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North End, Signal Hill, Vasudeva and Mohican @ The North Star Bar.

May 6, 2013

Signal Hill. From left: Rish Arora, Tim Cooper, Brian Vasallo, Dave Masters.Text and images by Rick Kauffman. Pics of Mohican and Vasudeva by Tim O’Donnell.

Distance is hard. People break up. Friendships die.

Tim Cooper, drummer of Los Angeles’ Signal Hill, recalled the night he found out his best friends and bandmates were moving thousands of miles away.

“It’s like when your girlfriend says, ‘I’m going to go to school, like, far away,’” said Cooper.  “And I’m like, ‘CAN WE STILL MAKE IT WORK?!’ And then Dave’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to tell you, I’m moving to New York.’ Gahhhh! I thought my life was over.”

It was all very dramatic at the time but here they are, an EP and a full-length later, standing on the streets of Philadelphia outside the North Star Bar, having just finished their first set on their east coast tour with a night of glorious instrumental music.

Signal Hill. Rishi Arora.North End. Peter Willis.

North End's Marcus Rodriguez.

North End’s Marcus Rodriguez.

North End. Kevin Burk.






Signal Hill guitarists Rishi Arora and Dave Masters and bassist Brian Vasallo sat in their van, with their second LP, Chase the Ghost, in hand. In tangible form, they can finally enjoy the fruits of their labor.

“I think I trusted that something would work. I knew it would be very different, I just didn’t know what it would be,” Cooper said. “Now, looking back, it works really well and I’m stoked on it.”

With the guitarists in New York and the rhythm section together in LA, Masters felt they were able to sit and focus on melody and structure.

“He and I (Arora) sort of get to find all the different things that we’re trying to achieve,” Masters said. “Tim and Brian have been able to add all the finesse and the refinement of those details.”

Cooper said, “When I was listening to the demos they were sending back, I was like ‘Wow, this shit is amazing. But what the hell am I going to do with drums?’ Normally it’s a little busier, so I had to pull back and play very simple open drums, which was kind of weird at first. But it really worked well to keep the openness and the moods of what they had written.”

Chase the Ghost is articulately built — a complexity of notes and beats shifting from bar to bar with prominently rhythm-based and heavily textured guitars. The cool grooves flow while Cooper leads with both hands and legs, rides on the hi-hat are accented by his snare and tom hits and filled with rolls or unexpected stops. The epic, post-rock they create is extremely tight and sonically fulfilling.

“Before,” Cooper said, “when were spending three hours a night, two times a week in a room, we could really work through each part and try so many variations and now we have to be more firm with our judgment.”

“The fact that we’ve created a record bi-coastally proves to us that we can do it,” Masters said. “I think it’s a record we’re all super proud of.”

The night started with Philly’s own Mohican, who played a long, epic kind of downbeat metal — open rock chords dropped a fret, a headbangers delight — cut by long intricate interludes with classical-sounding instrumentation.

Vasudeva is a four piece who play fun, dancey, up-tempo math rock — groovy with both victorious and tear-jerking riffs. Beautiful but a total jam. These Jersey boys are all probably old enough to go to the bar now.

Reading and West Chester’s North End, a fellow progressively-themed post-rock band, booked Signal Hill’s first ever East Coast show at the Social Lounge in West Chester back in 2011. In the summer of 2012, the guys from Signal Hill helped North End book three shows in Southern California, playing in Long Beach, San Diego and North Hollywood.

Masters said, “I remember listening to North End and saying, ‘Holy shit, this band is really good, and they’re going to help us set up a show? That’s awesome. We’ll gladly take it.’ So, it was basically our first show ever on the east coast, in West Chester with North End. They’re very likable guys, and awesome.”

North End, who played last, is post-rock band with hardcore roots. Drummer Kevin Burk’s drums are built for a man much larger, but he makes quick work on them. His beats may have been a strong influence for Cooper on Chase the Ghost. Kevin’s syncopation filled with rolls of alternating beats combined with Marcus’ finger-plucked five-string bass give guitarists Russ and Pete a groove to produce legatos and textures. Their new stuff is taking a heavier turn than the grooves they’ve written in the past.

Vasudeva, North End and Signal Hill united the following night for a show in New Jersey, and then the Signal Hill guys finished up with a doubleheader in New York before rhythm nation hopped on their flights back to LA.

Cooper said, “I guess I’ve always taken this stand where it’s like, we have fun making music together and there’s a challenge of us being away from each other.”

“It’s more or less just an idea — a basic idea that just molds everything together,” Arora said. “We’re all, obviously, different people. We’re all unique. We have different thoughts. But, we have this idea that molds us all together, and without that idea we wouldn’t be doing this right now.”

Read the full Q&A with the guys from Signal Hill here.

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