It’s strange to think of how much the landscape of post-rock has changed in just past decade. Third wave post-rock took America – then the world – by storm, and while it remains a niche genre in the wider scope of things it unquestionably cultivated a rich soil from which has sprung literally thousands of bands spread across the globe. Since that time several formulas have emerged, for better or for worse, and the genre now has well-known indicators. So, it’s easy to forget that in the 00’s it was a more lawless terrain. You had emerging innovators that became legends – Explosions in the Sky, This Will Destroy You, Caspian, Russian Circles, Pelican, Red Sparowes – but when you look at that collection of names two things should jump out at you. First, it gets pretty hard, pretty quick to name more than a handful of other bands working within the form during that period, and second, each of those aforementioned groups was doing something distinctly different from one other. It was a time of growth, exploration and discovery, which in many ways is what made it such a deeply fruitful moment in musical history. Those of us lucky enough to be there got to bear witness to the birth of a form. While the aforementioned sextet of American bands proved to be the heavy hitters, it would be folly to gloss over the contributions of lesser-known groups that were honing their craft and offering their contributions at that time.
One of those bands was Virginia’s Gifts From Enola. What distinguishes them on their 2009 record From Fathoms is their strong rooting in the type of emotive post-hardcore that was experiencing a prevailing glory period in the early-to-mid 2000’s. The quickly-shifting dynamics and nimble songwriting characteristic of that genre brought an excitement and an unbridled energy to their compositions that wasn’t necessarily a hallmark of their contemporaries. Riffs abound throughout the album’s eight inspiring tracks, but it was also their ability to translate stylistic elements of a genre typically beholden to vocalists into fully-realized, largely-instrumental compositions that made Gifts From Enola a special band that resonated with listeners beyond their time together, which came to a close in 2013.
From Fathoms is a wildly underrated record that shows the truly expansive possibilities of post-rock as a genre. On the surface it doesn’t seem terribly outside-the-box, but the way the band folds their influences into the mix gives it a dynamic range and depth that is sometimes lacking for bands in this realm. But it’s really one intangible element that helps the record stand apart – sometimes you can just sense the joy behind the songwriting when you listen to a record. There is a feeling of excitement present that can only come out of a scenario in which a band is hitting on all cylinders: everything is working, doors are being opened to new potentials, and the listener can grasp the sense that the band is bursting at the seams to share what they’ve accomplished. That’s the feeling I get when I listen to From Fathoms. Gifts From Enola were a very good band, one that never got near the credit they deserve, and this record is their perfect storm.
Fans and newcomers alike should rejoice at the news that From Fathoms is not only getting a fresh release, but also a brand new mix and master. To make things even more exciting, this new version was handled by Will Benoit, the man who has stood behind a number of relevant artists such as Junius, Caspian, Rosetta, and his own bands, Constants and SOM. From Fathoms had a humble genesis during its original recording, and if there is one knock on the record it’s that it could definitely have sounded fuller. Now there is no more need to worry about that, as their 10th anniversary redux is coming available via dunk!records. 2019 also holds some more exciting news for the band, including an appearance at dunk!festival and another one-off show in New York City. I had an opportunity to chat with multi-instrumentalist Andrew Barnes just ahead of the re-release’s announcement.
Heavy Blog Is Heavy: It’s been nearly six years since the band had any activity. Why now are we seeing your re-emergence?
Andrew Barnes: Back in 2013 when we broke up it was a mutual decision that was completely on our own terms and in good spirits, so we’ve always remained super tight with one another as friends and knew that we’d all be down to get together again in a band context if the timing and opportunities were right. Even when we were still an active band we had tossed around the idea of getting From Fathomsredone with a new mix and master, so with the 10-year birthday of that album coming up, those talks ramped up a little bit more and we decided to go through with it for real and tack on a couple of shows as well to celebrate!
HBIH: Can you talk a little about From Fathoms, why you felt it was something you wanted to revisit, the re-mix and re-master process, and your time working with Will Benoit?
