Lyrics? Nah. Songs? Not really. Stage lights? None. Real names? Definitely not.
Who needs such aesthetic accoutrements when your band is capable of the type of sonic assault purveyed by Hovercraft?
This Seattle trio says no thanks to the standard tools of the space-rock trade, instead forging its own unique path marked by vaguely structured song skeletons. In live performance, a frenetic quasi-documentary plays on a video screen behind the band, broadening the listening experience with its accompanying images of shuttle launches and nature scenes.
Although the band (guitarist Campbell 2000, bassist Sadie 7 and new drummer Dash 11) has been playing live for several years, it didnít release a proper album until 1997ís Akathisia (Mute/Blast First). Its five tracks of rhythm-driven instrumental mayhem approximated a journey through the depths of outer space on a ship with a mind of its own. The new Experiment Below, the first with Dash 11, picks up where its predecessor left off while incorporating an element of subtlety rarely found previously.
Campbell 2000 is the member most responsible for Hovercraftís freaky aura, as his guitar is strummed, whacked and sliced into some of the strangest tones heard in recent memory (dripping water, explosions, whiter-than-white noise). He claims that he plays "chords" but itís doubtful. Most of the time itís hard to tell that heís actually playing a guitar.
Hovercraft takes great pains to let its music do the talking, and its members take maximum pleasure in affecting audiences with their sonic manipulations. Audience reaction runs the gamut from bewildered to beloved. "Some people just scream," Campbell says. "Then we have some freaks who twitch and shake and mumble. Itís kind of exciting that what youíre doing is having this effect on people."
Campbell has as much fun watching the audience as the audience does watching the film. "People are staring at the screen and at first it feels strange," he says. "When youíre onstage, for me anyway, I feel like everyoneís paying attention [to me]. But they arenít paying any attention; theyíre staring at the video screen."
The current film, which Campbell assembled by piecing together stock footage, is the most rhythmic one yet. "Iíve added a little and taken away here and there," he says of its current makeup. "Itís evolved like the music has - itís a little bit faster and more rhythmic."
Hovercraft leaves it up to listeners to associate meaning with the music being played. The band does title its compositions, but Campbell admits the title may only be significant to a particular segment of a given song and not the track as a whole. "A lot of these [new] titles were inspired by artificial intelligence or robotics and mimicking natural motions, which is scientifically very difficult," he says.
"Anthropod" unleashes a foreboding rumble that imagines ancient humans and the barren, lightless landscape on which they live. "Endoradiosonde," named for a microchip that enduces brainwashing when ingested by people, feels like an aimless pilgrimage in search of meaning. "We arenít fully sure what it means," Campbell claims.
Constantly on the road, the band rarely, if ever, plays full songs from its albums. Instead, bits are introduced and re-ordered, ensuring that the bandís shows will vary drastically from night to night. "Especially from this new record there are parts weíre playing," Campbell says. "Although the interpretations arenít necessarily note for note or sound for sound."
Campbell credits Dash 11 for intensifying the bandís improvisational chops. Even though most fans ascribe Hovercraftís music with a large quotient of improvisation, Campbell maintains that day-to-day improvisational perfection is completely impossible. Because its shows can go in any desired direction, the band practices constantly to work out ideas.
"Nothing is going to be truly spontaneous," he says. "The structure is what we know and what we think sounds good. We play a lot before we go into the studio or play a show. So, we have ideas. Itís a slightly structured improvisation; there are themes we maintain but there are no rules. It can go above and beyond [what we expect] or we can abandon ideas altogether if we donít quite reach them. Thatís somewhat a traditional musical theory in jazz. Itís not like anything extravagantly new by any means."
In mid-September Hovercraft played in front of its second-largest audience yet (the first: two opening gigs during The Whoís 1997 "Quadrophenia" tour!) during a Voters For Choice benefit concert in Washington D.C. The band will gig regularly in the U.S. until the end of the year and plans to tour Europe in February when Experiment Below is released there. Campbell also reports that a now nearly two-year-old collaboration with DJ Spooky remains on the shelf, tied up "in evil rock empire limbo." For the time being, the band will focus on stumping audiences across the globe.
"With Dash, now we have this new boost of inspiration," Campbell says. "It sounds new to us again and itís exhilarating to play.