(photo: Tony Teixeira)
Expansive Oakland doom-gaze duo Praying eliminate the possibility of being a passive listener from the get-go. Live, a wall of amplifiers and speakers threaten gorgeous wrath as booming drums and acrid screaming sweep into the audience, many members of which have succumbed to the foam earplugs that the band brings to each show.
On record are voluble layers of churning complexity, each track brimming with new tones and old frustrations. Since 2011, Jordan Fore and Michael Ippolito have made the bracing, meticulous music of Praying as a two-piece — guitar and drums, respectively — starting in Florida and relocating to Oakland almost five years ago. This year, they added a bassist, Zach Alexander of Mem and Lil Dowager fame, who pushes another formidable layer of tone into the mix. Alexander saw an opportunity to join a project he admired.
“It’s cool to have some freedom, but also be part of something that’s already in place,” said Alexander.
They’ve never been careful to appease a broader audience — ostentatious volume and experiments with noise have long been a fascination. When the project started, Fore and Ippolito were both on guitar, melding lush tones into loops in a loosely-framed version of the band. This year they’re set to release two albums of different material — the first, Bastard Gas, showcases the riff-centric hardcore sensibilities of the trio, and the other, an extensive drone tape titled The Thing Was Written With Salt, both self-released.
“It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time with music — really weird samples and gross microphone feedback.” said Ippolito. “It’s almost unlistenable. It’s very piercing.”
In the beginning, both Fore and Ippolito were playing guitar in an ambient noise project called Suns Not Yellow. Then, they became the rhythm section for a Tallahassee band called Aughtsong, working to refine their technical skills, learning about being in a band, and forming what would become Praying around the same time. It was lush, loud, and out-there. “It was mostly improvised but we would get really, really loud,” Ippolito said. “We both had full stacks at the time.”
Last September’s album, Once More Without Feeling, explored the band’s dynamism. They can do pop, they can do sludge, they can do fast-paced, angry rock. Much in the vein of artists like Boris, Torche, and Jesu, they were drawn into records that could live in-between conflicting ideas: tough but pretty, slow but chaotic. Praying changes genre and shape often, and with ease.
“I always wanted to try to put songs together that were really heavy and also really beautiful,” said Fore. “It’s been been pretty challenging to do that, but also to do it at an incredible volume.”
Early this year, Alexander had been looking for a project with minimal responsibility — he wanted to play bass on songs that he enjoyed and avoid the burden of authorship. Fore and Ippolito had been writing new material, but felt that their new songs had been lacking an underlying rhythm. For the first time in the band’s history they needed a bass player, and Alexander was a perfect match.
“Over time I just wanted to keep playing louder and louder,” he said. “Some people don’t and I get it, but I love being loud.”
Still to come for the trio is the release of both tapes, the possibility of more recording and more touring this summer. The band takes each decision in stride, focusing on whatever happens to catch their interest at the time.
“It’s art. We can do whatever we want to do,” said Fore.