By: Susan Frances
Indie-pop is a world of music that possesses the pop sensibilities of radio friendly tunage but is somehow independently made distant from the edicts of commercial radio. The tunes have mass appeal without ever becoming a product of corporate-pop. Aqueduct ’s leader David Terry is a primo maestro at creating songs which are highly attractive to mass markets, and yet, he remains an underground artist that most people have little cognizance they even like.
An example of this point is his song “Growing Up With GNR” from Aqueduct’s 2005 album I Sold Gold which was chosen to be featured in a Jaguar commercial. The clip can be viewed on Aqueduct’s website (www.aqueductisgoodmusic.com). It still mystifies David Terry how his song was picked for the commercial as he tells, “It was pretty random. I’m sure that some young hip marketing person was a fan of the song and worked it into the idea pile. Somehow I was picked and the rest is consumer history.”
Although his song was chosen for the commercial, the folks at Jaguar were remiss at providing him with a new Jag as Terry comments, “I wish I could have gotten a free car. I’m sure they drive real nice.” His song in the commercial certainly makes it seem like the cars drive nice.
What makes Aqueduct so unique is that it's a micro-music community with David Terry at the helm on lead vocals and keyboards and additional musicians coming in and leaving at their will, like the way water moves in a state of flux through an aqueduct. The band’s current line up with David Terry consists of multi-instrumentalists Matt Nader, David Bynum, Andrew Rudd, Chris Barnes, Jason Holstrom, Justin Wilmore, Colin Carmichael, Jeff Johnston, James McCallister, and Jay Hancock.
David Terry christened the band’s name sometime while touring. “Aqueduct was formed in my head in 1999,” he recalls. “The name and ideology of Aqueduct comes out of the idea that original thought and creativity in its simplest form has to come from one brain. While on tour with another band out on the west coast, we were driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco and I was staring out the window when staring back at me was a sign for the California Aqueduct. Something about the word affected me a certain way and that was it. That simple.”
Indeed it is. Since 2003, Aqueduct has been releasing a steady stream of music making its way from David Terry’s brainstorming in the recording studio to becoming a product for mass consumption. The band’s indie debut release Power Ballads in 2003 was followed by an EP in 2004 called Pistols At Dawn on Barsuk Records, and then a full length album on Barsuk entitled I Sold Gold in 2005. Presently making its way to the masses is their fourth studio album Or Give Me Death on Barsuk.
Terry embraces, “I solely write, arrange, record, and produce Aqueduct. I attempt to perform as much of the music as I can on record but as time goes by, the recording process has started to involve other people. On my first album, I played everything. On the new album, I worked with twelve different musicians, ranging from drummers to ensemble horn and string players.”
The horn and string arrangements can be heard on several tracks including “Just The Way I Are,“ “Unavailable,” “As You Wish,“ and “Lying In The Bed I‘ve Made“ from Or Give Me Death. But what remains prevalent in Aqueduct's songs are the threading of synth and piano segments which is totally ironic because Terry says he was a difficult pupil when it came to piano lessons; whereas his mother took to the piano like Olympic gold medalist Shaun White took to snowboarding.
“I started playing piano when I was 9 or 10. I took classical piano lessons and must say, didn’t enjoy it. I would learn a piece of music just enough to start playing it the way I heard it in my head versus how it was written on the page. By the time I quit taking lessons, I had developed quite an ear and driven my teacher completely crazy.”
He reveals, “I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. My mother had the musical genes. She grew up playing the organ in church in a small town in Oklahoma. My mother was certainly my earliest mentor. She had become quite an accomplished jazz pianist, so when I dropped the lessons, she steered me towards learning chord structure and improvisation at a really early age. I was into listening and playing some heavy progressive jazz before high school.”
He continues, “It wasn’t until high school that I started writing my own songs. I taught myself how to play guitar and kind of dumbed down my musical tastes. It was really primitive and freeing to just grab a guitar, write a song in five minutes and move on. That is rock ‘n’ roll,” he gleans.
“Somewhere along the way, I decided to be a singer and tried out for a funny high school metal band.” His early dabbling in metal prone bands would take him to the music scene being fostered in Seattle, Washington at the time. “The west coast was definitely calling my name,” he summons. “I almost moved many times to Los Angeles or San Francisco. And before Seattle, I almost landed in Portland. Though my move to Seattle was a bit random, after having some time to reflect I couldn’t have picked a better city and time to move. Aqueduct rather quickly established itself in Seattle to a very welcoming music scene.”
