SEVEN YEARS OR SO after Old Time Relijun performed their last show, Arrington de Dionyso started dreaming about doing it again.
"They'd be dreams of like, just setting up for a show and getting the gear all ready and running through some songs," he says. "Nothing too fantastic... but it was just a really good feeling."
The dreams coincided with the 20th anniversary of the Olympia (and, for a time in the '00s, Portland) band. "It was January 1, 1995, that we got together and had our first band practice," de Dionyso remembers. At the time he was a student at Evergreen State College. He'd never been in a band, but he'd been making four-track tapes since high school. For one of the tapes, he recruited a drummer, Bryce Panic, and a bassist, Aaron Hartman. In particular, Hartman's upright bass provided the magnesium for de Dionyso's flint.
"Aaron had studied how to kind of get into a song and, as a bass player, give it a groove, and give it that kind of indefinable rhythmic kick and feel that makes a song pop," he says. "So these pretty weird, atonal tunes that I had come up with suddenly became very danceable."
The description is apt. Old Time Relijun's spark comes from mixing motorik beats with wild, howling, animal skronk. Like the band's namesake, the music has echoes of a revival meeting—Book of Revelation-type stuff, particularly during the live show. De Dionyso performs possessed, like a wide-eyed, half-naked, sweat-drenched preacher, growling and yelping in tongues. Channeling such supernatural intensity, it seems wholly probable that at any moment he might vaporize, combust, or assume the form of some spirit-beast. His full-tilt inhabitance beckons the congregation to dance around this bonfire of the vanities.
Early on, de Dionyso says, Old Time Relijun shows were too weird for the punks and too wild for everyone else. But they found a lasting home at K Records, who put out a score of their albums, including the last one, Catharsis in Crisis. After that album's release in 2007, the band toured relentlessly. Upon returning home, Old Time Relijun's members went their own direction.
"We never had any intention of not playing again," de Dionyso says of what became a seven-year break. "The band never broke up. We never had any kind of thought like, 'Well, I'm not ever going to do that again.' It was nothing at all like that."
During the hiatus, de Dionyso divided his time between an experimental free-jazz solo project, fronting the proto-freak-garage group Malaikat dan Singa, and honing his painting and visual art. When the dreams began earlier this year, he reached out to the rest of Old Time Relijun.
"Everybody was immediately enthusiastic," de Dionyso says. "There wasn't really any hesitation."
The 2007 lineup is back: Hartman on bass, Germaine Baca on drums, and Hartman's brother Benjamin on saxophone and auxiliary percussion. The setlist will draw from the group's entire history, a veritable best of. Currently there's no plan to write new material, and only two performances are scheduled, in Portland and Olympia.
"There's no commitment beyond these shows," de Dionyso says. "It's like, we're going to get together and see what happens. Maybe it'll be seven years before we play another show. It probably won't be that long, but we'll see."
One thing, though, is certain: Feeling that the band's message remains vital, de Dionyso is excited to deliver Old Time Relijun into the present.
"I've always felt that Old Time Relijun provides a kind of musical alchemy," he says. "We bring in a union of opposites in our music. What we're able to pull off as a musical statement I think really perfectly encapsulates both the incredible terror and the outrageous joy of being alive in the world right now.
"Many of our songs kind of confront monstrous or horrific ideas in the shadows," de Dionyso adds, "but there's always an embracing of the spirit of indestructible life. We're like the foot soldiers of indestructible life."