Monster Math

Astral projections, out-of-body experiences, and the hardcore alchemy of the Ruby Doe.

According to Microsoft Word's Flesch-Kincaid reading-level function, I write at an 11th grade reading level. So if you're reading and comprehending this story, you're likely familiar with not only the building blocks of basic education, but the harsh reality thatof all those building blocksmath totally fuckin' blows.

As for math rock, well, that doesn't blow in the slightest, largely due to the still-formidable presence of "rock." Yet every Pacific Northwest band that siphons the wacky signature changes out of their tank lately seems to blow up. Hot Hot Heat's first LP was aggressively mathy, and the Vancouver outfit was met with minimal fanfare until it embraced hooks and evolved into a national mod-garage staple. Seattle's own dearly departed Botch, arguably the finest math-core band in the West, spawned a number of projectsThese Arms Are Snakes and Minus the Bear, in particularwhose busy nature evokes an illusory "mathy" quality and which continue to garner impressive national notices.

Today, more than a decade after bassist Jesse Sea and guitarist Aaron Ellh began playing together, Seattle trio the Ruby Doe are wrenching themselves out of graph-paper shacklesnot necessarily striving for palatability, just relaxing the reins. Suddenly, they're recording with Hot Hot Heat/Sleater-Kinney producer John Goodmanson, new single "Red Letters" is getting airplay on the End, they're polishing off their first for-real American tour, and Loveless is likely to release a new full-length early next year.

This isn't what Drive Like Jehu meant by "New Math," but, hey, even the core of that influential math quartet simplified, simplified, simplified; check out the basic arithmetic Hot Snakes records lurking in every hipster's vinyl bins today.

"We spent the first eight years we were together trying to alienate the audience," Sea laughs, as the Doe van rumbles south out of North Carolina. "It's only in the past couple years that we've figured out that it's actually fun to [engage] them."

"If something felt like it should be in 4/4, we'd immediately make it into 5/4 or 7/4," adds Ellh, referencing the days when the band was dubbed the Cat Ion. "Now what we've realized is it's fun to play in 4/4. It's easier for us to move each other, and when you move each other, you automatically move your audience."

While the breakneck contortions of the Ruby Doe's debut LP The Flame and the Fury (Burnout) may be history, the band has not only maintained but refined its intellectual and sonic six-pack on Dream Engine Blue, a self-released, artful rumination on the perils of slumber. "UR2" and "The Heavy Air of Human Heat" arehar-dee-har-haraddition by subtraction, relying on simple forward momentum, subtle dynamic shifts, and fresh, aggressive combat riffing. Few esoteric concept albums thrash with such populist abandon. This one, it should be noted, seems tailor-made for Freddy Krueger.

"When we were in Olympia, I had a weird dream, or like a weird out-of-body experience, and it scared the hell out of me," Ellh recalls. "Jesse had a bunch of books on it already, and then, remember, you went and got that astral projection kit? It had some swirly thing you're supposed to look at or something like that."

"Yeah, Aaron and I had both been reading books on metaphysical stuff," Sea says. "It seemed like an interesting direction to go in, and plus, we felt like the first record was so scattered. We were trying to do something that was cohesive."

"Ever since I was a little kid, I kind of get these things where I'll be sleeping really hard, and I know I'm asleep and I want to wake up, but I can't open my eyes," Ellh elaborates. "Basically, it only comes around in the fall. I had this thing where I heard a weird zipping noise. I mean, it's a total cliché» a lot of people have it happen to them, and they all describe it the same kind of way. It's interesting, but it's really fucking scary.

"It's called a 'witch ride,' as in you're being ridden by witches; that's why you can't wake up. Really, when I think about it, it's totally uncomfortable and it feels as close as you probably could feel like you're going to die, you know? It hasn't happened to me in a long time, and I'd prefer it not to."

At this point, the latest incarnation of the Doerounded out by Joshua Gabriel's inventive, brutal drummingis more focused on the rock and roll version of the witch ride. The gents have no such grandiose theme conceived for their forthcoming third full-lengthat least none they're willing to concede. For the band that culled its name from a stage in the alchemical process ("rubedo," the "reddening" process that suggests heat and passion), no sleep is being lost over going for the gold, from songwriting to marketing.

"On some songs, Aaron will write a lyric and pass it over to me, and I'll write a line," Sea says. "The process is fifty-fifty. Sometimes we'll have a lyrical idea and put it to music, other times vice versa. There's really no formula."

"We have always been a very deliberate band," Ellh asserts. "We went out years ago, and we tried to fool the audience. You get what you give, and that's what we were giving. Now we're giving more of a straight-ahead thing, and I think people are getting behind it."

The Ruby Doe play Graceland with Zeke, Himsa, and Mondo Diao at 8 p.m. Fri., Nov. 28. $8 adv.

comments powered by Disqus

Friends to Follow