July 11, 2012

Easter Island

A Universal Feeling

With a musical heritage as storied and a scene as saturated and competitive as the Classic City’s, a heavy dose of pretense is to be expected. (I’m reminded of one local musician, the former frontman of a beloved collective, who was overheard more than once discussing something about Sartre and crabs over coffee with young ladies). It’s refreshing, then, to find a local act that takes its music seriously without giving itself—its reputation, its persona—the same treatment.

Post-rock quintet Easter Island does just that.

“We didn’t want pretense,” says Asher Payne, who shares singing and songwriting duties with his brother Ethan. “So, all this happened comfortably, and none of us were doing something that we felt forced to do.”

“All this” refers primarily to Easter Island’s debut album, Frightened, for which the band is holding a release party this Saturday at the 40 Watt. Frightened is an impressive collection of soaring, melancholy tracks that draws on the influences of acts like Explosions in the Sky and Sigur Rós. The record has been in the works for nearly a year, and this slow pace manifests itself in a mature, unhurried sound—also a result, perhaps, of the influence of some experienced Athens musicians: bassist Ryan Monahan, drummer Patrick Ferguson and guitarist Nathan Thompson.

“All five of us are super different, but we all kind of met and agreed on this Easter Island sound,” Asher explains. “Patrick’s a punk drummer, and then Ryan’s a Britpop star, and Nate’s all glassy guitar effects, and I’m just melody and piano, so everything is melodic and poppy for me. And then Ethan’s, like, brooding and mysterious. But we all meet in the middle to make this dreamy rock. Everything’s very organic.”

And though bandmembers vary in age from 20-something to 40-something, they have found a common thread in the album’s title.

“I think we all feel frightened about what’s next,” Asher says. “For me, it’s like, I have a master’s [degree], I have a band, I live in Athens. Ethan’s been in Athens a long time—he’s making TV shows. None of us knows where we’re going next... We all have dreams, and we still want to have things accomplished, [but] we just don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

In that sense, Frightened captures the feelings of a generation that grew up with a plan, only to watch the economy falter—and its plans along with it. With visions of the comfortable adult life we’d planned for ourselves fading away, it can be frightening to even confront questions like what, exactly, we should value.

“A lot of the songs on the album are about things that we freak out about, that we put too much value in, or not enough value in,” Ethan says.

Monahan continues: “I think it captures something universal. I feel like there’s something embodied in the music that’s sort of beautiful and terrifying at the same time. It’s sort of overwhelming, and that’s something we all viscerally experience, in the moment of this constant uncertainty. And I think [music is] a way to try to transcend that uncertainty.”

In lieu of traditional ambition, the members of Easter Island have chosen to focus on one thing: making pretty music, communally, from an honest place.

“You should make… an album that you would want to hear,” Ethan says.

If the trickling of press they’ve received over the last few months is any indication, the Payne brothers and company have done more than just make an album that they like—they’ve made one that a lot of other people like, too. Reviewers have alluded to Frightened’s potential to launch Easter Island into the national spotlight.

Whether those predictions pan out remains to be seen. In the meantime, the boys of Easter Island are content to share a cup of good coffee, crack jokes at each other’s expense and keep trying to make music they’re proud of—for its own sake.