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Banned Books: Making Music That Will Make You Argue.

May 13, 2014

BannedBooksMAR05Text by Rich Coleman. Images by Marie Alyse Rodriguez.

It’s a little after 1 p.m. on a Friday afternoon and Zane Kanevsky and Matt Dermond — who make up the entirety of the freak-out, noise-rock outfit Banned Books — are both sweating in Dermond’s basement, going through their setlist for an upcoming show.

For any casual passer-by, this could just be the sound of some band practicing. But this ritual is different. Watching the guys efficiently run through songs again and again to make sure everything is just right, one can sense an aura of excitement they’re giving off, as if this two-piece is entering somewhat unbridled territory.

It wouldn’t be too far off. Since Banned Books has slimmed down and tightened up into a two-piece, practices and songwriting sessions have increased exponentially.

“There was a year when we played maybe 75 to 100 shows but we maybe practiced once,” Kanevsky says of the three-piece era of Banned Books, a time when he and Dermond shared guitar, bass and keyboard duties while Cameron Vance managed drums.

The time spent coordinating practices began hurting the group’s creative process, though you wouldn’t know it by listening to the textured melodies, experimental instrumentation and off-the-wall, stop-start rhythms they recorded at the time.

Still, after a while, Dermond says it began to grow stale.

“It did feel kind of weird for a little while because it was like, ‘Well, all right, I guess this is what we do,’” he says. “‘We do this and we just keep doing this.’”

The complacency that might have been brewing as a three-piece for Banned Books is now replaced with enthusiasm, long days of practice and tackling new challenges that come with being a two-piece band. Kanevsky now sings and drums. Dermond works at crafting highly-detailed sounds and melodies armed only with a guitar and a rack of effects.

The duo, who has made music together in some way or another for the past 10 years, couldn’t be more excited to take on these challenges.

“Now with just the two of us, it’s like both of us want to spend our free time doing this or make more free time doing this,” Dermond says. “Right now we have the most potential. The past couple of months have been our most productive months of our songwriting ever.”

Established fans are no doubt used to the jarring, keep-you-on-your-toes nature of their past work. But what’s most interesting is how Banned Books is currently shaping its approach to songwriting and performance. There’s less of an emphasis on the weird in favor of more straight-ahead style of rock.

“There are still freak-outs and it’s still noisy,’” Kanevsky says. “‘But I feel a little less caught up in trying to be really chaotic or really spazzy and instead writing songs that rock.”

The stop-start freak-outs were beginning to become a crutch, he admits, letting inherent chaos hide any mistakes.

“I think we got caught up for a while in purposefully putting those things in our songs instead of letting them happen because we always fuck up,” Kanevsky says with a laugh. “There’re always parts where everything falls apart and no one can ever tell because we don’t stop. We just try to make it sound as good as it possibly can, regardless of the fact that one or both of us are completely not doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

It’s no doubt an exciting time to hear Banned Books. Pitting older songs like “Human Head” next to the newer pieces like “Crown Fragment” shows that the band is focused on refining its sound, making everything more purposeful. The group may be structuring more conventional songs as of late but the objective is still to be a band that fans and their friends will want to actually discuss after a show.

“You go to a show and see a band and rather than everybody saying, ‘Oh yeah, that was great’ or ‘that band sucked,’ it’s way better to have everyone leave and fucking argue,” Kanevsky explains. “I think that a lot of bands just want to please everyone or take it the complete other way and piss everyone off. And neither of those things are really exciting. It doesn’t keep you on your toes. It either bothers you or keeps you complacent.”

If there’s one thing Banned Books is fighting against, it’s complacency. With a handful of shows under their belt as a two-piece and their first full-length LP due out this year, they’re winning that battle with ease.

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