Worlds old and new collide with the newest release by Jews and Catholics

by Ryan Snyder

Jews and Catholics, always resistant to pigeonholing, bring their eccentric sound home to Winston-Salem this weekend. (courtesy photo)

The only weaknesses in performing within the duo dynamic, according to Jews and Catholics’ bassist Allana Meltzer, comes in splitting the gas money and lugging and entire band’s worth of gear around. After all, drum machines don’t tend to be argumentative, even if they can’t take a turn behind the wheel on long nighttime hauls. The simplicity of only being accountable to one other person hasn’t escaped her or musical partner and guitarist Eddie Garcia as the Winston-Salem act prepares for the local debut of their third release, though first nationally, Who Are? We Think We Are!, an album as incongruent in scope and creation as it’s title might suggest.

Their musical partnership began five years ago after Meltzer moved to Winston-Salem from Idaho and the two got together to play acoustically, yet without a particular direction in mind. The times they tried to move themselves in a specific direction never really worked out, Meltzer noted. The duo toyed with amplifiers and effects pedals, working them in little by little until they had developed a new-wave, punk and classically influenced sound nearly unrecognizable and far more ferocious than the beginning product.

“I don’t think I ever really knew where we were going with it,” Meltzer said. “If I think back to when we first started playing acoustic, I’d have no idea that we’d sound like we do today necessarily.”

Theirs is a sound that has evolved organically, Meltzer added, almost as if the two made a calculated effort to avoid succinct categorization. There are deep, industrial sounds like Meltzer’s bowed bass runs on “Golden Arrows,” yet Garcia’s voice is boyishly close enough to that of the Modern Lover’s Jonathan Richman to ever mistake them for edgier acts in their sphere of influence like Throbbing Gristle. There are, however, clear suggestions of The Velvet Underground & Nico-era Lou Reed on Who Are? We Think We Are!, which is ironic, since producer Mitch Easter was recently featured on a tribute album to the ’60s experimentalists for which he recorded a cover of “The Black Angel’s Death Song.” Easter’s influence on Who Are? We Think We Are! isn’t explicit according to Garcia and Meltzer, however, but for the first effort they put in the hands of another, his guidance was invaluable.

“He was good at not giving us too much direction, like in the best way,” said Meltzer. He helped us capture what we were trying to capture. If there was something we came into the studio unsure about, his ideas were great.”

If it sounds as if Jews and Catholics were keen to put the burden of the album’s outcome mostly on themselves, they probably were. The pair chose to eschew the digital recording route in favor of two-inch tape not simply because there was more challenge in it, though Garcia says that was a part of it, but simply because he saw Meltzer’s upright bass as such a terrific instrument that the digital route might not do it justice. The challenge, of course, came with the inability to slack off when forgoing the cold precision of digital recording and yet, there is a sense of naturalism found amidst the agonizing detail paid to the preprogrammed drum beats and jagged, aggressive guitar riffs.

“There was already this contrast with the effects pedal and the drum machine in our arrangement, which I guess that’s what’s so cool about putting all of our modern electronics onto two-inch tape,” Garcia said. “But then having her with this big bass in a big room captured on a fat piece of tape and it felt like something we should do.”

Jews and Catholics will perform at the Garage on Friday night. Chapel Hill’s Veelee will support.