music (2007-05)

More on Its Mind

Too Many Animals, Eshka Paper, and old-school Tetris

by Kevin Crowe

"I  hate describing things," says Pete Hoffecker, whose robo-wizardry has been churning out everything from silky- and jangle-pop to hip hop, all of it from his studio in a Fourth and Gill apartment. "Sounds like math, noise, jazz. Like Tortoise in a drunk jam session with skronky yet melodic soloing and turntable interference. Basically just instrumental hip hop with more on its mind than just moving your ass."

You still don't know which way to go , Hoffecker sings on "Ship to Shore," one of the more tranquil and spatial numbers on the recently cut Army vs. Navy II , which is probably less brainsick than previous EPs, which could feel like a playful mélange. Nothing stays still for very long when Hoffecker takes the helm.

Follow the directions/ To every single town , he sings. Follow every image/ Follow every sound.

When Army vs. Navy I was completed, a little over a year ago, it yielded some particularly jarring--but at the same time exciting--transitions as the album progressed. The album might feel like an exercise in futility, but only at first, as each song changes pace, refusing to allow the listener to relax into it. But there's method in the mayhem, which allows Hoffecker to shift through his influences one song at a time.

"The songs just came out," Hoffecker says. "There was acoustic, folksy stuff, then real rocking stuff, and kind of hip-hop tinged sort of things.... Five or six years ago, maybe, I was collecting records and meeting a lot of the DJs around town."

That's how he met up with DJ Satoshi Okamoto, whose turntablism was second to none back when the Electric Ballroom hosted Resurrection Tuesdays in 2001, when Knoxville's DJs would come together for intense sessions of drum & bass, glitch, grime and trance.

"I think there was a party at some point," Hoffecker recalls. "And I--I was kind of tipsy--and said, 'Hey, I'm an MC, throw on some hip hop.'" They didn't have a mike, but with a set of headphones plugged into the mike jack, an MC was born, just another element of the repertoire.

"Tastes change," Hoffecker continues. "Sometimes I'll spend a week listening to old-school hip hop and next week it's all Chicago indie rock/jazz stuff, or soul." Just follow the bouncing ball:

Day will always come/ Dark will always fall... You're still transmitting ship to shore/ I know you're holding so much more/ Let's show our cards and call the bluff.

And as a result, recording projects like Army vs. Navy allow Hoffecker to explore the outer limits of sound, while at the same time, trudging through the well-worn territories of pop and rock. A recent recording project, entitled Girl Party, has become something akin to sonic mortar and pestle, allowing Hoffecker to grind out the angrier, more angular and screamier rock. "So it's just more yelling," Hoffecker explains.

Our heads are pounding , the song continues. It's just there's a light on over you.

This Sunday, Too Many Animals will be onstage, yet another project designed to flesh out an as-of-yet undefined philosophy of sound. Too Many Animals is a collaboration with fellow soundmongers Brenna Board and Daniel McBride.

"[McBride is] a child prodigy," Hoffecker says. "He's like a musician's musician. His brain processes things differently than a lot of people. He's knows what he's doing. His music is more cerebral than a lot of stuff, but you can still shake to it."

McBride handles percussion and bass, Board plays keyboard and Hoffecker's on guitar, complete with turntables and a collection of musique concrète . Pure noise ebbs and flows, helping to bridge the songs together.

And then there's Eshka Paper, which is more minimal and atmospheric in orientation, with Hoffecker and Board working out trippy electric improv.

"Eshka Paper is a way of making hip hop/laptop stuff more interesting live," he says. "The production is all computer-based, with samplings from records and drum breaks. Brenna helps out with the aesthetics. Sometimes, when we practice, we just hang out and ask, 'What kind of mood are you in?'

"'I'm thinking melancholy.'

"She's like, 'I'm thinking lovey-dovey.' We'll just pick out different samples and ask, 'How do you think this'll work?' And we improv on it."

During the sets, for those who won't be glued to the Super Bowl, there will be a Tetris tournament. Former champion Mike Carroll, the Dionysian soothsayer who once fronted the debaucheries and excesses of the foul-rocking Umbrella, hopes to regain the title of Knoxville's only Tetris God. And if you're drinking, there will be plenty of multi-media stimuli, which could be anything from a video of a fish tank to a digital representation of a Yule Log. Just enough for a good mind trip.

Who: Too Many Animals, Eshka Paper and Megalon Esquire