Interview with Brian Case of Disappears

Appearing out of thin air in 2008, Disappears have quickly carved out a niche for themselves, filling a void that nobody knew needed filling: conceptual drone rock with a punk attitude. With their recent release, ‘Guider,’ the band have cemented their reputation for delivering repetitive but catchy tunes, not to mention their invigorating live shows. Droney without being boring, Disappears take the listener on a blissed out voyage to nowhere — which is exactly where they want to go. Songs like “Halo” and “Guider” could almost be outtakes from early Stereolab records, just with different vocals and no Farfisa. All of the other elements are there: unflagging beat, simple but hooky basslines, hypnotically churning guitars, and the palpable influence of krautrock bands like Can and Neu!

Frontman Brian Case barks vocals like David Byrne or Mark Mothersbaugh, evoking a new wave sensibility. Guitarist Jonathan Van Herik’s leads have an incendiary quality which comes across more in a live setting than on recordings. Bassist Damon Carruesco is the unsung hero, driving the songs forward with his propulsive basslines. When original drummer Graeme Gibson left, the band brought in none other than Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley to replace him. Shelley’s percussive chops are of course indisputable, and they lend themselves well to these songs: more often than not, the beats have a pounding, deceptively simple rhythm, providing a solid foundation from which the songs can take off like a rocket.

Disappears frontman Brian Case gave us a few minutes before a recent show at Union Pool in Brooklyn. Read on and see what he had to say for himself!

How was Europe?

Awesome. The shows were great. We had no expectations — we weren’t really sure what was going to happen, but it went really well. We went twice this year already, and both tours were awesome.

You guys have been touring a lot!

Kind of, yeah. More than we thought we would! [laughs] It’s been good. We’re just trying to keep the momentum going.

And now you’re back in the States, how is the US tour so far?

Also better than we thought it would be! I don’t know if it’s [that we have] zero expectations, or if the record is doing better than we thought it would. We’ve been happy so far.

That’s great. You’re touring with The Psychic Paramount — were you guys friends, fans, both?

I had known Drew and Ben — the first time an older band of mine ever came to New York, we stayed with those guys. But it had been over 10 years since we’d talked. I think when the tour was being set up, I didn’t know they were in The Psychic Paramount, and they didn’t know I had anything to do with this, so it was cool to figure out that we knew each other. It’s been fun.

It’s a good pairing. You have yet another tour after this, on the West Coast, with Obits. Have you played with them before?

When our first record came out, we did a small Midwest thing with them, and got to know them.

So there’s some camaraderie there as well.

For sure. I love those guys. Some of them are coming tonight.

Cool. So tell me, how did Disappears form?

[Originally, it was] myself and our former drummer Graeme — I’d asked him to help me record some demos, because he’s an engineer. So we did a few songs, and he ended up playing drums on them, and they became much more than I suspected they would. He was like, “We should do this — this is fun.” And I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it!” We got Jonathan [Van Herik, guitarist] to come in. We had a few rehearsals, and then Jonathan brought Damon [Carruesco, bassist] in. It was a really natural, organic sort of thing.

Very cool. What does the name Disappears mean to you?

At first, it just started as a way to describe what we were going for: blissed-out, hard to [pinpoint], soft focus, no real center point for what’s happening.

Going towards the vanishing point.

Yeah! Now it’s just a sound that doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a word that I say too much.

I’ve seen a lot of press talking about the krautrock influence in your music, and while I do hear that, especially on the second record, the thing I’m feeling more from it is an early Brian Eno vibe. Almost like a pre-punk attitude.

Awesome — I love that stuff a lot. I love the Eno stuff more than the [other] things people say we sound like; Spacemen 3, for instance. So, thanks — I’ll take that!

Of course it’s all connected.

Of course. It’s [along] the same lines. Those things are — I think we’re more along those lines because we’re a little more conceptual than how we may present ourselves. We’re kind of focusing on a few ideas and really always trying to work them in, and have things follow those [same] lines. I just read the Eno book and that was always something that he was focusing on, too.

There’s also a kind of new wave-y exuberance to some of the stuff on the second record. That combination of styles, the new wave/proto-punk attitude combined with the motorik krautrock beat and Eno-esque conceptualism — did that just happen naturally?

There were specific touchstones, where everybody said, “These are the things that I like,” and we thought it would be cool to see those things mesh up in some way. The first record was the first attempt at that, and I think the second record was really like a refinement of that. Tonight, we’re going to be playing the record we’ll be recording, so it’ll be mostly new stuff.

That’s cool. So some of the songs must be in various stages of formation.

