From 1999-2011, Robert Toher led the atmospheric post-rock band Apse, but by 2010, he was growing frustrated with that group’s direction and organization. He started working on a separate project, ERAAS, with Apse guitarist Austin Stawiarz – Toher is drawn to the word “eras,” he says (it had also been the title of a limited-edition Apse album). Toher and Stawiarz holed up in an old house in Northampton, Massachusetts, and gradually refined their new sound: dark, repetitive, richly-textured grooves, incorporating dissonant found sounds and unnerving reverberations. Before long, ERAAS became the duo’s main musical outlet.
After relocating to Brooklyn, they completed their self-titled debut album in 2011, although it’s taken more than a year to see the light of day. It’s a splendidly unnerving recording, moving from eerie chamber music (“Black House”) to spidery rock songs (“Ghost”) to a pair of spectral dance-rock tracks, “At Heart” and “Briar Path,” that come off like a blurrier, weirder version of the kind of skeletal funk ESG was playing in the early ’80s. Toher’s echoing high tenor appears here and there on ERAAS, although it’s often hard to tell exactly what he’s singing – “voice as instrument is important to me,” he says. The only attempt to transcribe his lyrics that’s appeared thus far is so riddled with gaps and guesses that it looks like translated fragments of lost literature, which seems appropriate.
eMusic’s Douglas Wolk talked with Toher about the inspirations – musical and spiritual – that went into the making of ERAAS’s debut album, as well as what the band is planning next.
On being a city band:
My old project Apse was New England-based – I was 17 when we started that band, and we broke up only a year and a half ago. I draw a lot of inspiration from rural places; they tend to gravitate toward a certain kind of thinking that’s different than it is in the city. I haven’t lived in New York for that long. I grew up a little over an hour away, but obviously it’s much different when you’re rooted here. Here, I tend to be more interested in percussive, electronic elements; in the country, I’m more drawn to sprawling atmospherics.
On what ERAAS’ “ritual music” is trying to do:
There’s no agenda at hand except creating a mood. Our music has always been sort of spiritually based – not a particular faith or denomination, but trying to get in touch with or at least address some of those energies. Even my early music and lyrics, with Apse, address spiritual paranoias, questioning faith, things like that. I think we’re just trying to access a particular kind of emotion or mood, or express a feeling that’s sublime, interesting, arresting, romantic.
On playing ERAAS’ music live:
We have a live band that’s four of us – we kind of take the songs, in their recorded form, and take them back: We make them ours again. We’re always changing them as time goes on. The percussion is a much more visceral, heavy sound live. We have a drummer who plays a full kit, and I play a floor tom and snare and ride cymbal, and we have Austin with his setup, which is a guitar and a bass, and we have a bass player. There’s a lot of percussive volleying that happens. When I go see a band I like them to do things differently – it’s boring for me to go see a band if it sounds just like the album. We don’t like to use a lot of pre-recorded sounds, which is what a lot of bands do these days – they’ve got the laptop with the Apple logo right up on stage.
On the process of recording their next album:
We’re working on it right now – the first album has been finished for over a year, and we’ve had material developing since then. We’re getting more into the idea of sampling, not necessarily in the sense of taking stuff from a record and putting stuff over it, but sampling as a creative function. Starting with something like a Chicago house record pitched down, playing at a slow speed, and taking that as a core element, it starts you off in a place you would never choose on your own to begin when you write a song. It takes you out of your natural elementâ€”all the fallback things you do. We’re experimenting a lot with that. There are recordings we’re working on where it starts with a sample and we build a song around it, and then the sample comes out at the end, and what we’ve built around it remains.
On the music that inspires them these days:
Austin read the 33 1/3 book about Paul’s Boutique. He was really inspired by that, and he lent it to me and I read it as well. That was really the thing that made us want to get into that world – you read about the way the Dust Brothers were working back then, with the homemade samples that were on tapes and stuff, and when you go back and listen to Paul’s Boutique, it’s a totally different experience. He and I have always liked old Wu-Tang stuff – Raekwon and Ghostface and all that. Some kinds of Krautrock are definitely an influence on us: Can and Faust, definitely. I’d say [producer] Martin Hannett, certainly, because of the idea of a limited palette of sounds. And I really like Geoff Barrow’s project BEAK>, and the darker repetitive stuff like that.