Every band has their “thing,” and one of Borrisokane’s most distinctive factors happens to be that they are a family—by blood, by spirit, by law.
Any band, regardless of the size, working cohesively to create a piece of art, is in itself an enigma. Add to it personal relationships, childhood memories, love, stubbornness and the natural human thirst to fit in or to stand out, and Borrisokane’s ability to successfully work on an album, perform live shows and still have dinner together every Sunday night before watching Game of Thrones as a family, is inspiring.
“We all want what’s best for the band,” explains drummer Josh Denslow. “There’s a lot of separating between ‘What’s the band’ and ‘What’s the family.’”
Borrisokane began as a trio composed of Derek Asuan-O’Brien (guitar, vocals), his sister Rebecca Asuan-O’Brien (keys, guitar, vocals) and her husband Josh Denslow (drums, backing vocals). Their first show wasn’t technically a show but a “live rehearsal” for Art House‘s Rehearsal at the Astoria series in April 2011.
“Borrisokane exists sort of outside of us,” Denslow continues. “Whether or not there is a problem, or if someone disagrees, we end up with ‘Deep down inside everyone wants what is best for the band.’ It helps that we’re a family, because we are able to take the ego out of it and make those hard decisions.”
Rarely do we encounter something, anything, intoxicating yet alluring—something so present yet so hazy, painfully humble and tinged in mystery. Borrisokane’s electronic pop-rock sound is a brilliantly balanced and carefully composed paradox between light and dark, vocals and instrumentation, seriousness headlocked by silliness. They maintain a sound that is so uniquely structured and flawlessly styled you can’t help but to keep it on repeat—and on repeat, you’ll hear something, find something new, each time.
The band survived as a trio for most of its first year before meeting their fourth member, Ryker Brown (bass), at a pool party. Borrisokane’s current lineup was finalized after meeting and immediately bonding with Mars Wright of one-man-band Honey Son (guitar, omnichord) and doing a cover set with him titled Honeykane. In May 2012, the band released their debut EP, five tracks of eclectic, off-kilter and darkly humorous synth-pop titled Disaster Face.
After the release of Disaster Face, Borrisokane kept their live sets interesting with guest performers—local emcee Pojo the Idealist has been known to rap over instrumental songs, and the horn section from Knifight also makes appearances. The band had also been adjusting to the final lineup, performing and experimenting with new content, all of which eventually led to their latest EP.
The band began recording again in January 2013, a process which stretched over four months. This new recording session—the first to feature every member of the finalized lineup—took place in their home out in Dripping Springs, a Hill Country community 20 minutes west of Austin.
During the making of the EP, guitarist/omnichordist Wright described the rehearsal process as being “like murdering teeth.” Whereas most people would say, “pulling teeth,” the band got a kick out of the twist, naming the EP after Wright’s impeccable taste in imagery. The Murdering Teeth EP debuted this week and is available through the band’s Bandcamp page.
“I think that the recording process was similar between the two EPs. We already had the songs worked out,” explained Denslow. “It was just a matter of layering everything together. There was a lot of checks and balances, a lot of positivity.”
There is an evident contrast between the band’s EPs. Disaster Face encompassed a whimsical and lighthearted air, whereas Murdering Teeth captivates a somber mentality with darker imagery. During the writing and recording process of their debut, Derek says that he was in a sad place and overcame his struggle through humor and whimsicality. True to human psychology, a natural way to approach struggle and pain is with a degree of lightness and a sense of humor. By contrast, Murdering Teeth was written during a brighter era as things were looking up.
“We were okay,” Denslow said, “which allowed us to explore some of the things we weren’t able to explore before. We could go into different territories. I know for me as a writer of fiction, if I’m really in a bad place or bad mood, I write my funniest stuff. That’s a way of coping.”
In addition to personal experiences influencing Murdering Teeth, the band also considers South American music as an evident inspiration for the sophomore EP’s style and sound. The EP opener and lead single, “Amelia Fucking Earhart”, for instance, is the band’s take on a constructive bossa nova.
“The second song (“Victoria, Please”) is like a messed up tropicalia song,” Derek further explained about the South American influence. “The third song (“Thank You For Being So Nice And Cooperative”) was going to have claves in it, but that’s kind of ridiculous. The fifth song (“Indoor/Outdoor Paleontologist Blues”)—we were always amused by the idea that there’s dancing tangos and there’s listening tangos. It’s like a super slow waltz. There’s nylon guitar in everything. Some of it was bit crushed and buried in the reverb.”
In regards to the lyrics, the band attributes their influences to flash fiction. In fact, “Amelia Fucking Earhart” is titled after and loosely based off of a short story by Angela Allen that Denslow came across and shared as an editor for SmokeLong Quarterly. Generally, the lyric-writing process begins with Derek, is filtered through Rebecca and is looked over by Denslow, who moonlights as a literary editor and fiction writer.
“To our great sadness,” Derek explains, “we are unable to write an anthemic Bruce Springsteen chorus, which I would fucking love; it would be amazing. As far as the literary thing, Josh’s contribution is that he is constantly reading things, then gives them to Rebecca, who then gives them to me. Then it’s that thing you can’t sort of help: We process things and regurgitate them somehow.”
The finalized album featured guest musicians Dennis Harvey (noise tracks) and Patrick Marshall of Knifight (horns) on the EP’s fourth track, “Single Moms”. The album was mastered by Harvey, whom they call their “resident genius” and “unofficial sixth member,” who gave his opinion and stamp of approval for each track. As they build up momentum and recognition, the band revealed their interest in recording a full-length album this year on analog with John Vanderslice at Tiny Telephone in San Francisco.
“Derek’s probably the snobbiest of all, but we think recording analog really hits a sweet spot for him,” Denslow said. “John Vanderslice is an amazing musician; I think he’s got the best little studio in the country. That’s what we want to do.”
In order to fund the full-length, Borrisokane has hopes of releasing a Kickstarter campaign to fund their endeavors in the fall. Meanwhile, the band is focused on promoting Murdering Teeth through the help of a brief tour that will lead them through Marfa, Phoenix and L.A. alongside their companions Letting Up Despite Great Faults for a couple of those showcases. The band will be back in time for their performance for Knifight’s CD-release party in June.
Listen to Borrisokane’s Murdering Teeth EP below. The band plays its CD-release party Friday, May 17, at the Scottish Rite Theatre in Austin. “Made in Austin” is a recurring series where Red River Noise interviews the local musicians who help make Austin the Live Music Capital.