When the comment drops that there’s a lot going on in Art vs. Science, keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist Dan McNamee rushes to clarify the statement.
“You mean sonically?” he immediately queries. “Because personally there is as well. We haven’t killed each other yet, so that’s good.”
Although the Australian Dance Rock trio has only been around since 2008, McNamee, drummer/vocalist Dan Williams and keyboardist/vocalist Jim Finn have been friends since high school and previously played together in Roger Explosion, a Punk outfit that lasted for nearly five years before dissolving right about the time they formed AvS as something of a diversionary project. That long association has necessitated taking occasional breaks.
Like many bands, Art vs. Science seems to have wallpapered its practice space with the flyers of a dozen different influential predecessors, based on the sounds emanating from its eponymous U.S. debut album. As is often the case, stuttering XTC riffs do not an influence make.
“I’ll have to put that in my notes,” McNamee says at the mention of the Andy Partridgeisms. “I’ve been meeting people, and they say, ‘You sound a bit like Thomas Dolby.’ I’m like, ‘Who’s Thomas Dolby? I’ve got to check him out, too.’ ”
Although Art vs. Science fairly shivers with the ghosts of early XTC, Devo and Shriekback, it was actually a 2007 Daft Punk show that moved McNamee to abandon Indie Punk and adopt a dancier Electronic Rock ethic. With rejuvenated fervor (and further inspiration from the Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim), he enlisted Williams and Finn to create Art vs. Science in 2008. After a few “rehearsals,” McNamee was so overwhelmed by the power of this new context that he impulsively accepted a gig offer without a single note of original music.
“I’m normally quite sensible about that sort of thing,” McNamee says with a laugh. “We had this other band and never got anywhere, and our bass player had gone overseas and I started making Electronic music, not in a very Rock & Roll way, but in a late-night/coffee/hunched-over-a keyboard way. Dan and I had a little jam in a garage; we hadn’t done anything, but that was the extent of our preparation.
The booker called, who was a friend from high school, and we couldn’t play because the bass player was overseas, but I said, ‘I’ve got a new band ready. Maybe we could play.’ He said, ‘What sort of music?’ and I said, ‘Like Dance/Rock/Electro.’ And he said, ‘Can you do a headline set, like an hour’s worth of songs?’ And I said, ‘Uh … yes.’ So I called up the guys and said, ‘We’ve got to write some songs … we’ve got a gig on Friday.’ ”
In relatively short order — two days, in fact — McNamee, Finn and Williams whipped up seven songs that they could stretch into a full set. The songs were not tossed off demos that required tweaking or reworking; the majority of them wound up on their 2009 debut EP.
Songs that are on the album being released in the U.S. — “Hollywood,” “Flippers,” “Friend in the Fields” — were written that week. Shows what a little pressure does.
In 2008, Art vs. Science scored a slot at the prestigious Splendour in the Grass festival, immeasurably raising its profile. The band’s thunderous Rock/Rave style and unique live presentation (all keyboards/occasional guitar/real drums, with no computers, backing tracks or turntables) won it a huge following; its debut EP went gold, shows were consistently sold out and the band became a popular draw at Australia’s numerous festivals.
By necessity, AvS has crafted separate sets for club and festival crowds.
“Set times are different and you don’t have as long on a festival stage so you pick your best songs and slam everyone with them — and you speak in your big, loud, boomy, slow festival voice,” McNamee says, laughing as he exhibits his big, loud, boomy, slow festival voice. “You can’t try that inside when you’re playing to 100 people. You just sound silly.”
Art vs. Science’s current North American tour is its most extensive circuit here so far, and the dates have been (and will be) widely varied, from relatively small club gigs to a quick run up to Canada to festival slots at Chicago’s Sausage Fest, New York’s Governor’s Ball and the wildly popular Bonnaroo.
“We’re not making a whole lot of money from it so … how would you describe it? It’s a conversion mission,” McNamee says. “We have to play as many different places as we can in as short a time as possible and try to win over people. The plan … there isn’t really a plan. We just try to play as much as we can, as excited as we can, to as many people as we can.”
Part of the U.S. strategy was the digital release of an eponymous full-length, a compilation of tracks culled from AvS’s existing Australian EPs and debut full-length, 2011’s The Experiment. It wasn’t difficult for the band to come up with the album’s track list, given the feedback they’d already received on the songs.
“It’s pretty much like a greatest hits, even though we’ve only put out one album and a couple of EPs,” McNamee says. “We thought, we’ll hit everyone with the best we’ve got and see what they think. We basically picked the ones that we know people really like when we play them live.”
Although Art vs. Science plays with danceable authority, the band doesn’t really fit into any recognizable pigeonhole, and that’s just fine with the members. They are perfectly content to continue doing exactly what they want to do without chasing after some imagined and overemphasized demographic.
“Genres help if you think of them in terms of the general vibe you get from listening to it, but if you break down the elements that make up those things — like Dance music might have an average tempo of 120 beats per minute and a straight kick like Disco — I’ve found you can write a whole bunch of different musical elements and as long as you do it within a few little boundaries, people can still listen and dance to it,” McNamee says. “There’s a few things you can do to give it consistency and listenability, and it seems like that would be constricting in a way, but it almost gives you more freedom, because you know people tend to like things like that so you can write a variety of songs and not seem to be in a genre, but it still kind of is.”
ART VS. SCIENCE performs downtown on Fountain Square this Friday, headlining this week's free MidPoint Indie Summer concert. Also performing are locals You, You're Awesome and Shadowraptr. Show starts at 7 p.m.