Monday, March 18, 2013

Lifetime of Gray Skies Part 2: The Great Assimilator

Only you can give
Give me what I need
It was always you

"Portable Crematorium"
Lifetime of Gray Skies

Photos courtesy of Scott Kinkade

    Anodyne stood at the fringe of Boston's hardcore boom at the turn of the century, coming up alongside acts like Isis, Converge and Cave In. Though all of those bands had overlapping musical interests and shared a common love of hardcore and noise rock, each was able to spin that into distinct and unique sounds.
    "There were a lot of good bands coming out of Boston at that time," Isis drummer Aaron Harris said. "I remember thinking the same thing. Why are all these bands from Boston? We were all friends and toured together. We all rehearsed in the same crappy rehearsal complex in Allston. Isis shared a practice space with Cave In for a while, and Anodyne rehearsed down the hall."
    "Boston was definitely having a good moment," Anodyne guitarist and vocalist Ayal Naor said. "I was around a little earlier than that. There was a feeling that something was happening, and it was an exciting time to make music. ... There's a kind of feeling that something is happening and you're playing with these bands and you get excited to play with them. We'd tour with Isis and see them 30 nights in a row, and I would stand there and see them every night."
    However, guitarist and vocalist Mike Hill always felt out of place compared to close-knit relationship shared by those other bands.
    "We were never really part of that crew, really," Hill said. "We were really good friends with the guys in Isis. We were never really part of that subculture. They were a really tight knit group of people because they all grew up in the same area."
    "I don’t know really where we fit in with the Boston scene," bassist Joshua Scott added. "We always tried to play out of town as much as possible. We were friends with the Isis guys, and played a few shows with them, but  a lot of the other bands  [like Cave In and Converge] were younger and seemed to come from a more hardy-hardcore/tough guy background that I had no connection to."
     Though Anodyne may not have fit in with other Boston bands at the time, Harris said the young Isis looked up to the band as mentors. Harris first met Hill when the drummer was playing in Loga prior to joining Isis. Hill and his band Otis "continued to take us under their wing, and my friendship with Mike grew," Harris said. The two even worked together at a Newbury Comics in the warehouse distribution center in Allston for a time.
    "We shared interest in the same kinds of music, sports, movies, food, etc. Mike and I were big fans of the Amphetamine Reptile label," Harris said. "At about the same time Otis and Loga dissolved and we each had started new bands. He was starting Anodyne, and I was with Isis. Mike even recorded some early demos of Isis when we first started. We were all good friends, and Anodyne was a great band. It made total sense for us to do shows together. Anodyne were sort of our mentors. The band was made up of guys that we in Isis looked up to, and had been in some of our favorite bands."


    Like most other Boston bands of the time, Anodyne rehearsed at the Sound Museum, the hub for local musicians. Hill also had his own studio in nearby Norwood, Mass. With a relatively stable lineup and ready access to a studio, Anodyne began to  push the limits of what they could accomplish through noise.
    "Once we were set, we could record anytime we wanted, for the most part," Scott said. "We did all sorts of weird shit and demoed most everything. At one point, Ayal found a percussion guy who loaded four thousand or so empty artillery shells into the van and then played them on some noise-style recording we did."
    Anodyne's early efforts caught the attention of Gordon Conrad and Adam Peterson at Escape Artist Records, which would release the band's first two full lengths. Both men worked at Relapse at the time, which had passed on both Anodyne and 27, Naor's other project. Escape Artists' roster, which included Isis, Burn it Down, Lickgoldensky, Time in Malta and Playing Enemy, was the nucleus of the noisy hardcore scene at the time. It would be the closest Anodyne would come to finding a community of like-minded artists.
    "I think most of those bands were on a similar mission and of similar minds at the time; people that grew up in punk, indie, and hardcore, who maybe dug some metal but weren't really part of the metal scene, playing forward-thinking heavy music," Ryan Patterson of The National Acrobat and Coliseum said. "I think for The National Acrobat, we were maybe more influenced by D.C. stuff and bands like Born Against and Jesus Lizard than the others, but each band had their niche. I put on shows for all of those bands in Louisville and then we'd often play with them in their areas or meet up for a handful of shows together on tour. All of those guys were really helpful to us, and I will always appreciate that."
    Escape Artist also targeted music fans with wider sonic palettes weaned on unconventional acts like Neurosis and Kiss it Goodbye.
    "They definitely had  a presence with a certain type of kid," Hill said. "Not to sound elitist or anything, [but] I feel like what we were doing even then was on the fringes of what kids were into, hardcore kids or metal kids. It was more of an acquired taste."
    Hill recorded debut full length Quiet Wars at the "discount clothing warehouse Ayal worked at," Scott said.
    "Recording was kind of a pain in the ass, since the board and everything was freshly set up and the kinks needed to be ironed out," he said. "We stood among racks of old clothes and recorded and mixed over the course of a week or so."
    In 1999 Escape Artist published Anodyne's first full length record, Quiet Wars. It unleashed seven angular, off-kilter songs of aggressive hardcore with a mathy edge that separated them from peers who were content to put a modern spin on the Amphetamine Reptile catalog.

