Jesse Winters – Bass
Ryley Fogg – Guitars
Eli Morrison – Guitar
Dave Payne – Drums
James Acton – Drums
Davy Parish – Random Percussion
I met with two of the members of ether in one of their garages, where we talked amidst boxes full of discs stacked haphazardly, layered one upon the other like leaning and condemned cardboard towers. The cds were from ether’s Australian based label, Extreme Records, owned by Roger Richards, the inventor of aerosol powered Vegamite (Australia’s answer to Easy Cheese). This trivial oddity is strangely fitting for Extreme, a label where an eclectic assortment of artists call home, including the anomalous ether.
The band has been together in one form or another since 1994. Their music is unequivocal rock and roll but the sound draws heavily from the experimental lineage. Band member Eli Morrison explained to me some of ether’s instrumental novelties, including but not limited to a jury-rigged walkman with tape extensions played like a violin and dubbed “the Hessianizer,” as well as an accidentally providential skipping computer hard-drive. This penchant for aberration is manifested in the liner notes of one of the group’s three records with the admonition: “The tracking numbers on this album are provided for reference only and do not indicate beginnings and endings of songs.” Such a disregard for traditional demarcations of the imposed conception of “song” structure explains much about the band’s other sonically oriented indiscretions. With this sort of instrumental dynamism ether is able to function bereft of sung lyrics, a conscious decision by the group, which feels that the retention lends elasticity and classicism to its recordings. One of the band’s guitarists, Ryley Fogg, explained the decision to not use vocals, “We don’t want lyrics to date our songs.”
Their first release was produced by Butthole Surfer’s bassist Mark Kramer. Titled Cody Judy (a nod towards the fraudulent Mormon suicide bomber who ran as a write in candidate for Utah’s House of Representatives in 2002), the fledgling effort saw ether in a formative stage, but the polyrhythmic drums that distinguish their sound was already present. As Eli put it, “We like a lot of big toms.” The album was almost entirely mixed in the studio, but each subsequent record has seen Ryley taking more and more control over the mixing process, convoluting already dynamic recorded material into twisted but recognizable versions of their live progenitors. This formula has created three ether albums, including the aforementioned Cody Judy, a second Hush, and the latest Music For Air Raids, which is seeing a re-release on vinyl by French import Roto Relief.
If ether’s sonic subversions sound strange its live performance is even more bizarre. Regular performances include fire breathers, barrel fires, and meat filled piñatas, a cornucopia of rock debauchery that Riley describes as “a very carcinogenic experience.” One particular show in Boise featured a down-stuffed piñata which was dismembered above the crowd, its feather filled body subsequently lit by the fire breathers, resulting in a phenomena that resembled burning snow. Riley nostalgically recalled the occasion as a humorous one, “I could just hear the club owners moan.” The reaction of one individual to ether’s carnivalesque performance sums up the group’s disregard for convention and stands as a fitting testimonial to their experimental sound: “your music made me throw up.” –Makena Walsh