Cannons and Clouds

San Francisco’s Cannons and Clouds released their new EP A Challenge to the Dark on July 16 via local label 20 Sided Records, and the band is set to celebrate the new album with a record release party tomorrow night at The Chapel here in the City. The new record is something of a departure from the band’s earlier, mellower indie rock sound, delving into the realm of psychedelia-charged prog rock over three tracks that span 16 minutes, including the epic nine-minute title track.

In the days before the record release show, I was able to catch up with lead singer and guitarist Zach Blizzard and bassist Joshua Kane over email to discuss A Challenge to the Dark and the new direction of Cannons and Clouds’ sound, the decision to align with 20 Sided, their eerie silent film-sourced video for the EP’s title track, and what the future holds for a band that, after four releases, appears to be coming into its own in terms of a musical vision. Read the interview below, buy A Challenge to the Dark on 20 Sided’s merch page, listen to live takes of the album’s songs over on Daytrotter (if you’re a member, that is), and find out how to win a pair of tickets to tomorrow night’s record release party at The Chapel at the bottom of the post.

The Bay Bridged: Last year, you posted on Facebook that the band had “upwards of 20 songs” that you would eventually be recording. How did you narrow it down to three for your new EP, A Challenge to the Dark?

Zach Blizzard: Though we do have (now MORE) than twenty Cannons and Clouds songs, we have been somewhat overwhelmed by the fact that many of our current catalogue (song wise) is very long, and experimental in style. To record these songs to our production standards with little-to-no budget could be a long-winded, and morale-sucking, slow process. We hope that A Challenge to The Dark will help us showcase our new sound, and aid us in passing the hat around via Kickstarter. Helping us gain the proper budget to approach a long over-due full length record with so many good sonic surprises to be unveiled!

TBB: Where was the new album recorded, and whom did you work with in terms of producers, engineers, etc.?

ZB: We recorded A Challenge to The Dark at a wonderful and affordable analog studio in East Palo Alto called Atomic Garden. We worked with owner and engineer Jack Shirley, and produced it ourselves. Jack has recorded many punk rock and hardcore bands throughout the years on two-inch tape, and we really wanted to capture that energy, raw analog sound and tape nastiness, bring something new to Jack and create a new experience for us. Live tracking, No lead vocal over-dubs, three guys in one room doing back-ups…Letting magic happen etc…We shall record with Jack again!

TBB: The new EP, especially the nine-minute title track, sounds much more jammy and psych-based than your earlier work. In fact, the title track is very reminiscent of, dare I say, the one-and-only Pink Floyd. How do you see this record in the evolution of Cannons and Clouds’ sound?

ZB: I could safely say ALL of us have been influenced by Pink Floyd at some point in our individual lives and musical journeys. I personally appreciate you saying that, and am very flattered to be compared to that band. Our souls (within the group) have always pushed towards a more psychedelic / progressive sound. We just wanted to let the transition come naturally and from true inspiration, be it individual meditative reflections, or tripping on LSD together in the desert surrounded by howling coyotes. Whispers from our muses (to put it rather art-faggily). As opposed to chasing that sound and joining in on the all too popular ’60s-garage, lo-fi trend that’s been saturating SF for too long. Pink Floyd (and not just the hipster-revived Syd Barrett stuff) reminds us all that psychedelia can summon sincerity…true bliss, and true pain. The title track “A Challenge to The Dark” captures examples of both, and marks an evolution in our sound that flows like…poppy milk! Haha!

TBB: How did you end up joining forces with David Mitchell and 20 Sided Records to release A Challenge to the Dark?

ZB: Our dear friend Dean O’Neill aka Dr. Foxmeat introduced us. He has known David for years from both their previous bands. Dean thought we would make a great team.

TBB: The video for “A Challenge to the Dark” looks like it was pulled from an old silent film. What was the idea behind the video and what movie or movies was the footage sourced from?

Joshua Kane: The video was sourced from over ten silent films ranging from the famous to the wholly obscure; all of which were produced between 1896–1916. We chose to source films from that time period due to their idiosyncratic and often offbeat sensibilities. Film during that era was in its infancy and a lot of the experimental techniques employed produced very moody and sometimes hallucinatory results, which we found quite fitting alongside the melodic temperament of “A Challenge to the Dark”. The choice to use found footage was also an economical one; the budget for a typical music video was just not there. We had also seen other bands and filmmakers use creative commons found footage to great effect and we simply followed their lead. There are thousands upon thousands of hours of amazing beautiful footage that resides in the public domain. Though essentially a nine minute visual collage, an immense amount of time was devoted to carefully sifting through films and choosing segments that worked either literally or symbolically with the overarching themes of the song, both lyrically and musically. There was never a moment that we weren’t aware that we were playing Dr. Frankenstein with other individual’s art…because of that we aimed to put as much love and time into the compositional process as possible in an attempt to venerate the very talented artists we sourced from. At the end of the day, we hope that people appreciate it as either a pastiche of relic experimental film or at the very least enjoy it as a trippy visual companion piece to “A Challenge to the Dark”.

TBB: Why did you pick the Chapel for your album release show?

ZB: We thought The Chapel would be a fun and lovely new room to celebrate a new sound with. Here in San Francisco, we have a lot of venues that we consider “home”. Most of these venues have actual sentimental value from us growing up watching shows in. Cannons and Clouds has honed our sound on many different local stages from Amnesia to The Great American Music Hall, and we are always looking forward to adapting our sound to new rooms. It sharpens our senses and adaptability for touring.

What’s next for Cannons and Clouds – any plans to tour, head back into the studio, or release any more of those 20 or so tracks you have queued up?

ZB: Cannons and Clouds are pursuing touring representation from an agency whilst increasing traffic to our website, and strengthening web presence in general. We plan to release a 7-inch around the winter time, and play good local shows, spread the “gospel” of A Challenge to The Dark and 20 Sided Records. Along with money made from our vinyl and internet sales, we will put up a Kickstarter and record either an epic double LP full-length, or release different volumes of LPs under one title series. Though we may not be cool enough to do that yet haha! Keep your ears to the ground in the winter and the fall for exciting stuff to emerge!

To win a pair of tickets to Cannons and Clouds’ record release show Thursday night at The Chapel, email with “Cannons and Clouds” in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the email. A winner will be selected at random and notified via email. The contest ends on Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 12pm PT.

Cannons and Clouds, Jonah Matranga, Strange Vine, The Town Quartet
The Chapel
July 25, 2013
8pm, $12
All Ages