Maps and Atlases Interview, Kicking Against The Pricks,November 2010

Maps and Atlases are in a quiet mood – so much so that it takes a good 20 minutes to coax them from their respective shells. Luckily for all concerned we find some common ground in a love of snow and a stoic indifference to the internet.

Formed in the underground basements of a Chicago art school they’ve honed their skills in the fields of music production and film – most notably singer David Davidson’s beatnik collective Cast Spells, more on which later. Shiraz Dada on bass, Chris Hainey on drums, and Erin Elders on guitar make up the rest of the line up. Shiraz is the only Chicago native, with the others hailing from Philadelphia, Texas and Hawaii respectively.

Their musical influences converging, it took time to hone their sound. Erin says: “When we started we were discovering a lot of new music. Art was all over the place and we were into more progressive or free jazz stuff, but also artists like The Talking Heads or David Bowie, those definitely still influence us”.

Shiraz has a background in music production, involved in producing early Maps and Atlases songs as well as Chicago punk bands The Street Brats, and The Skies We Built. Is it hard for him to resist the temptation to step in and analyse? “It’s a different world on stage you know. Sometimes I go out into the house and listen to what everyone else is doing, but really we have our own sound, so I don’t try and tweak stuff too much”. He pauses, as the others, smiling, shake their heads: “Sometimes, but not really”.

Recently signed to FatCat in the UK and Barsuk records in the US, they have just released their debut album ‘Perch Patchwork’. It marks FatCat’s 100th release and sees them become label mates with likes of Sigur Ros and Animal Collective. “They’re a roster of artists that we respect and have listened to and liked for a long time, so it’s definitely an honour to be part of what they’re doing”, remarks Erin.

Live they’ve played with a diverse range of bands; Frightened Rabbit, hardcore band MewithoutYou, and African guitar protégée Vieux Farka Toure (Son of Ali Farka or ‘Donkey’ Toure, revered by some as “the African John Lee Hooker”). Chris says: “Maybe we have a biased perspective because they’re bands that we like or something, but it’s something we really welcome – the ability to play and have a really different experience each time. We have a real balance between being a technical band that focuses on musicianship, but also a band that has a real song-centric quality as well. Vieux Farka Toure is very instrumentally focused and Frightened Rabbit are very song focused and it seems to be back and forth with us, which is good”.

So we move back to Cast Spells, singer David Davison’s band featuring a rotating line up of friends and family. They can be found on YouTube in various communal jams in the Sargent House Glasshouse, suspended high among the trees looking effortlessly at home. The songs occasionally find their way into Maps and Atlases shows, which is more than can be said David and Chris’ other sideline, party band Mountain Lion Mountain. “We were jamming on stuff here and there but it was mostly just in preparation for one show”, Chris starts before they all collapse into giggles. Dave adds: “Shiraz and I used to live in a place that had shows in the basement and every year they’d have themed show where it was duos, two piece bands and some combination of us would just make up the band. It was online somewhere”. Shiraz chimes in “You guys killed it, it was awesome”. Chris laughs: “You got front row seats”. After a fair bit of searching the video never does show up, but after their show of mirth, maybe some things are better left imagined.

Despite Erin being a filmmaker by trade they’ve been fairly hands off with their approach video making – the best of which is the sublimely dark and brooding Solid Ground. A crazy animated short of Beaker from The Muppets with steam shooting out of his ears is also doing the rounds, soundtracked by the frenzy of melodic loops and drum clicks on Every Place Is A House. Erin laughs: “It just showed up one day”. Shiraz says: “It has, like, the most views of anything too, bizarre,” “It could be an animated gif”, adds Erin. Chris grins: “It might be an animation GIFT”.

Kate Parkin