Most musicians want to kill Nick Marci. Not because he’s a dick or anything. More mellow than Donovan after an ashram, it’s hard to think of anyone trying to choke Marci with a guitar string. See, the Euphone bassist pays rent by playing with the Chicago crew of Blue Man Group—yeah, the Pentium 4 commercial guys. “I’m spoiled,” he says. “I have a job I enjoy and I can still take care of my bills.”
Sometimes, though, he has to fill in with different companies. A few weeks ago he was in Vegas, hunkered down at the Luxor. Once he met the guys in the band there, he realized that Sin City is still a place where old rockers go to survive.
“It’s weird. The Vegas show is like a graveyard of former rockers,” he says. “There’s a guy from Slaughter in the band. Primus’ old drummer, Herb Alexander, is there. Even a guy from Bitch Magnet is in the band. I think they’ve all sold more records than I ever have in my life.”
But it’s not like Euphone is designed for double-platinum success. More experimental than Einstein with a chemistry kit, the group mixes up rock, jazz, funk and God-knows-what-else into a spacey brand of indefinable instrumental rock. The band can go from ambient cool to down-tempo grooves. Every boy band in the world would have to suddenly suffocate under teen-pop impresario Lou Perlman’s thick thighs before Euphone could even dream of cracking the Top 200.
“Yeah, we make music for the sake of music, not to score any success,” Marci says.
Euphone started out as just a solo gig. Founder Ryan Rapsys would show up at clubs with just his drum kit, a sequencer and a keyboard, doing everything himself. He even recorded an album alone, Euphone’s 1997 self-titled debut. But mainly, it was just a diversion from his other instrumental band, Heroic Doses. At least until Marci came along. He joined up with Doses long enough to record the band’s one disc. He also started playing a few gigs with Rapsys. “He wanted to fill out the sound a bit, so I tagged along,” Marci says.
From there, things just clicked. The duo quickly built up a catalog of jazzed-up funk and instrumental rock. By ’99, Marci and Rapsys had a new record, Calendar of Unlucky Days, out on indie darling label Jade Tree, and a national tour in the works. The group also started getting some national attention, with would-be highbrow critics pawing at the group like a football captain going after the head cheerleader.
Marci couldn’t help feeling a little pissed by all the praise, though. The reason: Euphone quickly got tagged as another Chicago post-rock offering, following in the footsteps of groups like Tortoise and The Sea & Cake. And while there’s some merit in the term—it’s easy seeing Euphone playing to a bunch of bohemians who like to snap—it drives Marci nuts.
“That’s just the easy way out,” he says, getting a little edgy. “I think it’s … I don’t care. It just seems like a fabricated journalist thing to fulfill people’s need to categorize stuff or have a simple story to follow. And I guess that’s fine and all, but I still think it’s the easy way out.”
Maybe it’s because Euphone is so damned hard to pin down. Sure, the band’s third disc, Hashin’ It Out, has a jazzy edge. But unlike, say, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Euphone couldn’t care less about trying sell rehashed Thelonious Monk as some new jam-band phenom. And yeah, Marci and Rapsys play with feedback and noise like a kid digging into a pile of Play-Doh, but it’s not as oppressive as Mogwai’s wall of sound. There are barely any vocals (only the opening track, “Gyrations,” features any singing, and even then it’s phased and flipped to the point of being unintelligible).
The group rarely sticks with one style long enough to get fresh, let alone snuggle up for a night of serious nookie. “Where’s the B?” could have easily come from P-Funk’s mothership. “Press On” and “Bad Ascending” come off like Brian Setzer after some mambo lessons. And even though “Do You Up” starts off with a sample of a chainsaw, the track is meant more for the coffeehouse crowd than a crew of lumberjacks.
Marci says the group just wants to try out anything it can get its hands on. “We’re pretty much a rock band dabbling and having fun,” he says. “We never intended to have any rules. It’s just whatever happens.”
Euphone is going to be able to dabble with even more now. The group has added keyboardist-guitarist Jeremy Jacobsen to the line-up. It’s like he was in the band already; he played on half the tracks on Hashin’ It Out. But now with Jacobsen in the group full time, Marci says things have gotten more interesting live.
“The last time we went out on tour it got really old playing an entire set for 12 weeks set to the pulse of a sequencer,” Marci says. “It’s so great to play with a human rather than a machine.”
His addition has also got the group talking about ditching the instrumental tag. See, with two people it was just too damn difficult to pull everything off and try to sing a bit. But, of course, even if there are more vocals, Euphone can’t take the simple route; that wouldn’t fit the band’s M.O. No pop hooks, no hummable melodies, just another instrument in the band.
“It’s possible to make beautiful instrumental music with a voice, as long as you treat it like any other thing in the band,” Marci says. “And this is just what’s coming out right now. There’s nothing conscious about doing it. It’s part of that no-rules thing. You just have to go with what’s there and see what happens.”
At press time, Euphone’s show at Kilby Court on Saturday, June 2 had been canceled in favor of flying over the Mountain West and going directly to a Seattle date. Despite this hipster move, Hashin’ It Out is still a cool record to own (www.JadeTree.com).