[Drab Majesty is at Three Links with SRSQ, Aztec Death and Evan Henry on visuals tonight.]
What is Los Angeles if not a tense romance between the dry light of folk and the steep cliffs of Hollywood doom and glamour? So goes the birth of Drab Majesty, which begins with John Fahey and Nick Drake. Students at the school attached to one of the oldest guitar shops and venues in the city wrapped themselves up in the masters of folk arpeggios, becoming disciples of wild intricacy. Deb DeMure remembers being friends with a lot of those McCabes people. Then there was Emma Ruth Rundle, the way she handled the guitar.
“All these notes could be derived of one solo instrument, and it was mesmerizing, it really is just one hand doing the bass and the treble range,” DeMure says.
What would become DeMure, Andrew Clinco’s androgynous alter-ego and the song vessel for Drab Majesty, started growing in those articulations. DeMure describes embracing this first impulse to stray from the drums. It was as mystifying to attempt the strings with dime store glue-on nails as it was to watch Rundle do it.
“I kind of was silently going home and picking up this old guitar I got when I was seven and just trying these finger styles,” DeMure says.
Clinco’s interests skewed goth, but there was something happening in this acute training of the ear and hand that lent itself to collaborations with Rundle in Nocturnes and Marriages. Off time was spent more and more on applying an effects processor to these lines.
“I thought, whatever is coming out might be a folk song on guitar but is absolutely something else with these effects on it,” DeMure says. “I would record these little sessions and improvised kind of flurries, and they would sound pretty cool, way cooler than I thought I could sound, and I really started to get into this stream of consciousness style of playing,” they say. “I would set up these open tunings on the guitar… you could almost do no wrong based on the tunings you set up. It becomes more of a visual instrument than it does like a theoretical instrument. Those [early] recordings feel like a channeling process, or a meditative process. I became deeply convinced there was a muse I was connecting with outside of myself …. even to this day I really have trouble taking credit for any of the guitar work I do, or any of the songs I make,” DeMure says.
The insert on the first Drab Majesty release Unarian Dances features a leaning image of a moon between an office tower and a garage, muted pink lights going out in both buildings. It’s an adapted close crop of a Godzilla film still — and it makes sense to discover this; the sounds on that 2012 tape carry the cityscape gleam of new wave, but on the brink of some final shutdown. Drab Majesty brings back one of those early songs — “Y.K.E.D.A” – for the current tour, which reaches Three Links tonight.
The duo used sphinxes onstage to reference the Chariot tarot card, supporting Cold Cave last year. There’s a focus always on symbolism and the occult – and cult belief systems – in Drab Majesty’s stage show and visuals, a harnessing of control and devotion that mirrors ambient music’s offerings of euphoria without betrayal. As headliners this time around they’ve been focusing instead on sonic ritual.
“We’re really trying to showcase the music this time – it’s going to be a little less performative on my end just because the guitar duties are pretty intense,” DeMure says.
DeMure and Mona D opted to bring Dallas artist Evan Henry on four of Drab’s Texas dates to lend analog visuals. Henry has worked with the duo steadily on their trips through the area, first at Rubber Gloves for a show House of Tinnitus organized – it wasn’t planned for him to stay behind the projector after the openers that first time, but Henry, who’d been appreciating Drab’s catalog (“it’s a spiritual attempt at post-punk,” he says) and imagining the possibilities, asked DeMure if he could play along, and they agreed. The latest Drab record The Demonstration (Dais Records, 2016) has so far called for cleaner textures. And the green and blues Henry used before have turned to blues and pinks this tour. As with every act he works with, Henry says, he asks Drab before each set what they want to see, what they’re feeling that night.
“You feel safe, but you also feel like you’re expanding yourself,” Henry says of The Demonstration‘s tones. “Because I’ve got the projector as low as I do, people are waving their hands with the visuals, so it creates this whole other texture. It’s like — that actually goes. How? … It’s a very euphoric thing, for them.”
Kennedy Ashlyn of Them Are Us Too is opening for Drab as SRSQ (sierce-queue), a haunting new solo project that calls up early Grimes’ hushed treble and Juliana Barwick-style vocal tangents. Henry says he’s felt especially in step with SRSQ, and urges ticketholders not to miss her.