Indie-pop aficionados Expert Alterations go deep. They have ideas, opinions, their own way of doing things, and have just released an eponymous debut EP on Slumberland AND Kanine Records. The Baltimore band streamlines the hard straightforward rhythm of a group like Bauhaus, fuses in some deadpan vocals, and through small and unwavering chord changes à la The Strokes, utilize guitars that do a lot of important melodic leg work. All of this results in an ominously jovial sort of indie-pop that can be comfortably juxtaposed with almost any band falling on the relatively diverse (sonic) spectrum, but a kind that can’t be so easily put into a box. They’re the band that dispels notions of indie-pop-one-trick-pony-dom by playing multidimensional indie-pop. Expert Alterations chatted with us for a little bit about Baltimore Popfest, where they came from, existing inside of a revived political climate, and running a show house.
How did you guys start up?
We were the only three people at a pop show during Maryland Death Fest a few years ago. We used to drink cider and listen to records at each other’s houses and decided we should make a band.
How long have each of you been playing music? Were there any bands you were in before Expert Alterations? If so are you still in them? If you aren’t, what about this band seemed to work out such that you guys wanted keep playing?
Alan also plays in Wildhoney. None of us did anything serious before this band. With our band, we reached a point where we could tell we had something worth taking seriously and we are.
Tell me about the DIY house you started. In NYC you can throw a rock in Brooklyn and probably hit a place that’s hosted or does host shows on the more DIY level. Is there a shortage of or serious need for those sorts of spaces in Baltimore?
There are a good number of basement and warehouse spaces. As in many other cities, cops and landlords are problematic. Charm City Art Space is a long running all ages venue where Paul did the first Baltimore Popfest.
Baltimore has been kind of a breeding ground for political discussion lately, particularly about race, so by proxy a lot of other discussions regarding equality probably end up happening. Do the current political conversations surrounding your hometown play into any part of the creative process? If not the creative process maybe your philosophy as a band or as people who create on a platform that is consumed by others? Do you have a philosophy, something you strive toward in your band?
It’s impossible to create in a historical vacuum. We all were affected by the murder of Freddie Grey and the resulting political unrest in our city. To what extent this will influence our songwriting is hard to say. So far we haven’t taken any political stances in our songwriting but we as people share certain values including being aware of our privileges and the need for us to act mindfully.
This kind of plays into the last question. I guess a topic that surrounds house spaces is the creation of safe spaces. Whether the answer to the pervious question is yes or no, do you think about some of those things (equality, inclusiveness, etc.) when operating a show house?
We strive towards equality and inclusiveness with our booking. We have called people out for misogynistic behavior at shows and are not afraid to speak out against racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, sexism, and other forms of inequality.
On your soundcloud it says you guys “have one eyebrow arched as they survey the surrounding pop landscape—they know they can do better.” Why is that? What do you think is missing, and what do you guys feel you can/do add?
This is obviously a difficult question. Put it this way: Alan works at a venue in Baltimore. “Whenever a band plays that I don’t like, I play The Fall loudly through the house speakers. It’s my way of being like ‘fuck you, try harder'”.
If you want to get into specifics, we are perhaps wishing to stray from the herds of “too much reverb,” “emo revival,” “sounds like Pavement,” “too many pedals,” “aggressive male,” and “whiny middle American church basement pop punk.” That said, we are much more interested in finding the bands out there we relate to and cultivating friendships.
What are you guys listening to generally? What are you listening to out of Baltimore?
Generally: Courtney Barnett, Downtown Boys, Flowers, Sleaford Mods, Mercury Girls, Cecil Taylor, Tony Molina
Baltimore: Romantic States, Post Pink, Jordan Romero, Linda Smith, Boy Spit
What’s your approach to songwriting? Is it a group thing, like a lot of jamming then fleshing it out, jamming more then fleshing it out some more, etc. Or does one person just show up with a plan and you guys just go?
Patrick writes the majority of chord progressions and lyrics. Paul and Alan help to arrange the songs and contribute occasional parts and lyrics. We tend to flesh out the songs over the course of a few practices each to better understand the subtleties. We are dogmatically opposed to free form jamming outside of jazz and experimental music. We are a pop band and we write songs. We fucking hate post rock.
Expert Alterations’ EP is streaming below. Their debut LP You Can’t Always Be Liked will be released October 30 on Kanine.
Expert Alterations tour dates:
12 Philadelphia, PA at Boot and Saddle w/ Hard Left and Mercury Girls
19 Washington D.C. at Black Cat*
20 New York City at Cake Shop*
21 Brooklyn, NY at Shea Stadium*
22 Bethlehem, PA at Shankara*
23 Baltimore, MD at Ottobar*
* dates with Literature