Dear Astronaut Plays Their Last Show
What began as a solo recording project in 2004 for then recent Milwaukee transplant Jeb Ebben turned into a five-plus year stint of watching his songs transition from guitar-centric recordings that challenged the darkly-styled sounds of Palace Brothers and Nick Cave to a full-blown wall of dirge with added instrumentation from Frank Knaebe on bass and pedals, Nathan Riddle on electric guitar and Scott Emmerich on percussion, guitar and organ. Distortion began to ride the forefront of Dear Astronaut’s music and it stayed there, the band holing up and camping out in the basement of the Borg Ward, churning out their heavy, atmospheric sounds. This weighty music has its listeners mesmerized from the the band’s constant deep sea diving for the darkest and the murkiest of chords and never being satisfied with its finds, always attempting for a more unsettling sound. Reviewers such as Desperation + Noise mention, “[Dear Astronaut’s] chords are all oil-thick, a murk of endless depth…they sound as though they were recorded through something thin, high and lonesome, like a box of rain.” This Friday, the band takes one last shot at divulging the mysteries of the deep and dark to their fans for a final show, re-releasing their formerly defunct tape pressing of Escape From Rainbow Mountain, as a goodbye present, just for you. Ebben talks about Dear Astronaut’s formative years and all the beautifully discordant stuff in between.
Dear Astronaut is Milwaukee’s premiere sludge-rock band — any surprise that you’d keep going for five years in a similarly glacial manner? Five years is pretty hang-tough for local bands.
It was definitely a labor of love. There were certainly points earlier on where it felt like maybe it wasn’t working, but the four of us put a lot of hard work into this band and maintaining our relationships. Over the last five years, we really learned just how to be in a band together and how to make things work. There’s a lot of give and take, and there’s a lot of getting over yourself. Being in a band is like any other relationship, really, and like all relationships that are important to you, it’s really difficult at times, but you’re going to make it work.
Definitely not. When Dear Astronaut first started, it was just a solo recording project, not at all this heavy fuzzed-out monster it became. When I first got together with Frank and Scott, it was mostly because I just absolutely hated playing shows by myself. Soon enough, we realized that we all like playing loud and heavy, and gradually the sound evolved. There were a lot of growing pains, too, and I am really grateful to the people who stuck by us through all that, giving us their support. Because I have no doubt some of those first shows, while we were still struggling to find our sound, were pretty painful to watch.
What’s been the level of fascination with effects pedals from then to now?
Frank is to thank for that. When we first started playing together as a band, we didn’t use a whole lot of effects. I had a distortion pedal and that was about it. I played with a lot of reverb on my amp. Frank had more, he had a delay pedal, a Big Muff, some other stuff, and that kind of encouraged me to check out different effects. And see, buying pedals becomes super addicting really easily. There’s just all this totally awesome shit out there, and at points it became kind of this arms race, and you have to find ways to justify all these pedals. Luckily for us, Dear Astronaut is the kind of band where mood and texture are very important, and effects give us the ability to manipulate that in a lot of different ways. Some of that we learned from being at the periphery of the noise scene, from watching people like Peter J. Woods. Frank is also into a lot of post-rock, and is really into these lush, atmospheric compositions, so all of that got incorporated, I think. In the end, Frank and Nathan ended up being the ones doing all these cool textural things. I mostly just used fuzz and overdrive, and then a little bit of delay or tremolo here and there. It’s funny, I have pedals on my board that I’m not sure I’ve ever used in the context of Dear Astronaut.
Tell me about the tape you’re making a second run of.
It’s our first full-length as a full band, called Escape from Rainbow Mountain. I’m pretty proud of it. It took a long time for us to get it out there, just because of some problems in mixing the record, and some financial stuff, I guess. But I think it’s a really solid record, and I’m glad it’s getting around. We had a batch to sell at shows and a batch that we were selling at our online store (http://dearastronaut.bandcamp.com) and between those, we sold out of the first run in just over a week. That was definitely a good feeling. You can still buy downloads of the album, but we figure that if we’re not going to be a band any more, we really should make sure that everyone who wants a physical artifact can have one, so we’re making another small run of the cassette that’ll be available at the show, and whatever we don’t sell there will go up online.
What are some of the best moments of being in this particular band; the biggest sense(s) of accomplishment?
Putting out records has always been important. Documenting everything. None of my old bands really did that, and pretty much all of our songs have been documented in some way or another. There are some that I wish we had better recordings of, but basically everything is out there in some form or another, other than these last few we’ve written. And we’re hoping to get those recorded at some point yet, and I’m really glad of that, because they’re some of the best songs we’ve written. Beyond that, we’ve toured twice, played hundreds of shows with a lot of really great bands, made tons of friends and got some good press as well. That’s definitely great, helps you feel like it’s all worth it. The most amazing thing, though, is finding out that your band is as important to someone else as it is to you, that your band is their favorite band, or that your songs got them through a rough patch in their life. That’s really humbling. It’s an amazing thing.
In regards to planning your last rites show, what did you want most to walk away from it with? Think this’ll happen?
I don’t even know. I think there will definitely be some feelings of remorse, but I’d like to walk away knowing that we made the right decision, that it was time to move on. We’re all involved with all these other projects – Cartilage Party, The Spur and the Long Lost, Bzy Bodies, BL Tease — and I have a few different things in the pipeline as well, so we’ve all got a lot going on. Most of all I just want it to be a celebration more than anything, to come out of it feeling alive and happy and having no regrets. I also foresee an awful lot of gross sweaty hugs. I’m looking forward to that.
Dear Astronaut plays its final show at the Cactus Club (2496 S. Wentworth) on Friday, August 6th. Also playing: Truthdealer, King’s Horses and Naked Ghosts. 9:30 p.m. 21+