FOCUS // Ten bits of math rock trivia that are weirder than the time signatures

When you’ve been running a math rock website for a couple of years, you inevitably run into a lot of odd stories. Things tend to pop up in the press, the historical literature, or straight from the bands’ mouths. In some cases, it’s an odd little anecdote, a coincidence or a factoid that just slipped underneath the public’s attention. In more astonishing cases, you discover that math rock was the stomping ground for many musicians involved in (much) bigger things down the track. In this article, we round up some of our favourite math rock tidbits and factoids that are slightly unusual, slightly askew, but always interesting…

Ian Williams (Don Caballero, Battles) had a cameo in the film ‘High Fidelity’

High Fidelity (2000) is the film adaption of Nick Hornby’s 1995 bestselling novel about a vinyl record store owner (John Cusack) trying to come to terms with his failed attempts at sustaining romantic relationships and finding happiness. A tragicomedy affair. What many people don’t know is that Ian Williams plays a very short cameo flicking through vinyl, chewing gum with cool debonair, and giving an awkward head-nod exchange with a nearby female customer. Check out his attire, it’s as if he was already in Battles

Mylets is named after the mother of the late Hollywood actor James Coburn

41gEdfMnkZL._SX425_The venerable James Coburn is perhaps most famous for his portrayal of Pat Garrett in Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid, but also had prominent roles in The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven and Our Man Flint. What has this got to do with guitar-looping juggernaut Henry Kohen aka Mylets? Well, it turns out that the name ‘Mylets’ is a portmanteau of sorts, taken from the first name and middle initial of Coburn’s mother: Mylet S Coburn. I mean, you gotta give him points for using her middle initial to pluralize the word…

There is someone sitting in the car on the cover of Slint’s album Tweez, it’s Bonnie Prince Billy

bonnie prince billyYou may have noticed that, if you squint your eyes enough, there is indeed a figure in the front seat of the Saab that adorns the front cover of Slint‘s album Tweez. It ain’t a blooper. It certainly ain’t a ghost.

It is recounted in the 2014 documentary ‘Breadcrumb Trail’ that this mysterious figure is none other than folk singer Bonnie Prince Billy, otherwise known as Will Oldham. Oldham was friends with many of the band members growing up and it just so happened that, when Britt Walford’s dad was taking the photograph, Oldham climbed into the front seat of the car with a crash helmet covering his face.

Some other fun facts about Tweez: producer Steve Albini is credited as ‘Some Fuckin Derd Niffer’, and all the songs are named after the band member’s family members (plus Britt’s dog). Also, did you know that Britt Walford was in The Breeders for a while there?

Arctangent was called ‘Bobfest’ at one point

It took the guys at ArcTanGent ages to find a decent name for their new festival. James Scarlett told us in a 2015 interview “We agonised over the name for months. One name we had was ‘To The Spiders’, which is the English translation of a Spanish Mars Volta song, but after a while we decided that was a bit shit. For a while we called it BobFest because we needed something and literally had no ideas“.

So how did they settle on ArcTanGent? “There’s a British band called earthtone9, they have an album called ‘arc’tan’gent’. This took literally months because we really wanted something that reflected the type of music in the lineup, and three years down the line I’m still really happy with it.

Steve Albini’s (Shellac, Big Black) college girlfriend was in Playboy

In his book Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azerrad narrates the tale of Big Black, the noise-inducing drum-machine-programming trio fronted by Steve Albini. Reflecting on Albini in his formative years, Jeff Pezzati of Naked Raygun says “he was this wiry journalism student with this really hot girlfriend – in fact his girlfriend was in Playboy’s ‘Girls Of The Big Ten’ issue of 1985.”

Naturally, we pursued library catalogues, journal databases and the depths of the internet in search of the Playboy issue (and the elusive ex-girlfriend within). Unfortunately, this (NSFW) was the closest we could get to flipping the lid of this little tidbit. Until Albini answers our e-mails, the specifics surrounding this piece of trivia will remain a mystery…

And So I Watch You From Afar were named after a misheard lyric from the band Team Sleep (featuring Chino Moreno and Zach Hill)

A ‘mondegreen’ is a mishearing of a words or phrases in songs and films. Perhaps one of the most famous examples is this mondegreen from Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’: “‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy“. A lesser known example: And So I Watch You From Afar. The name of Belfast’s wildest instrumental act is attributed to bassist Johnny Adger, who misheard a lyric in a song by Team Sleep, a supergroup that featured, amongst others, Chino Moreno (Deftones), Zach Hill (Hella, Death Grips), and Gil Sharone (The Dillinger Escape Plan).

