FROM THE MAGIC CITY TO THE MUSIC CITY
Birmingham’s David Swatzell, David Brown, and Blake Wimberly, otherwise known as Wray, made Nashville’s Exit/In the first stop on the tour supporting their recently released eponymous album on label Communicating Vessels.
Veterans of various bands, mostly in the realms of punk and post-punk, the members of Wray were born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, where the music scene is growing. I’ll admit, when I think of Birmingham, also known as “Magic City,” I think of Alabama Shakes and St. Paul and the Broken Bones; go ahead and add shoe gaze to that list. “There’ve always been really good bands in Birmingham and people are finally starting to take notice. There are a lot of different kinds of bands there too, not just southern rock and neo-soul. People are doing different and weird stuff there,” says guitarist Swatzell, who says he wants to expand the perception of Birmingham music. My two cents? Mission accomplished, sir.
STARRTE AUF MEIN SCHUHE (just go with me here)
So how did they decide on shoe gaze? Swatzell says they have all been fans of the genre for a long time, and when all of their individual and personal styles and tones came together, it came out shoe gaze. Bassist David Brown has dubbed their sound “power-gaze;” the members are individually influenced by 60’s psychedelic rock, new wave, ambient soundscapes, and collectively, krautrock. What is krautrock you ask? It’s experimental rock that originated in Germany in the late 1960s, and that’s why I titled this section “staring at my shoes.” In German. Moving on…
WHAT’S THAT LIKE?
Wray shows are an experience; it’s not just about the sound, the visuals are a large part of the show. The band takes the dimly lit stage and begins to play as artful projections of geometric shapes and math-inspired art flash over the band, taking up the entire space. The use of this style and technology was pioneered by brothers/filmmakers John and James Whitney, who took a computer that controlled anti-aircraft guns used to shoot down planes and used it to create this kind of projected art. I love that something once used to destroy was turned into something used to create, and Wray uses it superbly.
RELAX. THEY MEAN IT.
Drummer Blake Wimberly says performing is an out-of-body experience for them, “the visuals help us vibe-out. It’s dark onstage, and we are able to remove ourselves and get in a zone.” Playing krautrock-style rhythmically repetitive songs gives everyone a chance to just let go; once the audience abandons its attempts to anticipate changes in the music, the repetitive style entrances the crowd. It’s like they are forcing us to relax. I can get on board with that.
Wray is now on a multi-city tour to support their new album, so I bet they’ll be in your neighborhood at some point in the very near future. You shouldn’t miss it.