It's a good rule of thumb that when you name your band something like Colonizing the Cosmos, you're obligated to come up with something, well, cosmic.
Fortunately, this Pittsburgh band delivers by taking the endearing folk-pop of Paul Simon, adding the chamber-y Sufjan Stevens treatment and topping with a splash of Flaming Lips space-rock weirdness, all now captured on the band's debut, "The First Frontier."
The core of Colonizing the Cosmos is singer-guitarist Josh Moyer and Michael Savisky, who adds banjo, guitar, ukelele, cello and dulcimer. They met at a church and started playing coffee shops and clubs early last decade, and then prepared for their album debut by trading melody and lyric ideas on their phones and laptops.
The first songs had titles such as "If I Had a Spacecraft" and "The Saturnine Starfarer's Society," with arrangements full of spacey reverb and electronic accents contrasted with Mr. Moyer's sweet folk style.
"Each track was approached differently," Mr. Moyer says. "Sometimes an interesting vocal phrase or a line of lyric became the backbone for an entire song. Other times a title alone inspired a bit of melody, or a bit of melody inspired a page full of lyrics. From a technical standpoint, we used a Mac, the GarageBand program, a few $100 mics and a third floor bedroom."
In terms of the concept, they wanted to explore space while avoiding sci-fi cliches and keeping it on a human level.
"We wanted to explore the way enormous, universal ideas relate to the individual," he says. "For instance, 'space' is often thought of as this vast expanse light years away -- but, isn't it also right here, right now, where we are sitting drinking coffee and typing on our MacBook? We also wanted to explore the concept of exploration itself. Why do we put so much thought, time and effort into going to the moon? For that matter, why do we put so much thought, time and effort into going to the mall? And how do our efforts in these areas affect us, and for that matter the rest of universe? We found both the micro- and macroscopic concepts equally fascinating, and tried to work them all into the music."
They drew on influences that came most naturally.
"I have been a fan of Paul Simon as long as I can remember," Mr. Savisky says. "What originally drew me to him was the way in which he combined folky American guitar music with soulful, rhythmic South African music. I had never heard anything like it, and it made me really think about genre for the first time and how artists often become pigeonholed in it. I didn't want to get stuck that way, and I think Colonizing the Cosmos became a perfect platform for mixing all kinds of instruments and genres -- something we hadn't been able to do with other bands we'd been a part of."
Their influences, though, went well beyond just one or two artists. Plus, they have enlisted Josh Gates (keyboards, electric guitar, backing vocals), Brian Powers (trumpet), Alex Peck (drums) and Tony DePaolis (bass) to round out the band and bring their own touches.
"During album production we listened to a lot of random stuff: Celtic music, film scores, German pop, instrumental jazz -- not exactly what it ended up sounding like. But that's our favorite part of writing new music: taking bits and pieces of all of this and combining it in a new, exciting way. And because Josh and I worked so closely on this album, his completely different set of influences came into the mix, and the result is just a whole lot of crazy fun."
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