For a group that has the makeup of a jazz band, Identikit is anything but. The band boasts a unique set of influences that combine to create something that balances both progressive and avant garde music, and they’ve won over audiences in the process.
If you’re looking for some live music that’s a little left-of-center, imaginative, and totally unique, Identikit’s show at El Rocko Lounge on June 14 is the place to go. We spoke to band members Archie and Ryan ahead of the gig to learn more about the Atlanta band’s music and writing process.
One thing that really caught my eye was the fact that you describe your music by saying you “don’t understand jazz.” It’s funny, but it also makes a lot of sense in the context of what you do. What was the message you were trying to send with that statement?
Archie: Yeah, we put that in place of a bio because a lot of people identify the music as jazz. Mostly because it has saxophone in it and it’s not rock or pop. It’s kind of a way to say that what you’re about to hear might remind you of jazz but we’re kind of disowning that.
Ryan: It’s the result of being compared to jazz. We were playing our song “Forced Perspective” a lot, that’s our swing tune. It comes right off as jazz from the beginning to people who aren’t versed in the genres [we play]. Honestly, we started kind of disowning jazz a long time ago.
It seems that to play the kind of music you’d play, you’d almost have to find like-minded people with similar musical interests. Is that accurate? How did you guys get together?
Archie: We all went to college together, but not really “together.” We went to the same college and we had social links between most of us. We really, I don’t think, started out with a lot of common background. There were some commonalities - our keyboardist and I were into prog stuff. Our drummer and saxophonist played a lot of jazz. Our violinist and clarinetist had done band and orchestra. But I think we’ve just kind of grown together, by just trying to play these songs, towards having a similar kind of outlook on it.
But yeah, we met in school as just friends and friends of friends. Our clarinetist joined because she saw a flyer I’d put up on the Georgia Tech music building, saying that we were seeking a piano player. Of course, we found our piano player a day after I put that up [laughs]. But she mentioned that she also played clarinet.
Ryan: Originally, Archie was kind of starting a five-piece with people he knew, but didn’t have a keyboardist. One of the people who was going to be involved in that didn’t end up being anyway, so we had the three of us - Archie, our drummer Bobby, and I. Our keyboardist and violinist were people who had been coming to the same open jam at Georgia Tech that I was. They were people who I thought had interesting ideas and that I would love to work with further.
You mention the open jam thing - is improvisation a part of your writing process?
Archie: Only in a very limited sense. I write everything by myself, and then sometimes the others in the band will write solos or add their own things to it. But none of the songs are jam based. There is some improv in some of the songs, but the only way in which improv is involved in creating the songs is in the sense that any composition is just really slow, thorough improv. So if I’m writing a solo for somebody, I’ll start off by improvising a bunch of lines and then find the parts that I like.
Another thing that struck me is the approach to vocals and lyrics - there are a couple of songs on the latest record, Mind’s Eye Meteorology, that are almost spoken word pieces. Where does that part of it come from?
Archie: The band was originally supposed to be instrumental, and you can kind of tell even in the stuff that has lyrics. So stemming from that, I've tried to experiment with how to deliver lyrics a little bit more. But they always feel, at least to a degree, a little bit separate from the music. But in terms of how I try to present lyrics, Fiona Apple and Elvis Costello are what I draw from there. They have a way of separating the ideas from the music but still making the vibe of each blend.
Ryan: I’m the main vocalist in the group, and in terms of the delivery - mostly due to my ability and also due to my inclination, I feel like the vocals are the one really impercise thing. Archie usually has a really specific vision for quite a bit of it. A lot of the time, the vocals will come a little bit later. It gets to be something a little bit separate from the band. I get some freedom with the delivery that maybe he doesn’t even want me to have [laughs].
But I enjoy that tension between the what the rest of the band is doing and what I get to do on top of it.