Lost in the sound: post-rock’s rise in Asheville

By Stephen Livengood, Contributor | April 20, 2015
The first chord hits and an abrasive swarm of delayed guitar notes, rumbling bass waves, and thundering drums floods the room. The bassist raises his instrument high into the air, eyes closed, as if making an offering to the gods of sound and frequency. The crowd becomes entrenched in the ambient wash of the vocal-less intensity. The band “onj.” has taken the stage. In the next 45 minutes they will take the crowd of musical pilgrims on an exodus to new auditory frontiers.
“There are some nights when I can’t sleep because I have this part stuck in my head. It almost haunts me at times. It’s three in the morning and I can’t fall asleep. I have to wake up in six hours, but I have to get up and play this part on the guitar. Every time you play it, you feel so satisfied,” said Mark Klepac, an Asheville resident and lead guitar player for local post-rock band “onj.”
Post-rock has slowly made its way into Asheville’s local music scene with its intensely dynamic and orchestral songs, and looks to be here to stay.
“Before this, I was a vocalist of a progressive metal band with lots of screaming. I just got really tired of each week our other guitar player coming to practice with these riffs that sounded like every other band. I got really tired of writing music that sounded like all the contemporary bands in that genre,” Klepac said.
Klepac, 22, started “onj.” a year ago with the intention of exploring new realms of music that allowed for more artistic expression than the metal genre could provide.
“For me the songs have deep meaning in that they come out of places of hurt, or pain, or struggle,” Klepac said.
One can almost see the fire of passion in his eyes as he speaks about the joy of creating.
“It is trying to figure out ways that you can get a point across to people without having to be point blank with lyrics. It felt contrived to just say everything to people. I enjoyed the switch of writing a song, and being able to show it to people, and for them to have to dig a little bit to actually get what I’m trying say,” Klepac said.
Leading force behind local post-rock pioneers “(young) American Landscape” Jonathan Atkinson has crafted post-rock music with this band for more than six years. He was a vocalist in a heavier band as well, before making the gradual transition into playing post-rock.
“I got tired of trying to convey some sort of message and not really being able to enjoy the music itself, and being able to get lost in the music. I always felt there was some way I had to perform instead of just enjoying the music I was playing. That influenced me into playing instrumental music,” said Atkinson, 28.
Atkinson’s exaggerated hand gestures convey the deep passion that comes from the highs and lows of a six-year musical pursuit combined with the desire to challenge modern society.
“I think really at the core of it, there is something about this music that is very counter-cultural, and that’s what I was drawn to at first. Just today I read three articles about how our generation is so overstimulated and how we want instant gratification. We want everything to happen right now. We don’t know how to wait for stuff. I think that is the result of a consumerist and materialistic society. So, for me, in some tiny way, this is my way of protesting by playing slow music that people have to pay attention to. You’re not going to get this music unless you pay attention the whole time. You’re not going to get the climax unless you’ve paid attention to the build,” Atkinson said.
Like a lot of post-rock musicians in the area, Atkinson, an Asheville resident, made the transition from metal to post-rock to find a creative outlet that allowed more expression.
Daniel Shaneyfelt, a local tattoo artist and guitar player for the Asheville band “Bear,” said he followed this trend as well.
“For me it was getting older and not liking what I was doing. I just wanted to have fun playing music again, and I didn’t do that when I played metal. I was too busy trying to be as technical as I could be,” Shaneyfelt, 28, said.
Shaneyfelt’s grin, hidden under a massive red beard, displays a deep excitement at the idea of creating music the listener can interpret.
“We have a weird ambiguity being instrumental bands. We can be reflecting any number of things that we’re feeling that carries absolutely no representation to the person that is listening, and they can associate it to something important to them,” Shaneyfelt said.
As for the present state of post-rock in Asheville, the musicians who are building the genre have their concerns. Atkinson said he has a first-hand understanding of the frustrations that come with breaking a new genre into a musically saturated community.
“Our first show, we literally played for three people. Now, we definitely play to more people than that. It’s a slow growth,” Atkinson said.
Shaneyfelt said, like the genre itself, post-rock’s rise in popularity would be slow in a town like Asheville.
“I think it’s kind of a new thing, even though its been here for a while, I just think a lot of people have not seen it or heard it and don’t really know what it is, but I think it’s starting to surface a little bit and people are getting a better idea of it, but I don’t think its anything large yet,” Shaneyfelt said.
While the curators of the music think the rise will be slow, the heartbeat of this young genre of symphonic ambience pounds on with a hopeful yet confidently unconcerned cadence.
“I think it could potentially get bigger, but at the same time I don’t care if it does. It’s not something I feel needs to be a trend, or needs to be what everybody starts doing all of a sudden. I like the fact that it’s small. It’s a much more community-based genre. Everybody is into what everyone else is doing and wants to help out and progress everyone,” Shaneyfelt said.