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The Age of Rockets
An orchestra in a one-bedroom apartment
By Simon McCormack
Can something be intimate and enormous? Artificial and organic? Low-budget and extravagant? The Age of Rockets’ singer-songwriter Andrew Futral thinks so. But it takes time.
“It took about two years to make our last album,” Futral admits. “It was frustrating sometimes, but it all worked out.”
The Age of Rockets throws up a loose framework of programmed beats, but much of the butter on the band’s proverbial bread is an orchestral mêlée of string instruments. Since the record was made on a budget, The Age of Rockets had to be patient, since recording strings can be pricy. “It took a lot of favors, but we knew some friends of friends, and we just recorded one instrument at a time,” Futral recalls. “Sometimes we’d get one instrument done and then have to wait weeks or months for the next musician to come in.”
“I never really know what I’m doing, but I know what it should sound like when it’s done.”
Andrew Futral, The Age of Rockets
Hannah (self-released) bears the fruits of The Age of Rockets’ labor: A winding, complicated mass of layered vocal harmonies, succinct and carefully separated strings, and drum tracks that are surprisingly humanized.
The album is an 11-track palindrome, with 10 songs that mirror one another, and a central track (No. 7) that stands on its own. The first song has similar themes to the 11th; the same goes for the second and 10th songs, third and ninth songs, and on and on. “It was just a little pretentious thing to busy myself with,” Futral explains. “I didn’t want to make it too obvious, but there are little repeating lyrical themes, and chord changes that make it kind of interesting.”
Futral is a meticulous producer who chose to record everything but the drums for the album in his Upper Westside apartment in Manhattan. “You can't value your personal space,” Futral says. “There are microphones and instruments everywhere. You just have to understand that this is what you’re going to live with.”
Futral experimented with different microphone setups, slowly finding the right textures to deliver the desired sound. “I never really know what I’m doing,” Futral says. “But I know what it should sound like when it’s done.”
Production is Futral’s main concern. He puts all other song-making components on the backburner. Unlike many artists who first concentrate on lyrics and melodies, Futral writes both, only after he’s decided on the layout of each song.
Futral contrasts The Cure’s “Love Song” with 311’s cover of the ballad to justify his prioritization. “How can The Cure’s version be so heart-wrenching and amazing and 311’s sound like the equivalent of musical abortion?” Futral asks. “It’s the same tempo, same chords and same melody, but the difference is the delivery and the production.”
When he and his bandmates Saul Simon MacWilliams and Bess Rogers go out on tour, the three multi-instrumentalists can’t bring an orchestra with them. Synthesizers are used in place of the strings, and Futral says the band is unafraid of the imperfections inherent in a rock ’n’ roll show. “It’s not a meticulous, produced thing,” Futral says. “It’s like the album, but it allows for more grit.”
The Age of Rockets is currently touring the country in support of electro-rapper MC Chris. Futral produced the bulk of the tracks on Chris’ newest album MC Chris is Dead (self-released). For Futral, the tour is a chance to catch up with an old pal. “He and I have been friends for 10 years,” Futral says. “We just figured we’d keep hanging out across America.”
The Age of Rockets/MC Chris tour makes a pit stop at the Moonlight Lounge (Second Street and Central SW) on Saturday, June 14, at 7:30 p.m. The show is all-ages.
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