vəˈräɡō/: a woman of strength or spirit; a female warrior.

Explosions in the Sky: Speed of Sound

It’s 1993, in Burbank, California. My mother is 7 months pregnant with me. In the short period of time that was between her wedding dress and hospital gown, she had headphones on her swollen belly. Headphones on me, sending the nurturing anthems of Rock n’ Roll’s forefathers deep into my uterine sanctuary.

I was raised with Robert Plant wailing in the kitchen during morning coffee, and Sublime in my dad’s work truck. However it wasn’t until my Junior Prom that I finally fell in love with a band of my own.

April 2009, in Conifer, Colorado. “Listen to this,” my date insisted as we drove back home. He fuddled with his iPod as I looked out the window, quite unaware of what was about to happen to me. “They’re like, this crazy, out there, instrumental  band.”  He clicked play. One crisp A natural resonated through the car. It hummed, fading over and over. A soft bass drum, like a pulse, seeped into the song, and before I could really comprehend where the song was going, it took off on its own. Gently in flight, softly trembling on my aural plane, and building with tenderness. And only at the most appropriate time, the song erupted into a whole new meaning. It was a chrysalis of sound, a meticulously constructed process of music and thought, and I was in love.

Explosions In The Sky, since their beginning in 1999, have paved a really imperative road as far as expressionism goes. It’s like anything in art; there is always going to be a feeling of mimicry between pieces, deep within their creative anatomies. And once in a while, it takes a breath of fresh artistry to reawaken the metabolism of creation, to rekindle its hunger and need for progress This is where EITS comes in. With their confronting, passionate melodies and lyric-les trademark, EITS communicates through their instrumental medium on a highly emotional level. They took the general layout of a traditional song- a repetitive entity 2-3 minutes long, and changed it. Each note has a powerful significance, diversity takes the place of musical repetition, and 7-9 minutes is their average.

I was 16 the first time I saw them, and not only was that show, (in Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheater) absolutely transformative, but it’s where I first developed my crush on the wide-eyed Munaf Rayani, the dark haired guitarist on stage right. He was young(er), wearing red, absolutely charming, and I was a tender-footed child enchanted by his grace.

Photo credit: Morgan Rodriguez
(Top) Outside Lands, San Francisco, 2012 (Bottom) Nines Festival, August 2013

As is everyone’s, my High School experience was riddled with social awkwardness, heartbreak, growing pains and the like.  Yet their music always provided me with this framework in which I could just listen, and see the true beauty of everything around me. I began to take that mentality, and use it outside of their music. Soon, everything was notable- some of it terrifying, some of it exquisite, but not an ounce of it was without allure. Their music taught me to open my heart, so to speak. And it was one of the very first things that perpetuated one of my true joys.

I also started to develop ideas of what I would hypothetically like to do with each member. I feel like I would just really enjoy having a beer with Michael James, and just swashbuckle or something. He seems like a good swashbuckler. I think Chris Hrasky and I could probably hash it out over Hitchcock because I read somewhere that he studied film, as do I. I really want Mark Smith just to give me, like, dad advice. Or teach me how to build a table or something. And I would totally appreciate talking to Munaf about philosophy and feelings and stuff, because I think he’d be pretty good at that.

When I graduated High School, their album Take Care Take Care Take Care had just been released.  In a way, that served as a sort of therapy for me. I was about to move 1,300 miles away from home for College, and I was terrified. Yet every single time I hear, “Last Known Surroundings,” I’m brought back to my first days on the campus of Seattle University, and how damn happy I was to be there.

April 2012 was a big deal for me, because I got killer grades, and had tickets to see these guys downtown. Later that night I actually got to meet Munaf, and although 18 at the time, still acted like a child around him, giddily giggling and wanting his autograph. I was no better a month later when I snuck backstage at Sasquatch Music Festival to see him again. I have no regrets.

