You say the words "math rock" and eyes often glaze over. It's as if by definition you have to compute something or contribute to some higher understanding in lieu of simple listening enjoyment. But what happens when the components in the equation are melodic or angelic or narcotic? What happens when two core components are bliss and thrill born of genuine curiosity? What happens is you get a band like Fowls.
Arising from hardcore ashes, the Rochester-based Fowls was founded in the late winter of 2011 by guitarists Vadim Ovcharov and Ruben Vazquez, drummer Ricardo Vazquez, and bassist Alex Nikolovski. The band immediately focused inward, presenting genre-defying — and in some cases genre-defining — challenges to itself. The result is a melodic sensibility cloaked in a fair degree of sonic uncertainty and dynamics. Fowls produces more of an indie-rock sound than math rock, but it's still abstract enough to raise eyebrows above adventurous smiles.
The band has just released its first CD, "Into The Wild," on Syracuse-based label BettyElm Records. On the disc the sweet 'n' sour push and pull swirls around the group's pop penchant.
Ovcharov, Ruben Vazquez, and Nikolovski stopped by to discuss math rock, math pop, and show me how to correctly spell their names. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.
CITY: Your sound has progressed in such a short time — it is markedly different from how it started out. Why? How?
Ruben Vazquez: It was a lot different. It was a heavier style, more like post-hardcore music. Then it got to a point a couple of years ago — around 2011 — that we got kind of tired of playing that music. We wanted to expand our influences and what we played. I wasn't too into it anymore.
Perhaps you outgrew it?
Vadim Ovcharov: Definitely. From the beginning, Ruben and I had a real unique way of approaching music, but I feel that we didn't have inspiration. And I wanted to try something new and a little more positive sounding. We started getting into more indie, underground stuff. Back then we only listened to select bands — Glassjaw being one of them. Another was a band called Maps & Atlases from Chicago. They were more math rock, unconventional songwriters. I immediately attached to that. I was like, "These guys play guitar like I've never heard before." They weren't using distortion but they were still making all these crazy sounds.
You're aware that the term "math rock" scares some people who don't know what it is — and probably even some that do?
Vazquez: Oh yeah, definitely. I feel the literal definition of math rock is just the using of different time signatures.
But you wouldn't necessarily call Fowls math rock would you?
Vazquez: We definitely try to keep a basic structure, but make it complex on the surface. We try to make the guitar parts as interesting as possible. I don't like writing songs where I don't feel I'm challenging myself in some way.
How do you write?
Vazquez: For every song I write, I set myself a goal. It's all about setting a certain goal, and when you work around it you fall into different spaces.
Ovcharov: Other than the first two songs we wrote, every song was a different spectrum.
What comes easy to the band?
Ovcharov: It's easy for us to come up with dual guitar parts. I basically learned how to play guitar being in a band with Ruben. At first I didn't know what I was doing.
What is something the band aspires to do, something it hasn't tried or been able to do yet?
Vazquez: Personally I'd love to experiment more with vocals — harmonies and multiple vocal parts. We do technical stuff with our instruments, but there's a whole other side with our vocals. They're instruments too.
Why do you think you appeal to fans?
Ovcharov: We want to write music people are interested in. We don't want to play the same chord progression for a whole song and have people zone out. It's the age of ADD, so our music's always changing.
"Into The Wild" is brand new, but look ahead. What does the next album sound like? Have you started writing toward it?
Vazquez: Well, we're always writing. Our newer stuff is more upbeat, a lot more complex. We're messing around with more electronic drum sounds to create a new realm of complexity in our music.