Dec. 16 2014 06:04 PM

Quintet takes time to get their sound right

Clockwise from top left: Eric Anderson, Ryan Cooper, Grant Martz, Jade Martz and Blake Martz.
Photo by Matt Palmer

When the members of Idyll Wild close the door to their cozy Ocean Beach studio and rehearsal space, the outside world disappears. There are no windows, and when they’re practicing, they often do so by the light of only a few strings of Christmas lights. There are guitars and a computer—and a Harry Potter blanket on the ceiling that’s easy to miss if you’re not looking very hard. And toward the back of the room, behind some shelves and an old but comfortable chair, there’s a series of nuggets of musical advice from Thelonious Monk (like, “What you don’t play can be just as important as what you do play”) pinned to the wall.

This converted storage shed—behind a house owned by the mother of the band’s Blake, Grant and Jade Martz—isn’t unlike a lot of other rehearsal spaces, but there’s an intimacy and a vibe about it that makes it feel like you’re stepping out of San Diego and into Idyll Wild’s private universe. At times, it seems like they even speak their own language, engaging in rhythmic and witty banter and making statements like, “We’re all connected to a spirit octopus, and we kind of channel it through him,” or “What will that record sound like when the human race is extinct and another planet smashes into Earth?”

The studio space proved to be a necessity after the band’s first few home bases didn’t work out so well.

For a while, guitarists Blake and Grant Martz, keyboardist Jade Martz, bassist Eric Anderson and drummer Ryan Cooper practiced in Jade’s bedroom. And for another brief period, the group rehearsed at Cooper’s house, where they attracted some unwanted attention.

“There was this 80-year-old neighbor who lived across the street… American flag in front of his house,” Cooper says in an interview in the band’s practice room. “Every day, [the band would] pull up in the truck, and he’d recognize them and yell, ‘God damn it! Another god damn day of noise!’ And he’d yell it at the top of his lungs.”

Octogenarian critics aside, the sound of Idyll Wild’s music is mostly unsullied by noise. It’s through the intricate instrumental interplay between the five musicians that the band’s private world truly comes to life. On their first two 7-inch singles, Idyll Wild showcased a broad array of sounds, ranging from densely layered shoegaze and post-punk textures on the pulsing “Bones” to a spacious, post-rock daydream on “Lullabies for Future Children.” There are a lot of moving parts to their music and few obvious reference points (though, occasionally, groups like Foals, Radiohead and Slint come to mind). 

There’s a lot of energy to Idyll Wild’s music, but there’s also a graceful quality about it, which comes largely out of a unique synergy among the group’s members, as well as the various effects and sonic treatments that help shape their sound. Arriving on this sound took a couple years, however; Idyll Wild originally began with the Martz siblings playing acoustically at open-mic nights.

“It was a combination of wanting to emulate certain… styles or whatever, and not being able to, and also, only having acoustic guitars,” Grant says. “So… we’re playing acoustic guitars, but we’re trying to not play them like acoustic guitars.”

Not long after Idyll Wild’s humble beginnings in late 2011, Anderson and Cooper joined the band, and other members upgraded their instruments and equipment, growing into a fuller and more elaborate group. And while there are a handful of singles and digital tracks to the band’s name, it’s hard to hear the full spectrum of Idyll Wild’s music without seeing them perform live. Their sound can fill a room, certainly, and there’s an impressive synchronicity about it. 

Idyll Wild play Dec. 22 at The Casbah

The live show is truly Idyll Wild’s element, and they’ve spent a lot of time and effort to make it that way. Taking some advice from a friend, they recorded their earliest shows so they could hear where they needed to improve. Blake says that in the process of developing the live show, he “learned how to be in a band.” Now, what happens onstage is their No. 1 concern.

“We write everything with a live perspective,” Blake says. “We want to play it in a room. It’s not, like, ‘Let’s write a song’; it’s ‘Let’s write a performance.’”

Idyll Wild are wrapping up work on their debut EP right now, and though the finish line is in sight, the last year presented a series of setbacks that kept them from being able to release it. More specifically, Cooper and Blake Martz each separately suffered herniated discs, which Martz says kept him from walking for six weeks. 

Now that Cooper and Martz are on the mend, they’re preparing to finally release new music and continue to hone their live show. And though time might pass more slowly inside Idyll Wild’s universe, they’d rather get it right.

“When I wanted to start a band, I thought the most noble thing you could do is to try to make a new sound,” Blake says. “Everything that we do, we’re trying to do a whole new thing. Maybe that slows us down, but we don’t want to write the same song twice.”

For his part, Grant has even bigger ambitions.

“I’m shooting for the moon,” he says. “I want to be the biggest band on Mars.”

Email or follow him at @1000TimesJeff