AB: From Fathoms easily has the largest scope of any of the albums we ever put out, but we never quite felt like the finished product represented that scope to its fullest potential. It was the one time that we went full-on prog concept album and made sure every little nuanced detail tied into a greater theme. The process of creating that album from writing to mixing took about 2 years while we were in college and Nate, CJ, and I all lived together in this big, degenerate house with a bunch of our other friends. The 3 of us obsessively lived and breathed this album every day, and most of the recording was done late night on our own at our college’s studio where Nate was able to get us in after-hours due to an independent study program he did. Making the album completely on our own is something we look back on proudly and fondly since it was a super collaborative, all-hands-on-deck process, but it also had its limitations because our engineering and technical knowledge was nowhere near pro-level at the time and we were just winging a lot of the recording and mixing sessions. When it was all said and done, we always wished that we could find the right time and person to revisit From Fathoms with a new mix and give the album the size and polish it deserves. Luckily we found that person in Will Benoit. Will has been a good friend of the band for a long time, and once we recorded our final album A Healthy Fear with him he completely had our trust to uproot the foundation of From Fathom’s mix someday and turn it into something special. We had chatted about it a little bit over the years, but with the 10-year anniversary around the corner we finally sent him the studio session hard drive in 2018 and he start digging into it. We knew he would do a great job, but he absolutely blew us away with the improvements he made. While our final album will probably always be our favorite, we can now proudly say that From Fathoms stands up sonically with the rest of our later albums due to the TLC that Will was able to give the new mix.
HBIH: So often you will have writers and bloggers like myself prescribing meaning or intent to bands’ music, often rooted in genre tags and the expectations that come along with those. This happens especially with post-rock, which tends to be categorized by 5-6 different perceived formulas. But so often the artists aren’t given the space to talk about their goals and their part in the artistic process, and when they are you often find that what you think they intended is not at all in line with the reality. What were some of your creative desires and intended outcomes for Gifts From Enola?
AB: The post-rock tag is definitely a tricky thing that has its pros and cons. On one hand we are forever indebted to and grateful for it because of the opportunities that the genre association provided us from the get-go, and on the other hand we were always frustrated by its inherent limitations. We started making our own ADD version of post-rock that mixed in some outsider heavy, proggy, and poppy influences at the right time in the mid-2000s when a lot of people were discovering the genre and there was a big wave of hungry new fans and new bands putting their own twist on the sound. Post-rock and instrumental rock music were influences that we enjoyed and leaned into a lot more early on as a band, especially on Loyal Eyes and From Fathoms. With every new release we put out, that influence became more and more diluted as our tastes continued to change and our appetites to try out new things increased, but the post-rock tag continued to stick around on us for better or worse. Ultimately, I think we were just interested in making riff-centric songs and albums that had the freedom to meander into whatever genre corridor we wanted to go down. Our first album and our last album might sound like two completely different bands at times, but that mission was a constant throughout everything we did.
HBIH: How do you see the post-rock/instrumental scene now, as opposed to what it looked like when you were creating From Fathoms?
AB: It has grown so much! We’ve all been relatively out of touch with the post-rock/instrumental rock scene for a while now since we broke up, and it’s been pretty amazing to poke our head above ground recently and see how much something like Dunk! Fest has grown over the years. Back in the ’07-’09 years when we would’ve been making From Fathoms it felt like there were all of these little hubs of post-rock listeners that you’d have to do some digging to find, but now it feels like there is a more central, communal nature to it that makes it really easy to connect with other bands and fans, and that’s really awesome.
HBIH: Are there any bands in particular that you see as major influences or important figures in the current landscape of instrumental music?
AB: When it comes to listening to instrumental rock music, I think we more or less stick to some of the classics we’ve enjoyed for a long time like Tortoise, Grails, The Mercury Program, Cancer Conspiracy, etc., so I’m not totally positive who is shaping what these days in the scene. As far as current bands go though, we root big time for our all of our friends from back in the day that are still out there making incredible music: you.may.die.in.the.desert, Caspian, If These Trees Could Talk, Gates, Tone, The End Of The Ocean, Beware Of Safety, just to name a few!
HBIH: Do you have any specific goals in mind for the band going forward into the future that you can reveal to us?
AB: Other than finally getting this re-release out in March for everyone to hear and then playing the 2 reunion shows we have on the books (6/1/19 at Dunk! Festival in Belgium, 7/6/19 at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn), we don’t have any other plans. I think we’re just going to enjoy revisiting some of this music we made when we were kids and then see how everything goes! You never know…