Ethan Miller isn't one to bend and shape every note to match a preconceived vision. He's more inclined to let the songs dictate the direction of his Santa Cruz band, Comets on Fire. As such, there's no right or wrong way to play C.O. Fire songs-just good, bad and the shrug-inducing middle.
"When you create a kind of "wall of sound' thing like [we do], you can envision what you're going for, but it's always a big surprise when you're done," he says.
Comets. On. Fire. Much like Slayer or Barry Manilow, the name fully embodies the music. Their newest release, Blue Cathedral, is nothing short of chaos on tape-bombastic, spacey guitar riffs atop shotgun drums atop absurdly good bass lines atop psychadelic Echoplex loops-creating a "wall of sound" so thick you could nail a piano to it.
Under all the layers of fuzzy instrumentation is Miller's own cryptic lyrical havoc, adding a human touch to what would otherwise be electric acid jazz on, um, acid.
"It's just our thing-it seems like the right thing to do for us," Miller says, which reveals less than the average statement by White House press secretar, Scott McClellan.
But that "thing"-a sort of gauzy, Blue Cheer wallop-is working. Miller (guitar, vocals), bassist Ben Flashman, electronicist Noel Harmonson, guitarist Ben Chasny and drummer Utrillo Belcher are slowly turning Comets on Fire into one of those "You're so fucking lame if you don't know these guys" bands in the underground.
Their vinyl-only debut in 2001 and 2002's Field Recordings from the Sun were released on New York indie label, Ba Da Bing!. The buzz got louder in 2003, when Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label reissued the debut on CD, adding six bonus tracks. With Blue Cathedral on Seattle's Sub Pop Records (a label that is still tastemaking long after they sold the world on "grunge"), some major doors have opened. Rolling Stone called the album a "mind-blower," and the band has played dates with Rocket from the Tombs and Sonic Youth.
Miller is optimistic Comets on Fire can keep both artistic and (relative) commercial success going-one way, he suggests, is to stay true to the egalitarian philosophy he sees in Sonic Youth.
"They really seem to have a super utopian democracy," he says. "A lot of bands, surprisingly, don't function that way. They've got a leader that runs the show and they've got a couple other people who are kind of pissed about it or stoked on it or whatever."Comets on Fire erect a wall of sound with Wolf Eyes, Rubber O' Cement and Smegma at The Casbah, 9 p.m. on Nov. 10. $10. 619-232-HELL.