I HUNG OUT with Seattle-by-way-of-Bellingham band the Revolutionary Hydra for about an hour before founding member Jay Chilcote announced this revelation: "We don't actually have that many friends."
The Revolutionary Hydra
Crocodile Cafe, Friday, December 1
But since Jay's friends are the guys from Death Cab for Cutie and a bunch of similarly minded indie popsters, he doesn't go around complaining about bad company. And as long as he's got a couple of cronies to wield the sticks (ex-Death Cab drummer Nathan Good and Robbi Skrocki), one to recite insoluble lines of melody (Allisyn Levy), another to thump the bass lines (Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard), a Morrissey-minded songwriter who also crafts inculcating guitar parts (Barton Sharp), and a brother (Joe Chilcote) with whom he can share the remaining singing, songwriting, and guitar-playing duties, he doesn't have to want for much. Add to the party one very talented friend who will step in and mastermind the production (Death Cab Renaissance man Chris Walla), and the Revolutionary Hydra have what it takes to put together a fine collection of songs. On The Antiphony, the band's second full-length release, this is exactly what they did.
An antiphony is a responsive chorus or chant, and considering the band's approach to making music, it works quite well as an album title, a song title, and a premise. The back and forth, hurried then hushed cacophony of keyboards, whirled guitars, and twisted samples that are the hallmark of contemporary indie rock are the basis of the Hydra's songs. But the sounds turn quickly, forcing abutments at the first sign of prophecy and charging the listener with the task of actively responding to the fallout. While Jay argues that those who like their music linear will probably have a difficult time with his band's corkscrew progressions and obscured lyrics, those who value the inherent reward of paying close attention to detail are sure to get off on the complexity.
In keeping with this call-and-response collaborative theme, when I compare their Bellingham/Seattle scene to Athens' Elephant 6 cooperative, the band only half-jokingly pick "Elsinor Boys Choir" to describe their collective of musical friends.
"What few friends we have, they're all talented in different areas that really compliment each other. We were interested in doing this label thing," Joe recalls, referring to the indie imprint, Elsinor Records, that he and Jay started in Bellingham. "Chris was interested in recording people, and people like Ben and Phil [Elvrum, prolific indie producer and member of D+, the Microphones, and Old Time Relijun] and Pacer were really talented at coming up with songs. If you needed that last piece of the puzzle, you could always call someone."
While the liner notes cite a list of players that's just shy of a baker's dozen, the band claims that if need be, Bart and the brothers Chilcote can pull off a Rev Hydra set on their own. Current drummer Skrocki admits that even though he plays in two other bands, he'll be around whenever the Hydra need him. And Joe says the Death Cab guys are always welcome to share the stage. Conversations aimed at getting to the bottom of the band's convoluted lineup end up in the middle of conversations about beer at the Zoo, Neutral Milk Hotel, and the mystery of song titles. An attempt to finally simplify the story goes something like this:
"We've never played a show without the three of us," Jay says, pointing to his brother and Bart. He figures this will sum things up.
"That's not true," counters Bart.
"Oh yeah, you weren't at one of them," says Joe, looking at Jay.
"What?" Jay says, completely foiled.
"Yeah, we played a bunch of your songs," Joe says, giving his brother an old-fashioned hard time.
Indeed, with friends like these, who needs enemies?
Hear it for yourself! Elsinorpop.com has tons of MP3s, and if you act now, you can order The Anitphony for the low, low price of 5 bucks.
For more information, or just for fun, visit the band's site at RevolutionaryHydra.com.