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Saxophones & Maximalism 

Ex Eye brings its weird, heavy racket to Spokane

click to enlarge Instrumental quartet Ex Eye hits the Bartlett on Wednesday.
  • Instrumental quartet Ex Eye hits the Bartlett on Wednesday.

Artists work for years to get to the point where they can play highly respected music festivals across the globe.

Ex Eye went the other direction, booking gigs at last year's Eaux Claires Festival in Wisconsin (curated by Bon Iver's Justin Vernon) and Denmark's Roskilde Festival (one of Europe's largest) before the band even existed.

That's a testament not to Ex Eye's popularity, but to the highly respected men who brought the band together: adventurous saxophonist Colin Stetson and virtuosic drummer Greg Fox.

"Greg and I had been talking about putting this band together for about a year and then those talks (became) more and more frequent," Stetson says in a phone interview from Montreal. "Eventually, I was (at Eaux Claires) and Greg was somewhere in Europe hanging out with some promoters and both of us, independently of one another, were talking about this project that was yet unnamed and unformed."

Within two weeks, he says, "the band that didn't exist" had offers from the two festivals. "We immediately said yes to both," Stetson says, "and then put the band together."

A little background: Stetson is a leading figure in the modern avant-garde scene, both as a collaborator (he has worked with Arcade Fire and Tom Waits, among others) and as a solo artist. His three solo albums are intense and enthralling explorations of extended sax techniques such as circular breathing. And Fox is one of the finest drummers alive, best known for his work with black metal non-traditionalists Liturgy, his noise-rock band Guardian Alien and various other projects. He looks like a blurry octopus behind the kit.

The two have collaborated on a number of projects over the years, but Ex Eye gives them the opportunity to play heavy music together in a band. It's also a natural extension of the increasing density of Stetson's solo work.

"The kind of explorations I'd been doing, they'd been (evolving) more and more into the area of heavier music and metal," he says. "So I wanted to take that to the next level and start to explore some of that in a group."

Rounding out Ex Eye's lineup are Shahzad Ismaily (of Ceramic Dog and Secret Chiefs 3) on synthesizers, and guitarist Toby Summerfield. The quartet came together in late 2015, developed songs and a set, spent the summer of 2016 playing festivals, then recorded their debut album last fall.

That album, which is self-titled, will be released by metal mega-label Relapse Records on June 23. And while it is undoubtedly heavy, Ex Eye is also groovy and complex and pleasantly melodic. Ismaily powers "Xenolith; The Anvil" with a deep, dark, oscillating synth motif. "Opposition/Perihelion; The Coil" is a frantic, 12-minute maximalist punk jam that gives Stetson lots of space to flutter and roam. And "Anaitis Hymnal; The Arkose Disc" is a slow-burning doom-drone that sounds like the scariest part of a Godspeed You! Black Emperor song slathered in sax.

Stetson and Fox brought Ex Eye together, but once that work was done, each of the four members brought their own skills, taste and background to the music, Stetson says.

"There have definitely been some surprises in the midst of these explorations, coming up with things that were not necessarily already kicking around in dreamland," he says. "(We had) some pretty specific mission statements, and they have definitely been met. Or at least the door has been opened. Now that we've touched on a lot of these areas, we can see more clearly the paths ahead, and there are a lot of very exciting things that we're interested in getting into." ♦

Ex Eye with Deer • Wed, June 21 at 8 pm • $10 • All-ages • The Bartlett • 228 W. Sprague • thebartlettspokane.com • 747-2174

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