Near Earth Objects – Manual For Self-Hypnosis

Stretching the divide between jam and jazz, Near Earth Objects specialize in big grooves with a small ensemble mentality. On Manual For Self-Hypnosis, the trio builds off the sound that they established on their EP, but they will be the first to tell you that their sound is changing.

Since shortly after the release of their EP in 2008, the funky trio Near Earth Objects has been somewhat off the scene. Life took over and they played few — if any — shows around town. Until recently. Now with their first record out, they seem more serious than ever as their live dates begin to pop up on calendars once again.

Stretching the divide between jam and jazz, Near Earth Objects specialize in big grooves with a small ensemble mentality. The organ trio’s concept and appeal is not far removed from those of Medeski Martin & Wood’s, with Esbjörn Svensson Trio-like jazz sensibilities that do anything but stick to strict form and an eccentric sound that you can’t hear anywhere else.

On Manual For Self-Hypnosis, the trio builds off the sound that they established on their EP, but they will be the first to tell you that their sound is changing. Theirs is not a dead end street; by listening, you start to imagine where it is that they will take the music in the next minute, the next tune, the next album. Possibilities unfold, and that’s good news in the hands of able musicians.

RVAJazz: Tell me about this album, your first full release, and what it means to you in terms of where the band has been and is going.

Joey Ciucci (keyboards): This album is definitely way different than the EP for the most part. It represents a real change in our musical scene since the first one was recorded. Fight the Big Bull and Ombak (from my days as door guy at CousCous — that Wednesday scene really was a golden era for Richmond music) really opened my eyes to a whole new thematic, cinematic way of writing. I feel like I now write more with my own voice and my feelings than ever.

Scott Milstead (drums): I think this record represents the strong commitment we’ve made to ourselves and to the project. When I think about all that went into getting it done, I’m just glad that we were all committed to finishing it. I’m really proud of the final result, and I’m super stoked to be playing music with Nate and Joey.

Nathan Goodwyn (bass): The band continues to grow and challenge itself to improve. Our writing seems to have a bit more range than it did when we first got together in Jan 2008. To me this is the result of the open lines of communication within the band and a willingness to take constructive criticism from each other.

Listen to “Manual For Self-Hypnosis”:

[audio:|titles=Manual For Self-Hypnosis|artists=Near Earth Objects with Mark Ingraham]

RVAJazz: You can really tell by listening that there’s open communication among you three in the songwriting process. But break that process down for me.

JC: I bring most of the changes and melodies to the table but rarely much form, structure, et cetera. Nate and Scott are really masters at that stuff. I tend to write in four; both those guys change that frequently. Scott composes these awesome, musical drumbeats (the title track, for example) that are like melodies within themselves. Nate has always had an ear for arranging and is a great writer.

NG: Joey has been the starting point for most of the tunes, but the process is democratic, especially thoughts about rhythm, tempo, and phrasing. Each of us plays a role but the roles change during the writing of a given tune. We don’t tell each other what to do too much. Beyond that it is pretty hard to describe because things happen pretty fast and the process feels fluid.

SM: I definitely think the arrangements reflect the collective writing and arranging. Joey provides the majority of the melodies and changes, though like he mentioned, we’ve also written tunes around Nate’s bass lines or my drum beats. We do all the arranging as a group, and that’s a great process for us because we’re all very open to trying things out. And we’re not above debating whether or not a section should be a 4 count or 6 count, or other seemingly trivial aspects! Personally, I love that stuff, the little stuff that makes a big difference in how the tune ends up.

NG: Even though there is always a tendency to write a tune with a verse, chorus, and bridge, we don’t really seem to think much about structure until we feel good about the notes and rhythms. The first idea is almost always a few notes or a groove from Joey and maybe a melody or second line of some sort from me. Then, Scott might take the meter or feel in a particular direction. As a result of the process, the finished tune resembles the original idea but to varying degrees.

SM: As far as what we’re trying to achieve as a group, we’re always saying “tunes first.” We don’t want the tunes to just be a vehicle for us to play lots of notes. We want the means to justify the end. Strong melodies over great arrangements, and the freedom to explore within that framework.

RVAJazz: To me, Manual for Self Hypnosis is trippier than your EP. There are more samples used, more ambient background noises, and complex grooves that give it all meaning.

JC: I agree and am excited that the album is “trippy.” That’s partly just a product of a really great studio and engineer, Palmer Wilkins at Millwright Sound, and that kind of vibe being present, but also the way the songs are written and structured.

NG: I think the tunes here feel a little slower and maybe moodier than on the EP, and the samples bring a little added edge. Scott worked very hard to bring out the feeling of the recording session while also adding new parts.

SM: The music definitely has some ethereal or trippy moments, but we didn’t want those elements to be the focal point or to override the songs themselves. The goal was to use those elements more as textures, in a supporting role. I was listening to a lot of Weather Report, David Axelrod, and DJ Shadow at the time I was doing a lot of the mixing, so I think that explains some of the additions. I didn’t want anything to feel forced or overbearing, or to detract from the tunes and the playing.

RVAJazz: Guitarist Alan Parker and trumpeter Mark Ingraham appear on the record, expanding it to a quintet at times.

SM: Alan’s playing on “Rory Glass” is ridiculous. And Mark sounds incredible. His solo on the title track is one of my favorite moments on the record.

Listen to “Rory Glass”:

[audio:|titles=Rory Glass|artists=Near Earth Objects with Alan Parker]

NG: Mark has such a sweet sound on the record and just plays beautifully. It was so great to have those guys in the studio with us as well as everybody else who was there.

RVAJazz: What are your goals as a band, and how does this record help you get there?

NG: Our goals are pretty simple. We have always stayed pretty focused on the moment and kept a sense of some balance. My wife Elisabet and I had our second child last February and the guys were very supportive during all of that. It’s been exciting to see Joey playing more often, with DJ Williams on Tuesdays at Cafe Diem and now with Todd Herrington and the New Belgians on Wednesdays. He and his wife Colleen live in western Powhatan, not far from where I grew up, actually. Scott has gigs, drum line at Monacan HS, and lessons going on too. We feel very comfortable being up front about what we can and can’t do, for us and for the good of the music.

SM: The tracks on the album were recorded during the summer of 2009. I started mixing last November or December, and we’re now just getting it out. So it was basically an 18-month process. That wasn’t by design as much as it was circumstantial (scheduling, money, the birth of Nate’s daughter, etc). But I think it’s interesting to note how long the process took because the band has grown and evolved a lot in that year and a half. So while MFSH is just now being released, in a way it’s a snap shot of how the band was a year and a half or two years ago, when we were actually composing and arranging these tunes. We’ve grown a lot over that time, both individually as players and as a group. The tunes we’ve written since MFSH was recorded have a very different vibe to them, but are still very much us.

JC: We are trying to sell this album and generate some interest in Richmond in our band, which hasn’t always been easy. It’s kind of off the wall music.

Purchase Manual For Self-Hypnosis on iTunes or visit Near Earth Objects online

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Dean Christesen

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