In the here today/gone tomorrow world of the music industry, a band that takes more than six months to gestate and arrive is an anomaly. Los Angeles trio Autolux fits that bill and then some.
Way back in 1997 (remember the late '90s?), drummer Carla Azar was keeping time for Ednaswap and bassist Greg Edwards was collecting a lot of great press and little else as one of the creative forces behind the criminally neglected Failure. The two met on a package tour with Local H and, being fans of each other's playing, became friends.
Within a year, Azar had departed Ednaswap and Edwards was a free agent after Failure's dissolution, leaving them open to working together. Azar had previously mentioned to Edwards that her friend back in L.A., guitarist Eugene Goreshter (formerly with Maids of Gravity), was an amazing musician and someone Edwards should meet, so it wasn't long before the three of them hooked up to discuss the idea of creating a band together. The discussions lasted for the better part of a year.
"We were all coming from the same place anyway," Edwards says. "It was fun to sit around and talk about what we liked, what we hated and how we wanted this band to be different. We had such specific ideas about every single aspect.
We were very specifically focused, in terms of lyrics, song structure, mood and in the way an album should feel from beginning to end."
Although the band's forum turned out to be a lengthy process, it wasn't necessarily a regularly scheduled event.
"It wasn't like we met every night and talked," Edwards says with a laugh. "Carla and Eugene sort of gave me the invitation, and it just took a while before we found ourselves in a situation where we were all in the room together playing."
Once they began, it was clear to all of them that their new combination was potent. Having come from unsatisfactory band situations, the desire for change was paramount among Autolux's three members.
"It really felt like it was our first band for all of us," Edwards says. "I had played a bit of guitar on Failure records and I had always recorded guitar as a part of the writing process, but I was a pretty terrible, lacking guitar player. I switched to guitar, and Eugene switched from guitar to bass. That was a really great, jarring thing.
"I felt as insecure on the instrument as I ever had, and I know Eugene had the same experience. That was really good in terms of keeping it fresh. There was nothing from the past that we wanted to bring into it. It was the beginning for all of us."
Autolux's new beginning was marked by a unique sonic fingerprint, a blend of My Bloody Valentine's shoegaze guitar drone and Radiohead's electronic subtleties. Although the new roles assumed by Edwards and Goreshter caused some internal consternation ("It's hard for me to imagine how it even sounded like music to anyone watching," Edwards says), audiences recognized from the outset that Autolux was an exceptional entity. The band's early shows at Silverlake Lounge quickly earned them a loyal following.
One early fan helped the band load out their equipment at the end of the night, expressing his admiration for them and outlining his plan to start a label for bands such as Autolux. The fan turned out to be producer T-Bone Burnett, who signed the trio to DMZ, the Sony imprint he launched with indie movie icons Joel and Ethan Coen.
By the time Autolux signed with Burnett in late 2002, they'd already recorded a five-song demo called Demonstration, which was selling well at shows and garnering airplay and attention around the world. With so many good breaks going Autolux's way, the band's one bad break was literally just that.
After opening a series of shows for Elvis Costello in L.A., Azar tripped off the front of the stage and shattered her elbow. The first surgeon pronounced it the worst break he'd ever seen and said Azar would likely never drum again. Luckily she found an orthopedic surgeon whose groundbreaking operation restored her to complete mobility with the help of seven titanium screws in her elbow.
"I think she plays better now," Edwards says. "The fact that this happened to her, there's this little part of her mind that plays that little extra bit better."
After being out of commission for nearly a year, the moment Azar was up to the rigors of playing again Autolux hit the studio with Burnett to begin work on what would become Future Perfect, the band's full-length debut. Edwards' stated goal was to forge a sound that was identifiable, unique, accessible and off-kilter. Future Perfect hits all those bases and a few more for good measure.
"I don't know how most people define 'off-kilter,' " Edwards says. "Brian Eno made some great off-kilter Pop. Some off-kilter Pop has a zany quality, and I don't think we have that. There should be something in a song or in a part or lyric that makes your head turn, like when a dog hears a high-pitched noise.
"That's what always excites me. The song's moving along and you're getting it and then there's just a moment, and it could be just a textural interaction between instruments. That for me has always been more of a hook than hooks."
AUTOLUX performs Sunday at the Southgate House in Newport as part of CityBeat's free "Hot Issue" party, also featuring The Raveonettes and The Peels.