Electro-indie rock magic

Enemy Planes attack South Park Tavern

By Rusty Pate

Photo: [l-r] Kristine Stresman, Casey Call, David LeDuc, Joe Gamble and Shon Trothof Enemy Planes

These modern times are not kind to rock ‘n’ roll people.

Gas and gear are expensive. For a band starting out, putting together a tour that breaks even and gets each member back home in one piece is something to be proud of. While the price of recording now falls easily within the reach of most, breaking through the white noise of a world of sub-genres and powdered-candy pop can be tough. Commercial success doesn’t always correlate to talent, and remaining true to an artistic vision and intent makes for an even tougher row to hoe.

However, for a band like Enemy Planes, there is really no other way.

“It’s kind of an electro-indie rock type thing,” said vocalist/keyboardist Kristine Stresman. “We’re not always good at answering the question ‘who do you sound like,’ because we strive for a lot of originality and not really sounding like anyone else.”

The band sprang from another group – Pictures of Then. The Minneapolis quartet was recording a new album in Duane Lundy’s Lexington, Kentucky recording studio Shangri-La when they realized they were actually making two completely different albums, according to vocalist and guitarist/synth player Casey Call.

“We were all much more excited about the new material and it was kind of a moment of clarity for us,” Call said. “[We said], ‘Let’s start a whole new thing,’ and it was a really good opportunity for us to kind of do something fresh.”

That’s not to say that Enemy Planes is simply a rebranding effort, but rather a completely different sound and approach. The lineup has changed a bit, but so too has the sound.

Enemy Planes deal in atmospheric swells and pulsating rhythms that blend into a hypnotic concoction. Where Pictures of Then felt closer to a straight-ahead rock band, Enemy Planes floats around like some ethereal apparition. Lesser musicians might use electronic instruments as a shield, hiding behind blips and bleeps, but Enemy Planes wield them as a sword. They slash and carve pockets for melodies and build chaotic structured noise where no part undermines the function of the whole.

While their debut album, titled Beta Lowdown, was recorded more than two years ago, a conscious decision was made to tour and delay its release. The idea was to put in the required time and work to make this band a force unto themselves.

In addition to shows, the band has released a string of beautifully produced videos. The first was for “We Want Blood,” directed by Tobias Stretch, who is perhaps best known for Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes” video.

Call, a former graphic designer and filmmaker in his own right, sent a cold-call email to Stretch in hopes of combining their respective creative forces. The initial reply was less than encouraging. He said entry-level music videos run in the $25,000 range, which is well beyond even the $3,000 the band could muster. Call replied an apology, an explanation of their status as a fledgling band/fans of his work and a copy of the song, hoping for the best.

“He got back to us inside of a week and said, ‘I love the tune and I want to take this project on,’” Call said. “Within a month of that, I hopped on a plane. The whole video was shot over a span of four days. It was a lot of just trusting him and knowing he was good at what he did.”

Filmed in New York’s Coney Island in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the video offers painfully beautiful shots, a post-apocalyptic landscape and a body bag.

The shot was mostly a guerrilla affair, taking place behind ‘police line – do not cross’ yellow tape and Call said much of his time was spent looking over his shoulder. When the body bag was left on the beach, they heard a scream from an unsuspecting bystander, followed by a surreal encounter with two ominously large and trench-coated brutes sporting Russian accents.

“They start walking towards us,” Call said. “One guy stopped about 10 yards away; the other guy comes all the way to us and started talking. He looks down at the body bag, looked at me, looked at Toby and said ‘is there a body in there?’ – as dead pan as can be.”

Stretch later told Call the area is not an uncommon spot for the local Russian mafia to dump bodies. Nonetheless, they got the shot and at the end of the day, that’s what matters to an artist.

Enemy Planes also took an unconventional path when choosing a record label. The lure and necessity of major labels has long been in recession, and bands looking to follow their creative hearts certainly have other options. In fact, it doesn’t always have to do with strictly marketing and distribution.

Rock the Cause Records combines music with charitable efforts to create an environment where art and philanthropy can intersect.

“We wanted to be on a label that was different from every other model,” Call said. “We’ve done some charitable outreach with this label. We’ve played on their shows and got to be on a tribute album to Jason Molina. It sort of gave us a little bit of background experience with them and realized these guys are legit and actually care about the artists they work with.”

No one ever said it would be easy, but Enemy Planes seems intent on staying true to their artistic integrity.

“It really is a lot of work,” Stresman said. “It comes down to we love what we do.”

Enemy Planes will perform on Tuesday, Feb. 3 at 9 p.m. at South Park Tavern, 1301 Wayne Ave. The band’s new album will be released on Feb. 24 through Rock the Cause Records. For more information about Rock the Cause’s releases and charitable efforts, please visit rockthecause.org. For more information about Enemy Planes, please visit enemyplanes.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Rusty Pate
Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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