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Cave will hit the Astor Theatre leg of Slanted And Enchanted on Saturday, December 7. ALEX GRIFFIN chats with guitarist/organist, Cooper Crain.

There’s a joke about how you’d have to be living in a speleological formation if you haven’t heard of Chicago’s finest psych-drone band Cave yet, but we’re not going to scare you off with it. 

That isn’t to say that Cave don’t have a sense of humour, though; to promote 2011’s relentless, driving Neverendless, the band took to the back of a semitrailer and played their interstellar kraut jams while coasting under the legal limit through the town centre before the law intervened. Undeterred, the band decided to up the stakes for this year’s more meditative Threace, as guitarist/organist Cooper Crain explains it.

“We decided to take that idea to another level, so we rented a boat and performed the album on the Chicago River,” he says. “It was great; on the water, there are no sound ordinance laws, so we weren’t running a risk, and anyway, sound travels further over water.”

Even if the legendary Japanese krautrockers Boredoms never return from their ever-lengthening studio silence, it’s hard to displace Cave as maybe the finest instrumental band going around on the evidence of Threace. They weave dexterous webs of interlocking rhythms and phrases on the Moonshakesque Silver Headband while Slow Bern manages to take the abstract late-night drive beauty of late Neu! and stick it into 5/4, which is the musical equivalent of bussing a dozen plates on rollerskates blindfolded.

Despite playing what are traditionally melodic instruments, Crain often plays them like he’s got a Certificate IV in beating down your door. The rhythmic bent comes, unsurprisingly, from starting off with a pair of drumsticks in his hands. “I played drums, first which is why I play guitar and keyboard in a percussive way. I’m a drummer at heart. I had a bunch of friends I admired who were older, and the way they played old tube amplifiers with the sound that breaks up I loved a lot, so I picked that up and chords and notes and whatever else I could find.”
That isn’t the only unconventional trick he’s learnt, though; as the member who has the mixing duties for the band’s records, Crain takes inspiration from the legendary Miles Davis producer Teo Marceo, who radically transformed records such as Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way by Miles Davis. While Crain isn’t saddled with having to manually splice kilometres of analogue tape like Marceo had to, he’s working in the same spirit.

“It’s the same idea; the band go through jams, and then I make a song out of it. The ideas we were going for were like later electric-period Miles, like On The Corner and Get Up With It, from the way it was edited to the way it was mixed. Like, we don’t put a guitar either 80 per cent left or right – it’s either left, right or centre! That’s the old jazz way of doing a mix. It’s really fun to experiment with these loosely structured jams. After I hear it a bunch of times I’m like, ‘I’m gonna put this here and this here and this here’, and then we have a song!”

Naturally, it’s a trial and error process, but Crain has the freedom to go hogwild with the band’s original ideas. Is hogwild a term that Americans are familiar with? “It’s a term that gets used.” Hogwild it is then!

Chicago has long been the nerve centre of all things post-rock, with the city enjoying a grand tradition of bands stretching back to jazz-rock innovators, Tortoise. For Cave, though, it’s just a good place to live.

“We draw from the same steps they took by being in the same town, like the jazz and ambient influences they experienced in their own way in the early ‘90s. But we’re just here where we are now.”

Hopefully they stay put long enough to top playing an album on the river. Parachuting Caves?

Photo: Frank Van Duerm

Cave play the Astor Theatre leg of Slanted And Enchanted on Saturday, December 7.

Get your tickets here.

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