Desert City Soundtrack
Singing their way to recovery. Chris Hornbecker

Desert City Soundtrack

Fri Nov 29


There are four of them now, and even individually, they are très fucking talented. There's Cory Gray, the screaming pianist, whose dark-hearted melodies pulse humidly. There's Mike Casanvo, the bassist who lays down the trembling low end. There's Caitlin Love, the perpetually awesome drummer who pounds out complicated rhythms with toughness as much as subtlety. And Matt Carrillo, the guitarist/ vocalist who lets the drama in his shrieks be washed clean by the power of distortion. They're all in Desert City Soundtrack, they fit together really well, and recently, I've found myself in my room with the lights out and swaying to their stark, cinematic music a lot.

Well, okay, I mean, I'm not really that emo. But neither are they. With an approach similar to the one first staked out by Three Mile Pilot, the Portland quartet douses swank, immensely melodic piano hooks into screamy harmonies and charged, hardcore-influenced guitars and drums. They've gone through many line-up and format changes in their three-and-a-half-year existence (they started out in Santa Rosa, CA, with just acoustic guitar and piano), but you can hear the current, most cohesive incarnation on their newest release, Contents of Distraction, on Deep Elm Records. It's a great release, and it's so moody and dynamic that when I was interviewing them, I totally kicked in to nurturing-mom mode and was all, "Are you guys depressed?"

THE ANSWER IS NO, they are not depressed. After politely laughing their asses off at my concern, Cory responded, "We're actually writing a self-help book. No, it's just dark music is the only kind of music I can really relate to; there's a certain mood that you don't get from very happy-sounding music."

"A lot of people like hearing happy stuff, you know; if you hear what they call 'emo' music, the Promise Ring and Jimmy Eat World are very happy and poppy music. And that's cool, but I wouldn't say that it's very emotional," notes Matt.

Contents of Distraction is an extremely emotional record, but FYI, it's not a big pity-fest, at all; it's just really un-self-conscious, and smoldering with uniquely sensitive, often improvised lyrics about loss, death, isolation. From a musical standpoint, though, it sounds like four people playing music honestly, who've been able to tap into the process of not bullshitting themselves and just straight-up playing what they feel. (And being really good, besides.)

The moment of truth is what DCS lives for. "It's the feeling that we get when we're trying to knit something together, and we get to the point where we totally mean it," explains Cory.

Matt confers. "It's that point where you can say, 'this is not fake,' and we don't care how much shit we get for it, we're gonna tear down our own walls as much as we can. It's not about fortune or fame or who knows who, or who looks like what. It's just about fucking rocking the shit."

The above makes DCS sound extra-serious, but also, you should know they are a bunch of funny, sarcastic mofos. For instance, addressing the emo issue, Matt jokes, "Okay: I'm the emo posterboy, [the band] calls me emo, and when they say 'heart,' they all direct it at me. [Singing:] I have a broken heart! I'm sad 'cause I got a broken heart. Okay, I'm glad I got that out. I mean, we're on Deep Elm: Hearts Bleed Blue. We have left so much room to be made fun of."

"'Heart' is what Matt sounds like when he gets eem to the extreme," laughs Cory.

Caitlin notes wryly, "We're on a comp called Emo is Awesome, sold in Hot Topic," and Mike finishes with, "How can we take ourselves seriously?"

"As far as that kinda stuff goes," says Cory, "people categorize stuff all the time, and everything is commercial and cheesy everywhere. We just don't give a shit, you know? We're just hoping that maybe the music will speak for itself."