Photo by @mercibeauyou
By Jeff McCord
In a world full of surprises, here’s a band to match. Austin’s Indoor Creature, a six-piece group of twenty-somethings, makes modern pop music. Think Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Beach House, and the like, and you wouldn’t be too far off. You know, bands that like exploring production and have an arsenal of more than three chords at their disposal. And though Living In Darkness is the third Indoor Creature release, in many ways, it feels like their first.
Singer and principal songwriter Caleb Fleischer explains. “Our previous work was really just me and Travis [Kitchen, drummer, guitarist and band co-founder] doing full-on production, letting the creativity find the path. We were pretty much genre-less for a while. It was electronic drums, samples and real instruments, and we kept getting the same critique: ‘Wow, we really like the way you guys sound live but none of your recordings sound like that.’” So they set out to make a record that sounded like the live band. “Without losing too much of our creativity, because ultimately, in the recording setting, you want to go for gold even if you won’t be able to replicate it. We wanted to have all the tracks with real drums, we’re going to learn how to record drums and we’re going to record all the instruments. This one was kind of a throwback, I guess you could say, to more of a traditional way of making an album.”
Yet despite their well-honed sound, Indoor Creature’s beginnings were far from conventional. Aside from high school jazz bands [where he played saxophone], Fleischer had no performing experience. He taught himself to sing, play keyboards, and leaned on Kitchen and other members, who had played in bands previously, to help bring their music to the stage. Fleischer grew up in the midwest, where his music-obsessed parents provided a steady diet of everything from Earth, Wind and Fire to Talking Heads. He absorbed it all – Motown, Johnny Cash, hip hop. “I really kind of hit my stride with MF Doom and Wu-Tang Clan.”
Indoor Creature sound like none of these, though. There’s a mid-tempo, relaxed vibe throughout. “I think I’ve always kind of found music as a peacemaker. It’s always been a thing that’s helped me with emotional problems or mental distress or just general anxiety. I’ve always thought music was kind of a great pacifier for those feelings.” That’s doesn’t mean the subject matter is lightweight. Far from it. “American Dream” is about shattered illusions, “So Down” is about depression. There’s a song called “Selfish Liars”. Yet none of feels like heavy lifting. I asked Fleischer about the juxtaposition and got a surprising answer.
“I would say I’d say we’re pretty inspired by lots of artists, but one that immediately comes to mind is Donald Fagen and how he constantly juxtaposes this like smooth music with these existential and dark lyrics.”
It’s not every day a band this young cops to a Steely Dan influence. Steely Dan’s dated, jazzy sophistication seemed out of place even in their seventies heyday. It’s the rare person beyond a certain age who even bothered to comprehend their subversive nature.
“That’s kind of was an overall theme of the album,” Fleischer continues. “Living in Darkness, the title sounds like it’s going to be really heavy, and then it’s the opposite. And that’s kind of one of the themes we’re going is this: It’s natural to feel sad. It’s natural to feel depressed. It’s natural to feel like you’re in a blackness, an absence of knowledge, you know, this darkness of knowing what’s going to happen. But if you know that, you can turn it on its head and look at it in a more positive situation, in a more positive light.”
The album’s title track is its ambitious standout. “I’m a huge fan of the Wall of Sound, you know, Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, “says Fleischer. “I love that style of production and I love harmonies. I’ve always wanted to produce a song that had layers and layers of accessible harmonies that are bringing the melody to fruition. I don’t know if we’ll be able to do this live the same way we do on the recording. We’re going to do an album release show at Spider House Ballroom on June 18th. We have a couple of friends that are going to sing in a choir and we’re going to have a horn section. So we’re going to try to do that song just this one time.”
The band is ready to unleash their promising new album and is looking forward to the June 18th Spider House record release show. Beyond that, plans are less locked in. “We’re going to try to do a tour,” says Fleischer. “It’s a little harder booking tours right now because everyone is all of a sudden booking tours and venues closed. But our label is trying to get us connected with a booking agent. We’re going to make vinyl. We have vinyl pressed for the record and some T-shirts and all that stuff. And we’ve got more music videos as well to release. So there’s more content for the album. But yeah, a tour would be a dream. I mean, I just bought a tour van right before COVID.”
NPR Live Sessions/KUTX
Songs: “Get Away” “American Dream” Album: Living in Darkness
Musicians: Caleb Fleischer: Saxophone, Keys and Vocals; Travis Kitchen: Drums; Terrence Kiser: Guitar and Background Vocals
Cameras and Edit: Michael Minasis; Audio recording: Caleb Fleischer; Audio Mix: Jake Perlman; Producer: Deidre Gott