On November 30th, Jack Chuter is going to set the record straight.
Storm Static Sleep: A Pathway Through Post-Rock is Chuter’s detailed history of the murky and oft-disputed genre obsessive crescendo-lovers the world over have come to know as post-rock. Until now, there has been no comprehensive history of the genre, despite its growing popularity. Promising to be the first book dedicated to telling the story of post-rock, it touts over 30 first-hand interviews with members of influential bands like Mogwai, Mono, and Slint, as well as producer Steve Albini who is, ostensibly, never one to turn down a chat.
Though it’s more popular than ever, post-rock remains a niche genre and writing its history is undoubtedly an ambitious task. We dabbled in the painful process of writing a genre history ourselves this year and we can assure you it’s no easy task (the advantage of a book is that there’s no comment forum for sanctimonious pundits to start spewing about the horror of not acknowledging the seminal works of band X, band Y and, of course, band Z. C’est la vie). So, as we anticipate the arrival of Storm Static Sleep, we threw some questions at Jack regarding the book, his research, and the wily world of post rock.
What first drew you to post-rock? Can you describe your relationship to post-rock, from the beginning to when you started preparing to write Static Storm Sleep?
Post-rock and post-metal came into my life just as I was starting to acknowledge my own status as an introvert in my early/mid teens. I’d grown tired of the mindless, persistent catharsis of metal because the music didn’t make space for me. Post-rock was full of absences that my mind could inhabit; there was a patience and depth in which my thoughts could wander and properly unfurl. I distinctly remember taking Isis’ Panopticon and Godspeed’s Lift Your Skinny Fists… on long walks through the Basingstoke countryside, and drawing parallels between the music’s grand dynamic arcs and the undulation of the landscape all around me.
Since then I’ve immersed myself in writing about “experimental” music and sound art, which has completely restructured my relationship with post-rock. I’m now increasingly drawn to the innate tensions of post-rock; the desire to both “rock out” and transcend the body entirely, and placing notions of catharsis and contemplation directly on top of eachother. That said, the music still hits me right in the chest as well. Lift Your Skinny Fists… is a beautiful record whether you dissect the experience or not.
What did you set out to do when you started researching? What was your approach?
I spent a good month freaking out about the whole thing. I didn’t have an existing book on post-rock to turn to. There was no clear chronology or starting point. I decided explore the existing accounts of post-rock history that are dotted around the internet. Most centre on the same flimsy assumptions and contradictions, but at the least it gave me a framework to work with. Plus – as it transpired, the real truth about post-rock’s history was often buried close by.
I also reached out to Simon Reynolds early on. Given that he originally proliferated the term “post-rock” back in the 90s, I thought I’d establish my understanding at the source and then work outward from there. Immediately, he shot down a lot of the assumptions I had about post-rock history and the term semantics. It became clear to me that existing accounts of skew the truth to make the narrative more coherent and palatable. The real story is much more complicated.
You’ve focused not just on the central groups that we tend to think of a post-rock today – those who make ambient, cinematic guitar music with big crescendos like EITS, Caspian and GY!BE – but on bands at the edges of the sound. What made you decide to do this?
It was absolutely essential to do this. Not only did it give me an excuse to write about all of the strange and wonderful bands that were called “post-rock” back in the early 90s (Pram, Disco Inferno, Labradford etc), but it was also imperative to show where the term “post-rock” came from. I’ve seen people cite the fact that post-rock refers to using “rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes” – as per Simon Reynolds’ description – before listing examples such as Slint and Mogwai, who quite clearly use rock instruments for rock purposes (how on earth is “Batcat” anything other than a stonking rock track?). In order to trace the trail of Chinese Whispers that carried “post-rock” into the laps of Mogwai and This Will Destroy You, I needed to go right back to the start.
“Post-rock” originally applied to a wider variety of sounds. Does this legacy live on today? Are there any current groups that you see as bringing the genre forward in new ways?
I asked Simon Reynolds whether any current bands embody the original definition of post-rock, and his answer really surprised me. You’ll have to read the book to find out what he said, but I’ll give you a clue: it’s not Mogwai or Red Sparowes or anything like that.
Personally, I see several ways to answer this question. Bands like Tides From Nebula and Maybeshewill represent a very modern incarnation of post-rock: a much trimmer, sleeker adoption of head cinema and the loud/quiet dynamic. This Will Destroy You are currently reconnecting the modern understanding of post-rock (emotionally-fuelled, dynamic contrasts, lots of reverb etc) with the studio manipulation which was more prevalent in the post-rock of the mid-90s.
Then you have the bands that seem to be spilling over the limits of rock. Swans operate on a completely unparalleled sense of time and space, while musicians like Jon Mueller are labouring the aggressive hallmarks of rock until they turn into blunt instruments of massage and hypnosis.
Contemporary post-rock music is used in a lot of advertisements and films these days. What does this mean for the genre?
Post-rock strikes that balance between emotional hyperbole and human connection: all the splendour of the orchestra without the depersonalising scale that can often with it. Even during its most grandiose moments, the sound of the plectrum striking a guitar string retains the glimmer of human intimacy. I can see why advertisers would go for that.
Function Books are releasing it in classic old paper format – was this always going to be the case? What does having a physical copy allow for, for you as the author and the readers? Are you really proud to hold it? Have you shown preview versions to your family who don’t know anything about post-rock and left them a bit overwhelmed and flustered about all this untouched material and hopefully inspired to listen to post-rock to find out what this is all about, and ultimately, very proud of you for having made a whole god-damn book? Does the book feel nice in your hands? Will it fit in the pocket of post-rock gig-goers or will they need a tote bag for it? Will people take it on holiday with them? Will it make beaches better? What about lazy afternoons? Will people read it in bed to their loved ones? Will people read it on the toilet and if so, will it elevate their experience in that moment by filling their heads with wonder and mesmerising soundscapes and glorious toilet crescendos? Ahem, sorry …
It was always going to be a physical book. Given that our current history of post-rock is a bunch of speculative debris swirling around the swamp of the internet, it was important to make Storm Static Sleep a coherent, physical document. When I talk to my parents about it, I can see their faces flicker between pride and bewilderment – they don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, but they know how much this project has meant to me.
Give us a hint about a fact that you would only learn through buying your book.
This is probably out there on the internet somewhere already, but anyway: the widespread belief that Bark Psychosis’ HEX was the first record to be called “post-rock” is totally false.
You can preorder Storm Static Sleep on Amazon here . Go on, it’ll be quicker than a post rock song.