KNOXVILLE — For music snobs, there is probably no greater source of contention than jam bands. People either love them or hate them.
Those who vote nay scoff at the self-indulgence of it, claiming the make-it-up-as-you-go aspect is suitable only for rickety porches and bong-resined basements and that thoughtful songwriting takes a back seat to musicianship.
Knoxville act Tabula Rasa isn't one of those jam bands. The band improvises on stage and generously sprinkles breakdowns throughout winding songs that run upwards of 10 minutes. But its attention to detail and the direction of its newest material is too prominent to label them mere jammers anymore.
In fact, so much thought goes into the crafting of each track, the group's first LP, an eight-song concept album, has been a year and a half in the making, and they have yet to begin recording.
Tabula Rasa released a double EP in 2010, and before its unveiling was already discussing the work going into a follow-up full-length concept album. The group is still finalizing the arrangements for the eight songs to record. The theme behind the record is social classes, and the band has worked meticulously to capture the essence of each economic tier with an appropriate mood, giving the catalog a broad range of emotion.
Perhaps the most painstaking part of Tabula Rasa's writing process has been creating transitions between songs to make the entire album flow seamlessly from one song to the next without pause.
"Instrumentation and complex arrangements have always been the things we focus on," explains bassist Eric Gedenk. "This concept (album) is no different. We have just started arranging the last two songs and are beginning to go back and fuse the songs together by ambiance. For the recording itself, we want to make the entire album feel like a single entity rather than a collection of songs like our EP."
"We intend to comment on the social stratification of our society and our own desensitization to it," adds Logan Davis (vocals, guitar, synths) of the running theme. "By taking a sympathetic approach, we audibly represent a spectrum of hierarchical social classes based on our own interpretations of power and longevity of control.
"This is a division that can be noticed in the social behavior of interactions from awkward etiquette to condescending glares. An element of continuity throughout implies a continuum without finite boundaries and hints at subjects of unity and a collective conscious. We embody the attitudes we perceive from others and put it in our own language."
Heady as it sounds, the band's performances have pulled off mass appeal in a gamut of venues. Opening for Tool cover band Opiate at the Valarium on two occasions has put Tabula Rasa in front of sizable audiences who received the set better than the band could have hoped. Now the act has entered into its first-ever competition (Sound Off) and aspires to debut outside the greater Knoxville area upon releasing its album in 2012.
As for the recording, Tabula Rasa shows no signs of urgency, and given the lengthy writing one might imagine the recording to be equally diligent. Intent on self-recording, the band is still experimenting with techniques and amassing the equipment for the task but claims to be nearly ready at long last.
"Well, we're currently in the process of getting our home studio up to par, and we are very close," asserts Paul Seguna (drums, vocals). "We just started recording demos, experimenting with different recording and mixing techniques to try to get the best sound possible. Just a few hundred more dollars or so to spend on gear and we should be ready to go."
Plain Sight: Knoxville's Plainclothes Tracy and You Just Don't and the band Scouts from Kansas City, Mo., will entertain at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, at the Longbranch Saloon. 1848 Cumberland Ave. The show is listed for 7 p.m.
© 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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