Crash Course In Science is truly a legendary Philadelphia band. But until a few years ago they only existed as the stuff of lore, their minimal post-punk electronic music, characterized by the strange tones of toy instruments and homemade synths, almost entirely forgotten. There was the show opening for Phillip Glass in 1980. The great “Cardboard Lamb” and “Glamour Pills” videos. The Signals From Pier Thirteen and the Cakes in the Home EPs, both club classics. An album, 1981’s Near Marineland, recorded but never released.
Their songs were fun and very futuristic, both in tone and also in the way the band manipulated sound. Listening to tracks that were recorded close to four decades ago, you’d be hard pressed to find anything that sounds dated or stale.
In 2009 Vinyl On Demand released a box set of everything up until that point, including Near Marineland, live recordings, demos, and rehearsal tapes. And the band got back together, in theory just to play occasional shows both in Philadelphia and elsewhere, including Europe where they had always remained quite popular. The fantastic electronic label Dark Entries put out a reissue of the Signals From Pier Thirteen 12” last year and there were a couple tracks on Minimal Wave compilations but otherwise the band was silent on the releasing music front, seemingly content with just playing live.
That changed earlier this year when they announced Situational Awareness, an album of all new songs on Dutch label Electronic Emergencies. Situational Awareness is very fun and catchy while maintaining that experimental, DIY spirit that has always characterized the band. Which is to say: it’s very much a Crash Course In Science album. The Key caught up with Michael Zodorozny from the band a few days prior to their record release show at Underground Arts.
The Key: How did this album come about? Had you been playing these songs and decided to record them, or were they all written specifically for the album? What was the recording process like?
Michael Zodorozny: We have always written lyrics and music, even during the band hiatus in between releases. When we reformed in 2009, we began writing new tracks that could be performed along with the older material. The new tracks evolved out of that.
Some of the tracks from the album have been in the live set since they were written. We fine-tuned all the album tracks so they worked well together as a group of songs, but they were written when the inspiration happened.
Our original producer, John Wicks, is now a member of the band and we recorded the tracks in his studio in between tours over the past few years. Many of the songs started as a rough demo recorded by [myself] on a four track and then the arrangements were expanded from there into the full blown album versions. [Mallory and I] write the lyrics.
TK: What do you like about being in the band now vs back in the late 70s and early 80s? Are there aspects of the scene from that era that you’d like to bring back?
MZ: We were inspired by the punk movement and the whole DIY aspect. The spirit of that time was really potent…[and] we try to retain that sense of discovery and invention. We used to love seeing all the 7-inch singles on the wall of punk rock record stores and were thrilled when our first single was up there as well.
TK: This is your first LP that’s recorded and released in a timely manner. I’m comparing it to Near Marineland, which unfortunately didn’t see the light of day for close to three decades until that VOD boxset. I’m sure that feels pretty good. When the band got back together in 2009, did you have the idea that you’d be recording and touring or was it more just to play a handful of reunion concerts and maybe go back into hibernation?
MZ: Crash Course in Science seems to have a life of its own even outside of our own efforts. A few years before the box set came out, we were receiving offers to perform in Europe, so when we reformed we knew it would be more than just a reunion show or two. We started receiving licensing requests for compilations albums and offers to be remixed so all at once so we knew there was interest in what we were doing years ago. One thing happened after another.
TK: It’s 2017 and Crash Course in Science is still making music that’s more unique and interesting than a lot of other stuff out there. Why is that? I guess I’m asking more about the uniqueness of what you play. How did you come up with your sound? How do you describe it to others?
MZ: As art students, we started using toy instruments and homemade ‘bent’ synths at first out of necessity, because that was all we had to work with. Our sound grew out of that. Our homemade synth sounds are raw-sounding, many of them don’t have volume controls, and these sounds became our vocabulary. These instruments just sounded good to us and helped us create the world the lyrics inhabited.
TK: Where do you go from here? What are future plans?
MZ: We are doing some live shows to promote the album. Here in Philly at UArts on October 21st, Brooklyn at St Vitus [on] November 4th, the Knockout in SanFrancisco on November 10th, the Cold Waves Festival in LA on November 11th, and Bimfest in St Niklaas Belgium on December 16th. We’ve already been recording demos for new tracks, looking forward to more recording and live shows!
Crash Course in Science headlines Underground Arts on Saturday, October 21st with Remote Control and Speaking Parts. Tickets and more information on the 21+ show can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.
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