Although formed as long ago as 1996 and having released a couple of CDs as well as honed their sound through a multitude of gigs around the American Midwest, Detroit-based instrumental trio Paik first came to my attention during the Summer of 2001 courtesy of a care package of goodies sent to the Terrascope on the off-chance that someone might be interested in hearing it by Ryan, their friendly and erudite percussionist. Although always appreciated, this approach only works one time in a hundred– and the fact that they were immediately not only awarded a feature spot in this issue of the magazine but also a slot on the main stage between Bardo Pond and Acid Mothers Temple at Terrastock 5 in October speaks volumes for the immediate impression they created. Their complex instrumental interplay, memorable melodies and cascades of guitar sound bring to mind elements of previously lauded Terrascope favourites such as Windy and Carl, Scenic and (probably most apposite of all) Kinski, and an initially somewhat bemused but always willing PT staffer, Jeff Penczak, was dispatched immediately to find out more about them. This is their story.
PT: First, please introduce yourselves to our readers: who plays what; where did you meet, and give us the story behind the name - is PAIK a street near where you live, the name of your rehearsal space, an acronym for some secret CIA undercover operation…?
Rob: We're PAIK from Detroit, Michigan. Ryan plays drums & tympani, Rob is the guitarist, and Ali plays the bass. We met in a local bar, over drinks. We were all in different bands at the time, and those were not going in the direction we wanted, but we had seen each other play, and we were sort of going the same way musically speaking, so we decided to try playing together, and see how it went. Well, the first few practices went so well that we ended up using a couple of those songs on our first album, ‘Hugo Strange’. We got the name PAIK from an old dictionary that we had laying around - it's an old English/Scottish slang word for a powerful blow to the body, or a really hard punch, something like that.
Your overall sound is somewhat akin to "organized confusion" or "structured improvisation." The songs all have a "live" feel about them, yet there is a somewhat linear structure to them. Do you typically sit down and map out a general direction each song will take or do you just start rolling tape and begin playing until you hit upon a groove or a vibe that you want to explore and then go back and edit the material into a more formal "song" structure?
We write our songs both ways. Sometimes one of us has a pretty complete idea of what the song should feel like, and sometimes we just play. Rarely do we edit songs together, though¾ they are almost always created as a whole entity.
Who did you listen to when you were growing up? Are these "favourites" reflected in your sound or are they artists you enjoy listening to when you're not "working?"
We each have different tastes in music, of course, and I think that each of us have been influenced by what we grew up listing to, but to list bands specifically would take up way too much time in this interview…. There is no real effort to make music that is reminiscent of anything in particular, we just bring whatever is in our heads to practice.
You write all your own material. Do you incorporate any covers into your live performances or do you envision possibly covering any favorite or influential songs in the future?
Yes, we always write our own stuff. The way we play together, it would be impossible to do anything else. There will never be a PAIK cover of another band's material.
Another artist from the Detroit area - Dearborn, to be specific - that also works predominantly in the "space rock" instrumental style is Windy & Carl. Yet your sound is distinct from theirs in that it is more aggressive and, Rob, your guitar playing is more identifiable as a "guitar," whereas with Carl and his effects pedals and things he runs his guitar through, unless you looked at the credits, you might not realize that that sound was actually created by a guitar. You thank W&C in the credits to your latest release, ‘Corridors’, so I assume you're in contact and are good friends. Besides the two of you, is there still much of a "space rock" scene going on in the Detroit area?
Space-rock is alive, but it's hard to find sometimes. The bands are out there, but there is no real club scene going currently. The garage rock scene is pretty popular with club owners right now because people will fill the bar and drink plenty. Record stores and word of mouth by those in the know - that's where "space" music and things like that exist at the moment. Windy and Carl put on in-store concerts at their place [Stormy Records] and those are always great shows.
‘Grey & The Dawn’ is one of my favourite tracks off your debut, ‘Hugo Strange’; particularly your guitar sound, Rob, that seems to be influenced by Robert Smith's playing with The Cure, especially during their "suicide trilogy" period of ‘Faith’, ‘Seventeen Seconds’ and ‘Pornography’. Was he an influence on your playing in general?
The Cure was definitely a band I listened to when I was younger - and my name is actually Robert Smith, so I guess you could say there's an influence there!
You work exclusively in the instrumental vein. Is this your preferred format, or is it more a case of no-one feeling comfortable singing or writing lyrics?
The instrumental format just suits our style. We like our songs to have an atmosphere, a feeling, and sometimes vocals can detract from that.
‘E. Grim,’ as the title suggests, is a very ominous song with an unrelenting, pounding rhythm on your drums, Ryan, and a driving guitar line, Rob, that almost seems to be propelling a funeral procession along. Is it just a song title that you came up with to fit the music? What, if anything does the "E" stand for?
The song is definitely "grim" alright - that’s where that came from. The "E" actually stands for Ernest Borgnine!
