Earlier this week Balmorhea released their fifth full-length, Stranger. The title would seem appropriate, as the band do appear as strangers in most settings, both literal and figurative. The New Yorker has described the Austin six-piece as “ambient Americana.” Despite being an instrumental band, Balmorhea resemble storytellers to a great degree; there’s something very narrative about their work. Stranger very much resembles a soundtrack… not nearly as demented as a Nick Cave soundtrack, but along those lines… The band are apparently big fans of Wim Wenders and I think Wim Wenders would be a big fan of Balmorhea… Well, the band is bringing the live show to Johnny Brenda’s this Sunday, October 7th, and I recently got a chance to chat with band co-founder Rob Lowe. We talked about what the band has been up to and what they plan on being up to in the near future. However, most intriguingly, we talked about just what music has been inspiring the band… and in it I found just why the band might so often appear as a stranger, regardless of where they find themselves.
Izzy Cihak: You just released your fifth album, Stranger. How do you think that it compares to or fits-in-with your previous work? Do you think it displays an evolution of your sound to any degree?
Rob Lowe: We definitely explored some new things on Stranger. We took a step away from the more lyrical stuff we had been doing that was focused more on subtlety and emotiveness and tried to work on rhythm, propulsion, and texture. I think the songwriting is a little more complicated, but still retains the same core of what we have been doing for the last few years.
IC: What do you feel it is that influences you most significantly, whether musical or otherwise?
RL: I guess for the new record, there are so many influences buried in there. It feels strange to list them because they are not really overt. It’s more like taking one little idea or feeling that you hear somewhere else and trying to hijack it. Here are some things that were for sure in there: Kanye West, Fleetwood Mac, The Sea and Cake, Mark McGuire, Broken Social Scene, Einstein on the Beach, Mahler.
IC: What do you think about the current state of music? Are there any acts, movements, or trends that you find to be especially interesting?
RL: I think I kind of bounce around from sound to sound. I have a pretty broad interest and rarely stay with something for too long. I think I surprise myself with what I like sometimes. It’s usually not what I expect.
IC: Are there any acts that you’re especially excited to see at Fun Fun Fun Fest, where your tour wraps?
RL: We will be playing with Earth in Phoenix a few nights before FFF (on Halloween). It will be fun to see them again at the festival.
IC: You’re currently on tour. How have the first dates gone thus far and what can Philadelphia fans expect of your October 7th stop at Johnny Brenda’s?
RL: As I write this I am sitting in the van headed East on I-10 towards New Orleans, right at the beginning of the tour. We are kind of staring this in the face right now! The shows have been going really well. We rehearsed like 1000 times more for this tour than we ever have and I think that the audiences have been really receptive to the new sounds from Stranger. I hope we fit on the stage at Johnny Brenda’s!
IC: What are Balmorhea’s post-tour plans?
RL: Take a bit of time and relax. In November it will be the first time ever that all of our current members are living in Austin. I’m excited to work on some music that is a little more informal. I want to play live more frequently and in more casual settings. It will be fun to begin the process of making a new record again! Then we will head over to the EU in the spring and there will be a lot more touring for Stranger all throughout 2013. We are hoping to be able to perform a little farther abroad than we have in the past, perhaps Asia or Australia. It’s going to be a lot of fun!