In the Wake of Giants might impress audiences as self-assured, musically proficient young men with carefully planned-out compositions. But this South Hills instrumental-rock quartet -- guitarist Justin Nixon, keyboardist Dan Baldauff, bassist Drayton Frey and drummer Sam Rodgers-Melnick -- actually came together as a last-minute emergency tactic.
"Dan and I were in a band in high school," recalls guitarist Justin Nixon. "We had a show to play, but our singer and drummer unexpectedly quit." Frey and Rodgers-Melnick were invited to help fill the time with an onstage jam, and a new group developed from there. "We figured we'd write some songs and if a singer comes along, we'd add them," says Nixon. "But time kept going by, and we liked the sound, so we kept it the way it is."
Initially, the group wasn't fully aware of the current instrumental-rock zeitgeist. "I listened to stuff like Sigur Ros and Mars Volta, but I didn't know much beyond that as far as post-rock and prog-rock," says Nixon. "But the more I told people we were an instrumental band, the more people said, 'You need to check out this band and that band,'" groups that included Explosions in the Sky, Comets on Fire, Russian Circles and Godspeed You Black Emperor.
In the Wake of Giants never garnered an overwhelming reception at high school band-battles or Mr. Small's all-ages shows. Once they entered the over-21 scene, however, with shows at Brillobox, Rex Theatre and even the most recent edition of FLUX, older music fans started to take notice. "The art community is where we get the best feedback," Nixon claims.
The band recently released its self-titled debut CD with a show at the fairly new Fountain Room venue, in the South Side. The album was recorded piecemeal in a variety of settings: drums in a Dormont church; guitar and bass in Nixon's South Side bathroom and Rodgers-Melnick's Peters Township kitchen; and the overlying electronics in Nixon's bedroom. Local songwriter Ben Hardt mixed down the results -- six extended tracks in 46 minutes, in true prog-rock style.
"I think we prefer longer songs," Nixon says. "People shouldn't be looking to us for pop tunes."
What their audiences have come to expect, though, is the live show's percussion jam, where the players drop their chosen axes and join Rodgers-Melnick on an array of tribalistic tom-toms. "That really can be considered one of our trademarks. Sam always puts that together and choreographs it," says Nixon. "Unfortunately, none of that is on the CD, because we couldn't figure out how to record it, but it will be [on a recording] in the near future."
WPTS 92.1 FM presents "Rock U.N." featuring The LK, Civil Twilight, Make a Rising, In the Wake of Giants and Discuss. 8 p.m. Fri., March 21. William Pitt Union Assembly Room, University of Pittsburgh campus, Oakland. $5. All ages. 412-648-7990
- Post-facing-the-camera: In the Wake of Giants