It doesn't hurt that both the band's leader, Andy Arkley, and his bandmate Courtney Barneby (joined by Tony Sacco and Peter Lynch on every instrument imaginable) are visual artists by day. "We bring our own video projector and a screen" to live shows, Arkley explains. The band tours with an artist who "triggers and builds these videos live while we play, like a video sampler."
Arkley, who goes by the inexplicable pseudonym Sir Mildred Pitt, spoke about the band's visual inspiration from his home in Seattle. "A lot of times when we're creating songs, we come up with a visual idea of where we want the song to go," he says. "'At this part it's like you're falling, and birds would be flying and an airplane would fly by.' Some sort of visual imagery would come along as we're creating the song. That's how a lot of our songs are."
This explains how the band comes up with titles to the compositions on their latest album, The Chancellor, which they just released on their own Happi Tyme Records (also home to another of Arkley's projects, the Bran Flakes). The Chancellor is full of songs that are as offbeat and playful as their titles, from the slinky "Porn in the Woods (A Bygone Era)" to the somber "The Saddest Video Game in the World." But it doesn't explain how they became a group of nerdy non-Jamaican dudes playing reggae.
"The original idea was we were inspired by dub music," Arkley says. He was looking for another outlet besides the sound-collage experimentalism of the Bran Flakes and his pop-oriented project Twizzle. The Library Science was driven by music like "King Tubby or Scientist or Lee 'Scratch' Perry," he says. "We went down that direction a little bit, but we didn't want to be a straight-on reggae band or roots reggae band. We're changing into something a little bit more eclectic. We're not about the red, yellow and green and the marijuana and Jah."
In fact, the Library Science probably has as much in common with electronic post-rock bands like as they do with reggae. Their first album, High Life Honey, was firmly rooted in dub and heavy on melodica (that keyboard thing you blow into, sounds like an accordion), but with the experimental spirit they've expanded on The Chancellor. Think of M83 with a rock-steady beat.
"Doing what we want to do -- when I try to define it, sometimes it gets a little complicated for me," Arkley says. "Some of the new music we've been doing is a little dancey and disco-ey, like the Clash's Sandinista -- a little more ska'd up then a straight-on pop song or something." Of course, since its members play bass, keyboards, melodica, guitar and trumpet (often trading instruments, often playing more than one at the same time), the Library Science's eclectic instrumentation itself kind of precludes the possibility of a "straight-on pop song."
"Live, there's me playing bass and a keyboard bass," says Arkley. "And then we have Peter, who plays guitar and trumpet and xylophone and keyboard, switching instruments on almost every song -- and Courtney playing melodica, Casio, synthesizer and a sampler, and he's switching between those instruments the whole time. A lot of the stuff we recorded has, like, 10 parts in it -- we have to figure out which one of the parts we're gonna play."
The Library Science doesn't have a drummer -- beats are provided by a machine -- which simplifies things a little, considering the amount of gear they have to lug everywhere. "It's kind of a strange setup, but we have two big tables with all the instruments on them, switching the whole time." Arkley adds. "I'm the most traditional, just playing a bass all the way through. The bass lines have to be real steady."
Their Spokane stop is the first on their cross-country tour to New York. It's the band's first major cross-country tour, although they did do the West Coast a couple of years ago. "We just hope our band makes it across the U.S.," Arkley says. If they can make it through the cartoony landscapes of their own music night after night, they should be OK.
Library Science plays the Caterina Winery with For Years Blue and Kid Theodore on Friday, Aug. 31, at 7 pm. $7. Call 328-5069.