Written by Rachel Hunt / Photos by Dan Price Turnstyle Films
“How far back do you want to go?” chuckles Peter Jennings, one of the guitarists in Ex-Astronaut, a band that’s been through their fair share of changes since forming in 2009 as Field Trip. It’s a loaded question to begin this interview with after performing together in one iteration or another for the past 8 years, but for the current members of the band, taking a look back at where they have individually come from and where they are collectively going is one of the most important pieces that make up their sound.
Jennings grew up in the 90’s under the influence of bands like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., My Bloody Valentine, and the people he met at Cleveland DIY spaces Speak in Tongues, Fort Totally Awesome and the Tower. Chris Hoke, Ex-Astronaut vocalist and Pat Gang, a recent addition on bass, went to high school together around the same time. “We listened to Smashing Pumpkins and The Velvet Underground, that’s how I met him,” Gang says, pointing to Hoke sitting beside him on a couch in Hoke’s living room. “We were in school and both of us had the same patches on our book bags.”
An early version of Facebook connected Jennings with Hoke during his search to find a singer for the project he’d begun working on after a hiatus playing music. Originally envisioned as a two-piece in the same vein as Japandroids, Jennings quickly realized he was going to need assistance. “I can’t sing and play guitar at the same time. I always ended up being off key,” he frustratedly admits. “But, it turned out we had all of this back history together that we hadn’t ended up connecting before.”
Hoke located drummer Christopher Kochera on a group page for mopeds, a hobby they both share. By far the baby in the band, Kochera’s roots stem from the Cleveland and Youngstown hardcore and metal scene. “We got him at the right time before anyone else could. I knew how good of a drummer he is and let’s face it, that’s a tall order in Cleveland,” says Hoke. “As soon as he was available and I thought he might be into what we were doing, we tried him out and it was peas and carrots. It was peanut butter and jelly, all of that.”
There is a marked difference between the tracks found on 2012’s When We Are Free EP and their newest album, No More Bad Dreams. Where once clear-cut, jangly punk rock had dominated their songwriting, soon it was replaced by vocals buried deep in distortion and fuzzy shoegaze. “When I joined Fieldtrip it was just to sing,” Hoke remembers. “The early Fieldtrip stuff is way heavily influenced by Dinosaur Jr., in a great way, but as everything’s evolved we now have these pedal boards that are eating the band alive.”
No More Bad Dreams released this past October, has been a turning point for Ex-Astronaut in more ways than one. After many months of saving up money towards recording, they were chosen to receive a Panza Foundation grant that helped them put out the six-song LP on vinyl. Prior to it’s release they had to decide whether or not to leave Field Trip, a name that had given them grief and which no longer seemed to fit the band, behind.
Comparatively, No More Bad Dreams contains more mellow music than its predecessors. There is no rush; most songs easily meander between four and six minutes long, distinctively meditative in sound and texture. “I think it was just a natural progression of how Hoke and I write. He’s influenced me and I him. He introduced me to a lot of new stuff that kind of expanded my sonic palette or how I color my music,” states Jennings.
“I think the melding of our different backgrounds really started evolving our music to more of a cerebral, ambient sound,” he goes on. “And indeed, the songs we’re writing now are going to take that ambient stuff to another level. We’re leaving behind the straightforward indie rock. When it comes down to it you just want to try something new. You can’t play the same thing over and over again.”
“For the people who want to see us, don’t wait for us to play the next show,” Hoke urges, adding that their upcoming gigs include February 3rd at The Happy Dog with Key to the Mint and Beach Stav, as well as February 18th at Brite Winter. “We love Cleveland, there’s no doubt we wouldn’t have any of this without places like The Happy Dog, Mahall’s and The Grog, but we need other people to hear what we’re doing and the way to do that is to get out of town and give it to them. 2017: I think it’s going to be a great year for the band. We’re making a lot of big moves.”