The songs on ‘Hugo Strange’ are, for the most part, short, distinct and to-the-point. Yet the spacey, psychedelic, instrumental jam style you're working in would seem to lend itself to stretching out and going off on tangents. Do your live shows tend to incorporate more elaborate arrangements of the songs or do you prefer to stay tight and remain close to the recorded arrangements?
We do a little bit of both. Some songs are better for stretching out than others, and some need to be played really tightly.
There’s a tendency to go off to another planet on ‘Stellazine’ [from ‘Corridors’], which is your longest recorded track at about 10 minutes, but for the most part you keep things "fast and loose," as Lemmy used to say. Was that an intentional stretching out?
That song just happened that way. We did a little bit of editing, about three minutes or so, but that's pretty much how it came out the first time. Some things take time to bring out the element you most want people to experience.
Your debut release incorporates a punny title– ‘Hugo Strange’ equates to "You Go Strange". Is that an intentional description of the music or an assumption of what happens to the listeners after they've heard it?
"Hugo Strange" is a comic book villain…
Moving on to ‘Corridors’, recorded just about a year ago. You thank a lot of fellow Terrascope/Terrastock bands in the credits. Besides W&C, you mention Mike and Amy S. (whom I'm guessing might be Gangloff and Shea, respectively, from Pelt) and Chris Morris (the guitarist from Kinski.) Are you fans of these artists or are they bands you've toured with or would like to tour or record with?
We like both Kinski and Pelt, they are both great bands, and we would love to play/record with them sometime. But the Mike and Amy are from this great band in Dayton that we play with often called "Lab Partners," and Chris Morris is actually one of our room-mates. [Talk about coincidences! –ed.]
The songs on ‘Corridors’, particularly your guitar playing, Rob, is a little "fuzzier," not as crisp as on ‘Hugo Strange’; there's more use of effects - particularly on ‘Strange Familiar,’ a song that builds to an almost grunge-like, swarming distorted crescendo. Is this just a natural growth of your sound, a direction you'd like to move in, or just a sound that was going through your heads at the time you were recording?
We recorded the entire album at full volume, as a kind of experiment, to try and get our record to sound more like our live show, which is loud and distorted. It is an accurate representation of our set list at that time.
You've re-recorded the single ‘Spacer.’ How did that arrangement change in the "2001" version?
The 2001 version is much darker that the single version. It’s a little slower, deeper sounding.
Why did you elect to include this on the new album? Was it a matter of continuity, since there was about a three year gap between albums, or was it simply a matter of needing another track to complete the album and nothing else was in a finished state?
We wanted to have an opportunity to get the song out there for people to hear, because we sold out of the singles pretty quickly. Plus we were playing it differently live, so it just made sense to put it on the album. We only had enough money to record a couple of songs, so we put out the single initially. We didn't expect to make money or anything, we just "did it for the kids."
Another stylistic decision you seem to have made on ‘Corridors’ is the repetition of a guitar riff as a linking element from one song to the next, similar to that which Roy Montgomery did on his release from last year, ‘Silver Wheel of Prayer’. For example, the fadeout on ‘Spacer (2001)’ blends into ‘Hollow Ki,’ which then builds its own melody and then as that fades out, the next track, ‘Spanning Time’ seems to build on the coda from ‘Hollow Ki.’ Are you familiar with Montgomery's release and did it have an effect on how you assembled and sequenced ‘Corridors’, or were those three tracks recorded as one long piece and then just edited into three separate tracks for the final release?
All the songs were written at different times, with nothing whatsoever to do with each other, but we decided to arrange them in a certain way on the album to get the desired, continuous feeling. We're not familiar with Roy Montgomery unfortunately. Now Wes Montgomery….
Towards the end of ‘Spanning Time,’ I hear what appears to be a keyboard floating around forming the bed as the track builds to its conclusion. I don't see any credit for that, so is that actually your guitar, Rob?
We don't use any keyboards, only guitars.
Are the albums more a blueprint for extended jams that someone attending a live PAIK performance could expect?
Yes, our albums are more blueprints of the live shows. The live shows also incorporate projection, lights, and truly sonic volume levels to really take the participant the full distance.
I'd like to end with an update on what's going on in PAIK land. How about future recording or general touring plans - perhaps going overseas or branching out beyond your home turf?
We would ultimately like to find a way over to play Europe and Japan and are currently recording a new full length for Claire Records that will be released sometime in the spring or summer. Also, look for a couple of side projects to be released on our Beyonder Records label at some point. We will also be playing some shows with Windy and Carl and Landing to and from the [fifth] Terrastock festival in [Boston in] October of this year. (Ryan adds:) We are super excited and looking forward to T5! it will definitly be the highlight of our year to say the least!
Paik interview by Jeff Penczak, © Ptolemaic Terrascope, 2002. Introduction by Phil McMullen.