Bands develop unique ways of approaching new projects. A lyrical theme could present itself and end up running the show, or a tweak in instrumentation or production concept will emerge to unite a group of disparate songs. Often bands just collect what they have lying around.
For their latest, self-titled album, Many Arms, a Philly/NYC-based instrumental noise-rock trio, came up with a refreshingly simple concept: how do we fill time and space with sound?
“We dealt with the idea that we were going to each write one 15-minute song for the album,” said guitarist Nick Millevoi, who spoke to the Advocate as the band was driving from Atlanta to Louisville. “Each track is just our way of dealing with that length of time.”
“Beyond Territories,” written by Millevoi, begins with a relentless, off-kilter riff that repeats for about two-and-a-half minutes. When it’s time to move on, they do. The goal is to get to where they’ve sufficiently tranced out.
“We have to wait for a part to activate itself,” Millevoi said. “I have no idea how many times I repeat that part. We just cue it when it’s over. We just feel it for two and a half minutes.”
Drummer Ricardo Lagomasino wrote the second track, “In Dealing with the Laws of Physics on Planet Earth,” and the third, “Rising Artifacts in a Five-Point Field,” was composed by bassist John DeBlase. All three tracks were recorded live in one take, except for a single edit on “Physics,” where two separate takes were spliced together. (Millevoi’s amp blew up in the middle of the first take, which is how they knew it was a keeper.) They held a release party for the album, which was produced on experimental composer John Zorn’s Tzadik imprint, in Philadelphia on March 23.
“Our system all along has been to write the parts individually and to find out how to make them work as a band,” Millevoi said. “All the parts are written individually and we discuss them a lot. But I don’t know of any changes that were made. We are all very comfortable writing for each other.”
When it came time to record a new album, Many Arms sent a care package of their previous albums to Zorn, who famously responds to most mail he receives. They heard from him three days later. “He loved it and told us to let him know when our record was finished,” Millevoi said. “He was super receptive. He probably didn’t know who we were.”
DeBlase and Lagomasino both studied music formally (Millevoi did not). Back in 2007, the drummer and bass player were in a band together with a saxophonist, who was a mutual friend of Millevoi. “Philadelphia, as much as it is a big city, really is a small scene where everybody knows everyone else,” Millevoi said. “We just knew from being around each other.”
They began life as a band while on the road; the saxophone player left when a tour was already booked. “We just took it from there,” Millevoi said. “We actually met when we were making a demo for a wedding band. It was their band with the sax player and me, and we were trying to get some wedding band gigs, playing really cheesy wedding songs. A couple of months later, we started our band, and it had nothing to do with wedding music.”
The trio plays on Tuesday at New Haven’s Cafe Nine. As bewildering as the experience of listening to Many Arms can be, their music, like the best prog or jazz-rock fusion, is complex and exacting, but they don’t strive for a vibe-killing precision. It’s tight but free. They play around with the edges between metronomic and throbbing.
“We want to keep it loose and noisy,” Millevoi said. “That’s the aesthetic we are the most interested in. We are always trying to push it. When we get something that’s too precise, we speed it up until it feels pushed. The music we are most interested in is energy music. It’s conveying the power of rock and roll to where it’s kind of like a deep freak out or something.”
Hanging out at the crossroads of experimental noise music, punk rock and jazz makes it tough to identify an audience. (They are also really loud.) Every night in a new town is hit or miss, and few cities have the right band to pair up with.
“We don’t always go over well,” Millevoi said. “Sometimes It’s just too much of something they’re not down with. [The reception] can be super hot and super cold, but that’s what it’s like with any band. We have a tendency to pull people in or really turn them off.”
The other night in Richmond, Va., for example, Many Arms drew someone, a young woman, on stage with them.
“Slowly, as we were playing, this girl who had been there with her boyfriend way in the back, she got closer and closer, and by the end she was on the stage,” Millevoi said. “But that’s a really extreme situation.”
Many Arms w/Geoglyphs, April 10, 8 p.m., $6, Café Nine, 250 State St., New Haven, (203) 789-8281, cafenine.com