I was introduced to Impetus Records a few weeks ago when I wrote about Moonflower, and upon exploring the label's discography, their latest release—out today, in fact—really piqued my interest in a major way. I fell in love with This Machine Makes Noise (also present on Spotify)—the debut full-length from Wilmington, DE trio Think Machine—from the moment I first heard pre-release track "Did I Stutter." The group presents a peculiarly inventive form of angular indie rock/emo-punk with an almost jazzy, lush/chill undercurrent. It's also a little folksy or math rock-ish at times, too!? So, yeah, a lot to unpack, but in a very good way—and with a wonderful balance of the rugged D.I.Y. aesthetic alongside fluid, intelligent musicianship. I don't know, it's really interesting and uncommon—just fuckin' cool!
If I'm able to muster a 2019 Year-End Favorites list over the next couple of weeks, I'm pretty sure this disc's gonna make the cut. Think Machine possesses that rare quality that makes me "differently" curious—not just because I enjoy the music, but because the range of influences and unexpected twists on display has that "What the hell are they gonna explore next!?" type of factor to it.
Stream the full album below, followed by an interview with guitarist/vocalist Nate Lamborn:
"Did I Stutter" blew me away and led me to believe that Think Machine had changed it up a bit, but listening to This Machine Makes Noise in its entirety, there's so much variety goin' on. My favorite tracks come across like emo/indie rock that has a crazy, almost jazzy or progressive jam band undercurrent to 'em, but there are other moments that get noisier or by contrast strip down toward a raw, Guided by Voices type of vibe. Asking bands about their influences is generally a dumb question, but I listen to this album and I'm just like, "Shit, this is cool," so I can't help but wonder: where's it all coming from!?
As I'm sure you hear all the time when it comes to inspiration and influences, I'd like to think that it's a little bit of everything. One thing I've always kinda loved to do is almost reverse-engineer songs. Sometime in middle school, I learned some very basics of digital recording, and I'd record covers of some of my favorite songs for fun, which eventually evolved into recording demos for original songs. These days, it's kind of reverted back to recording covers again. What started just for fun is now a practice that I use as a way to break down songs that I love and figure out why it is that every part works the way it does. I think that being able to do that with lots of vastly different musical styles has allowed us to craft a really unique style of our own. I think our sound is really a culmination of that, and the influences we draw from our community. Just seeing how so many of our friends—like in Kobika, Moonflower, and Merger—approach music differently on different levels is so amazing to see, and is a great source for inspiration. Whenever we write something new, the first question that comes to mind is, "Are my friends gonna like this?" I also can't fail to mention that Evan [Kipp, drums] and I are suckers for old school punk, hardcore stuff (specifically Every Time I Die), and jazzy stuff.
It totally fits, but it's interesting that the album opens with a re-recording of the band's very first single from back in 2017. What led to that decision?
"1,000 Voices" was literally the first song we wrote when we started this project (Evan and I played in a band together for about five years prior), and as soon as we had solidified our lineup at that time, I was very eager to record right away so we'd have something to show people when we were trying to book shows. I'm not super proud of the initial recording of that song, and I wanted to do it better. Plus, we had Ian [Berry] join the band and he wrote a great new bassline for it, so we all agreed to re-record it. Once our other guitarist, Steven [Savage], left the band, I wrote a new second guitar part that felt like it gave the song new life. Most of all, it was a new take on something kinda familiar, so it felt like the perfect album-opener.
The album was recorded back in March, but there are some variances in production from track to track, so I'm curious what that process looked like. Was it put together in bits and pieces, or...?
