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Cassette tapes, an international community of noise freaks and Horsehair Everywhere

The Social Network

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Noise and experimental music scenes, much like the art they produce, tend to be loose-knit, fluid and sometimes haphazard in construction. Sure, there are regional pockets with trends all their own — and enough stability for those trends to get recognized beyond their geographic boundaries — but most other places see peaks and valleys. For those, there's a giant web of interconnected musicians, labels, zines, blogs and promoters across the planet who exist to embrace whatever the newest weird may be. A world wide web, one might call it. By now, Murfreesboro should be familiar with these peaks and valleys. For every Spongebath-fueled apex, there's deep-space-worthy radio silence. That's where our story starts.

In the early 2000s Steve Molyneux met Frank Baugh at MTSU while both were taking classes on world music and sociology. From there they both joined the university's Group Sound Collage. After that they recruited like-minded friends and started their own improv jam sessions under the banner of Horsehair Everywhere, a named conjured from frayed violin and cello bows.

At the time, Molyneux played in the shape-shifting, post-most-things band Poet Named Revolver, whose membership made up a significant chunk of Horsehair Everywhere. The band started their own label called No Kings Record Co., which circulated handmade CD-R releases of the early Horsehair Everywhere recordings. The inserts for those albums didn't even refer to the group as a collective, let alone a band. Instead, they were a self-described "improvisational sound/music collage and cathartic midnight noise party society."

That first Horsehair album was called Vol. 1. About 30 some odd copies were circulated, then the group's membership spread out across the globe. Whenever they'd find themselves back in Tennessee, they'd record. Whenever they recorded, they put out an album. Whenever they'd put out an album, for the most part, nobody knew about it.

But then midnight noise society partier and former Poet Named Revolver member Lee Noble decided to resurrect the No Kings label in Los Angeles, this time as a cassette-based operation. From there, he re-released Vol. 1 and set about sending it to anyone who would listen. Glowing reviews started popping up on obscure sites trafficked by the sorts of people who would have given a shit the first time around. Noble's solo stuff started making waves, too. "I mail letters and packages all the time," Noble explained in an email. "I bother people a lot about it and I think if the music was really bad they would think I was really annoying."

Two of the people who gave a shit were a couple from France who run a label called La Station Radar, and they've just released the vinyl edition of Horsehair Everywhere's fifth album, The Beginning of a Protracted Struggle.

The record's 38 minutes are cobbled together out of a two-hour jam session that took place when most of the old Horsehair participants were back in Tennessee for Christmas last year. The album's lead track, "Phantom Zone," comprises the entirety of side A and displays how far the group has come. Compared to Vol. 1, the sounds are trickier to discern on Protracted Struggle. Where the former moved more similarly to Acid Mothers Temple's spaciest moments, the newest record displays less interest in rocking out than zoning in. Drums pulsate and throb, while textures slide and bulge along the surface like tectonic plates.

Connecting the dots from member to member creates a tangle that Kevin Bacon enthusiasts can appreciate. Frank Baugh puts out solo albums as Sparkling Wide Pressure, with releases appearing on labels based everywhere from California to London. He also runs the local 3-inch CD-R label Kimberly Dawn, which has released material by artists from three different continents. Caleb Steelman plays in Looks Like a Snake and puts out solo albums under the name K-Lub on No Kings. TJ Richards was a bandmate with Molyneux, Steelman and Noble in Poet Named Revolver and plays in Boy With Ice Cream Face in Brooklyn. These days, Molyneux is back in Nashville after a lengthy stint in Bangkok, where he was playing noise shows against the backdrop of the violent political unrest that gripped the Thai capital earlier this year. He's put out albums under the name Gigantic Blonde Boy with cohort Marissa Gorey while traveling Central America and has a release under his own name on Kimberly Dawn Recordings. Full circle.

Among the remaining credited members, Patrick Singleton and Samuel Steelman also play in Looks Like a Snake, while Singleton also plays in a drone project with Baugh called Old Rig. Geoffrey Sexton recently finished his first feature-length film, Classroom Citizens, in which Horsehair Everywhere and the Old Rig provide some of the score.

On one hand, the new record demonstrates how all these convoluted associations foster a social network of noise freaks, and for this group of musicians, Horsehair Everywhere serves as the hub. On the other hand, the international flavor of the group's catalog may have less to do with their sounds finding the right ears — it could be that there are just more ears tuned in to this kind of stuff now. Lee Noble's track "Life Under a Double Sun" was even included in the popular music website Tiny Mix Tapes' list of favorite songs from 2010, sharing space with the likes of Liars, Ariel Pink, Joanna Newsom and Kanye West. Pretty good company for a track released on cassette, though the site's name suggests they have a soft spot for that sort of thing.

Between the "witch house" lot of Salem and oOoOO, and the recent relative successes of bands like the Fuck Buttons and Emeralds, there's also a zeitgeist-y trend within indie rock circles that bends toward stranger sounds. Some of that more popular stuff is weird music for people who don't listen to weird music, but it's in the vicinity.

Horsehair Everywhere and their associated projects aren't the only Nashville-affiliated groups to gain from renewed interest. The city's outsider art is on its own upswing, with the scene's off-the-beaten-path headquarters at Betty's Bar & Grill. Maybe you noticed a couple mentions of drummer Scott Martin's Hobbledeions project in the Scene's Rock 'n' Roll Poll earlier this month. ("The local rock scene on the local rock scene," Dec. 9.) One of the tapes he put out this year was a collection of loops and all-around freaking the fuck out called Capisce. Just so happens that tape was released by No Kings. Full circle.

"My info on Nashville is a little out of date, but there was definitely weirder, louder, dirtier stuff going on there," Noble said, comparing what's happening in L.A. to Nashville. "And I think that the countryside and the woods are better subconscious cultural influences on music than the beach is."

Molyneux, who recently moved back to Nashville, said that he's noticed the growth in participation, with the addition and expansion of Open Lot and Little Hamilton while he was away.

"It's difficult to compare Nashville's experimental scene with others I've passed through, each being shaped by different factors," he says. "There's certainly something I identify with and am inspired by here. While I don't always feel like its potential is being met, there are definitely promising things going on."

Email music@nashvillescene.com.

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