Interview: Ambient-rock super-group Jodis on embracing life

Jodis: Black CurtainJodis: Black Curtain (Hydra Head, 10/2/13)

“Silent Temple”

Jodis: “Silent Temple”

With its second album of dense and melodic noise-scapes, Jodis — the long-distance collaboration between Isis’s Aaron Turner (vocals, effects) and Khanate’s James Plotkin (guitar, effects) and Tim Wyskida (drums) — drives home the idea that what you don’t hear is just as important as what you do.

Nearly devoid of traditional percussion and song structure, Jodis is as “normal” as it gets for Plotkin, whose myriad musical endeavors also have included the sonically similar Lotus Eaters (with Turner) and the pioneering art doom of Khanate. For Turner, however, Black Curtain and its sibling Secret House represent a distinct turn away from what fans of Isis might expect.

“We wanted to take a minimal approach to all the instrumentation,” Turner says. “Space, breath, and atmosphere were always the focal points.”

That reductive approach, he notes, meant eschewing regular beats in favor of suspended notes, elongated vocals, and occasionally crashing drum hits. The effect is spacious and swelling.

“Something that has always bothered me about music is over-playing,” Plotkin says. “I have no interest in hearing a musician show off his chops. If something we’re working on warrants more percussion, there will be more percussion; otherwise it’s best to let everything unfold to its own accord.”

He means it. Wyskida’s touch on Black Curtain is so intermittent that it’s almost unnoticeable at times. His first appearance in a song can be minutes in, sometimes only arriving as a slowly rising tsunami of cymbals. It’s easy to imagine these songs with the addition of a steady, driving beat, but Plotkin says that Jodis is more interested in exploring new ideas than rocking out.

“We’re not too concerned with tempo or sticking to any kind of structure,” Plotkin says. “I like the idea of permutation of themes in music. Sometimes there’s something happening that can be explored in greater detail or in a subtly changing context. We’re all very detail-oriented people, so a shifting theme is much more gratifying than tempo changes and bouncing around different riffs.”

Indeed, Black Curtain appears to shift conceptually between despair and hope, sometimes within the same song. “Corridor” is the most uplifting-sounding song on the record, though the lyrics “Not here, not now / How did it come to this?” hardly hint at anything joyful. But despite its occasionally foreboding sound and atypical compositions, Black Curtain is mostly cathartic, according to Turner.

“While much of the subject matter explored in Jodis is dark and has been borne out of tumultuous circumstances, there is also a big emphasis on embracing life,” he says. “Even in the songs that are more depressing or heavy in nature, there is often an element of optimism, a desire to better the aspects of life that can be burdensome or destructive. If nothing else, the expressiveness of our music is a way to alleviate some of that darkness.”