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Before playing The Ottobar, Maps and Atlases talk "math rock," art school, Roy Orbison

Contributor Ben Opipari interviewed Maps and Atlases before their Sunday show at The Ottobar.

Dave Davison resists the label "math rock" that some people have pinned on his band Maps and Atlases, which is now touring with their album, "Perch Patchwork."

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Though the label has stuck because of their complex rhythmic structures and unconventional time signatures, that's not what Davison hears in their music.

Math rock the music, like mathematics the subject, after all, requires a "coldness and calculation" he said they don't have.

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Midnight Sun: So what is math rock, and are you comfortable with that label?

Dave Davison: From what I understand, math rock is music that involves fast tech guitar playing and drumming, with a lot of time signature changes and drastic key changes. It's very theory based. But that's not really how we describe ourselves. We like some elements, but I wouldn't say that's what we are.

MS: Then what would you call yourselves?

DD: I guess progressive or experimental pop. We don't dislike the term math rock, but one reason why we don't embrace the label is that there's an element of coldness and calculation when I think of math rock. Part of our desire as a band is to make interesting, new and challenging music, but an equally big part is that we want to make fun, meaningful and exciting sounds that people can relate to. And there are aspects of playing mathematical music that can sometimes be over people's heads.

MS: You all met at the Chicago arts school Columbia College in Chicago. [ed. Davison majored in cultural studies, guitarist Erin Elders and drummer Chris Hainey were film majors, and bassist Shiraz Dada majored in sound engineering.] How did your experience there affect your songwriting?

DD: I've been interested in all types of creative writing since I was young, but most of that stems from writing music. I do think the film aspect there helped us. I love films.

MD: How do you mean?

DD: Erin and I met in a film class, so I do think that had an effect on our collective style and perspective on songwriting. Our songs don't really fit with a traditional narrative approach, so we think a lot about the cinematic qualities of our music, more about the visual aspect and how it's fast cut from scene to scene. It's not necessarily a traditional linear narrative approach. Even though we've branched out into more narrative approaches in our songwriting, we still have that fast paced quality to our music.

MS: Who is an artist that your fans would be surprised to know influences the band.

DD: We like listening to a lot of 90s alt rock, but that's not really surprising given our ages. One would be Roy Orbison. We listen to a lot of hip hop, and we all love reggae. But if I had to pick one, it would be Otis Redding. We listen to him all the time. He's a huge influence who definitely has an effect on my singing.

MS: How does Roy Orbison influence you?

DD: He's helped when I've had writer's block. One of my college professors told us to lower our standards when we have writers block. A lot of times now I try to write songs that are outside of our genre or style, in another type of music. Like I'll start writing something as a country song and explore where it goes. Take the song "The Charm" on our new album. I love Roy Orbison and was listening to his song "It's Over" all the time and thought it would be fun to write something like it; a heartbreaking song. It ended up taking on a different shape, of course, but it started out like that.

If you go: Maps and Atlases will perform at The Ottobar Sunday. Doors open at 8 p.m. Advance tickets sold at missiontix.com

Ben Opipari interviews writers and songwriters on his blog, Writers on Process. He has written for the Washington Post and academic journals. Erik Maza edited this post. 

Photo: Maps and Atlases MySpace

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