The Great Hiatum and ASW, using Eugene to explore musical depth

Posted by Kevin Piaskowski on Thursday, Oct. 4 at 5:31 am.

It’s not really a secret anymore — Eugene does things differently. This is especially true in terms of Eugene’s creative culture. Unlike other cities, Eugene’s music scene isn’t dependent on status, money or dress codes. It’s much more straightforward  — people go to shows for their music and for their friends rather than for an artificial, record company-approved image. Eugene may be weird, but at least it’s authentic.

“With all the sports money that comes into the school, I feel like (Eugene) draws a crowd that isn’t very into the artsy, culture creating side of things,” Max Miller, bassist for The Great Hiatum, says. “But at the same time there are a lot of creators and artists here, and a lot of strange people.”

The Great Hiatum embraces their inner weird. They’re not afraid to be overtly sexual or inappropriately critical of themselves. This atmosphere that they have developed within their close creator circle carries over into their musical expression. Spending even just an hour with the band gives you the impression that they embody the musical atmosphere of Eugene. They are comfortable here and their talents flourish because of it.

“There is always someone here that is weirder than you and you will come across them on any given day,” Miller says. “It makes it so much easier to figure out what exactly you like.”

As we continue discussing Eugene and its eccentricities, Melissa Randel, the band’s lead singer and synthesizer extraordinaire, interrupts, pointing out the unicyclist balancing her way through the throngs of students. “Exhibit A,” Randel says.

“It takes a lot to get attention in Eugene,” Miller says.

“It’s kind of nice though,” adds Keith Randel, the band’s guitarist who is also Melissa’s younger brother.

Melissa and Keith Randel grew up in Davis, a small, agricultural town half-secluded in the northeastern corner of California. “I went back to Davis recently and walking around the streets I got weird looks because I have long hair. Everyone there is upper-middle class and nobody has long hair, even though I don’t think of myself as being that ridiculous looking,” Keith says.

Another local artist looking to make a name for himself is Alex Wagner, who produces under the alias ASW. “Alex is just one of those dudes who has his own trip, his own interests and his own ambitions,” Miller says of Wagner. “Anytime we can cooperate with him we totally do.”

“I respect Alex because he is who he is and he reps it,” Randel says. “I’ve started working with him recently for ASW, and he’s added in live guitar, my vocals and his own vocals.”

“I’ve always been a storyteller,” Wagner says of his interest in being a creator. “I have so many things in my head that I want to convey and I found music to be the most satisfying medium.”

While The Great Hiatum specializes in dance-rock rhythms and melodies, ASW focuses on the enticing nature of a beat accompanying a melody. Wagner explained that he finds that there is something bold and exciting about combining a seemingly one-dimensional beat with complex melodies. This, he cites, is why he has predominantly focused his music on electronic production.

“As we become a more digital culture, electronic music has become the new medium. It’s the new way to speak to people,” Wagner says. “So that’s what pushed me to get heavy into electronic music, because I feel that this is the new way to speak to my generation.”

When I sat down with Wagner and discussed the creative culture of electronic dance music, we spoke about whether or not there was something lacking in modern DJ culture and live electronic music. “The element of the live performance is limited greatly when it’s merely just a DJ,” Wagner says. “Just the idea of paying so much money to see someone merely twist knobs doesn’t really make sense to me. That’s what has been making me reinvent my performance.”

Wagner is in the process of restructuring his live performance toward using more analog instrumentation and making his musical expression more organic in the eyes and ears of audiences.

With this change, Wagner has brought in the help of The Great Hiatum’s Melissa Randel. “I felt that she adds so much to the story that I want to tell. And she recognizes that too, so that’s how that creative relationship really began,” Wagner says.

Wagner recently returned from playing a few shows in California. He explained that the music scene, at least in terms of electronic music, is vastly different there than here in the Northwest. “I feel that people in Southern California go out and rage really hard for three hours, and they go home and they’re done,” Wagner says. ”They’ve met their rage quota for their week.”

“I think Eugene has a more relaxed vibe from the get-go, so the night scene itself is a bit different, it’s relaxed, much more casual,” Wagner says. “There aren’t dress codes; you can show up in sandals or even no sandals at some places, whereas in some places in Los Angeles you’re turned away if you have shorts on. So yeah it’s a completely different dynamic.”

As we continued our conversation on a much broader scale, discussing different philosophies about the state of dance music, I asked Wagner what he would like to see different about the electronic music scene in terms of the way it’s experienced. “I want the notion and idea, now that electronic music is so at the surface, that it is not something that requires taking drugs,” Wagner says. “It doesn’t require you to be so out of your mind to understand.”

“I would like to see a fusion of the acoustic and the electronic; I want people to seek out the new boundaries of music,” Wagner says.

This is where ASW and The Great Hiatum seem to hold similar philosophies. The Great Hiatum is uncomfortable being pigeonholed to a single sound or genre. “We didn’t pick a genre and decide, ‘We are going to be reggae’ or ‘We are going to be electronic,’” Randel says. “We didn’t want to limit ourselves, we just made what we thought sounded groovy and then decided to keep going in a high-energy direction. “

“You can’t really put our music into one genre and I think that’s the biggest thing we have going for us,” says James Aronoff, the band’s second guitarist and one of the founding members of the five-piece group. “There are a lot of great bands we’ve played with, but the best bands we’ve played with are always the most typical because they do what they do so well that it almost becomes formulaic.”

“We keep people guessing more so than the other bands we’ve seen or played with,” Keith says.

This is exactly the innovation present within Eugene’s local music scene. The artists that call Eugene home don’t just play music, they want to stand out and focus on being unconventional as a means for exploring new depth to their music.

Wagner will keep pushing the boundaries of ASW, working toward creating a more lasting impression through his music.

The Randel siblings, along with Aronoff, Miller and the group’s drummer, Travis Lien, will continue to take The Great Hiatum to whatever musical boundary they please.

This is what makes Eugene different — the creators here are not afraid to be different. In fact, they welcome the strange and weird as a means to going beyond the formula and instead make lasting impressions for their fans.