by Victoria King
It’s July. You’re driving to the sounds of your favorite CD. You pop the disc out and put it in its case, leaving it on the front passenger seat. Before you remember to find a shady safe spot for your tunage, you exit the car and forget your beloved in the direct light of the summer rays. You return three hours later to a hot, steaming CD – blow that steam off and pop it back in. The sounds have warped and twisted into a contorted soundscape of drumbeats, displaced vocals and other eerie dancey crashes and bashes.
Such is the fiction that unfolds in my mind when listening to Zebra Pulse. They’re one of those indefinably awesome anomaly Alberta bands that really make you wonder, “What’s in the water over there?”
I called drum machinist and pedal player Owen Strasky, joined by two of his three other band mates Sean Macintosh (player of drums that “sometimes have electronic things”), and Dave Schaefer (tape player) in the garage in Owen’s new house. They’d been forced out due to the potent fumes of recently re-lacquered floors. Absent was sampler/turntable/no-input mixer/synthesizer-player Parker Thiessen.
I tried to sound cool in starting things off with, “So do you wanna talk about your latest release,” and now here’s the part where I was a dumbass and sounded things out phonetically, ‘HEY – VAY – BAY – BAYS?’ They laughed politely until I realized with sudden intense and embarrassing clarity, ‘OH! IT’S JUST HEAVY BABIES!’ (PS you can Tweet them at @heavybabies, and their Facebook states their manager as, “The Heaviest Baby”)
As it turns out the idea of “heavy babies” is a joke within the band. “It was explained to me when I joined the band that there was a running joke about ‘heavy babies’ . . . and I just think it’s really funny,” Sean explains. “A baby that’s just too heavy for any normal human parent to hold or do anything with, so they just perish due to their own density . . . please don’t judge . . . we’re not parents ourselves.”
Hey, Vay Bae-Bays is the band’s latest release and as their Bandcamp attests, it’s “odd sounds making leaps and bounds.” Makes sense, since they point to a diverse array of musical inspirations including electronic music, musique concrete, dance culture music, and Flying Lotus. “We have big ears . . . and I mean that both figuratively and literally,” the guys relayed. “Another thing about this band is that it’s a different dynamic than the typical band because we’re just doing whatever we want to when we’re playing [live]. And so there’s no pressure to remember structure or anything like that.” Dave affirms, “it’s pretty stress-free,” other than just balancing everybody’s volume in the overall mix (something that’s normal for any band).
Zebra Pulse has been noted to give some pretty wild live shows (sometimes in costume). The guys maintain that they like to keep it pretty abstract, yet inclusive. Performances are improvised, though they generally riff off the vibes created on their recordings. “It’s like travelling into this zone that we’ve created that’s just about exploring stuff and sharing it with a room full of people,” explains Owen and Sean. “Sometimes we’ll just catch a nice groove and keep riffin’ on it. And sometimes it’s just like free form chaos”. They profess that they don’t want to be the type of highfalutin group that’s too tough to get down with. The on stage happenings of Zebra Pulse are often the band’s own way of working out the day’s frustrations – a kind of music therapy all on its own. “[We] want it to be about including people in something that’s maybe not typical of their usual listening experiences . . . like freak ‘em out, but not scare them.”
Though they were pretty tight-lipped about upcoming releases, they admitted they’’re looking back into some live recordings done at CJSR (campus-community radio in Edmonton), as well as forward to a winter hibernation session of writing with the big reveal possibly in the spring of 2014. The only real clue I was given was that new material might be heavier and darker in concept. Oh, and “cesium-137” . . . if I let my imagination run a bit rampant I hear the soundtrack to a dark radioactive planet ruled by heavy babies, but my guess is as good as yours.
FYI, Cesium-137 is a radioactive isotope of caesium. In addition to the above, Zebra Pulse also had some neat ideas about ‘Men in Black’, pre-show rituals, and outer space & technology. It wouldn’t all fit here though – ask them about it yourself. Freak out to their music at zebrapulse.bandcamp.com.