The Fruitful Anarchy of Crown Larks
Chicago band to play its arty psychedelic post-punk in Winston-Salem
Jack Bouboushian sometimes does a funny thing when he’s working on music with his bandmates in the psychedelic post-punk avant-blurt Chicago outfit Crown Larks. Bouboushian will occasionally write out parts for new material and then, when getting together with the band to rehearse, he’ll only show them portions of what he’s come up with. He has a taste for flying blind.
It’s a little like the Surrealist parlor game known as Exquisite Corpse, where one person draws a portion of a figure — a head or a torso, say — and then, with the paper folded so that the first part can’t be seen, someone else draws the next portion, making for a sort of disjointed composition, where one part fits together with the next, but maybe in a jarring way. With the Crown Larks songs, Bouboushian’s bandmates get to hear a part of what the vocalist and guitarist came up with, but maybe he’ll leave out the bass groove or the beat, in hopes that bass player Matt Puhr or drummer Bill Miller will think of something more interesting.
“We’re trying to generate ideas,” says Bouboushian of the process. It’s less about meticulously realizing some vision that he or any one member of the band has, and more about group creativity. “Controlled chaos” is a big part of the aesthetic. Listening to Population, the band’s new full-length, which just came out at the start of this month, one can hear the control and one can hear the chaos.
“Our music lives or dies on having five or six ideas happening at once,” says Bouboushian.
That gives you an indication of the vibe. If you don’t like the thought of five or six — possibly competing — things happening at the same time in music, you might find Crown Larks to be a little dense, spastic and off-putting. But if a tangled mesh presents intriguing textures and possibilities to your mind and ears, then Crown Larks will keep you occupied. (Crown Larks play The Garage in Winston-Salem on Wednesday, May 17 at 9 p.m., with Dark Prophet Tongueless Monk and Knives of Spain.)
This is a band that can pivot from freak-folk to krautrock to free jazz to psychedelic trippiness and lurching post-punk funk. Crown Larks released their debut EP, Catalytic Conversion, in 2013 and a full-length, Blood Dancer, in 2015. Odd meters, jagged metrical fragments that displace one’s sense of where a phrase starts or stops, overlapping patterns of differing length that only line up after a prolonged stretch, thick clouds of echo, Morse Code organ signals, braided guitar lines, hypnotic drones, chime-like harmonics, hissing circuitry. Sonic Youth, Sun Ra, Saccharine Trust, Can and the Doors all come to mind at different times when listening to Crown Larks.
The idea of music-making as a community-based activity with revolutionary potential is built into the philosophy of Crown Larks. Bouboushian, 31, and his bandmates cite the fertile history of DIY music in Chicago as an ongoing source of inspiration. In the ‘60s, ‘70s and beyond, the jazz-leaning Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM) tied together radical politics, radical music and community. The city is also home to many notable small, independent labels, like Touch & Go, that helped foster the alternative and indie rock scene that helped bands like Nirvana emerge on the national radar in the ‘90s.
Bouboushian and fellow Crown Larks partner Lorraine Bailey, a multi-instrumentalist, started the band after returning to Chicago, where they had met during college, and living in a space that allowed for music-making that was uninhibited by concerns about volume.
“It was one of the first times in my life when I was able to play as loud as I want whenever I wanted to,” says Bouboushian.
The freedom to make noise is related to the freedom to work with other musicians and artists in an open setting, to see what comes of it.
“From the start, that was sort of the idea, to play with as many people as possible,” says Bouboushian.
Music scenes can feel a little self-selecting, even within a big vibrant city, so that one sometimes gets the sense of working with the same set of like-minded people. As a way of adding more randomness to the equation, Bouboushian says he and Bailey have sought out collaborators through online spaces like Craigslist, which is how they teamed up with Miller, the band’s drummer. Bouboushian speaks of “having a vague purpose in mind, but being open to chance,” both in terms of the actual music, and with regard to the organizing principles of how the band collaborates.
“The music is part of a larger cultural scene that’s trying to develop, that’s trying to be free of commercial constraints,” he says.
An exciting sense of potential can emerge as a project gets started, and one wants to nurture that spark for as long as possible.
“A lot of the time, the most fun and the most positive energy you feel is right when an idea develops,” says Bouboushian. “I tried to maintain that kind of energy and anarchy.”
He refers to it as “positive chaos,” of trying not to be constrained by “preconceived notions.” The end result might be a simmering broth with agonized vocals in spots, with bass and drums punching out pointed accents of tumbling triplets and abrupt stops, like on “Circus Luvv” from the new record. It’s a kind of musical freedom that can be unsettling.
“We’re not gonna be weirdos because we’re just committed to that idea,” says Bouboushian. “We’re just gonna be ourselves, but it turns out it is pretty weird to just be yourself.”
Crown Larks play The Garage, 110 W. 7th St., Winston-Salem, Wednesday, May 17, 9 p.m., with Dark Prophet Tongueless Monk, and Knives of Spain. www.the-garage.ws