After rocketing rents forced them to move from the way-cool city of Austin, Texas, to the way-out dust plains of Midland, Texas, the four members of Explosions in the Sky got the call that would help spark their own ascent -- and make an unlikely impact on TV and movie scores.
"We were completely a young, untested band, and here we were working on a big Hollywood movie," recalled Michael James, guitarist and occasional bassist in the all-instrumental rock quartet. "It helped that we all had basically lived that movie."
The film in question was 2004's "Friday Night Lights" with Billy Bob Thornton, based on a book about the pervasiveness of high school football in West Texas. Its success led to the NBC/DirecTV series of the same name, one of the most acclaimed dramas on TV right up until its finale this past spring.
Remember all those atmospheric, crescendoing guitar interludes used to great dramatic effect in both the big- and small-screen versions of "FNL"? That was all Explosions. The movie's soundtrack producer, Brian Reitzell -- who also had the good sense to recruit Air for the film "Virgin Suicides" and My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields for "Lost in Translation" -- talked Universal Pictures into hiring the quartet to score all the music. The fact that all four grew up in West Texas didn't hurt.
"That's not why we were asked to do it, but that's definitely how they were able to sell the studio on the idea of using us," James said, adding with a laugh, "Of course, we were the guys getting beat up by the football players, not the players themselves."
Before and after "FNL," Explosions in the Sky made a bold name for itself in indie-rock and experimental music circles with its own cinematic, bone-crashing albums, especially 2007's "All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone" and 2003's "The Earth Is a Cold Dead Place" -- two of the best instrumental (no-vocals) rock records since the Dirty Three's heyday.
After a four-year wait, Explosions is finally back on the road promoting a new album, "Take Care, Take Care, Take Care," which follows a similar sonic pattern: Three reverb-loving, intricate but non-noodling guitarists and a truly explosive drummer taking what sounds like a train ride up, down and through icy mountains under a shimmering nighttime sky.
Behind the scenes, though, "Take Care" was a different and sometimes difficult undertaking.
"We sort of forgot how to write music together," James admitted. "We don't have a frontman to guide the band. It has to be 100 percent collaborative every time we write, which can be extremely rewarding in the end, but can be very frustrating if we're not going anywhere."
Faced with the latter, the band members did something they had never done before: Worked individually. Said James, "We would all kind of work on stuff at our homes and then get together and piece it all together. The idea was to branch out more. So there are different sound textures, some samples and different instruments not on any of our other records."
"Take Care" was a different kind of record on the business end, too: It debuted at No. 16 on the Billboard album chart upon its release in April, a true feat for an instrumental rock album, and a happy end result of all the "FNL" exposure. So when will Explosions be on TV or the big screen again?
"We've talked about it, and our music by nature sort of lends itself well to it," James said. "But our focus is and always has been on making albums."
The difference is now they can afford to do it in Austin.
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