Explosions In the Sky Discuss ‘Prince Avalanche’ Soundtrack, Texas Politics and Their Changing Sound
Austin-based four-piece Explosions In the Sky have a mystique about them that stems from their instrumental sound. The lack of words begins the mystery, and over the years, the band — typically described as post-rock — has built upon it by refusing to make videos and perform encores. They’ve also kept people guessing with unexpected moves like writing music for the TV series ‘Friday Night Lights.’ This year, the band teamed with David Wingo and director David Gordon Green to compose all new music for the film ‘Prince Avalanche,’ starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch. In addition, EITS will spend the fall touring arenas with a little band called Nine Inch Nails. Diffuser.fm spoke with percussionist Chris Hrasky about the group’s evolution and work in visual media.
Rumor has it you personally suggested the filming location for ‘Prince Avalanche.’
Yeah, it’s kind of interesting. The location started the whole idea for the movie. A couple years back, there were huge fires in Bastrop, Texas, that were really devastating, about 30 miles away from Austin. And, a couple months after it happened, my wife and I were driving to a state park and decided to take a detour through Bastrop to see how bad it was. It was really striking — barren trees and scorched earth — but it was a very memorable image. It was sort of beautiful in its own weird way, which is a little weird to say because obviously people lost their homes and stuff. I’m sure they don’t consider that beautiful.
Then I was talking to David [Gordon Green] a couple of weeks later and told him he should go up to Bastrop, it is really amazing looking up there. It wasn’t like I was saying, “You should go film a movie” — just that it was really something to see. So we went out there a week later to walk around, and he said, “I want to make the movie here.” He didn’t have an idea or anything like that, so the story and everything kind of came from the location, and this little journey into the forest fire wilderness.
Were you guys approached for the score while he was still developing it or after it was made?
We were approached pretty early on. The whole thing came together very quickly. It was all independently financed. There wasn’t a lot of negotiating. I mean, they got Paul Rudd, but it was because he’s an old friend of David, and they wanted to work together. It was like, “Here’s this cheap little thing that we’re gonna film quickly in this weird, odd, beautiful little movie.” In a lot of ways, it was a movie just kind of made by friends. So David asked us and then longtime composer, and he basically just said, “You guys are gonna do the movie.”
So it was just a project of friends getting together, on a small scale with not a lot of resources. I think it was something David wanted to do after working on big studio movies before that. I think he felt like he need to be away from all that for a while.
People are likely familiar with your music from ‘Friday Night Lights,’ but this is much more reserved and less like what your band is known for. Was that a challenge? You can still hear Explosions In the Sky in it, but it is like a re-imagining of your sound.
I think that was what was most fun for us. We knew what this movie was gonna be like, and the idea of having three reverberated guitars and booming drums, or just that “Explosions sound,” we knew that wouldn’t make sense for this. And, to be perfectly honest, that “Explosions sound” is something the four of us are looking for ways to step away from a bit, just because we’ve been doing it for 14 years, and there is only so many places you can take that. So this was a great guideline and project for us to just try new things. There’s a lot of piano and synthesizers and instruments we haven’t really used a lot, and different ways of writing.
Actually, it wasn’t that much of a challenge. It just sort of freed us from doing what we normally do without the context of it being one of our own records. The hope is that the willingness to go weird directions and try new thing continues when we actually make records.
Well, you guys are musicians. You’ve heard music other than eight-minute epics.
Exactly. It’s like, maybe I’m not in the mood for bombastic rock songs right now. Let’s do something else.
Over the last few years, you’ve been using visuals to expand on what you do. You just made your first music videos for the last album, and then you had the art installation at Hollywood Forever in L.A. Is that attractive to you guys because your music doesn’t have words? That is, visuals add a second element to the songs?
Yeah, well, we haven’t done videos in the past because we weren’t all that interested. And the ones we’ve done, these three from the last record, they were all made by good friends of ours. They are very good at what they do, so having our friends do it made sense. Not farming it out to a video production company or however that works, but just working with our friends. And they turned out great.
The Hollywood Forever thing, someone presented the idea to us, and we thought it was awesome. Just a cool concept. Unfortunately we were playing a show somewhere and didn’t even see the thing, but we did see video from it.
We used to be adamantly opposed to videos, for the reason that it makes that song forever tied to those images. But I think that our stuff has been used in other movies and TV shows, and we just got more and more comfortable with the idea of visual accompaniment to music. But, these videos, we were excited about the ideas and that they weren’t just a promo. We wanted it to have its own life.
You’re not from Texas, but the rest of the band is from Midland. I imagine it’s been a weird, hard year to live in Texas. You had the devastating West, Texas explosion, and more recently, there’s been the controversial abortion legislation. You guys were sort of the center of attention for our country. In ‘Prince Avalanche,’ there’s a dichotomy of the beauty and harsh reality of Texas, and that’s something that might be true of the area in a more symbolic sense. What’s the vibe there? How does it affect you?
It’s weird because Austin is, at least politically and ideologically, is a weird little bubble. Austin is pretty liberal; the rest of Texas isn’t. So, it’s very strange, like it is a separate existence than the rest of Texas. I mostly know Texas as Austin. And I love it here. I love the city. People are friendly. It’s nice.
I’ve spent a lot of time in West Texas, too, and it is very beautiful and very harsh at the same time. And again, not being from Texas, moving here, there was just that weird thing about Texas, that weird myth that’s sort of hard to explain. Austin, though, is pretty easy and comfortable for us. It is weird, though, that the government is here, and that’s why the abortion bill was centered here. So that was weird. Like, it just seemed like you’d say, “But look at how many protestors there are. How could this get approved here?”
We’re just a city, a small part of it. It was inspiring to see the people protesting at the capitol. The people that were the opponents of the protestors, they were saying, “They’re disrupting.” But I don’t know, to me, it was more what I’m assuming democracy is supposed to be. The people, who are supposed to be in charge are saying something. We’re not supposed to be isolated from decisions. These people are supposed to work for us. That was the whole idea however many years ago.
It seems like it only becomes a disruption when they try to break up a protest.
Yeah, that’s the disruption. That’s when things get crazy. It was a weird week. But, also pretty inspiring. More and more, there’s a lot of motivation in Texas by more progressives. For so long, it’s always been, “Texas is this. It will always be that way.” But, it’s not. Things are changing so quickly. Hopefully for the better, but we’ll see what happens.