WORK/ETHICS: “It’s like the old jazz guys you read about: broke. Everything going into the band. Practice every day and repeat the songs again, again, again.”
A USAISAMONSTER show is all third-eye perception and muscle memory. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing them play three sets in 24 hours at a couple of dingy clubs in the Pacific Northwest, and I was struck by how each set was executed almost like a military drill. Each time through, the two-piece worked their hyper-coded music like guerrilla fighters field-stripping Kalishnikovs. Colin Langenus loosed steam-engine guitar parts while drummer Tom Hohmann multi-tasked synth bass lines on pedals with his left foot. Often in rock, a little spontaneity can go a long way; but with USAISAMONSTER it’s more ritualistic; there’s not much room in the songs for surprises.
“We’ve gotten to live a dream,” says Langenus over the phone from his Brooklyn home. “It’s like the old jazz guys you read about, or Black Flag: broke. Everything going into the band. Practice every day and repeat the songs again, again, again. That’s where the joy is for us.”
It’s been a year since the group have toured, but don’t say they’ve let up. The big news this fall is that, on top of the release of Space Programs (Load), the long-standing duo have added two to their ranks: keyboardists Max Katz and Peter Schuette, unveiled a week ago in Brooklyn for the first time ever and joining a five-week that stops at Great Scott on Wednesday.
“I’ve been working with Max and Peter on learning all about music theory this year,” says Langenus. “Max transcribed all these old songs of ours out into sheet music, and now these two can come in and sight-read through songs that took Tommy and me months and months to write and learn how to play.”
Katz and Schuette will be adding the glue to band’s epic compositions, which in recent years have developed into apocalyptic novella length; they now hurtle between swamp-metal freakouts and Close Encounters of the Third Kind–style monophonic anthems.
“We’re not letting them write anything,” laughs Langenus. “We’ll see how that goes. We’ve got new songs that are going in a new direction, for sure. I’m getting a lot more into repetition and meter, learning how to do the freaky things over that instead of being so into chaos and anti-theory. But it’s still me and Tom writing and then Max and Peter learning the songs.
“For now, it’s great that Tom doesn’t have to concentrate on playing synths with his feet anymore. That dude hasn’t done a drum fill in years.”
Langenus and Hohmann played in several bands in Boston, among them the sludgy Bullroarer, in the late ’90s after meeting at Boston University. (Langenus dropped out after a year, Hohmann graduated in ’99.) They found like-minded souls in a scrappy and insistently self-reliant warehouse art-rock scene connected with Boston bands like Fat Day and Neptune and the Providence crew centered on Fort Thunder and Lightning Bolt.
But the city’s rising rents proved too much. They settled into the low-rent hamlet of Charlottesville, Virginia (Langenus: “We paid $75 a month rent and could afford to practice six hours a day, every day, and would then spend six or seven months on tour”) and hammered out the foundations of USAISAMONSTER: haywire guitars, caveman noise prog, and an obsession with Native American history and folklore. It was a big step in the band’s parochial and survivalist attitude toward music and life — one that had the duo recording The Joshua Tree (2003) in the wilderness on gasoline generator power and peppering albums with acoustic recordings full of crinkling campfire leaves and twigs.
“We were figuring out where we were coming from,” says Langenus. “If you were from Oakland, you could be as big a total weirdo as me and you’d still be playing pop punk because that’s just like the folk music out there. We were from the Northeast, so we played noise rock. Simple as that.”
In Charlottesville, they ran Pudhouse, a defining underground outpost that helped connect noise scenes from Providence to Michigan as a kind of last bastion of face-to-face networking.
“People were stuck back then,” says Langenus. “Until a lot of the different noise scenes got together, a lot of these bands had no choice but to play hardcore shows when they went on the road, and that was a total catastrophe.”
What a difference 10 years makes. Langenus and Hohmann, along with groups like Baltimore’s Nautical Almanac, have helped create what amounts to noise rock’s own underground touring circuit, a feat Black Flag would be proud of. But leave it to Langenus to sweat its enduring purity.
“Now it seems like DIY can be some people’s living,” he says, with a hint of regret. “Some of these kids probably have savings accounts, and that completely freaks me out.”
USAISAMONSTER + NEPTUNE + BIG DIGITS + ZOIG-MA-NOIG | Great Scott, 1222 Comm Ave, Boston | October 7 at 9 pm | $9 | 617.566.9014 orwww.greatscottboston.com