"We have a sound?" laughs Maria Christopher, guitarist/frontwoman for the Cambridge, Massachusetts trio 27.
Well, yes and no. The band, which also includes Christopher's sister Terri on drums, and Ayal Naor on guitars and samplers, certainly does conjure up a distinct brand of swirling atmospherics. Still, main songwriters Christopher and Naor are quick to point out they try to give each song its own discrete identity.
"Whatever the song calls for is how we decide what instruments we use," Christopher explains.
"We do try to have each of the songs not sound like other songs," Naor adds.
Nonetheless, the band's voice remains constant. But Christopher and Naor deftly avoid being stylistically bound, even as they swerve from the classic shoegaze à la My Bloody Valentine, to Slint-style indie rock, to Portishead's brooding trip-hop, to the dense, guitar-heavy space rock of Nineties alt-rock maven Failure ... and on and on and on.
"When we started," Naor recalls, "Maria and I had both been in other rock bands, and the idea was, Let's do something that's not rock. But we sort of naturally regravitated back toward doing rock. In the beginning, it was a matter of taking what we had been doing in our previous bands — louder rock or whatever — but then trying to bring some kind of other elements, like sampling and loops and stuff like that, and trying to blend the two. We also like playing with different instruments and toys and keyboards. A lot of times we'll pick up a new instrument and start fooling around with it and an atmosphere will come out of that and we'll sort of grow a song out of that sound."
A self-described "tech geek," Naor has an enthusiasm for recording techniques that is central to the band's overall approach.
"I think it's a superexciting time to be alive," he says. "Playing music and being interested in gear — it's just amazing how far the technology has gone and how many tools there are now that have become available in just the last five or 10 years."
On the band's most recent album, last year's Holding On for Brighter Days (which was released on Relapse, a label most famous for its extreme metal output), the enthusiasm for studio craft is immediately apparent. However, with such an emphasis on studio wizardry, 27 is not averse to spontaneity and often extracts songs out of jams. Still, those jams tend to get edited down to a concise, song-oriented length. But, considering the prominence of atmosphere in 27's sound, does the music not lend itself to longer, more epic pieces?
"I'll admit I'm a Rush fan," Naor laughs. "I like a lot of prog-y type music, but Maria ... not so much."
"I'm appreciating it more and more," Christopher adds. "When we're in the space and just playing with ideas, they definitely tend to go on. We could be playing on a certain thing for 15 minutes or so. It's fun to play, certainly, but we just don't know if we want to subject anyone else to that!"
Above all, 27 is a band that likes to keep new elements coming, textures shifting, and the context refreshing. Further, the band is geared toward creating music at its own pace, rather than putting out albums and tours on a timetable. And with such a deliberate approach, 27 likes to take its time. But that doesn't mean the group doesn't put work into the live show.
"When we have to prepare for playing shows," Christopher explains, "that's what slows us down the most."
"My live setup in particular is kind of elaborate," Naor adds. "It does take us a lot of time to prepare for the live show. And our recording process too — because we aren't on the clock and don't have to pay by the hour, we tend to spend a lot of time doing things. That's why we don't put out a record every year. The nature of how our band works is that things just tend to go slow for us. It takes us just as long to prepare for one show as it does to play 25 shows."
The current run of shows takes place just as the band is about to buckle down and work on its upcoming album.
"I'm optimistic that we can get it done in a month or two," Naor says.
"I would bet late spring," Christopher counters. "I know how things work."
"She's realistic; I'm optimistic," Naor laughs.
All the more reason to catch 27 this time around, before it disappears into its studio again.