Aug. 3 2011 10:38 AM

Oakland math-rock duo uses a shared past to experiment with contemporary surroundings

Photo by Dan Cronin
Somewhere between their home state of North Carolina and their adopted city of Oakland, the two musicians behind Silian Rail have created an all-but-habitable sonic world.

“[It is] a post-apocalyptic ghost town in the desert,” guitarist / drummer Eric Kuhn explains, “with awkward remnants of bricks and industry, but a lot of open space, too.

“And a lot of wild horses galloping around,” he continues, “and a bunch of people who are all holding hands and playing that game where people lie [down] and everyone puts their heads on someone else’s stomach and then laugh together.”

Silian Rail converts the most inventive and accessible aspects of math- and post-rock into melody-driven, instrumental excursions. Parhelion, their most recent album, is a collection of expansive, grandiose tracks that juxtapose moments of contemplative repetition with fits of orchestrated disorder, aptly reflecting the duality of their surroundings.

“Living in a place like Oakland, you’ve got sirens all day, people’s car alarms going off in the middle of the night and hootin’ and hollerin’,” says Robin Landy, who plays guitar. “I’m sure there’s a subconscious desire to compete with that.”

“For me, that makes my creative sensibilities become a bit more chaotic and textural and noisy,” Kuhn adds. “But it also encourages me in the opposite direction, in that it makes me enjoy creating calm, reflective space, too, because being out in the world can be kind of an overwhelming experience.”

On stage, Kuhn plays his churning, innovative drum parts while simultaneously playing guitar or foot-pedal bass synth, creating a scale of sound that most two-man bands couldn’t conjure. With Kuhn’s approach, they’re able to experiment freely and add complexity and texture without really changing the way they write songs.

Their music might take a lot of technical skill, but, to them, it’s all about feeling.

“The whole time that I’ve played music, I’ve enjoyed approaching it more on the expressive side and coming up with different colors, rather than trying to be a shredding, amazing person who’s overly focused on one particular instrument,” Kuhn says.

“We just kind of play, and what works we do,” Landy adds. “And what doesn’t, we try and fix without a whole lot of discussion.”

Kuhn and Landy grew up in a musically rich small town in North Carolina where nature was the only significant contributor to an otherwise noiseless environment.

“Where I grew up is definitely a really tranquil and calm place, mentally speaking,” Kuhn says. “There’s a lot of quiet, and the more common sounds you hear are bugs and the natural world around you.”

In the formative days of his songwriting, he was absorbed by the dichotomy of his surroundings.

“The intensity of the seasons affected, shaped and inspired me, because you get these really dramatic sweltering summers and picturesque falls, and then blustery, bitter winters,” he says. “All of those lend themselves to really different sonic themes.”

Kuhn and Landy were friends and budding musicians in middle school. But they didn’t collaborate until years after they had parted ways and, by some odds-defying coincidence, reunited on the opposite side of the country.

The pair attributes the instantaneous reconnection to their roots rather than sheer dumb luck.

“The musical culture that we were both exposed to in North Carolina is one of the biggest factors in our connection as band members, and just the way that we approach being in a band,” Kuhn says. “It’s what made a lot of the connection possible more than the way that we met.”

“I think we wrote an entire song that first time we played together,” Landy laughs. “And, yeah, it’s still a song that we play.”

Silian Rail play with Summer Darling, Privet and Housewives at Tin Can Ale House on Saturday, Aug. 6.