Band To Watch: Warehouse
Labeling anything as “artsy” or “avant” suggests a level of sophistication that intends to be exclusionary. It can be an easy way of declaring, “This band is weird,” without committing to other descriptors. That being said, it’s difficult to illustrate Warehouse as anything but “art-punk,” which is in part due to the fact that the band’s forthcoming debut album, Tesseract, is so textural that it sounds like a carefully rendered visual abstraction. Warehouse name-checks an array of influences, contrasting the 19th century American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler alongside Stereolab, and Robert Rauschenberg with Wire. Upon first listen, nothing about Tesseract immediately recalls obvious points of reference in recent musical history. It’s as impulsive as it is controlled, a kind of auditory expressionism.
After playing shows together for over a year, Warehouse released their debut full-length Tesseract in July of 2014. Recorded live in just 24 hours at Living Room Studios in Atlanta, the album was made available for download on Bandcamp before the newly minted Brooklyn-based label Bayonet Records picked it up. Tesseract will be reissued as a cassette in March (the album’s first single “Omission” was released last year) and Warehouse is currently working on their sophomore album. The band hails from the Atlanta rock underground, a scene that is muttered about in certain Northeastern circles, but hasn’t received considerable outsider attention. Bands like Warehouse, Red Sea, and Hellier Ulysses don’t foster a similar sound, but they can be tangentially associated based on their off-kilter though carefully orchestrated instrumental arrangements.
At the outset, the most striking aspect of Warehouse’s particular sonic brand is Elaine Edenfield’s ghoulish growl. It’s a voice that contains thousands of adjectives within it; a scrappy, discordant experiment in tonality that relies less on the structure of the words it declaims and more on the compulsion of its energy. Edenfield’s rasp holds each song’s various movements together, making sense of what could sound messy to an untrained ear. On Tesseract, vocals are just another form of instrumentation — lyrics are less dependent on content and more impactful in their delivery. That doesn’t deny the power of Edenfield’s words — the ones that are immediately distinguishable unravel into recurring mantras.
Above all else, Tesseract radiates confidence. Alex Bailey and Ben Jackson’s guitar work is meticulous without sounding tedious, aligning with Edenfield’s hoarse declarations but never overpowering them. Josh Hughes’ bass lines and Doug Bleichner’s drums coalesce into an unfailing rhythm section, surreptitiously welding the project together. It’s intellectual, but seemingly unplanned, suggesting that each member hones a certain level of mastery that allows for unhindered improvisation. Tesseract is a risky record, a work that isn’t easily digested, nor is it simply explained. It takes several listens to distinguish leading hooks, to recognize the most memorable instrumental fragments, but the album’s motivations will reveal themselves slowly and subtly if you’re patient.
Listen to “Promethean Gaze,” Tesseract’s latest single, and read a Q&A with the band below.
STEREOGUM: I’ll start by asking your basic origin story — how did Warehouse get started?
ELAINE EDENFIELD: Alex and Ben knew each other since elementary school and grew up playing guitar together. Doug, Ben, and I all came to Atlanta for college at Georgia State University and became BFFs. Alex came back from his escapades in California and the three of them quickly formed Warehouse. One day, the lovely Ben asked if I would sing for them, and I obliged. We started playing shows and Josh came to one of them and expressed interest in playing bass. Our first show together was in February of 2013.
STEREOGUM: Where are you all from originally? Did you release anything together before those early shows?
EDENFIELD: We’re all from the Atlanta area and Dougie is from Savannah, GA. We didn’t have any releases until Tesseract — there was over a year where we just played shows without an online presence.
STEREOGUM: I’m familiar with the Northeastern music scene, but don’t know too much about what’s going on in Atlanta — could you talk a bit about the environment that Warehouse is coming out of?
BEN JACKSON: The Atlanta scene is definitely an “everyone knows one another” situation, and Atlanta has a lot of places were you can get pretty large groups of musicians living together or near each other really cheaply. Right now some of us live in the same building as Red Sea and we are across the street from this old dry cleaners that got renovated-ish into a practice and living space for the bands Faun and a Pan Flute. There are a bunch of people making really interesting music here right now and it seems like we are all constantly around one another.
EDENFIELD Being an Atlanta band is really nice because you get a lot of comparisons to the Athens, GA music scene in the ’80s, which we are totally down for since that was a great time in music.
