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Ghosts of the past haunt any piece of art. With Into the Presence, the hauntings are twofold. To wit: the band's debut album feels spiritually connected to the musically progressive era of the 70s (that's "progressive" as in adventurous, not as in Emerson, Lake and Palmer). Then there's the ghostly vibes -- literally -- that sprung up during the album's recording.
"We experienced some stuff in the studio," admits drummer Tim Alexander (of Primus and A Perfect Circle fame), who recorded the record in his home studio in Arizona. "Some weird sightings, bottles of water freezing for no reason, whispers everywhere. Lots of interesting energy."
Although neither Alexander nor frontman/guitarist Luis Maldonado come across as spirit-talkers, there's definitely some "interesting energy" (or freaky mojo) that lead to the formation of Into the Presence. The drummer and singer met over a decade ago, keeping in touch over the years and occasionally collaborating. Nothing substantial ever came from their friendship until a few years back, when Alexander experienced a sudden change of heart during work on his solo album.
"I finished it, and then just decided to re-record all the drums and guitars," he remembers. "It didn't sound right, so I bought all this analog gear and did the record that way... and it sounded great. So now I had this amazing gear, my own studio and some time on my hands. I called Luis and said, 'Let's work on your stuff.'"
Maldonado, a one-time child music prodigy who had studied classical guitar at the University of Arizona when he was 12, had more recently made his name for himself as a studio/session player around California, working with the likes of Pat Monahan, Glenn Hughes, John Waite, UFO, Anna Nalick and Michael Schenker. "I had this great professional sideman thing going, but I always wanted more," says the singer. "I've always written songs, and I wanted to go that route."
Be it a lucky break or divine intervention, the two now had the time and resources to collaborate. Due in part to Alexander's collection of vintage gear, the band decided to record the music in the same analog spirit of their rock heroes. "No digital â everything on tape," says Maldonado "We looked at records like 'A Night at the Opera' and 'Dark Side of the Moon' -we thought about when those were made and what they had access to. All those records sound amazing, but everything on there is an honest sound."
Although the record was initially seen as a way for Maldonado to take control of a solo artist career, the recording process soon turned into a full-on collaboration. "Tim gives great direction," says the singer. "I'd bring in songs - usually eight at a time, recorded on a tape to see what we could do with them. But as the process went on, he'd throw in melodies and guitar parts and have me write to that. As we went on, there was a lot of working together and re-writing."
The end result is simply this: Into the Presence has recorded a timeless, dynamic rock record that both hints at rock's past and fits comfortably among today's best guitar bands. It's also a dynamic record: "End Game" echoes Queen, thanks to Maldonado's Freddie Mercury-esque vocal prowess. Meanwhile, the heavy guitar rocker, "Lovers", feels like a lo-fi Muse, while "The Garden" and "My Only Crime" are moody ballads, the latter enhanced by the work of cellist Ana Lenchantin (Ana's sister and Alexander's old bandmate, Paz Lenchantin, from A Perfect Circle, contributes bass to the album).
One thing missing from the record, however, is excess. Despite both band members possessing a music vocabulary that goes beyond 99% of what most professional musicians could even fathom, Alexander and Maldonado fought to keep the music focused. "This was not going to be a progressive note fest," says the drummer. "We analyzed every note and got rid of anything that didn't improve the song. This was about the basics: the songs and making you feel something."
The guiding spirit of Into the Presence may be best summed up by the band's seventh track, "Radio." Maldonado wrote the song as an ode to his youth spent religiously perusing the FM dial. "When I listened to radio back then, whether it was music, a program or even a DJ, it was like church --everything was said or sung like it was a prayer. There were all these amazing new scenes and sounds that I had never been exposed to, especially coming from a classical background. To me, every sound was so important. It's an honesty that I hope we captured."