Fast forward to summer 2013. I’m 20 now. I’m a big girl and everything- I can rent a car from Hertz and have been able to legally drink in Canada for a whole year, woo-hoo. And since my summer had been one of the quietest and boring ones to date, I decided to take off up to The Nines Music Festival, in Devens, Massachusetts, where EITS would be performing.

You’re probably thinking, “Morgan, why the f*** did you go all the way to Massachusetts from Colorado when these guys are having a Fall tour that is coming to not only your hometown, but also your College town?” Well kids I’ll tell you why. Because love is blind, obviously. And also a semester of school is waiting for me in Argentina, which is (wait for it ) NOT A STOP ON THEIR FALL TOUR. My heart would not rest if I missed them.

Devens is a lonely hour outside of Boston. It’s an excellent drive if you have time, and a good playlist. The roads are lined with the thick, healthy foliage that the East Coast is notorious for, and the lanes are adorned with the country’s worst drivers. Charming combination. The festival itself was the smallest I have ever seen, but it held such a special energy, such a sense of ambition. This was the inaugural Nines Festival, and although it was a quaint one-day event, I have genuine faith in its momentum and appeal to the ears of the Northeast.

It’s 9:30 PM, August 10th, the moment we have been waiting for all day. The adorable, cherry-haired Scott McMicken of Dr. Dog exits the stage, and roadies enter. And as usual, with the roadies, the men themselves, EITS. Yes. They do their own sound check. Always. They come out one by one. They’re not scraggly 20 somethings anymore in ripped jeans and band t-shirts, but poised gentlemen in their 30s, having officially entered the era of dad-flannels, knit sweaters, wedding rings, and close-toed shoes. They’re polished and primed for their performance, focus searing in their faces.

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Only minutes later, Munaf opens for the band, telling us their name and thanking us for coming. The lights go down… and there it is again. That one, crisp A natural, resonating from the stage. I’m 16 again, hearing them for the first time. Everyone in that audience is 16 again. Everyone in that audience is drawn in like a moth to their light, their pyretic energy. And these songs don’t really have an end or a beginning, but fade into one another like you would blend a beautiful color into the next, gradient by gradient. One moment, it’s heartbreaking. But the next, it’s hopeful. Then angry, anxious, and even exhilarated. Yet always reflective. They moved through their classics, “First Breath After Coma, “The Birth and Death of The Day,” “The Only Moment We Were Alone, “ “Your Hand In Mine,” and the like. There was not a still body in the crowd- we all swayed with the music, let it pull us along like marionettes. Their shows are emotional powerhouses- they will reach down and speak to something that you didn’t know was inside you.

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They didn’t touch some of the more recent things they’ve released, namely their new soundtrack to the film Prince Avalanche. However, they ended on a sincere, passionate note, and left the stage full of deep-hearted gratitude for our attendance. Waywardly, the festivalgoers wandered from a now dark Willard Field, and we all drove home.

We’re all growing, is the thing. Music as an art changes every day. Its audiences are changing. These four, great guys from Austin, Texas are changing. They’re starting new parts of their lives, and that likely means their sources of inspiration are changing too. And because of this, everything they’ll make from now on is going to be its own animal, separate from the genus that was the early 2000s. And while I’m learning to indulge in some really weird music (Seattle as a whole is responsible,) I know, sheerly out of my sentimental support and aural curiosity, I will always return to see what these guys are up to. Because it’s gonna be good.

Look out for Explosions In The Sky on their Fall tour this year. Stay connected, stay humble, and always remember to feed your ears.

About Morgan Rodriguez

Morgan Rodriguez

Morgan Rodriguez is a freelance photographer, aspiring filmmaker and student based in Seattle, Washington. Originally from the small town of Evergreen Colorado, she began concert photography at the age of 17. Since then she has photographed numerous festivals, concerts, current events, and worked on 3 student films as the director of photography. She now frequents the Pacific Northwest, and aspires to a career in photojournalism and documentary filmmaking. She’s an avid yogi, hiker, and harbors an affinity for vegan ice cream and learning languages.

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