The Damn-Near Brilliance of My Education

“My Education” is not only the brilliant final novel of Bill Burroughs, but also a damn-near-“brilliant” post-rock band out of Austin, Texas.  The instrumental outfit has been around for...

“My Education” is not only the brilliant final novel of Bill Burroughs, but also a damn-near-“brilliant” post-rock band out of Austin, Texas.  The instrumental outfit has been around for a little over a decade now, existing in the realms of both abrasive, avant-garde rockers and classically high-artistry (They’ve composed an original score to Murnau’s Sunrise that has received all the best kind of acclaim.)  February 4th will see the re-release of their debut LP, 5 Popes, courtesy of Beat Imprint Records, the first time the album will be available on vinyl.  The album captures a young, ballsy, and ambitious band, but a band whose ambitions are quite successful, and already embodying a cohesive sonic narrative, more akin to the cinematic than most things we consider to be in the realm of indie rock.  The band also have a small handful of upcoming dates in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. I recently got a chance to chat with numerous core-members (guitarists Brian Purington and Christopher Hackstie, bassist Scott Telles, and violist James Alexander) about My Education’s evolution, their current take on their debut, and what they have planned for the future.

Izzy Cihak: 2013 seems to have been a relatively busy year for My Education.  What were the highlights?

Scott Telles: Definitely, for me, the biggest highlight was our European tour. Having never left the North American continent before, it was a huge thrill, as well as a lifelong dream come true to get to do 19 shows in 20 days in Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Hungary. We had an absolute blast, and I eagerly look forward to going back.

Brian Purnington: Ya, in addition to Europe, we had some great shows at the Utah Arts Festival (with Theta Naught as SoundMass), The Plaza Classic Film Festival (Sunrise Live Score), and finally we did a collaborative performance with the Noble Motion Modern Dance Company at the Hobby Center in Houston back in September.

James Alexander:  It was definitely a year full of highlights.  The European tour was an amazing experience, as was our Sunrise performance at the Plaza Classic Film Festival.  But, in terms of sheer joy, nothing for me beats our performance as SoundMass in Utah in June.  It was orgasmic.  Big shout out to our friends in Theta Naught.

Izzy: And how is Austin?  It’s had quite the music scene for the past two decades or so. Do you have any favorite local peers?

Brian: We recently played our album release party for 5 Popes, and had a number of bands we used to play with back in the early 2000’s reunite for the show.  That list included Cue, A Tiger Named Lovesick, Experimental Aircraft, the Swells, Winslow, and 7% Solution, all of which are still all-time Austin favorites of mine.  That being said, some of my current favorite local bands are Ringo Deathstarr, Equals, Red Ox, Octopus Project, and Silent Land Time Machine.

Scott: Music here is pretty incredible. There are great shows every single night, and you just can’t see them all. That being said, I do try to make it out as much as I can to see bands like FiRES WERE SHOT, Baby Robots, Scanhopper, Skullcaster, How I Quit Crack, Venison Whirled, Experimental Aircraft, Richard K. Reed, the Gary, Abugail und Hansel…I could go on and on…

Izzy: It’s been more than a decade since 5 Popes was released and there’s been a huge demand for the reissue, but I’m curious what are your thoughts on the record, as the band who made it, whether in relation to your other releases, or just how you look back on yourselves at that period of time?

Christopher Hacktsie: I was just speaking to Frenchie (our producer for this record at Austin’s “The Bubble”) about that recording session. We were holed up in the first version of the Bubble for three days with copious amounts of grilled meat, beer, weed, and other substances to get us through. The equipment was primitive, as well as the sleeping arrangements. We were determined to make a record as we powered through it with the confidence that we were creating something worthy our time. We were tight friends all around and we didn’t care to be anywhere but where we were at that moment.

James:  It was (is) a great record.  A product of the time, but one which, to me, still sounds fresh and relevant.  If you listen closely, you can tell that it was the work of a young energetic band with a lot more hair.

Izzy: Do you have a particular favorite track from the album?  I have to say that “Lesson 3” is my personal favorite.  It rings of the most pensive and intellectual kind of rock music, like post-punk at its most restrained, or “rockers” (of the hard or indie variety) at their most existentially engaged.

Christopher: “Lesson 3” is my favorite mostly because of the heavy layers created by the guitars.

Brian: I’m happy we were able to include “Thanksgiving” on this reissue.  This version was originally recorded during the 5 Popes sessions, but released on a compilation.  We later rerecorded it, and released it on our second record, Italian, but I’ve always favored this version.

James:  It’s taken me 11 years to come around to this, but I think “Nightrider vs the Waterfall” is a real standout track.  I remember not liking it at all back in the day, and we almost never played it live after around 2001.  But listening to it now and playing it live for the re-release shows we’ve been doing, it’s really been hitting me.

Izzy: What do you feel like is the biggest difference between the band that recorded 5 Popes and the current band… other than obvious lineup changes?

Christopher: We were much younger and had more of a gang mentality. It was an “us against the world” kind of thing. The band was the center of our universe.

Brian: I think we currently put more thought into the composition of the songs we are writing.  To borrow a phrase from Chris, 5 Popes came together pretty organically.  We were just a bunch of dudes jamming some songs out in a room in North Austin for six months.  We then tracked them in five days, put out the CD ourselves, and hit the road…

Izzy: My Education would seem to draw inspiration from a plethora of places, both musical and non-musical, so I’m curious what you consider to currently be the biggest influences of your sound.

Scott: Currently I’ve been listening to Gate, the Hawkwind Light Orchestra, the peculiar noises my plumbing makes late at night, number station recordings from the CONET project, the Fall, the train that goes by my house, and the interesting variations each engineer gives the horn-blowing procedure…you know, the usual…

Brian: Off the top of my head, I would say my current biggest influences are Dune (novels), Popol Vuh, the new Carcass record, Aluk Todolo, and of course, Star Gate SG-1.

Izzy: And, finally, what are My Education’s current plans, hopes, and goals?  How do you plan to spend 2014?

Scott: I certainly hope we get to spend some of 2014 back in Europe but, for now, we have regional touring to do in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma – I’m definitely looking forward to returning to New Orleans where we always have a great time… We have just finished the second SoundMass record – it’s called Spiritual Docking and it should be out sometime this year on Differential Records – we’re very proud of it and look forward to releasing that… We’re hoping that the WW2 documentary we have been scoring gets released… SXSW is coming up so we’re preparing to enter that maelstrom once again… Phew!

Band Interviews

During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.