Explosions in the Sky Begin Again

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Explosions in the Sky interview

Let’s go ahead and get something out of the way: Explosions in the Sky aren’t breaking up. At least not anytime soon.

The band—who have been making dramatic and evocative instrumental rock music together since forming in Austin, Texas more than two decades ago—realized they were opening a can of worms when they titled their new album End, and in connection to it, announced the subsequent End Tour. The “end” that the album refers to is much less of a literal one, reflective of the close of an era or a period of trial and grief, perhaps even a rebirth. But rest assured: It’s not their final chapter.

“When we announced the End tour, we thought, people are gonna think that we’re breaking up,” says Explosions in the Sky drummer Chris Hrasky via Zoom call from his Austin home. “And are people gonna be disappointed when we’re not breaking up?”

If anything, End—out this month via Temporary Residence—sounds like a band reenergized. Their seventh album, not counting the half-dozen or so film scores they’ve worked on, it captures Explosions in the Sky at their most immediate. On songs like “Moving On,” there’s an urgency and drive to their music where more recent material like 2016’s The Wilderness found them more actively pursuing moments of stillness and contemplation. Yet on the band’s first new album in seven years, there’s a drive toward something more climactic and harder hitting, as evident on a standout like “The Fight,” which only gets bigger and bigger throughout its six and a half minutes.

Capturing that kind of live, physical energy isn’t as easy as it used to be, in large part because the once Austin-based band are now spread out all over the U.S., with bassist Michael James in Los Angeles and guitarist Munaf Rayani in Michigan, while Hrasky and guitarist Mark Smith remain in Texas. Which in part is why, aside from the score for Big Bend that they released in 2021, it’s resulted in the longest gap between Explosions in the Sky albums to date. But while it takes a little more effort on their part to make it happen, being able to harness that all-pistons-firing sound is crucial to the band’s artistic aims.

“It used to be we’d meet up four days a week and work in a room together, and that’s just not our process anymore,” Hrasky says. “It’s taken some time to get used to, and it has its own advantages. But it’s weird because it’s very important to us to sound very live, like it’s a rock band playing together. Which is difficult to pull off when you’re not really together very much. In fact, never really played these songs together live until the record was done.”

We spoke to Explosions in the Sky drummer Chris Hrasky about the band’s new album End, looking back on landmark albums, and how they’ve grown and changed over nearly 25 years.

Treble: End is of course a pretty evocative title. What kind of ending is it intended to suggest?

Chris Hrasky: I don’t know. We’d always been emailing back and forth about possible songs titles and album titles, and one day, Mark (Smith) wrote ‘how about End’, and it just sort of—when it hits, it hits. And for whatever reason, it struck us.

We were very aware that when we titled the record End, people are gonna assume it’s our last record. And that’s not our intention, but whatever. It wasn’t even exactly meant to be an apocalyptic “it’s all over” kind of thing. Part of it was even a pleading in a way. Can this all just end, please? The insanity of the last several years of everyone being exhausted and everything feeling like it’s crumbling and everyone’s anxious? So I don’t know, this idea in our minds of the end is kind of a clearing of the air. Like the press release says, there’s another beginning after the end. Also it was just vaguely in our minds that the album was about death. All of us in the past seven years have lost people. So it was never a specific concept, we just wanted something very simple but very kind of bold and something that could be kind of evocative, even if we as the band can’t quite give an articulate answer as to what we meant by that. It just sort of felt right.

Treble: There’s more immediacy to this album, to a certain degree, than Wilderness. How much do you consider where you’ve been as you determine where you’re going, musically?

CH: To some degree it’s on our minds a lot, where we don’t want it to sound like “Your Hand In Mine” again. That’s the song that everyone knows, and that’s not even close to any of our favorite songs from the band. I think about that a lot, but at the same time, listening to our old records is a very odd experience for me. Some of them were a long time ago. Like, what were we thinking back then? Not that it’s bad, but we think now we wouldn’t take a certain direction in a song. Our hope is to always try and make it feel like each record is its own thing and its own universe. I think each record is us trying to refine what we’re doing and get to something that we think is the best that we’ve done. We feel that way every time we finish a record. And we’ll go back years later and say “actually this one isn’t the best, we were wrong.” We like each one to almost be its own separate entity, whether we succeed at that is hard to say. The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place is by far the biggest album we have by a huge margin. We don’t want to repeat that. 

Treble: Speaking of which, that record is now 20. How do you hear it, now, two decades on?

CH: I haven’t heard it in probably 10 years. It’ll come up on a random Spotify thing but when we play them live, those songs, it’s like “yeah, these are pretty good for not knowing what the hell we were doing!” It connected with people. I still like it, but it feels very old to me at this point. We’ve played these songs so many times and we appreciate that people responded to it. But that record really changed our lives. It introduced us to soundtracks and all that. But I imagine if I go back and listen to it, I’d probably think, “oh, why did we do that.” But we recorded it in two days and mixed it in six hours. It was a different time for us, and we seemed to have caught lightning in a bottle. Twenty years ago, we were all in different places back then.

Treble: What’s different now for you and your bandmates than when you began back in the late ’90s?

CH: For the first 10, 12, 15 years of the band, we were always together. We all lived in the same town. We all lived in Austin. We’d practice, we’d work on music a lot. And now, we’re very different. We’re older. Two of us are still in Austin, but Mike’s in Los Angeles and Munaf’s in Michigan. It’s a different relationship. We text a lot, but it’s just like getting older, you don’t hang out with your buddies as much. When we started, we’d go on tour with a van that barely worked and come home with $200 each and it’d be like, now we gotta go get a job. But we’ve built lives for ourselves, and families, but we’re still super close and tight. We haven’t drifted apart, but we’re just not in the same place.

When we first started, we were burning CD-Rs to sell for five bucks at shows and handing out boombox recordings to promoters to try to get shows, and now it’s just a very different world. So you know, we came around at the right time when there was this heyday of indie rock bands that would get offered to play festivals and that was huge. With a lot of the big festivals, there’s just not that many bands playing anymore. And that’s fine. It’s just progressed. It’s not better or worse. We’ve just kind of been through a lot of weird eras of music. It’s worked out for us.

Treble: Do you feel that you’ve changed on a more personal level?

CH: Oh yeah, very much so. We were in our early, mid twenties. We were all fucking poor, working 50 hours a week at retail jobs and then meet up every night and practice until 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. and go to work the next morning at 8. But you’re younger, so you can do that. It was never like “this is how this is gonna work.” We never had a plan.

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