Via pristinely propulsive guitar melody and shuddering, heavy percussion, the Portland-based post-rock group The Mighty Missoula have captured a musical portrait of an environment in turmoil on their richly immersive new record Remnants. In traditional post-rock style, the melodies on this release feel expansive and flowing. From the very first moments, the group feels like it amps up the catchily ensnaring aspect of the tunes, whisking listeners off into an experience of their tumultuous but strong and powerful soundscapes, which feature highlights like the dramatically crescendoing guitar melodies in the closing segments of the song “Pitch & Yaw.”
Developing the Remnants
Although no lyrics appear on the record, The Mighty Missoula have tied their music to a process of confronting anxiety surrounding the precarious state of the climate, which feels aptly explored amidst the somberly looming, expansive soundscapes of Remnants.
The band members live in the Western part of the United States, which has faced particularly tough recent fire seasons, they note.
“From the onset of the band, our vision has been to focus on natural habitats as a source of inspiration for storytelling in our music,” the group explains. “Admittedly, this might not seem all that unique in the post-rock genre. When it comes to our live performance visuals and artwork, we want to guide the audience away from the hustle and bustle of modern civilization; there are plenty of storytellers for that facet of our lives. It felt like an interesting challenge to try and provide (instrumental) narrative on the impacts of climate change.”
Fundamentally, when it comes to the music, the songs on Remnants reflect the band members’ own life experiences, which likely contributes majorly to the richly immersive poignancy that feels readily apparent in the melodies.
“One of the things that brought us all to the Pacific Northwest is our love for the outdoors, which has been an underlying theme in our music,” they explain. “Anxiety over living in a fragile and threatened ecosystem and watching those in power do nothing about it is unavoidable to anyone paying attention. Much of the songwriting for this album was around the same time that the current U.S. president was pulling us out of the Paris Climate Agreement.”
In terms of some of the other supporting pieces of the record, the band had some great backing. Bassist Eric Mapson, for example, has a degree in Earth Science, which the band leaned on to find vocabulary for names for their powerful songs. The ideas captured by the scientific terms reflect broadly in the music, which always maintains that emotionally accessible perspective but stretches out broadly across vast melodic soundscapes like the natural environments around us.
Although they “actually weren’t aware of the mathematical definition of the term Ogvie until after we finished the album,” the group explains: “The song “Ogive” is a good example, it starts with a somewhat mellow riff that keeps building and building and becomes more intense each cycle. The term Ogive is both used to describe wave patterns on a glacier surface as well as a cumulative frequency in mathematics.”
Album opener “Draining Euphrates,” which feels particularly heavy, also feels aptly titled — the song “speaks to our collective reliance on fossil fuels, which plays a big impact on the health of our climate and habitats,” the band members explain. Other important supporting elements include the cover art, which was the work of Brian Morgante of Flesh & Bone Design, who “was able to create a visual representation of the intersection of melting ice caps and fossil fuels,” the band shares, noting overall that the environment of their Pacific Northwest music community “encourages creativity and supports each other.”
Capturing the Sound
Besides Mapson, The Mighty Missoula currently features Adam Schmid on drums, percussion, and synths, along with both Robby Rusell and Ryly Roberts on guitar. Roberts apparently joined up with the group only recently, and Schmid came on board in between the group’s debut EP and the writing process for Remnants. The band’s sound feels remarkably organic, no matter the lineup shifts.
“Most of the songs started from improvised jams,” the band explains of Remnants. “Occasionally one of us came up with a riff or a chord progression individually then brought it to the table, but most of it was written as a group. We didn’t really know where we were going until we got there.”
Besides his skills on the drums, Schmid is also a sound engineer, and the band explain that they utilized his expertise during the Remnants development process. Rather than sticking to majorly reworking their songs in the studio setting, the group explains that for Remnants, they “essentially wrote, recorded, and mixed an entire demo album in Adam’s flat.”
These developments had benefits. “This process afforded us the time to really think about the overall soundscape that we were aiming to produce,” the group explains. “We put a lot of time into that phase because we knew we needed to manage our budgets for a proper studio recording.”
When the band did make it to a studio setting, they enlisted Jason Sissoyev, who performs in the Portland-based post-rock band Coastlands and was working at Dead Aunt Thelma’s Studio, which features Lady Gaga among its recording alumni.
The recording time went well — “Thanks to our pre-production phase, we arrived at Dead Aunt Thelma’s with a detailed tracking to-do list for all of the pieces for the album. While there was definitely some experimentation in the recording studio — we were able to manage some of our costs to more effectively manage our investment into this release,” the band explains. “Working with Jason was an amazing experience. You would be hard-pressed to find a friendlier person to spend that many hours in a studio with and provide honest feedback along the way.”
After the professional studio recording, Remnants was mixed by Schmid and mastered by Adam Gonsalves at Telegraph Audio Mastering. The adjustments that the band did end up making during the recording process meant that they ended up with an extra song that didn’t actually fit on their self-released vinyl copies — but that track is available as a bonus to fans who purchase Remnants.
Bringing the Music Close
Going forward, the band already have ideas for their next steps, musically speaking. “As a band we’re really excited about the next couple projects we have in the works,” they explain. “Shortly after we finished tracking Remnants, we finally found the second guitar/keyboardist/pedal-wizard we had been looking for when Ryly joined the group. His style fits right in while adding a whole new element. We have a killer lineup and some great ideas cookin’ up so we’re all pretty jazzed about our potential.”
That potential, which they add includes their aspiration to write music for film at some point, hinges on the band members’ personal interest in the music that they’re making, which feels familiar but the farthest thing from rote. The band members are fans of artists like Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mono, Jakob, This Will Destroy You, Red Sparowes, Hammock, Nils Frahm, and Robin Guthrie.
Through their work, the band members have been able to connect with fans of their own music. “On a global scale, it’s really cool to see how easily people anywhere can share music. Maybe because without lyrics there is no language barrier, but we haven’t even been around that long but we have fans all over the world — legit fans. They buy our records and shirts and stuff! It’s extremely encouraging.”
Going on from there, they explain: “We naturally all want to play the type of music that inspires us. One of the best bits of feedback we have heard is that our music allows the listener to create their own story, which speaks to why we all like it. It allows for subjectivity not only in the listening experience, but as a musician, playing this type of music allows for much more individual expression than most styles. Some of us spend a lot of our day with headphones on while working. We find it easier to focus on our work while listening to Instrumental music. In a way, we’re looking to produce soundtrack music for our own lives.”
Stay in touch with The Mighty Missoula via their website, which is accessible at this link.