Behind the Studio: Desert tunes and reincarnation with Immovable Objects

Matt Gagin & Paul Balmer of Immovable Objects. Photo Copyright © Tim Peacock.

I took awhile to write this, because there’s an odd pressure that comes from writing an article about one of your friends. But I have to share all of the recent developments from local instrumental geniuses Immovable Objects, and their soon to be completed full length album. It’s not out yet. I totally got to hear it while it’s being completed. Definitely insert giddy music geek exclamations here.

I’ve had the pleasure of getting the chance to spend numerous amounts of time in the studio with Immovable Objects, watching guitarist Matt Gagin work his magic and direct his band mates and friends in what is shaping up to be an incredibly impressive array of both musicianship and creativity. And no, that statement isn’t biased; I’m being serious. There was no detail left unturned, no note left untampered with in the best way possible during the studio process behind these songs, and when all is said and done and the album is completed, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

And Now……….Behind the Studio….kind of an inside joke, sorry about that.

Day One
The guys of Immovable Objects operate like a well-oiled machine one moment, and then slip into a bit of a lever that’s gone just a bit haywire. At any moment, the verbal absurdities are playfully flying, and I’m just making sure I don’t get hit by any of the crossfire (I come out unscathed  — no one seems to notice me when they’re too busy thinking of the next interesting burn they can come up with!) It was a fun diversion to watch the guys morph from depending on one another to taking playful jabs; from relying on each other’s musical cues to making fun of each other’s photography styles (which is only bound to happen, with two photographers in the band.) Their friendship is full of dynamic.

Tim & Matt of Immovable Objects. Photo copyright of Ted Donovon.

It is a dynamic that’s really mirrored in all of their music. When it comes to instrumental rock, there are the typical comparisons: Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai. Then there’s the atypical idea of an instrumental rock group that has probably subconsciously painted their personal charismas into their music. Immovable Objects will definitely satisfy the die-hard instrumental fan, but they also deliver a bit of a roller-coaster that some of those fans are not used to receiving. Rather than settle on one riff or one note, the band wants to build upon it, sometimes quickly, before dropping you down the several-feet-tall thrill towards the twists and turns that come next. They want to play around with sound and create not just music, not just emotions, but environment. At one point, sound engineer Mario joked that some of their tunes were great “desert playing” songs, causing the guys to run wild with the idea. Guitarist Paul Balmer joked that each copy of the album comes with “a hit of acid and a hit of ecstasy.” Well, don’t get too excited and quote them on that. Or maybe go ahead, since I did just quote them on that.

I stayed behind the scenes as much as possible and worried about the effect of my photography flash blinding them while they were recording the latest guitar part. And since they were recording some of their instruments on tape, I think the pressure was on. But the guys worked like champs, and might possibly be paparazzi ready since I wasn’t the only one snapping the shots. In between songs, there was no “in between” time. When drummer Ted Donovon and bassist Tim Peacock weren’t hashing out their parts, they were taking turns in a battle royale of photography wits: elaborately snapping photos, talking a little smack, and then admiring the other guy’s work in the end. They were probably still going at it when I had to say goodbye. I was tired and I hadn’t done anything but watch the magic happen!

Day Two
Imagine my surprise when I was invited to come back again. After wrecking one complete roll of black and white film because I haven’t quite mastered the technique of bouncing a flash with a business card — or any other photography technique, for that matter — I felt that redemption would be mine! What I didn’t expect was the transitioning of all of this music to blow me away. While I was concentrating on making sure I had enough film and reminding myself to record some of the hilarious things that the guys said between takes, I had forgotten for just a brief moment what I was really doing, which was attending a studio session.

Ted Donovon on Drums. Photo Copyright © Tim Peacock.

I mistakenly said that it was nice to see the guys in their element, but honestly, the studio isn’t their real element. Matt had created Immovable Objects after his previous experiences with bands left him hungering for a chance to create, without creative impediment, without personality differences, leaving him simply the chance to write music. So maybe for him, the studio was his element. He is the mastermind behind the instrumental child that is Immovable Objects, so it didn’t surprise me that he was always the most comfortable and on-point guy in the studio.

Not to say that Paul, Ted, and Tim weren’t on their game. But it was evident how much they relied on their band mate to help them through the process. Matt would stand between the window that separated the recording booth and the studio, raising his arms in huge gestures to ensure that Paul knew exactly when to switch a part. It wasn’t that he wasn’t prepared. It was simply that at the end of the day, no matter who wrote the tunes, Immovable Objects worked as a team. When Paul played, he could feel the transitions that came in the music because he was surrounded by his friends. So yes, being in the studio wasn’t really their element, but they still excel at it.

Immovable Objects. Photo Copyright © Tim Peacock

I got the chance to speak with Matt again about the name of the album, I’ll Know to Believe in Sparrows, which ironically Tim replied, “Oh really? That’s the first time I heard that!” The story behind the name involves a bit of coincidence and a dash of belief, as Matt tells me about how his grandmother believes in reincarnation after one has passed away; specifically, she believed that his grandfather was reincarnated as a sparrow. Though Matt is a bit of a skeptic, when faced with the question on what he would do if he found out that this was a fact, he replied, “Well, I’ll know to believe in sparrows.” And thus the perfect turn of phrase was born. And it may be just my personal observation, but it fits the album in more ways than one. There were multiple instances during my studio visits that I was told about an idea, or a song was described in a certain way that almost made it a bit difficult to believe that the recorded version would eventually come out that way. But once I sat down and got the chance to hear these pieces come together and hear these visions unfurl, I too learned to believe in sparrows — or at least, I learned to believe in the talent that can come from a very interesting studio setting.

Eventually Ted shows up, carrying around a really bubbly little girl who easily gives out smiles and even has a knack for the drums. He just wanted to “hang out” for awhile. That’s how interesting the studio was, and I had to agree with him.

It took me awhile to sit down and get this together, and I think the reason why is because I was afraid that my words wouldn’t be able to correctly describe the experience. Sure, I could explain what was going on, and I could dig through the play-by-play of one or two sessions, but at the end of the day I wouldn’t be able to describe the feeling after hearing a song come together, piece by piece. I wouldn’t be able to put into words the amazing epiphany of realizing a fellow musician’s vision has just come to life. This is why we record, ladies and gentleman. Not to create a quickly pressed demo or a hastily composed EP. We record so that we can bring our visions to life.

There’s a day three (and four and five….) within all of this madness, but it has yet to come. Will it include a sample of the new album? Will it share some of the deep dark secrets of the band? Does this sound enough like a murder mystery to you, yet? Well good. Because I truly hope you stay tuned for more on the developments of this studio process. Immovable Objects have continued to invite me into their humble recording abode, and have told me to make myself at home; and it’s not every day that something like that happens.

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