When Maps & Atlases coalesced six years ago, they were four young art students steered by contemporary musical thought and informed by their parents’ record collections. In some ways, they’re not far from that model now but time and experience have brought the Chicago quartet into much clearer focus.
“When we first started, we were really into more technical stuff and had just discovered Free Jazz and (Post Rock heroes) Don Caballero,” guitarist/vocalist Dave Davison says. “But at that time and now, we were into Classic Rock and Folk and experimental Indie Pop, and our dads — me and (guitarist) Erin (Elders) specifically — were into Jethro Tull and Mahavishnu Orchestra. And after our first EP, the things we had discovered in new music were meshing and morphing into that ’70s Rock stuff, but it obviously has the qualities of the new technical stuff.”
This year promises to be an exciting one for Maps & Atlases. The foursome — Davison, Elders, bassist Shiraz Dada and drummer Chris Hainey — are currently on tour to support Perch Patchwork, its debut for Barsuk Records and its first full-length after a pair of acclaimed EPs (2006’s Tree, Swallows, Houses and 2008’s You and Me and the Mountain). The band members are clearly excited about the new material, specifically, and their future in general.
“On the other two EPs, we did songs that we’d been playing for a while and Shiraz engineered them, so we did them bare bones,” Davison says. “On this record, we really branched out as far as sounds and instruments. We took a lot more time. We wanted to make a bigger sounding record and keep moving forward. We’ve always wanted to write Pop songs but do something new and put them in a new context, and I think we’ve continued with that.”
Maps & Atlases has charted an interesting sonic course from the start, moving from aggressive volume to Math Rock precision to Folk-tinged experimentalism to its latest explorations (produced by Jason Cupp, who produced Davison’s Cast Spells solo project), which incorporate the best hybridized parts of everything they’ve done to date. Davison notes that the new album might take a couple of spins to sink in.
“Upon first listen, the instrumentation might be a little more subtle seeming, but we did try to do things that were a lot more experimental, like more timing changes and key changes and strange chords,” he says. “But I think the way we did it allowed it to seem more palatable, which was a fun and interesting challenge. Playing it for friends, the reaction is ‘Wow, this sounds really crazy and poppy and huge,’ but after a little listening, they started noticing some of the strange stuff we were trying to do. And Jason was fantastic as far as his ability to make any crazy idea work and keep that momentum going.”
The diversity that defines Maps & Atlases has allowed them to share bills with a wide variety of artists, including RX Bandits, Ra Ra Riot, Minus the Bear, The Fall of Troy and Portugal The Man, among many others. That experience has given M&A an unique perspective on their presentation.
“It’s interesting that we get to tour with so many different bands,” Davison says. “For example, Foals, who we toured with in the US and the UK, and who are really good friends of ours. It was interesting seeing them perform, especially in the UK, where they’re actually a popular band.
“It’s crazy, it reminds me of going to see the Foo Fighters when I was 13, people are so excited about them and they have this big production. Playing with bands like that has really made us think about what it means to put on a show where, in addition to the artistic experience where we’re having that moment of live expression, that it’s also still an entertaining show. And I think that’s something that we’re figuring out right now.”
Playing with a widely diverse group of bands has put Maps & Atlases in front of a diverse set of audiences, as well, which has been equally educational.
“Another interesting thing in playing with different bands is how different audiences get really excited about different aspects of the band,” Davison notes. “A lot of people were more interested in the pure technicality of the music and weren’t as concerned with the actual songs, which is fine. I’ve always had the perspective that if people like the music, I’m not going to argue with that for any reason. But it’s really interesting. There will be certain regions of the country where we’ve only played with specific kinds of bands and our fanbase will be a lot different — older or younger people, or people with different expectations, which is kind of cool.
“I feel really fortunate that we’ve had the opportunity to tour with so many different bands, from Folk bands to Pop bands to Metal bands. It seems like in some way it makes sense to some people, which is great. It’s something I never really thought about until it started happening.”
MAPS & ATLASES plays the Southgate House Wednesday with Cults and Laura Stevenson & the Cans. Go here to for tickets and show details.