In the slippery world of sick-day notification, the "24-hour flu" is often code for "awful hangover."
Given this, the Northern Kentucky quartet 24hourflu seems appropriately named, as members describe their whiskey-drenched inception — and a particularly fruitful period of recording known as "the Mad Dog sessions" — with a telling row of empty bottles adorning their practice space. While their winding compositions aren't your typical booze-fueled anthems, neither do they fit the aloof, self-absorbed experimental music stereotype. Instead, their deviation from the norms of Rock music seem grounded in musical mischief more than a loathing of traditional structures.
Joe Thompson and Andy Perkins have never been much for popular forms, from when they started together as teens in the mid-'90s oddball Post Punk outfit Gingham to their more recent collaboration, Hilltop Distillery. Along the way, they developed a distinctive guitar tuning and a gift for operating without recognizable song structures in a heavy free-form style.
The same can be said for Kevin Poole, who at an early age shunned the piano to dabble in Punk and Hardcore bands, and Matt Ogden, whose beginnings were in DJing and rave music. Both brought unique perspectives that helped shape the band's direction. For example, unlike much of their formless, instrumental kin, 24hourflu incorporate hauntingly beautiful melodies as well as electronic beats and swells into their lengthy movements.
"We were definitely interested in the joining of electronic music and live playing.
That's how it started," explains Poole.
In fact, the band's first gig was filling a slot on a bill that was reserved for Ogden's solo, laptop-based project, Ronin. The trio (the original lineup did not include Thompson) holed up for a day-long marathon jam session that spawned ideas they are still mining three years later (and also included a visit from the pesky, shared virus that inspired their name).
"It was spontaneous and energetic," recalls Perkins. "Ideas were just pouring out."
Another limitation they avoid is instrument assignments. Instead, they rotate positions fluidly from song to song, which they say was another of the attractions of the project, although necessity also played a part.
"We couldn't find a drummer that we liked, so we just tried to become that drummer," says Thompson. "As we get better on the instruments that aren't our primary instruments, the songs change and get better. But I have to say we have very patient fans."
Early in their history, sharing a bill with the band also required a measure of patience. Relates Perkins, "We were notoriously slow at setting up. Since everybody is playing different instruments, it takes three times as long, tripping over each other while we're plugging things in. People started to call us '24 hour setup.' We're more efficient now."
24hourflu's sound relies less on dissonance than most experimental music, and very little in their songs is inherently inaccessible, although they are generally devoid of recurring phrases. Melodies and textures are explored and then left behind as they pass on to the next theme in a linear fashion that can be described as cinematic. Not surprisingly, they have contributed to several film soundtracks, and have been solicited by artists wanting to add projector accompaniments to their show. Although ad hoc so far, it's something they eventually want to do regularly, and certainly their CD release next month will feature some sort of visual collaboration.
Last year's eponymous EP was a shifting swirl of ideas ranging from serene to pummeling, imposing with its density and volume but also sometimes approaching minimalism. Recording that and the new disc gave them insight into how to fill out the songs with fresh parts, and they are constantly revamping and adding to the songs. A captivating live set has also emerged from this process. One constant is that the music always exudes a sort of apocalyptic bleakness.
"It's not like we're all manic depressive," claims Ogden, "but it seems like a really easy emotion for all of us to get to."
"Even when I was popping on the vinyls as a kid, I was always into the more depressing songs of all of the biggest bands," says Thompson. In defense of their dreary sound, he adds, "It's not all depressing. Some of it's aggressive, too. All the negative emotions, I guess."
24HOURFLU (24hourflu.us) plays Covington's Mad Hatter Friday for the American Indian College Fund benefit concert. Sept. 15, the band hosts a CD release show at the Southgate House.