    "I would try to see Anodyne as much as possible," said photographer Scott Kinkade, who met the band through Escape Artist and helped hand assemble the album inserts for Quiet Wars. "First, they were great people. Introverted but deep thinking individuals. I always seemed to connect with those guys quite well. They were driven musicians, doing something not a lot of bands were doing, pummeling, unrestrained noise rock. I would travel to see them play, load their gear in, get it out after their set."
    One of the people most excited to hear the record was former bassist Mike Davis who had helped write songs like "Sometimes No Means Right," which ended up on Quiet Wars. Though he had left Anodyne, Davis had kept close ties with his former bandmates and was eager to hear how they developed in his absence.
    "It was strange to see somebody else interpret what you've already done, but interesting at the same time," he said. "I guess if it were a bitter breakup, it would be different for me. Because it wasn't, I couldn't wait to hear it. I didn't take it personally when I heard Josh play those parts. How could I? It's the song that's important, not my ego, not what I did. I was happy to hear it. I was happy me leaving the band, they didn't miss a beat."
    Naor was Anodyne's visual mastermind at the time, and he wanted an image that not only matched the band's intensity but would take advantage of the first pressing's letter press cover. He settled on a Gustave Dore woodcut from Dante's Inferno.
    "When we were doing Quiet Wars we wanted to find an image that lent itself to letter press," he said. "... I remember having this moment when we were flipping through stuff. I don't remember when we found that images. When we saw it we said,  'Yep, there it is.' We all agreed it was the one right for the record, especially the one coming out of the grave. It had this dark, misanthropic feel to it. Being black and white it would lend itself to the die cut."


    Quiet Wars would be the only album to feature Ira Bronson's [who was known as Mike Swanson at the time] drumming, and it also marked Naor's last outing with Anodyne.
    "Somewhere along the line, Swanson left the band," Hill said. "We were on tour and the last show was in Boston and we were playing with Enemymine. Swanson left shortly after that because he was planning on moving to California."
    Bronson, who admits to being "impulsive," said he felt the urge to try something different.
    "I was just feeling the need for something different at the time and there are elements of the proceedings that have little to do with the band," he said.
    Bronson announced his departure shortly after the band returned from a 2000 tour. After a final show in Cambridge, Bronson was officially out of the band.
    "After a brief discussion, Josh went home, and Mike drove me to my apartment in Allston, where I unloaded all my gear into the front door area of the building by myself as he sat there until I was finished," Bronson said. "The second I locked the van door, it drove away."
    Though the split was tense at the time, Bronson said he later patched things up with his former bandmates. The web designer has even done work for Hill's later band Tombs.
    After his friends Niles and Davis left, Naor would also exit Anodyne, feeling his time with the band was nearing an end. Though the split was not acrimonious, Ayal said he felt like more of an outsider after Hill recruited his friend Scott to fill Davis' spot.
    "When they left, the axis of the band changed," Naor said. "I'd been old friends with Thos and Davis. I'd been in tons of bands with them. Mike was a new friend. We shared a strong work ethic and were super aligned on those fronts. When Davis left and Josh came in, there was a new axis; Mike and Josh were old friends. Where I had been in the majority team, now I was in the minority team."
    Naor also felt like there was less of a place for himself after Hill found the confidence to take over as Anodyne's vocalist. Throughout his time in Anodyne, Naor had been encouraging Hill to sing more.
    "I like having multiple vocalists. I had always encouraged him to sing," Naor said. "He'd always been, 'I can't sing' or whatever. One night we were in the studio and I said, 'Just go in the other room and just start singing.' I sat in the control room and started rolling the tape. He went into the booth and started screaming, and he came and was like, 'That was fun.' He had this moment of 'I can do it.' It was an epiphany for him. 'I have a voice.' After that he started singing more."
    Naor had been playing in his contemplative indie rock band 27 with drummer Thos Niles throughout Anodyne's existence.
    "We literally practiced around the corner from each other," Naor said. "Me and Thos would practice with Maria [Christopher] for an hour and then go practice [with Anodyne] for an hour."
    Feeling "redundant" in Anodyne, Naor left the band after taking a short vacation.
    "It wasn't a bad thing," he said. "There just wasn't much left for me to do."
    Naor's departure signaled a transition period for Anodyne that would find the band reconfigured in a new town with a new drummer. It would be the band's best known, most productive era.

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