David Terry may have also experienced a kindred spirit with the melancholic mood of Seattle’s musicians. “Aqueduct’s songs are all about life,” he cites, “ranging from the autobiographical to the observational. I find humor in dark situations and find myself carving my most clever work from those inspirations.”
The title of Aqueduct’s latest release, Or Give Me Death is a perfect example of Terry’s dark humor. He omitted the part of “give me liberty” which is generally the prefix to the well known phrase that has been lodged in American’s psyche from the famed American Revolutionary fighter Patrick Henry who penned “Give me liberty or give me death.” Terry takes for granted that liberty is not an option for him, just the negative part of the phrase is.
He attests, “I never prepare myself to write a song and prefer the songs write themselves. Sorry to take the easy way out on that one,” he amends.
Aqueduct became an extension of Terry’s improvisational practices from youth. In the recording studio he allows his imagination to go wild, “Possibly to my detriment,” he remarks. “I go crazy recording different stuff even though it might not get used. No formulas, no patterns, I try to let the song guide me in the writing and recording process. Both aspects are so momentary anyway, in the grand scheme of things, you just can’t force it.”
He outlines. “Power Ballads was my first full length record, I produced and distributed it myself to the extent that I’m not really sure how supportive the music industry was. It surely did not make waves. It kind of seeped into the consciousness of certain people across the country and eventually into the hearts of the good folks at Barsuk Records. I’m positive that the public at large was the greatest fan during the days of Power Ballads. All the people that came to the shows in the mid-west and after moving to Seattle, knew right away that we were playing music they liked, making it a matter of time before the industry got involved.”
For Pistols At Dawn, he instructs, “That was my first release on Barsuk Records and was actually an EP of extra material that didn’t go on I Sold Gold, so the songs are a bit random.”
Music critics aligned Pistols At Dawn with artists like The Flaming Lips and Built To Spill. Terry responds, “I feel confident that music critics will say anything especially when they’re not sure exactly how to pin a band. I personally don’t hear either of those bands when I think about those songs, so let’s chalk that one up to the critic’s unfamiliarity with Aqueduct. We are often compared to The Postal Service when I Sold Gold came out, making me wonder if critics were listening past the first track.”
Or Give Me Death will continue the comparisons to indie-pop artists because like them, David Terry’s influences come more from his own private introspections than from external forces. “I write a lot of songs and sometimes you can’t shake a few of them,” he notices. “I wrote a lot of new ones for this record and I’m sure a few of the ones that didn’t end up on Or Give Me Death will show up somewhere, sometime.”
Sometimes Aqueduct’s songs show up in music videos too. The video for their song “Hardcore Days & Software Nights” from I Sold Gold was directed by Todd Lincoln and can be viewed on the band’s website. “I’m not sure yet how I feel about shooting music videos,” he ponders. “That particular video (for “Hardcore Days & Software Nights“) was really cool. Hardworking people that were doing it for the love of music made the shoot really come together. The video serves a nice purpose of visually introducing the public to the band and the live energy, though the other two guys (in the video) have moved on to greener pastures.”
Tracks from Aqueduct’s current album Or Give Me Death could be made into visual forms of entertainment as well. “It looks like things are shaping up to possibly make a video or two for this record, but I don’t want to give anything away. Shhhhhhh…It’s a secret,” he whispers softly.
In the meantime, the music troupe of Aqueduct is preparing to go on tour with a slew of indie-pop bands that includes Annuals, Youth Group, and What Made Milwaukee Famous. “I’m really ready to hit the road,” Terry hoots enthusiastically. “We had a great time touring for I Sold Gold and I can already tell that this tour will be bigger and better by far.”
He reflects, “I don’t know quite how we came to get such great bands to tour with us this time out. The stars were most certainly aligned and Barsuk helped a lot too.”
However, this time around David Terry is hoping to have time to enjoy the sites. “I live to travel, especially driving. I like to be behind the wheel. I like to look out the window. That is 80% of it right there. I think it’s cool to be in a new town every night, although mostly we only see the town’s bar. Staying an extra day just to sightsee would benefit my adventurous side,” he elates.
David Terry is easy to please, give him a nice riding car, scenes of the world to fest his eyes on, and audiences every night that leave Aqueduct’s shows cheering, “Damn!!” He further injects, “We hope they tell all their friends” about Aqueduct and leave chanting, “DAMN!! on our behalf.”
Pure and simple, knock you out of your chair, blow you off your feet, mouth gaping, eyes wide open in astonishment bleeping out DAMN in reaction to the show. David Terry‘s wish for this year is that simple.