Intricate, instrumental post-rock with strong jazz underpinnings, the music of Kansas City's Via Luna is simultaneously heavy and deeply melodic, making the title of their most recent album Heavy Light all the more descriptive. Comprised of members Chris Gordon and Greg Baker on guitars, Blain Bridges on bass and Mike McDonough on drums, Via Luna are KC's answer to bands like Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai and Sigur Ros, though with a sound that's uniquely their own. It's a pleasure to share an interview with the band on Listen Local, along with some book and movie recommendations.
Please introduce yourselves. Where do you live and work?
Chris: I play guitar in the band and I am a studying Chemical Engineering at the University of Kansas and I live in Lawrence. When I am not buried in schoolwork I make sure to find time for music.
Greg: I play guitar in the band, currently working as a shift supervisor at Starbucks and living in Olathe. I also play guitar for a rapper named Duncan Burnett and bass for a grindcore band called Walter Kronkite when I feel like getting loud and angry with my friends.
Blain: I play bass in the band. I live in midtown Kansas City and I work full time as a Mutual Fund Rep with DST Systems. I also go to school at MCC.
Mike: I play drums in the band. I live in Belton, where I have a small recording studio and do a lot of work out of there recording and mixing music for bands(including ours). I also have a day job at a company in Olathe.
Delve a little into your process of songwriting as a band. What may surprise listeners about how the music’s created? What tools do you use?
Chris: What I find the most surprising about songwriting is that what we write can be largely attributed to happenstance. When writing sometimes your fingers find the right frets at the right time, the drummer finds the right rhythm or the bass the right groove. The product is a collection of songs that have come from happy accidents.
Greg: I feel like a lot of people would expect to hear that we spend a lot of time planning out the direction and sound of a song, when in reality we mostly just jam on parts we write and feel it out. A lot of times we'll be stuck on a song and months later we'll randomly pick it back up with a different perspective on it. From there the rest normally just comes out of us and the song goes off into an idea totally different than what we initially had.
Blain: What Chris said. Haha! Really though, he is so right; I'd add that I think people would be surprised how much we disagree about things. We all love each other though and we all want to be challenged to be better so it works out.
Mike: Chris and Greg are really good about feeding off of each other and coming up with parts that work together in an interesting way. On some occasions we will be practicing and just randomly break out into a jam that ends up really inspiring us. It's awesome when that happens because it's totally organic and everyone just reacts to what is being played and it's natural. We'll also record song ideas to a phone or to the computer and listen back to them objectively to get an audience perspective.
Your music, described as “instrumental art/math-rock,” seems simultaneously improvised and meticulously composed. How long had you been working on the music for Heavy Light before recording it?
Chris: The genre title, in my opinion, is somewhat arbitrary. The goal of labeling ourselves that way is so that people who are not familiar with math rock or post rock can get an idea of what we are trying to accomplish. We don't take ourselves too seriously, but we would like to consider our music as a piece or art. We also are instrumental and have been compared to many math rock bands by fans.
Writing for Heavy Light was a long process. There are guitar riffs that I wrote in 2011 that are used on this EP. As a group we wanted to make sure to evolve from our last release Calm and Clear and not fall short of our own expectations, this took longer than expected but the product made us proud.
Greg: Writing Heavy Light was a pretty long process considering the length of the EP. In between playing as many shows as we could and practicing for them, song writing was on the back burner for most the time. We had also acquired Blain for writing this EP and adding a member to your group takes a little bit to click on that artistic level. Fortunately, with Blain, that happened very quickly and one of the first songs we ever jammed with him ended up being 'Stratovolcano', the opening song on the EP. Other than that, we had about half of it finished when we started recording and completed writing the other songs while tracking. We were surprised to find that writing that way was actually very efficient and helped us sit back and listen to all the parts to hear what each instrument should play.
Blain: I had hardly any parts for the songs before recording them so I'd say I mostly improvised my parts on the album with some last minute refinement from Mike during the recording process. On the whole though I think the other dudes were more meticulous but I did put a lot of passion into playing cool stuff on the album.
Mike: I would say in general our music probably sides more with "meticulously composed" than with improvised. But with that said, on Heavy Light we started recording it before we were finished writing it. We wrote nearly half of that record while it was being recorded. We had a lot of pieces and bits of ideas that we experimented with, wrote, and recorded, sometimes all in the same day.
What did you learn from the recording of Heavy Light that you’ll take to future projects?
Chris: I don't think this is specifically from Heavy Light, but I am constantly being reminded we are at our best when we work together. If you are in a band, allow your ideas to be critiqued, modified and adjusted. This is the best way to take a song or idea to the next level. Don't become emotionally attached to only one way of using an idea, chances are the other members will find something that works better or paints a different picture and that's okay.
Greg: Recording ideas and unfinished songs to be able to sit back and listen to them helped a lot on this record. As we're going in to writing our 3rd EP right now, we've definitely taken advantage of Mike's home studio every chance we get.
Blain: Spend more time on tone! I managed to get some pretty good sounds out of my bass on the record but Mike definitely worked his magic to make the bass sound great on the album. I could have made things even easier on him if I'd tinkered a little more.
Mike: We often try to write things that are somewhat challenging for us to play so that we grow as players and don't get bored playing our songs live a thousand times. I think a lesson we learned while working on Heavy Light is to not complicate parts for the sake of technicality, but to keep a focus on the emotion or feeling in the song as a whole.
What inspires you the most about the Kansas City music scene?
Chris: The Kansas City music scene is full of motivated individuals striving to constantly improve the culture. Our experiences gigging around this city have been amazing. There are only great things left to come.
Greg: The KC music scene rules; everyone is super friendly and supportive. The city is filled with a ton of talented people and has had a long history of music. There's so many different genres and scenes in town that anyone can hear something they'd like.
Blain: I am mostly inspired by the people. Almost everyone I've met in the scene has been so kind and generous and awesome and it fosters a great sense of community. Everyone looks out for each other and hangs out. I can't speak for any other town but it's great here.
Mike: In addition to the awesome people here, there's also awesome festivals and showcases for local bands all the time (Middle of the Map is coming up!). Our scene may not be as developed as other scenes around the country, but I love it when I talk to a touring band after a show and they say that they weren't expecting their KC show to be all that great but end up being blown away by how cool our town and our music scene are. It makes me proud to be in KC.
Via Luna's recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons
Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
The Lord of the Rings (2001)