STEREOGUM: Aside from Alex and Ben, had any of you been in other bands prior to forming Warehouse? I know that a few of you currently have separate projects on the side.
DOUG BLEICHNER: Ben and I were in a band called the Atlanta Cunts Orchestra for a little bit before we formed Warehouse. Josh was in the Clap and Stevie Dinner before joining our band, and Alex was in high school band. Playing trombone. Second chair.
STEREOGUM: Nice! Second chair is impressive! Do you still play? And Elaine? Is this your first time singing in a band or had you worked on vocal stuff in any way prior?
ALEX BAILEY: Nope. Elaine was always around Ben and I when we first started playing, and contributing as far as providing us with influences.
JACKSON: Elaine was just a really good friend of ours and was on the same page as far as influences and our aesthetic in general. I remember she was working on a lot of paintings at the time that really struck me as matching the feelings we wanted. We didn’t know what her singing would be like exactly, but we knew her personality and it fit really well with what we wanted. She hadn’t sung before this, but we figured she would be good.
STEREOGUM: Is the album cover one of Elaine’s paintings?
EDENFIELD: The Bandcamp one with the squares is by our good friend Jordan Stubbs. The new cassette work for Bayonet is a painting of mine.
STEREOGUM: Can you speak to who some of your influences are, musical or otherwise?
EDENFIELD: At the time we made Tesseract, I was really influenced by Stereolab, Pylon, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Rauschenberg, and Wire. The influences were between all of us, really.
STEREOGUM: You have the kind of sound that suggests a certain level of sophistication, and I’m sure you get a fair amount of off-handed math rock comparisons since your song structures are kind of unpredictable. Did any of you study music professionally in school and how did you sort of happen upon your sound?
JACKSON: Alex, Josh, Doug, and I all have pretty extensive training coming from a few different places. Doug, Alex, and I all pretty much did as much as possible with school band and lots of stuff outside of it, too. Josh took lessons for a while and took a theory class that I think helped a lot for certain things. Doug has been playing in bars around Savannah since he was 13 with his dad and his dad’s friends, and I studied trombone in college for a while and learned a lot about music, but it wasn’t really the right place for me. By the time we started Warehouse we had all been playing quite a bit although, for most of us it was pretty much our first real band in this style.
BLEICHNER: I think a lot of the math rock-sounding stuff that Ben and Alex play can be attributed to their strong background in theory. What I like about their guitar parts and the way they are intertwined is that it sometimes takes several listens to fully understand what they are doing in their melody writing. I try to keep the rhythms powerful but simple in order to not trample over that really cool interplay.
BAILEY: I really like Bach chorales and hymns. The way the voices move around is really inspiring.
JACKSON: Elaine didn’t have the same kind of background as us but by the time we met she had been drawing and painting for a long time. I think that learning to participate in that type of creative thinking has taught her what you need to know about understanding a piece of work as a full thing and a product of its parts.
STEREOGUM: What’s your songwriting process like? Music before lyrics, vice-versa, or do you write them simultaneously?
BAILEY: Ben and I will come up with guitar parts either separately or together, work out the entire “song” and record a demo and put it on the email, theoretically for the other members to work out on their own time. Josh and Doug pretty much can play along with anything instantly.
EDENFIELD: My parts are the last layer and are really slowly built mostly by myself in pieces as conglomerates of lots of different bits of writing.
STEREOGUM: Can you talk a bit about the making of Tesseract? Was there any sort of concept behind the album? I notice a few allusions to mythology, but I don’t want to make too much of that if it’s arbitrary.
BAILEY: We knew we needed to make some legitimate recordings, and that’s pretty much it. We had ten songs at the time but we weren’t sure what we should do with all of them.
JACKSON: The whole process happened really naturally, very one thought at a time. The album is presented in the order the songs were written in. You can probably find a lot of continuity across it but I think thematically that was only really clear in retrospect.
EDENFIELD: The mythology references were more just part of wanting to have this sprawling piece of work that alluded to a lot of different things much in the way that Stereolab built some of their albums. Ben’s talked about in the past how most the songs weren’t supposed to be about a specific thing or an imaginary situation but more of the general feeling of maybe a few weeks and I would agree.
JACKSON: I think we were just trying to make something that felt honest and interesting at the time… after a year or so, you get this picture of something bigger than that one particular moment.
Tesseract is out 3/3 via Bayonet.
[Photo by Annie Grapek]