Despite making music that commands attention, the guys in Keanu Leaves appear more comfortable shying away from it. Tonally, their music is often dark and lachrymose, layered with cavernous reverb that swallows the instrumentation, making it immense yet distant. The sound is arresting and enveloping but aloof – as if existing far away out on the margins, like an epiphany discovered and then forgotten in a half-woken dream.
Singer/guitarist Andrew Stroheker’s vocals are light in contrast to the moodiness, delivered with an almost nonchalance, providing a balance to the music’s aural tension and, at the same time, deepening its sense of detachment.
“I’m really a pretty quiet person,” Stroheker said. “But I’m also really observant. Like when I’m in a crowded room, I’m always paying attention to stuff going on around me, but I’m not really [involved in it]. It’s like I’m there but not there, you know?”
This sense of removal inherent in Keanu Leaves’ music is perhaps best illustrated by the cover of their debut EP. The image is a four-panel layout depicting each member alone, holding his instrument up in front of him. Offset guitars and snare drums eclipse the members’ faces, as if to suggest their individual identities come only from the sounds they collectively create.
The foursome formed just over a year ago after Stroheker’s previous project, the popular indie-rock outfit Animal Spirit, stalled with the pregnancy of his wife, and then bandmate, Sam Stroheker.
“It’s mostly defunct now,” Stroheker explained. “We just took a long break when Sam got pregnant. She was getting tired and didn’t really want to play shows, so it just kind of stopped. There was no last show or anything.”
After Animal Spirit faded, Stroheker continued writing and recording songs. He recruited longtime roommate Addison White (Royal Savages, Mountain Kid) to collaborate with some lead guitar. The two then added Parker Anderson (Dead Vinyl) on drums and Aaron Haskin (Kites and Boomerangs) on bass. Though they’ve played only a few shows in the last 12 months, a buzz has been building around the four-piece, which ultimately resulted in them winning a Fort Worth Weekly Music Award for Best New Band this past July.
“That was really unexpected, for sure.” Stroheker said of the award. “I think that maybe since we’ve all been in the scene and people knew our bands, there was kind of a bit of hype around us when we started.”
The title of the EP, I Feel Fine, echoes a sort of emotional vacancy. The phrase is a verbal shrug, meant as a dismissive and noncommittal response to being asked how things are rather than that of a cheery Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride”- esque exclamation of contentment. It’s a flatline riposte, cementing the music’s sense of disconnected exegesis.
“It’s like I care, but I don’t care,” he said. “Again, I’m there, but I’m not there.”
Stroheker has a knack for keenly infectious melodies, but he seems content to let his verses sink down under the vivid sonic imagery built by the waves of cascading guitars and dynamically shifting rhythms. Lyrically, he is the internal dialogue of the passive observer, present but off to the side – again, dissociated. He cleverly twists familiar phrases, bending their recognizable shapes into new forms, altering or reinforcing their meaning, as on “Bar Scene Romance,” in which he glibly comments, “If misery loves company, then why are you alone? / You’re burning your bridges to warm your home.”
The core of Keanu Leaves resides in their punctilious musical arrangements as highlighted by the EP’s climax on the instrumental crescendo of “Reasons to Stay.” After moody down-tempo verses, doubled guitars ignite into staccato trills, layering and building in intensity toward a cathartic release.
Stroheker teased the EP’s release with a pair of videos that appeared last week, and the band is in the process of planning a proper video to accompany the record. Haskin is a skilled videographer –– he is responsible for Dead Vinyl’s endearing sci-fi B-movie homage video for “Till the Cosmos Fall.” The bassist hopes to employ the same indie, DIY vibe for Keanu Leaves’ forthcoming vid.
“I think it’s going to be really fun,” Haskin said. “Being on any sort of set where you’re having to use a camera and you’re having to force your friends to act goofy, there’s no better thrill.”
Keanu Leaves EP release show
8:30pm Sat w/Chillamundo, Phantomelo, and Ting Tang Tina at MASS, 1002 S Main St, FW. $10. 682-707-7774.