talks about adding contact microphones to his drums and using guitar pedals like Space Echo on his drums. Typically, it's the kind of peripheral that guitarists use for psychedelic rock to lose their instrument in a wash of resonance and cavernous reverberation. The powerful effect could translate a drumbeat into anything from a clipped chirp to an uncontrollable explosion of feedback. If that sounds a little chaotic or crazy, it is. Remember, this is a band giving itself over to transition.
Whatever Allen finds, the full breadth of this experimental drummer's augmentations won't show up for a while—not until the next full-length, at least. In the meantime, The Bronzed Chorus aims to release an EP later this year to sell on their fall tour. It's incomplete thus far, but Joyce is excited about the direction. After several tours together and countless practices, he and Allen have grown to understand each other's playing styles. Two new tunes, debuted in late May at Durham's The Pinhook, may indicate the future of the band.
"He's got a lot of pop influence that's not that well known that's really tasteful," says Joyce. "He's bringing that in, and it's making a lot of sense to both of us. I kind of had the same idea: We like the idea of dance-y music for people who don't like to dance."
Allen agrees, but laughs, recalling a Seattle interviewer who compared them to The Cure. It's hard for Allen to pinpoint his influence, exactly. He resists obvious comparisons to the late Jerry Fuchs (of !!!, Maserati). Considering that Allen is working to make his drums look more like a control panel on Captain Kirk's USS Enterprise than a traditional kit, his curiosity might be his most crucial muse.
"[We] gotta find a way to fill the holes," says Allen. "But I think we're doing okay for two people."