So, the bulk of the album—what I consider the six core songs that the album was built around—was recorded instrumentally in two days with our friend, Joni Elfers, in their studio that they ran out of a warehouse in Philly. Vocals took much longer, because I really wanted to nail them. Our original plan was to knock out those six songs and record the last two to four a month or so later to complete the album. So, the album's finished product is actually a bit different from what we had in mind when we started. We went ahead and did the first six and shortly after Ian let us know that he had kinda lost interest in the project and had other priorities he had to focus on, so we had a bit of a wrench thrown into our initial plan. We had an awkward-length tracklist of six full songs and plans for two transitional/interlude tracks that felt too short for an album, but too long for an EP, so we weren't 100% sure where to go. Record the remaining songs with someone else on bass? Have someone redo all the bass? Release what we had as an EP? We talked it over for a long time and decided we could tweak some of the details of the original vision and still follow through. We recorded "Obsolete Man" with Joni while we finished up vocals, and recorded "Lucy's Song" and "Morbid"—however, we used versions of those last two songs that I recorded myself, because I wasn't happy with my performance on the ones we did with Joni and we didn't have the money to redo them. "Unfathomable Weight" I produced completely on my own with Evan's help when it was in its final stages.
As you just mentioned, bassist Ian Berry left the band, and I bring this up again because the bass work on the record is both extremely impressive and important to the material. What led to his departure, and how did Maciej Lewicki enter the picture? I'd have to imagine this is somewhat of a challenging transition on some level.
I discussed this a bit when talking about the production of the album, but I think Ian leaving had to do with a few things. I think a very large part of it was the transition we made from more of a "basic" sound to the more experimental sounds we've come to. I think making heavier music and music that not everyone can easily nod their head and tap their toes to wasn't really what Ian was interested in doing. Beyond that, Ian is a ridiculously intelligent guy who is probably going to be the guy to map out the whole entire solar system. To Ian, I believe music was more of a hobby that he happened to be really damn good at, but I think his heart and mind really belong to science and space and stuff that's way above my pay grade, so it wasn't a surprise or any kind of gut-punch when he decided to focus more on that. That being said, he was such a powerful part of the band and his very specific playing style made replacing him single-handedly the most frustrating task we've had to tackle as a band. We jammed with so many people and for one reason or another it just wasn't working. It was such a long and frustrating search that we even did several shows as a two-piece. Finally, we met Maciej and it just clicked. Even beyond musical chemistry, it felt like Evan and I had known him for a long time and we were all good friends right from the start. Our playing chemistry I think is really great, he's super open to criticism, picks up on things quickly, and has amazing energy while playing, which we really care a lot about. Despite feeling comfortable around him, Evan and I had to learn to adapt to a new musical approach, but I think it's caused changes for the best and it's caused our writing dynamic to shift to be even more communal than it was before. Like I said, we played with a lot of people in the interim, and I think Maciej was by far the best choice.
I've not seen much of your actual lyrical content, but the topics seem to be a mix of the personal and political. Can you talk a bit about some of the ideas/inspiration behind the general tone of your lyrical approach?
When the band first started, I definitely felt the need to write a few songs with the intention of "this is going to be a very politically-charged song"—or at least some kind of commentary on something that was kind of eating at me—and then songs about personal matters were a completely different ballpark. I think that's the situation for a lot of musicians, really. I think as the voice of this band has gained a bit more focus and I started to truly find my own understanding and perspective of the world, I found that everything is political and the line that separates anything into political and apolitical is so thin that I think there's hardly a distinction. I'm also a very big believer in the idea that music is going to hold its own meaning to whomever is listening to it no matter what the intended message was, so at this point I really just write whatever is on my mind and hope that other people can connect with it.
This Machine Makes Noise is Think Machine's third release this year. Do you think you'll continue to maintain this frequency of output?
I certainly hope so. I get a little worried about it, because we all have very busy schedules and I get scared that we won't have the time to stay as productive, or that maybe inspiration won't strike the right way to keep this pace. But, whenever I think like that, I remind myself of all the crazy stuff we've been through in the past year—pretty big lineup changes; juggling school, other bands, personal lives, and god knows what—and I get the confidence that even if things slow down a bit, we're still going to be extremely active.
You strike me as a band that's interested in constantly experimenting and challenging yourselves. Drawing from such an intriguingly wide range of influences, do you have any feel for where your next batch of new songs will start heading?
I think the short but sweet answer is: we're gonna get more experimental and heavy. A goal is to make music that contains elements of genres that are a bit more niche and incorporate them into something enjoyable for people who aren't well-acquainted with the original genres, and to make something that is just overall unique.