Yeah, some of the stuff we’ve been playing for six months, and some we’ve been playing for six days.

Do you guys improvise on stage?

To an extent, yeah. There’s always kind of a beginning, a middle, and an end, and in between there’s room.

I like it like that.

It’s a lot more fun to play that way.

I was also noticing the art for the albums, as well as the shirts and bags that you have for sale here, is also very spare and reminiscent of Neu! album covers and the like. Who does the art?

I do the art. They’re like a reflection on the music, in the way that they’re simple, and they’re also reflective. The back cover of the album is a mirror image of the front cover. They’re designed that way, [partially] as a visual signifier of what’s happening in the music, but also because — I don’t know, I just like simple design. We haven’t used a picture for anything yet. I think on the next record, we’ll have a picture, just to mix it up.

Since Steve Shelley’s joining, has the music or your writing process changed?

It’s changed in the respect that, with our old drummer Graeme, we used to practice twice a week at his house. We played a lot. I’d almost say that we talk about music more now, though, with Steve. He doesn’t live in Chicago, so Damon, Jonathan and I will get together and do demos with a drum machine, then send them to him, and we’ll talk about them some. Then he’ll come [to Chicago] for a couple of days to work them out, usually around some tour or show, so we can kind of slip them in. It’s a different process, and the music is different. Steve is a different drummer, and we don’t want to make the same record that we’ve made before, so we’ve shifted our focus some. But it’s the same band.

I saw this video, this collaboration with White/Light, with this great-sounding drone being recorded in a very interesting way. Tell me about the collaboration.

That was where we first met Steve. Our friend Jeremy, who’s in White/Light, is Sonic Youth’s monitor guy. He brought Steve to see us play, and Steve really liked it. About a month later, Sonic Youth were starting a tour in Chicago, so Jeremy talked Steve into coming to town a few days early. Jeremy had a studio that he owns, and we all just set up in one room with no ideas or anything, and just recorded for two days. That is hopefully going to be finished soon — two years later. It was really fun, and we all got along really well. We just jammed! It was fun. It was great, because we got to play with Steve and meet him, and that’s a big part of why he’s here [now], and we also got to make this really weird record — I don’t know what it’s going to be, but hopefully it’ll be finished soon.

I hope so. Do you guys write while you’re on the road?

Not really. There’s not enough time for us. It’s always wake up, try to eat, sit in the car for five hours, sound check…

But you do kind of work out new songs on stage?

Yeah, we try to get the basic shapes of the songs before we leave, and just throw them in the set and let them naturally [develop]. Because we’re not practicing two times a week, the shows are also rehearsals. Once we’re comfortable with something, we’ll slip it in there and let it naturally take its shape. It might be boring for people, but I don’t really care. [laughs]

[laughs] It’s almost not really your problem!

It’s not! You can go watch a band play their greatest hits or whatever, but I think it’s more fun — I like going to shows and being thrown off. We [do] play old songs, but you can listen to the record if you want to [just] hear the song. I think it’s more fun to be surprised.

Kranky Records are kind of legendary in certain circles, and it seems like a perfect fit for Disappears. Do you feel that way as well?

Yeah! I like it a lot. Joel [Leoschke] and Brian [Foote] are really cool. We kind of do whatever we want. They’re small enough where it’s not like there are ten people who all have an idea about what you should be doing and how things are going, but they’re big enough that they have a reputation. The label has a really strong aesthetic, and it’s cool to be a part of that. I think we’re a little bit of oddballs on the label: we’re a lot more rockin’ than a lot of their other stuff, but I think at the core, we’re similar to a lot of those artists. We have a concept, we have an idea, and we’re pretty specific about how we present it.

And there’s also a willingness to experiment.

Sure, yeah. I think our stuff can sound more structured than it is. I think live it comes off a little more — there’s an openness to it. I love Kranky. Anytime you are working with a label that you have been buying records from for a while — I’m totally happy.

Last question: is there something that you want people who listen to your music to feel or think about?

What I like a lot about our music is the repetition. When you’re playing [something repetitive], even for us, after you’re doing it for a little while, you get this tension. Your breathing changes, your body changes, and you really tighten up. And then it just hits this point where it just washes over you, and you just go somewhere else. It’s a cool thing. So I hope that people can get into that. We call it “bliss out” — moments where it gets a little hypnotic, and at some point you just realize, “Man, they’ve been doing this for a long fucking time!”

I love that feeling.

We touch on it sometimes, and other times we try to do other things, but those moments are cool. I think if you can temper the repetition with something that’s a little more immediate, you can get a good balance going and hopefully it becomes something special.

Pick up Disappears’ latest release, Guider.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their website.