This story always pops up when we sit down with the guys to talk. Unfortunately, however, we have never had the chance to quiz Johnny personally about the specific song that this mysterious misheard lyric originates from. And, Lord knows, we’ve scoured the lyrics to try and find it ourselves. The baton is being passed to you…

Blake Fleming (Dazzling Killmen) was one of the founding members of The Mars Volta

For those of you who were unaware, Dazzling Killmen were one of the staple bands of the St Louis math rock scene in the mid-90’s. Their bludgeoning, dissonant style has influenced an array of high-tier bands, including The Dillinger Escape Plan, Coalesce and KEN Mode.

Following Killmen’s disbandment in 1997, the members had a five-year stint playing in the equally mathy Laddio Bolocko and subsequently went their separate ways. Drummer Blake Fleming Fleming moved to LA, and started lodging with Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of At The Drive In. The three went on to found a new project: The Mars Volta. Fleming recorded drums for the band’s first demo tracks, ‘Roulette Dares’ and ‘Cicatrix’, in 2001. Unfortunately, things took a bad turn early on and Fleming was eventually replaced. However, in a silver-lining moment, Fleming briefly rejoined the band as a touring drummer in mid-2006.

Spencer Seim (Hella) has a signature green guitar covered in his beard hair

Described by Nick Reinhart as ‘the weirdest fucking guitar I’ve ever seen’, the custom-built guitar of Hella‘s Spencer Seim is something to be awed. Scott French built the guitar for Spencer in 2005 and boasts the following qualities: a solid chunk of wood from neck to body, a built-egg egg shaker, and a glossy finish replete with Spencer’s beard hair. I mean… no there’s enough info for you here.

Battles contributed an unreleased song to the Twilight soundtrack

battlesBattles is one of the great math rock super-groups. Whether you choose to call the band ‘math rock’ is up to you, but suffice it to say that this trio-cum-duo was formed in part by some of the superstars in math rock’s timeline: Ian Williams and Dave Konopka (who has since departed).

A lesser known fact is that these math lords somehow made it onto the Twilight: Eclipse soundtrack back in 2010. The unreleased song ‘The Line’ was included only on the deluxe edition of the soundtrack, probably because the execs thought it’d be too weird for them Rob Pattinson gushing teenagers. The song was recorded between Mirrored and Gloss Drop albums and, unfortunately, is a rarity. It has since been pulled from iTunes and Spotify. Although, you can hear a snippet on Amazon Music and via the link below…

As kids, Tim Kinsella (Cap’n Jazz, Owls) and Victor Villareal (Ghosts and Vodka) were in a band with bodybuilder Jim Wendler called ‘Toe Jam’

2128693a4598c64a0c14f25ba3ee0f8f2afd3ab2The very first project between Tim Kinsella (Cap’n Jazz, Owls) and Victor Villareal (Ghosts and Vodka) took place whilst they were in high school. The story, as Victor Villareal tells it, is that he and Tim first met whilst skateboarding outside a juvenile delinquent school in 1991. Tim was wearing a dark grey shirt, something fresh out of Target or K-Mart, but with a giant foot scribbled out in permanent black marker with the overlying words ‘TOE JAM’. This, he proclaimed, was his new band. Cut to an hour later where Victor is at Tim’s house showing off his guitar skills – Tim is speechless at Victor’s skill set, he yells to his brother Mike (American Football, Owen) to come downstairs and check this kid out. They’d found a new recruit for guitar.

Toe Jam comprised an odd bunch of guys, seemingly from disparate sections of the high school hierarchy. One of these was famed internet strength trainer Jim Wendler, creator of the popular 5/3/1 Training Program. Wendler played drums in between keeping up appearances as the high school football hero. Toe Jam called it quits when high school finished – that’s when Cap’n Jazz started to take form…

Got any odd bits of math rock trivia? Hit us up in the comments! Also, did you know we wrote about the history of math rock? Check it out here.