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Catacombz's Open-Minded Psych-Rock

Aug. 10, 2011
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Call it coy or call it a dead cause. Committing music to cassette could be both of those things. But it also could just be a good deal. "Vinyl is expensive," says Joseph Peterson, bassist for Milwaukee band Catacombz. "Tapes are cheap. If we could release vinyl every time, we would in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, there are times when we cannot afford to do so, and cassette seems like a decent second option."

Though the psych-rock four-piece simply wanted a cheap option, not necessarily a mission statement, it's the tape format that their growing audience tends to focus on. "We've been called 'tape-enthusiasts,'" guitarist Isaac Sherman says. "I don't really agree with that. We've simply released tapes because they are cheap and fast—and, in my opinion, a fine medium."

For all the appreciation of cassettes, Catacombz has just released their first official non-tape work, an excellent self-titled album committed to wax on Organalog Records. For the official album release, the band played to a packed and sweaty assembly at Quarters, where, despite the simple equipment setup, they managed to perform with an intensity that melted their sound into an unforgettable and driving force.

The band members have played together for a solid amount of time, both in Catacombz and other collaborations, and it shows in their solid sound. Washes of guitars and synth from Sam Lastrapes, alongside pummeling bass lines from Peterson, and Casey Marnocha's relentless drums all strike a balance between put-together and loose.

"Every song up to this point has been a group effort," Peterson explains. "Sometimes people will bring certain parts to the table, but never has someone had a full track ready and that was it."

This give-and-take mentality is apparent in songs that tweak the definition of krautrock and extend normal rock-song lengths to epic extremes. "There are no boundaries," Peterson says. "Three seconds would be fine; 100 hours would be fine. We will be releasing a 100-cassette package that is exactly 100 hours in the next few years."

Epic as they may be, the band's fuzzed-out songs are structured by blazes of condensed sound. "Keefe Kitchen" gives way to a dreamlike movement that showcases Peterson's defined vocals at just the right moment to lead the song into its finale.

"I believe lyrics are very important for our songs," Peterson says. "I think it really brings out a whole new side to the songs that we have made. Some bands in similar genres seem to shy away from the idea, but I think there are really endless possibilities."

These endless possibilities are defining and redefining Catacombz's sound with every new release and each show.

"Somebody referred to us as 'Great Lakes surf-rock.' I'll take it," Sherman says. "This particular album was our most ambitious, by far. [The] majority of it was recorded by our friend Cooper Crain (of the band Cave) at Minball Studio in Chicago. The rest was recorded at the Exchange in Milwaukee by Ben Glawe and ourselves in our basement. Everything else we've done ourselves.

"Home recording is a beautiful thing, and being in a real studio is something completely different," he adds. "I wouldn't say I prefer one over the other."

It's this openness—tapes or vinyl, short or epic, vocals or instrumentals, studio or home recording—that adds up to the enigmatic countenance that Catacombz so effortlessly creates.


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