Long and Strong
Mammatus and their weird, expansive songs headline a triple bill at Jose’s.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
The Corralitos-based psychedelic hard rock band Mammatus doesn’t write songs; the trio pens epics. The 12-minute, 16-second “Excellent Swordfight” begins with riffs that thrust and parry before veering into spaced-out sections. “The Coast Explodes” starts with low, trance-inducing guitar, bass and drums worthy of early Soundgarden before a battery of riffs build and crash like a Pacific winter swell during the song’s mid-section. “Dragon of the Deep, Part One” goes from a tangle of wah-wah drenched guitar to a throbbing metal section and back again over the course of eight minutes.
Above the constantly changing music, singer and guitarist Nicky Emmert sings about wizards and dragons in a highly effect-enhanced voice that sometimes sounds like its beamed in from a space station or rising up from under a coffin of seawater.
Emmert, who plays in Mammatus with his brother and drummer Aaron Emmert and bassist Chris Freels, says he is a “follower of Christ” who uses language that sounds lifted from fantasy books to describe the adventure of life.
“The Coast Explodes [the band’s second album] is all about wielding a sword of righteousness through a dark world,” Nicky Emmert says.
Between 2005 and 2007, Mammatus not only sung about wizards but also started dressing like them for their performances. The band would wander onstage through fog machine-generated clouds wearing robes and carrying large redwood staffs. “When we went on tour with [Japanese psych rock band] Acid Mothers Temple, we took the wizard thing to town,” Nicky admits.
While Mammatus 2007 shows with Acid Mothers Temple made up the trio’s most recent national tour, Nicky says that the band’s first national outing in 2005 was even more memorable. The group played in a hut in a South Dakota cornfield for a crowd of what Nicky calls “longhairs and weirdos.” Another performance found Mammatus playing for a “crowd” of a dozen people inside an abandoned used car sales building that was covered with vines in the tiny town of Whitesburg, Ky. “All of these shows were very, very weird,” Nicky says.
Mammatus began in 2005 as the trio’s former band, the Sad Monsters, evolved into something different. “We were in a folkie band and slowly got heavier and heavier,” he adds.
After changing their name and embracing a thicker psych-rock sound, the group recorded two CDs in a converted garage in the small Santa Cruz community of Corralitos. The band developed their early, epic numbers in the garage, which features forest green walls and a sky blue ceiling. While playing, the band members light Nag Champa incense to help get into the right frame of mind. “I’ve been burning the Nag since 16,” Nicky says.
The guitarist and vocalist says that the band usually writes a number by coming up with a riff and seeing where it takes them. “We want the songs to change and evolve and morph into new things,” he says.
Mammatus is working on a CD that will be a departure from their older work, both musically and thematically. Instead of lyrics about wizards, Mammatus will be devoting most of their new tracks to a body part.
“Our new inspiration for songs is the brain,” Nicky says.
In addition, the band is trying to write tighter songs.
“Some of the best music is not the notes that you play,” Nicky says, “but the notes that you leave out.”
Mammatus play with Wildildlife and Serpico 9pm Friday, Oct. 24, at Jose’s Lounge Underground, 638 Wave St., Monterey. $5. 655-4419.