Cory Mason-Phipps is sprinkling salt into his bandmate's last sips of ice water.
"I was waiting until you noticed," Mason-Phipps says with a mischievous smile after Aaron Anderberg balks.
These guys haven't seen each other since Bullets or Balloons' most recent Spokane show in December when they "meet up" — Mason-Phipps and Anderberg in person and Chris Henderson (aka Papa Bear, who is 10 years older than the others) via speakerphone — at O'Doherty's in Spokane Valley last weekend. Yet this morning, squished into a booth with bits of toast and egg lingering on their breakfast plates and an iPhone in the middle of the table, it's like they haven't skipped a beat.
"We don't have to see each other that much to make this work," says Mason-Phipps, who admits he can act like a pre-teen trapped in a 26-year-old's body. "That's the beauty of this band."
The band formed in Spokane Valley three years ago after each previously worked the local scene for nearly a decade with Mistress and the Misters, Cyrus Fell Down and Richard Dryfish. They've since spread out to Coeur d'Alene (Anderberg) and Olympia (Henderson). This makes regular practices somewhat of a challenge. But the band is a huge priority for the trio, who often take weekends off from their full-time jobs to gig. Saturday night, they release their sophomore album, Lifestyle Toxins, recorded at Nieman Sound in Spokane, kicking off a Northwest tour at the Big Dipper.
"When we get together we get so much more done," Anderberg says. "More than other bands I've been in that practiced twice a week."
When they're in the same physical space, Bullets or Balloons crafts a sound that teeters between garage, punk and math rock. Henderson mightily hollers out fierce vocals, Anderberg expertly picks and prods his bass and Mason-Phipps keeps it all together, beating the hell out of his drum kit. It's music, written together, that finds purpose in stop-and-go rhythms and scuzzy yet intricate harmonies. No song ever scratches the three-minute mark.
Their lyrics, artfully crafted by Henderson and sometimes parodied by Mason-Phipps on band road trips, touch on the absurdities of the American way — like the song "Shuffle," which includes the line: "Ask not what you can do for your country / Ask what your country is doing to you." But never taking themselves too seriously, they also have an older song titled "Aaron's Ass."
"These are the best musicians I've found anywhere," Henderson says from the phone, while his friends shrug it off. "It helps that we like each other." ♦
Bullets or Balloons CD release party with Blackwater Prophet and the Bight • Sat, Feb. 7, at 8 pm • $8/$10 day of • All-ages • Big Dipper • 171 S. Washington • bigdipperevents.com • 863-8098