Ballad of John and Toko
"When you grow up in the Midwest, you have to look for things. It's not like growing up in New York with everything cool right outside your door all the time," explains Matt Schulz, drummer for post-everything, electro-savvy rock trio Enon, explaining just why his band is so post-everything and electro-savvy. He and Enon founder John Schmersal grew up in Dayton, Ohio, home to, well, not much besides the Breeders and Guided By Voices, which is why they were bored kids looking for, well, anything.
"We got into hardcore punk—buying Minor Threat records, listening to the Big Boys and Bad Brains—so we were used to music that was always pushing boundaries," offers Schulz. "Hardcore led us to different stuff than what was on the radio: free jazz, early electronic music. It just always kept music open for us."
Maybe too open, if you look at Enon's recent history—or lack thereof.
It's been a while since Schmersal or Shulz have called Dayton home, which is partially why it has taken almost four years for Enon's new Grass Geysers, Carbon Clouds (Touch and Go) to materialize.
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A little history: Schmersal moved to New York in the late '90s, when his next-big-thing band Brainiac (Schulz's cousin played drums, see) broke up in 1997 after their singer, Tim Taylor, was killed in a car accident. In New York, Schmersal started Enon innocently enough as a kind of experimental, post-punk pop thing (think Ian MacKaye's great Egg Hunt one-off after Minor Threat), playing with members of New York's Skeleton Key and making the kind of rhythm-happy, sequencer-flirting post-punk singles Girls Against Boys and every other band from the Midwest that moved to New York made back then. In 2000, he brought in bassist/vocalist Toko Yasuda; the Skeleton Key guys left, Schulz joined, and Enon became a full-time band, as capable of brooding electronic experimental pop as they were indie-rock loops-and-synths funfests.
A relentless pace of touring, recording albums and putting out singles ensued, and soon Enon was the hardest-working band in lo-fi electronic post-punk. By the time they recorded 2003's Hocus Pocus, Shmersal, Yasuda and Schulz had spent three years straight touring and recording—at one point, they were writing and posting a new song each month on their website www.enon.tv. Something had to give, and it did.
"We just burned out," says Schulz with a sigh. "John and Toko just felt claustrophobic. We needed a break." And break they did. For almost four years, Enon hasn't made much of a peep, except for 2005's rarities collection, Lost Marbles and Exploded Evidence.
The downtime was actually pretty upbeat. In search of more space (a basement!) and more reasonable rent, Schmersal and Yasuda moved to Philly, where John pieced together a home studio and started producing records for the Annuals and Thunderbirds Are Go. Schulz stayed in Brooklyn, but he decompresses by moonlighting in the even-more lo-fi electronic-rock collective Holy Fuck. "It's great because there are no practices—it's all improvised."
The irony is—and post-punk is wrought with the stuff—getting the hell out of Brooklyn has made Enon a new band, as Grass Geysers illustrates in flying colors. "John and Toko used to bring in stuff to the practice space that they'd already been working on at home, like, a sequence or a pattern," Schulz explains. "Now we can just leave our stuff set up in the basement all the time, so we could just jam it out as a band, record, listen back to it, and go from there."
The result is tracks such as "Mirror on You," straight-ahead bass-driven power pop that evokes the immediate new-wave cool of Tones on Tail's "Go" as it channels the punch of the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army."
"I don't want to say, 'It's just rock,' but it is really more guitar bass and drums," says Schulz of why there are more grass geysers than carbon clouds on the new record. "There are electronics, but it's more subtle than, say, Hocus Pocus," which he calls "a hodgepodge of live stuff and electronics. At the end of the day, it is pop music, it is rock music, but we fuck with the preconception of what that is."
And the preconception of what Enon is—or was. On record—and so far on tour—it's been a leaner, meaner Enon, more Hüsker Dü than Holy Fuck.
It's sure made touring easier—and burnout less likely. "We have a keyboard set up onstage, but so far we haven't even used it," Schulz says. "If we get to the club and the sound system's shitty, we just leave it in the van."
Enon perform with Love of Diagrams and Deadly Finns at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. Fri., 7 p.m. $10-$12.
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