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CKIII: The News & Observer interviews Free Electric State

In a little bit over 24 hours, Raleigh’s first-ever Hopscotch Music Festival will inundate downtown with over 120 bands. And on Saturday during that festival Churchkey celebrates its third birthday with a free day party at Tir Na Nog. Lasting from noon to 5 p.m. and headlined by the excellent Hammer No More The Fingers, Churchkey Three is a celebration of the three fun years we’ve had so far and the prospect of many more to come. To make sure you’re ready, we’ve got the last entry in our interview series. Today David Menconi of The News & Observer interviews Free Electric State, who is also playing our little shindig. Happy birthday to us.

Hopscotch, the music festival that kicks off Thursday in downtown Raleigh, is throwing a national spotlight onto the Triangle music scene — including Churchkey Records, the local label marking its third anniversary. Churchkey is sponsoring one of Hopscotch’s many free dayparties Saturday afternoon at Tir Na Nog in Raleigh, with a good chunk of the label’s roster playing. See below for an interview with one of them, Free Electric State, which is one of seven such interviews done on local blogs in conjunction with Hopscotch. And I’ll see you out and about this weekend.

Time in bars is often time misspent, but it worked out very well for Free Electric State. The band’s genesis goes back to Durham nightspot The Pinhook, where Nick Williams was tending bar in late 2008. David and Shirle Koslowski were among the regulars at Pinhook, where they’d regularly get into musical geek-talk with Williams – especially their mutual love of ’70s Krautrock and early-’90s shoegazer bands like My Bloody Valentine.

At the time, the Koslowskis were finishing up their run with the new-wave pop band Gerty, and they were looking to start something louder. So one night, they asked if Williams knew anybody who played guitar. Sure, Williams said, I do. Free Electric State was born shortly after that, and the band is decidedly louder and more aggressive than Gerty ever was. But the new group is no less catchy. “Caress,” Free Electric State’s Churchkey Records debut album, is a terrific example of the fact that crushing volume and melodiousness need not be mutually exclusive. In fact, Free Electric State’s melding of to-the-gut whomp with candy-coated sweetness is very much like My Bloody Valentine.

“My Bloody Valentine is the best, in my opinion,” Williams says. “Very cerebral. But one of our big influences that gets overlooked a lot is Swervedriver, which is first and foremost a rockin’ band that happened to have great, lush textures.”

“Yeah,” David Koslowski adds, “those big-guitar swirly rock songs with lots of great hooks and melodies. That’s what we want to do.”

Mission accomplished on “Caress,” which is remarkably cohesive given the circumstances of its making. After Jett Rink’s Tony Stiglitz signed on as drummer, the group recorded the album after being together less than six months, with little in the way of collaborative songwriting.

That will change with album number two, which is already in the works even though “Caress” has only been out since April. Williams vows that they won’t be making “Caress Junior.” To that end, the group wants to emphasize its rhythmic side more and evoke the quirky time-keeping of Can, Neu! and other Krautrock bands.

“We flirted with that on a few songs on ‘Caress,’ but we’ve not really explored it as much,” David Koslowski says. “There’s still gonna be hooks and melody, but maybe not so standardized – the verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus-done thing. Shirle and I can’t help but write melodic and catchy, but we want to push boundaries.”

“When your formative experience is listening to quiet verses and super-loud choruses, that gets instilled in your head,” Williams adds. “Especially when you’re 12 and listening to Nirvana. It can be hard not to do that. A song will come together and before you know it, it’s rockin’ – which is when you have to stop and ask yourself, ‘But do we need to be rockin’?”

“It’s hard to fight the rock,” Shirle Koslowski concludes.

Still, there’s not much reason to fight the rock when it turns out as powerful as “Caress,” a very fine debut that hints of great promise to come. Not that Free Electric State expects much in the way of commercial rewards. It helps that their wants are simple. Drummer Stiglitz says he’d be happy just moving up to slightly bigger clubs than the band has played up to now, a wish the rest of the band echoes.

“When we first started getting shows, my dad asked me what my ‘plans’ were,” Williams says. “He was still coming from that thing of starting a band to become massively famous. ‘You gonna get a yacht?’ he asked. But the real brass ring for indie-rock now is to be able to have music as your job. Wealth and fame are out of reach, and nobody cares. Having it as your job is hard enough to get to. That’s the new carrot.”

“Ten years from now, we’ll still have dayjobs,” David Koslowski says. “And that’s okay.”

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