Absynth Quartet has a song called “Shores of Turpentine.” Of all the songs in the group’s discography, it’s the least predictable in terms of how the audience will respond. In other words, it’s the group’s weirdest.
“It sounds like a death march, like something Primus wrote,” says bassist/vocalist John Ludington. “A lot of people like it, but it’s not danceable.”
The song is also one of the Humboldt-based group's most political – a label they don't want. When Ludington wrote it originally, it was critical of Obama and some of his centrist policy decisions. Today when they play it, funny enough, folks immediately assume it’s about Trump.
What the group likes to do normally is stick to danceable material, and while the content can get dark, they usually steer clear of explicitly political material. That said, there’s no lack of weirdness in the music. They describe their sound as “fire-breathing indie-grass,” but really the sound changes record to record.
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On last year’s "What Do All These Knobs and Switches Do" there’s a pretty big grab bag of influences, including folk, indie-rock, upbeat fun jams, math rock licks and jazz, all of it with a hint of avant-garde sprinkled in the mix as well.
“Even though we get kind of weird, our songs are still fun,” says Ludington “There’s always a danceable beat and a good vibe.”
Originally when the group formed 15 years ago, they were playing acoustic gypsy-swing style music. By the time Ludington – already a solo singer-songwriter in town – joined the group roughly seven years into their run, they were trading in their acoustic instruments for electric owns. He, for instance, replaced the upright bassist, and came armed with an electric bass.
For a while the group was dipping into some close-but-not-quite-traditional bluegrass territory. Then of course there’s the "Knobs and Switches" album, which is nearly indescribably odd while always giving the listener a smile.
“We’re kind of like Madonna. We’re always changing our style,” Ludington says. “I introduced a lot of the weird into the band for better or for worse. My solo stuff, I don’t try to be weird but it’s kind of trippy.”
The group’s latest album, "Robot Zero," which they hope to have finished later this year, goes into entirely new territory for the group: Pop.
Sort of. In order to get there, they are taking some odd methods. For starters they are working with a drum machine that they program drum loops into. They are calling the drum machine “Kyle.” The drum machine’s loops give them something to build off of and write along to.
“Our drummer Tofu doesn’t like Kyle very much,” Ludington jokes.
The drum loops won’t stay in the songs but are just there to help inspire creativity. Ludington says that the way the songs are coming out, they are the most poppiest the group’s ever written. But even there, he hedges in describing the songs’ actual style.
“Bands really have a hard time putting themselves into boxes,” Ludington says. “I really don’t mind putting ourselves in a box. It helps people understand where we’re coming from, but I really don’t know what to call the new album. Rock, it’s rock.”
"Robot Zero" is also loosely a concept album. Ludington doesn’t prefer to think of it as a concept album. You could say that the songs are all derived from a singular concept. In fact, he doesn’t really care if people recognize that there’s a concept linking the songs.
“We’re trying to write it in a way that doesn’t immediately spoon feed the content. The listener isn’t supposed to immediately figure out what it’s about,” Ludington says. “We don’t care if people understand what we’re talking about. We just want to make pretty music.”
The story is actually quite elaborate. The record has been written primarily by Ludington guitarist/vocalist Ryan Roberts. The story of the record is complex and deals with robots and AI. Or as Ludington puts it: “what it’s like to gain consciousness and then realize that you are a robot in this world of robots,” he says, then adds “it sounds goofy when I’m talking about it, but it’s really fun. The music sounds like nothing that I’ve ever written before.”
Despite not quite being finished with "Robot Zero," the band is already talking about what they want to do for the next record. It might just be a return to the acoustic gypsy jazz sound they started with. The more diverse their songs are the merrier because it gives them a wide range of songs to throw into the set.
“We can play anything, and if it’s a good crowd, they’re there to have a good time, everything that we play – except for that one song – is fun and danceable. So, it doesn’t matter what we play,” says Ludington.
If you go
Where: Big Sexy Brewing Co., 5861 88th St., Suite 800
When: 5 p.m. Friday, June 29
Info: (916) 374-7332, bigsexybrewing.com