The 2015 debut EP by El Paso, Tex. group the Great Shapes is a portrait of a hybrid sound. In Murmuration,, guitars are pure indie-rock, blending noise and melody in equal measure, but the rhythms aim solidly towards dance music. Every song is anchored by a tight, propulsive rhythm that allows the band momentum while they build the tunes to a series of climaxes meant to inspire maximum movement on the dance floor. Interestingly enough, however, there are few if any, nods to electronic instrumentation on Murmuration. The sound is pure rock.
The band’s new single, “Brightness,” dispenses with that notion right off the bat. The song, released ahead of their debut full-length due out early next year, is awash with synthesized sounds that blend in with the blurred guitars, creating a more natural-sounding blend of styles. Part of that shift is due to the band’s increased instrumental range; guitarist Nathan Gomez played synth for the first time on “Brightness.” But to a greater extent, this is exactly the direction wanted to go in.
“We’ve had that genre in mind,” says drummer Evan Tremper. “We knew we wanted to go to that element, the electronics, to change up the vibe a little bit. We really liked where our lineup was and we wanted to bring in a different element other than just guitars. The song started from a pattern we created on our sequencer, which was a different origin from our normal writing, which is the four of us together in a room playing live. That one definitely had electronic roots in the writing process.”
And if you like the sound of “Brightness,” Tremper says that there’s more to come on the band’s debut full-length. “We’ve got more or less a full record tracked that we’ll have out by February, and we’re adding more electronics and experimenting with our established sound,” Tremper says. “We don’t want to keep writing the same style; we want to change it up a little bit.”
For singer/guitarist Neil Henry, however, who is the band’s main writer, it wasn’t as much about change as it was about Great Shapes finding their sound. “I think with Murmuration, we were still learning about each other and what we liked and the influences that we all had,” he says. “We were kind of bringing our sound together and we were still defining what we wanted to do. We knew we wanted to make dance-y music, and then this time it got a little clearer when we decided to add the synthesizers and electronic effects.”
“I guess we’ve matured a little bit but I feel like we’ve retained the vibe,” Tremper says. “We still try to write hooks and then look at the breaks to figure out how can we complement or supplement that hook. We still like to come up with other parts that bring the song to some kind of climax.”
Tremper might see the band’s new sound as a natural transition, but both he and Henry admit that both in the studio and onstage, the new electronic sound has shaken up the way they play. “I think it really changed the way I wanted to play guitar and it made me approach the songs differently,” Henry says. “And onstage, if Nathan is playing synth, it takes at least one guitar out, so I have to fill space a little more. I’ve had to adapt to that, too.
“Onstage, with just the guitars, it’s a lot easier to feel the energy and to build it into delivering the energy to the crowd,” Tremper adds. “Now, as the drummer I have to make sure to try to stay on top of the music and get a feel for it.”
That’s onstage, though. The recording studio is a different animal. How do you take music that’s made to get an audience moving and recreate that energy when they’re not there? “That’s a really good question,” Tremper says with a laugh. “Rehearsing a lot helps for sure, but when you’re in the studio and there’s no one there, it takes more concentration. You have to just close your eyes and deliver.”