There are enough things working against a young band just starting out — lack of a unified direction, lack of an audience, lack of the filthy lucre promised at the end of the day, and a general aversion to facing reality. So you'd wonder why a band like Right Turn Racer would throw a suicide curve ball like, say, plugging in a violin and throwing into the line-up.
Right Turn Racer — Alex Hillis, guitar and lead vocals; Perrin Yang (who also plays fourth chair in the first violin section for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra), electric violin; Jeff Acker, backing vocals and tambourine; Doug Cairns, bass; Ben Fried, drums; and Carly Plain, keyboards — plays to the fun side of odd. So it's more indie than pop, though those from either camp can dig the band. The music is lighthearted and affable, and its non-stock elements — namely the violin and the music that ably surrounds it — contribute to its seriousness and also its frivolity.
The band is currently in Redbooth Recording Studios with producer Brian Moore to bang out a five-song CD due to land in late April. Most of the band took a right turn and stopped by to discuss it all — as it stands so far — with City. An edited transcript of the conversation follows.
CITY: What was the first right turn?
Jeff Acker: Alex put an ad up on Craigslist.
Just last week Haewa was telling me horror stories from posting there.
Alex Hillis: Well, you've got to meet up with 10 people to find that one person that works.
What was the gist of your ad?
Hillis: I wanted to start a band that had something a little different to offer the music scene.
Hillis: I was looking for a violinist.
To push you in different direction?
Hillis: Yeah, definitely. I love the violin. I intended it as an exploratory thing. It has definitely evolved the way we all play music.
Because it's not a typical rock instrument, did Perrin have to step it up or dumb it down?
Perrin Yang: I feel like I have definitely evolved, because it's a totally different skill set. Little by little I've been able to get rid of the dots.
So it's been liberating?
Yang: Eventually it was freeing, but it's still a different skill set I haven't totally mastered.
Your music isn't typical, but it's not some dissonant alien strain either.
Hillis: It's definitely not weird. It's catchy. I grew up listening to grunge, so I was always inclined to write slower songs. And I realized that if we were going to play live, people get interested and moving to upbeat music. So I just forced myself to write that way. That was probably the hardest thing for me.
Acker: It's not super fast, it's just up-tempo. It's nice when people are there but it's a whole different experience when people are going nuts, dancing and stuff.
What are some of the obstacles you've encountered?
Yang: Alex had never written for violin before. He wasn't really familiar with what the instrument was capable of, how many notes can be played at once, what different sounds can be produced.
Did that make it difficult or just more interesting?
Yang: It made it interesting. It kind of helped with the transition of strictly reading notes and trying to make things up. I would get a feel for what he wanted.
Is the violin simply amplified or have you incorporated effects?
Yang: The more that we go on, the more pedals I seem to accumulate. Actually, you can make a number of cool sounds without pedals.
Hillis: I've learned there are more ways to attack a violin with a bow than there are to attack a guitar with a pick. There are a million more things to do to make the rhythms and textures more complex with the violin.
Have you achieved what you set out to do?
Hillis: Definitely. Every time we put a song together there's this extreme level of excitement. Sometimes we'll write a song and it'll take a day, and then sometimes it'll take three years to write a song. But in those times I write a song in a day usually I'm like, "Damn, you nailed it."
Do you ever butt heads creatively?
Hillis: There's conflict but only he good kind of conflict. I am the worst stickler in the studio. But once you play live, you let all that go and hope that it's muscle memory and you entertain yourself and the people.
What do Yang's orchestra mates in the RPO think of his involvement in a rock band?
Yang: They think it's pretty cool that I'm doing something.
Hillis: They're jealous
Acker: I'm waiting for the day he jumps out of his chair and starts playing one of our solos.
Hillis: We'd like to do a RPO/Right Turn Racer show. We'll write out all the music and the RPO can back us up on stage.