Greg Fox produces a mighty racket out of a tiny little drum kit. Part of it is efficiency—he has rigorous technique, learned from jazz giants like Marvin "Boogaloo" Smith, who played with Archie Shepp and the Sun Ra Arkestra in the 1970s and '80s. But part of it is Fox's sheer ferocity and stamina—he was, after all, a member of the Brooklyn avant-garde black-metal band Liturgy up until last year.
Now Fox, who also toured with Baltimore dance-pop impresario Dan Deacon, leads a new band called Guardian Alien, also based in Brooklyn. He's the bandleader, in the old jazz sense of the word, since the project grew out of his own solo work. But he's also more than just a rhythm player; his percussion is often a lead instrument, and he's the creative engine of the band, pushing and pulling the group's trance-inducing blend of electronic noise, heavy rock, and brain-splitting psychedelia.
The band's debut album, See the World Given to a One Love Entity, released this month on Thrill Jockey, is a gigantic effort, one long 40-minute composition featuring hyperkinetic drumming, synthesizer, guitars from Fox's former Liturgy bandmate Bernard Gann, incantatory vocals, bass, and shahi baaja, a kind of electrified traditional Indian harp.
"It was written and arranged to fit on two sides of a record," Fox says of the cacophonous single track on the album. "It just seemed like the right thing to do, because when we'd been playing and working at the piece live, it always, in my mind, was a single piece of music that just had parts to it. We'd been playing this piece that had this name; it seemed like, despite it maybe being a little easier to digest in sections, it just seemed like it was more true to the material to have it be one track."
As compelling as See the World Given to a One Love Entity is on record, it's clear that the music is intended to be experienced in person. The disc itself is just one particular permutation of the music, which developed through rehearsal and performance but retains a spark of spontaneity that's built into the song itself.
"On the one hand, it's not improvised, but on the other hand the guitar parts and drum parts aren't pre-written," Fox says. "There's a general idea, there's an arrangement and there are guidelines for the piece, which must have some specific parts there. It's clearly not a free improvisation or anything like that, but there's no sheet music for it. There's are some rules for the piece and some things that happen in succession, but besides that, beyond those things, there isn't a score for the shahi baaja or for the guitar."
On its current tour, the second leg of the band's first together, Guardian Alien—Fox, Gann, Alex Drewchin, Turner Williams Jr., and Eli Winograd—will perform the full 40-minute composition in whole, with a few shorter pieces available, just in case.
"Primarily, we're going to be playing See the World and then there's some other stuff that we've been playing around with, basically so that we do something different and not just play the record every night," Fox says. "We haven't actually spent a lot of time on the road, so for the most part we'll be playing to people who've never seen this band before. So we just want to present the piece of music, because it's the piece of music that has been resonating with us very heavily, and it is the record. But for our sake, just so that we can keep it fun for ourselves, we have some other pieces in the repertoire that may or may not come out, depending on the night and the situation."
Guardian Alien's music—spontaneous, consciousness-expanding, with its hippie vibes made plain on the Rasta-inspired album cover—may seem, at first, like a departure from the regimented riffs of Liturgy, who played in Knoxville at the 2010 Big Ears Festival. But both bands reach for a kind of musical trance-state built on rhythmic repetition and volume. Fox attributes any similarities to his continued partnership with Gann, but argues that Guardian Alien more closely resembles his pre-Liturgy art-noise band, Teeth Mountain.
"There's a development of different sounds and styles of playing, and these are the three bands I've had this kind of involvement with, and you can hear those three bands in there," he says.