There is a theory that sound at extremely high volumes can have hallucinatory effects on the brain. It happened to me. Just once, but it was a memorable enough experience to incite vivid flashbacks every time I even think the name of the band responsible: Space Movies.
Multi-instrumentalist Alex Moe and drummer Aaron Hansen, the two freaks behind Space Movies, sat down with me last week to discuss their upcoming show this Saturday at their most frequent stage, Mootsy’s. We met there, and sat talking on the top floor. It became clear that this was the quietest these two had ever been together at Mootsy’s.
On stage, Moe and Hansen almost seem possessed, as though some unseen life form is pulling the strings and turning up the instruments. Moe, hunched over a keyboard with a bass guitar on his shoulder, convulses furiously with every groove that slides out of his amplifiers. Directly in front of him, Hansen is a blur of percussive energy, though we can occasionally catch a glimpse of his gas-mask-covered face through the mess of limbs.
But once they put down their instruments, the duo is surprisingly mild-mannered, and they have a very lucid understanding of the music that they make. Though it may be loud and largely improvisational, it is also direct, intentional and completely original.
“People would probably guess this, but Lightning Bolt is definitely our biggest influence,” says Moe of the Rhode Island noise duo. There is an obvious connection — Space Movies’ heavy, shifting and unpredictable arrangements typically feature a bass-and-drums lineup similar to Lightning Bolt.
But a better understanding of how their music feels came via my stepfather, who saw them with me earlier this year. “It sounds like a Pink Floyd breakdown,” my stepdad leaned over mid-performance and screamed into my ear, “like something from A Saucerful of Secrets or Meddle.”
At the time I think I yelled back, “No it doesn’t!” But since hearing his explanation, it’s become more and more clear that he is completely right. There are almost frightening amounts of excitement and chemistry between these two, and once they’ve switched on, it seems to pour out of them like they’ve been doing it for centuries.
Which is intriguing, given that the band started with, ahem, modest ambitions.
“We used to just smoke a lot of weed and look up random YouTube videos,” remembers Hansen. He goes on to explain the origins of the band’s name, which has something to do with a YouTube video in which a crackhead explains his apparent successes in Hollywood making “space movies.” Explanation aside, the name Space Movies works well, invoking the dark, terrifying and unexplored realms where Moe and Hansen seem to tread.
“Everything’s pretty loosely written,” says Moe, a self-proclaimed jazz obsessive. Whether it was intentional or not, he has brought the often nervous, free-form structures of his beloved jazz records into the noise world with his instrumentalism. The approach is crucial to their sound, and also a easier way for Space Movies to operate.
“We have a lot of wiggle room,” Hansen chimes in, “because we don’t really like writing music.”
This is proving difficult for a band that’s starting to take recording more seriously. Moe and Hansen have plans for putting together enough material for an LP later this year or early next, most likely with the help of a Kickstarter campaign.
“Writing is tough,” continues Hansen, “because a lot of the time we’ll play and I’ll say, ‘I’m not totally sure how I played that, but this kinda sounds like it.’ ”
But this further examination of what they are capable of as a duo is bringing them closer artistically and helping to actualize their full musical potential. Back in the day, they say they were happy to get high and record a cassette tape’s worth of abstract hip-hop beats. Now they bring a catharsis that you can almost touch as it seeps out of their pores.
“Space Movies is just me and Aaron,” says Moe, “and it always has been and it always will be.”
Then Moe says something that specifically relates to Space Movies’ philosophy concerning live music, but seems to reach beyond that, into a more broad explanation of how the band operates in general: “No stopping.”
Space Movies with The Kitchen and Mirror Mirror • Sat, July 20, at 10 pm • Mootsy’s • 406 W. Sprague Ave. • $5 • 21+ • 838-1570