Three 20-something dudes form a semi-circle of virginal love seats around a rosewood table inside the posh second floor lobby of downtown’s Intercontinental Hotel. I hand picked this moneyed atmosphere for its promise of a crisp, intelligible recording; devoid of interference from any potentially muddling background noise.
It’s a clean, spacious, and placid sanctum for high-enders, or on this night: intruding misfits. The mise-en-scène is drastically stuffier than necessary, and is wholly inappropriate for my subjects: Dustin Coffman, 27, and Mason Macias, 24, of Austin’s Feuding Fathers.
That is, until an iconic riff wafts like opium smoke from the swanky cocktail lounge on the other side of the room.
“Can you mention that ‘Layla’ is playing right now?” Coffman, a lead singer and guitarist himself, entreats.
“I think you just did,” I assure him.
Not that Feuding Fathers sound anything remotely like what KLBJ spins. Instead, this instrumentally frenetic twosome belongs to an underexposed and rather schismatic cousin of progressive rock known as “math rock.”
Although Coffman and Macias find the designation “outdated” and “obsolete,” math rock is known for its rhythmic complexity and copious usage of unconventional time signatures. The results can be disorienting and overwhelming—for better or for worse.
“I think we lose a lot of fans because some of the stuff is so complex,” says Macias.
“It sounds like a noise to a lot of people,” Coffman adds. “It used to sound like noise to me, too, but that’s why I feel like it’s so much more awesome when you start making sense of all the racket, and then you’re like, ‘Wow, there’s something really awesome going on.’ Like a texture of patterns that you were just taking as a whole at first.”
While the majority of their stylistic influences and brethren perform as instrumental bands only, Feuding Fathers supply a divergent twist to the classic formula through Coffman’s airy, almost celestial, vocals.
“(We play like) we’re on crack,” Macias offers, “but our vocals are on heroin.”
Lester Bangs couldn’t have phrased it any better himself. Whatever your feelings on crack, or at least feeling “cracked-out,” Feuding Fathers’ will fuck you up. Their individual instrumentalism is equally jaw-dropping, and the mergers exhibited on their three EPs and assorted live videos is no less than a riot wrapped in a straight jacket of cataclysmic tornadoes with angel dust topping.
It can be hard to make sense of. One might be too stupid, too impatient, too frail, too beholden to a particular, more orthodox genre. It’s not “Rock ‘n’ Roll 101” material.
At the same time, the sound is so innately polarizing for its uniqueness and intensity that you can’t necessarily begrudge someone for running for the hills.
As warped and disjointed as Feuding Fathers are, the trick for a layman to grasp the inundation is to identify and isolate the rhythmic strains bolting through each track. As the term suggests, math rock crafting and listenership is cerebral as all hell—and that’s quite rewarding as a listener once you slip into a comfortable headspace.
While Coffman and Macias are savants of the genre, math rock is still an unexplored and mysterious frontier for many. Fortunately, Feuding Fathers know how to enlighten the newly initiated in mercifully simple terms.
“Most conventional or contemporary rock bands, they work in a sense of simplicity and then they have moments of complexity,” says drummer Mason Macias. “For math rock, the cool thing is it’s flipped. We’re always complex and then some of the simple stuff stands out.”
This ritzy rendezvous among the upper-crusters didn’t come together out of happenstance. Feuding Fathers is on the brink of releasing their third EP, titled Kid Tested, Father Approved, since their formation in July 2011.
Due on Aug. 13, the five-track battery runs a shade under 19 minutes, but the effect feels anything but short-lived: it’s notes galore, coming fast and furious like a carpet bombing. Macias works his kit like an unfrozen Neanderthal chained to the floor tom, and Coffman’s fingers personify the invisible flutter of a hummingbird’s wings.
But most fascinating of all, I had to know how all this insanity came together. How does one get into, and then begin to play, math rock? Coffman’s journey is particularly compelling: the clean-cut front man hails from a significant classic rock background, both personally in a prior band, and mortifyingly back home. His parents played in a classic rock cover band in he and Macias’ native San Antonio during his teenage years; a period where he self-effacingly cops to being into gangsta rap and “limpin’ with the Bizkit.”
Nearly half a lifetime and a rotating cast of tutors and tasteful influences later, Coffman found himself at a crossroads after his previous band, We The Granada, split.
“I was without a band,” Coffman explains. “So I stayed in my room and just riffed… If you’re gonna lose all those members contributing to one sound, you gotta figure out a way to make things interesting as one person. I never intended to play like this, it just ended up happening. I was like, ‘This has to be interesting.’ I can’t just play a few chords like I did in the other band and be fine with it. It has to be multi-layered and complex on a certain scale.”
In so doing he partnered with a since bygone bassist—in an amicable departure—and Macias, a skinny, bearded and good-natured fellow who ravages and thumps the skins with blinding speed and vein-bulging force. Together, the Fathers are definitely something to write home about. Take it from a Fathers’ mother:
“My mom calls it space music,” Coffman says. “I’ve shown her all three of our EPs. The last one, I shared it with her and she was like, ‘Just play it in the other room, I’m gonna do the dishes… Afterwards she goes, ‘Yeah, it sounds like space music, like it could be in a movie; it’s like astronauts and spaceships and shit.’”