Copyright © 1998 All Rights Reserved.
by Aubrey McInnis
STORM & STRESS
Sunday, September 27
The first and last time Storm & Stress rolled into town, most of their audience was fumbling or fondling (not so) hidden mini-cassette recorders. I felt like I was back in the '80s at a Depeche Mode show with a bunch of kids in white Levis smuggling in red roses to throw to Dave or Martin. What attracts a gaggle of worshipping fans to three guys who are deeply absorbed with wreaking sonic havoc and having a rock 'n' roll hissy fit on stage? Maybe it's the Storm & Stress ringleader who also plays in Philly's restless instrumental pistons, Don Caballero - a major contender on the white hot independent label, Touch and Go. Or maybe it's just 'cause the music addicts in this town know a good thing when they hear it coming.
During a whirlwind interview which was virtually a stream of (super bright) consciousness, guitarist Ian Williams illuminates ideas not normally uttered from the mouths of beloved indie rock heroes. Storm & Stress have a solid concept which lies between Gary Numan and an 18th century German literary movement called Sturm und Drang. Puzzled? Fear not, a few people have criticized Storm & Stress for being all-thought-no-rock until they found out that these free-form disciples of Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman and Jack Wright weren't pompously meandering their way through sets. Every hit and chord is note for note a replication of their album. It's a soft spot for Ian as he chooses to respond first to the cynical reaction to the trio's misconstrued efforts.
"It's not random, it's all very purposeful," says Ian, dispelling the rumor about their steered experimental voyages. "It's not supposed to be cacophonous, it's quite mellow and pretty. And people at first sometimes don't see through the codes to understand that."
Although Ian admits he knows that people see it as a bit of a sham, he, along with bassist Eric Topolsky and drummer Kevin Shea, relishes the cynicism like a sweet-talkin' compliment. Ian in particular is pleased to incite doubt since he's doubtful of most of his favorite things, too. As obscure as it sounds, the band also incorporates doubt into their songs because they see it as an expression of freedom and rebuttal to restrictive music. Ian explains that he, Eric and Kevin prefer to slide over the pop spectrum by pairing opposite rudiments of music while embedding pop logic in an unlikely ambient setting.
"Those two logics are alien to each other - the catchy pop hook inside of the non-cute, the de-human space music... you can't really be one or the other," he muses while talking about evading identification, definition and future predictability. "The two definitions cancel each other out... it's like the contradiction of the possibility. The two collapse on the graph."
Their modus operandi involves a bit of collapsing too. During the recording of their debut they smashed drums together when they weren't rolling coins over the snare. The beauty of contradiction lures in the appreciative groupie.
"It's the contradiction - on the surface it's a joke, but then internally it actually is a very serious thing. It's a contradiction of the human, soupy, flowing side of us that's sort of caught up in the very cold, aesthetic melodies. We play in almost this sort of new wave, Gary Numan kind of very restrained melody with simple minimal lines.
"Some people call it 'intellectual music' or something silly like that," continues Ian, "but it's also very visceral. There are emotions. We frame emotions, we put quotes around emotion and the whole idea around Sturm und Drang, the original 18th century romantic, 'I am young, I revolt.'"
Storm & Stress revolt to pop music by adhering to Sturm und Drang, but recognize that they're trying to relive history. It may be the 20th century, but the trio tries to follow the old theory anyway - an almost impossible thing to do according to Ian, but an almost impossible thing to avoid in making their music sound the way that it does.
Back To This Issue Table of Contents
Back To Main Index