Interview: Maps And Atlases Go Beyond You And Me And The Mountain

Four truly independent personalities coalesced in 2004 to form experimentalist Chicago band Maps & Atlases. Distinguished graduates of Chi-town’s Columbia College of Arts, the recondite foursome use innovative song structures reliant on basic rock instrumentation to contrast classical, jazz, and folk styles, but aren’t above waking me up in the middle of the night for a place to sleep. But that’s what life on the road will oft-times bring youthful independent musicians, a pre-dawn retreat of herbal elixirs and re-heated pasta (if necessary) at my expansive North Jersey domicile for late night King Of The Hill and Family Guy re-runs.

But while the exhausted post-adolescent quartet can’t get a Brooklyn comrade to answer the bell for some much-needed snoozing, I feel obliged to let the admirable crew crash at my pad after seeing them expend all their creative energy during a rapturously hallucinatory 50-minute set at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. Utilizing complex time signatures determinedly interwoven into the melodious whole of each intricate tune, Maps & Atlases constantly navigate the outer limits while making sure to keep their collective conscious firmly embedded in the primary punk-informed prog-derived arrangements at hand. Demanding careful attention and receiving critical consideration, the curiously investigative unit would fit in alongside art-rock pioneers Yes, King Crimson, and Soft Machine. Yet upon further delving, all the shrewdly brainstormed abstractions and radical deconstructive inclinations never overshadow the priority to craft reliable songs.

“Originally, I played with Chris [Hainey, drums]. We didn’t know what we were really doing at first. We just got in a room and worked on some things,” informs guitarist Erin Elders. “We met Shiraz [Dada, bass] through a mutual Chicago record store friend Dave [Davison, lead vocals-guitar] and I had. We had gone through an entire poetry semester without knowing each other. Our psycho neo-con professor talked about aspects of cyborgs bent on killing Chinese Communists with nuclear missiles.”

Elders, who apparently lived in Davison’s closet for awhile, moved from Hawaii to Wisconsin as a kid. He was exposed to classic rock by his parents, citing the Beatles’ Abbey Road and Jethro Tull as early favorites before drifting off into metal during high school. Davison, too, was struck by Tull’s indomitable folk-metal heaviness. A Philadelphia native uprooted to northwest Indiana, he was taught to play the six-string by an older sister and got into grunge prior to invading his ma and pa’s diverse record collection.

“My mom was into David Bowie. He changed my perspective and was a gateway into fascinating new wave punk,” Davison shares.

He also believes the passage of time allows people to dwell on the past in a more guileless manner, admitting, “It’s easier to understand something out of its historic musical context. You could come back to it. If someone was to ask what’s going on right now, it’s impossible to encapsulate in an honest way. If you talk to our parents about the ‘60s, they could talk about their experiences or what was on television. But it’s not the same as looking back at these musical movements at the time they’re happening. It’s easier in a linear way to look back at history rather than the current scene. Just now we have the advantage of Internet cyber friends.”