By Deborah Kennedy No one was more surprised than the members of Exterminate All Rational Thought when they made it to the final rounds of this year’s whatzup Battle of the Bands in August.
“We couldn’t believe it,” said guitarist Peter Lock. “We were just hoping to get through the first round. We knew our fans liked what we did, but meeting all those new people, hearing from them that they thought we were good, that was a surprise.”
Actually, Lock and his bandmates – Jamie DeVinney (eight-string bass), Cody DeMille (guitar) and Ron-Jay Gage (drums) – were probably the only ones surprised by EART’s third-place battle outing. Together these four 20-somethings create a sound that is so textured and musically complex it’s easy to forget they don’t have a singer. The music’s that good.
The band didn’t actually set out to be an instrumental act. According to Lock, EART’s aesthetic simply evolved over time.
“We had a singer for a while. He kind of did this spoken-word thing, which was cool and fit what we were doing pretty well for a while, but he just disappeared one day, so we kept going without a singer,” said Lock.
Friends and new fans often come up after EART’s live performances and beg for the chance to audition for the frontman spot, but Gage said they’re having fun letting their instruments speak for themselves.
“The human voice is a great instrument, obviously, and we’re not opposed to having a singer. It’s just that, with the way our music usually takes shape, it’s a little difficult to put a voice over it,” he said. “It just doesn’t quite fit.”
EART came together about three years ago and have undergone several lineup changes since then, the most recent being the addition of DeVinney, who came in to replace founding bassist Andy Ceceva just in time for the Battle of the Bands.
DeVinney, a communications major at IPFW, knew Lock from middle school. They went to North Side High School together and reconnected at IPFW where, for about a year, all the band’s current members studied music. The bright-haired bassist (it was turquoise for the battle; it’s purple now) said this is the first time he’s been in a band where all the members share an equal dedication to their craft.
“I was supposed to be filling in temporarily, but then when the guys asked if I’d want the job full-time it was an obvious decision. This is the kind of music I’ve been wanting to play for a long time.”
EART’s kind of music defies easy labels. It might best be described as hard rock meets classical. Hard rock because these guys can bring it. Classical because what they’re playing, whether it’s crowd favorite “Battle” or the more jazzy “Cosmosis,” has movements, actual movements that begin in one place and end somewhere else.
“Our songwriting usually begins with one of Cody’s riffs,” DeVinney said, “and then we add our own parts. Since there’s no singer we don’t have a formula we have to stick to. It’s not a conventional approach and it takes a lot of time to perfect, but we’re happy to work our butts off to get it right before we play it live.”
This perfectionist mindset makes sense when you consider that all of these guys have been playing since they were adolescents. Lock, a general studies major at IPFW, began with the clarinet and sax at Northwood Middle School and eventually switched to the guitar because he found it easier and more natural. Gage taught himself to play the drums when he was 12 years old, listening to some of his favorite stickmen, and DeVinney, who has worked his way up from a four- to a five- to finally an eight-string bass, has been at it since he was 13. DeMille, who will graduate soon with degrees in sociology and psychology from IPFW, got his first guitar from his mom when he was in seventh grade. The guitar was a Christmas present, and since he was grounded shortly thereafter, he spent the next four months alone in his room picking and – it can be presumed from his lively and infectious stage presence – grinning.
“I got in trouble for staying out all night,” DeMille said. “It was actually one of the best things that could have happened to me. I had the time to teach myself to play.”
EART are planning to use their winnings from Battle of the Bands to pay for a summer tour and possibly the recording of their debut CD. Currently they’re doing everything DIY, laying down tracks on Lock’s laptop and filming a music video on their own. According to DeMille, they’re not intent on getting signed right away because creative freedom is paramount.
“We don’t want to be in a position where a label’s telling us what to do,” he said. “We want to do things our way without anyone coming in and taking over.”
It’s hard to imagine that a label would want to do anything to screw up what EART have going on. They look cool, they sound cooler, and the fact that they still have so much time in front of them is exciting, not only for them but for hometown fans who get to watch them evolve. Want to hear for yourself what creative freedom sounds like? They’ll be at the Alley Sports Bar in Pro-Bowl West Friday, October 8. And after that?
“Who knows?” DeMille said. “We’re going to keep making music the best way we know how.”