Munaf Rayani explores The Wilderness & the Explosions In The Sky creative space

If you’re a post-rock fan, chances are you’re a fan of Texas-based four piece Explosions In The Sky. Their climactic, yet atmospheric music has not only been released across seven studio albums, as well as numerous scores for films, TV shows, and video games – including Friday Night LightsMe and Earl and the Dying Girl, and Street Fighter V. 2016 saw them release The Wilderness, a nine-track auditory epic. We were lucky enough to catch up with Munaf Rayani (guitar, keys) ahead of their Australian tour.

Let’s talk about your most recent release, The Wilderness. It’s had an amazing reception – I’ve seen it called your best release since The Earth is Not A Cold Dead Place.

We’ve really enjoyed that record and [are] really happy with how it came out. We were pleased with it… but that it’s found favourable notice is also quite nice, and hopefully if you haven’t seen us on this cycle yet then you’ll enjoy the live show that’s accompanying it. Musically though … I feel like [The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place] presented us to the world in a way in which perhaps people didn’t know of us, and now I feel that this record is allowing those who don’t know us to discover us for the first time, but those that have been with us to kind of enjoy this new discovery. And we are thrilled. So its quite lucky, top to bottom, that we’re getting to play music and that we’re coming up with music like we are.

Absolutely. It’s a little bit different to your previous work, but still completely your sound. I find it’s less centred around the climaxes in the music, so much as the absence of noise. I know that normally you write with a narrative in mind – did you still do that for this album?

We have done that previously, but on this record we found ourselves in much more of an abstract thought [process] than we’d ever been before. And we, somewhat consciously, kept the narrative as loose as we could. Well, in comparison to previous pieces. We wanted to treat it more like a Rorschach test than, you know, a realistic painting. It was more for the ears to kind of interpret these ‘sound blotches’ in ways that only you could interpret.  Overall, we tried to give it a melody and offer an idea, but nothing so specific that told you what the story was. It was your story to make.

That’s definitely the feel of the album. My favourite track off it is definitely “Separation Anxiety”, it’s a really amazing piece. Can you tell me a bit more about writing that track?

I like that one a whole bunch too. It started off in a different way then it ended up. The foundations of that song we laid, and we were kind of approaching it from different angles, and then all of a sudden we landed on this kind of propelling forward, this kind of ‘dum dum dum di dum [sings the melody]’. [Laughs] This drum beat moving forward, this force, almost kind of like a wind, this visual wind pushing through a desert … when we thought we were in the desert. And when this wind picks up, it’s just kind of swept us up and we just found ourselves in the middle of this kind of driving song. The way it starts is just this kind of introduction of this kind of this door not opening, but almost unfolding in front of you, and then boom, we’re running. I really, really enjoy what it is that we came up with. But we did not intend on coming up with it the way we did. We just kind of found it.

It’s kind of a shame you guys don’t have lyrics, because that was a really wonderful way of describing that song… In terms of narratives, you guys have done a lot of work in terms of scores for films, TV series, and video games. Would you say that having done all of that work in that kind of field has that influenced your sound, or your writing process, at all?

Absolutely. Influenced may not be the exact right word, but it has affected the way we write our own albums – in that those scores and alternate kind of musical outings have allowed us to try different strokes. They’ve allowed us to try things musically that we wouldn’t have necessarily put into our album, but because we did it over [in] these other musical projects, it allowed us to try new thoughts towards the album, but familiar thoughts towards the scores. Both scoring films and writing the albums are kind of reflections of one another, and it just allowed us to kind of try things in ways that we hadn’t fully considered before. So yeah, influenced might be the right word. Because, all for the better, it allowed us to be something that we weren’t exactly sure that we knew how to be. And that’s allowed [us to] introduce new sounds and new methods in this latest record.

And some of your music has turned up in very interesting places, like Ted Cruz’s campaign video… I heard that you weren’t OK with that.

Oooooohhhhh [NB: there were a few southern phrases here – the gist is, he wasn’t very pleased].  Yeah, that was that’s just politics for you. It’s not just happened to us, but so many bands in which these politicians decide that they can just take anybody’s music and think that it just comes without consequence. It’s ridiculous. And so you know, we are definitely not with the Ted Cruz’s of the world, and so when we heard that happening we shouted quite loudly in their direction about using it. 95% of the time we are aware of what’s happening [with our music], but then there’s that sliver of those moments when that person or those persons are so clueless that they don’t understand that the music doesn’t match what they do, you know?

Has your music showed up anywhere else strange?

Not anywhere as strange as that, you know, but in different, less offensive places of strange. In certain scenes of a movie where you didn’t expect it to be there, or perhaps in a commercial or maybe in a video game, where our intent when we were writing was not where it was ended up. But it was a bit of a surprise that somebody could see that visual with [that] part of the melody … but that comes back to what we were mentioning [earlier], ultimately with music itself, it’s yours to interpret – even [music] which has lyrics and tells you the story in words – all of music, all of melody, is individual. And that is kind of the greatest beauty of melody. So yeah, it’s surprising where it can show up – it belongs to everyone.

In terms of other places your music has shown up in references … Anthony Fantano, the internet’s busiest music nerd, has your album art tattooed on his arm – the cover of All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone.  So, is that a seal of approval, him getting that tattooed?

Oh my gosh, yes. That’s kind of far out, you know… We’ve not only heard about people getting tattoos, we’ve also met many people along the way who have a part of the album artwork tattooed on them … it’s kind of remarkable. Like I said, it’s far out. And it’s appreciated, the love for the music is appreciated. But holy smokes, that is dedication of another level, and the world is filled with strange birds, us included [laughs].

You’ve got to be a bit different to make such amazing music. You’ve got three guitars in a lot of your songs, and you’re a very guitar motivated band. What would be the essential guitar pedal for Explosions In The Sky?

Well, the most essential guitar pedal of our entire musical career has been the reverb pedal [laughs]. Actually, the most important is the tuner pedal. But the second most important one is the lovely Boss RV-3 pedal. It’s been discontinued for some time and has evolved to a later iteration. But the RV-3 is where we started, and have remained, and it offers a really angelic sound to certain guitar melodies, and certain guitar tones. Anybody who’s looking for a little bit of that shimmer, I would start there.

Reverb is kind of king when it comes to post-rock – but I’ve read that you don’t actually consider your music to be post-rock, but that you’d just refer to it as rock. Would you still agree with that?

Yeah, absolutely, but to tell you the truth, the label of post-rock does not bother us, especially at this point. It’s a point of reference, and if that helps somebody think about the music … who is not familiar with the music, and it draws their interest, then by all means, we are post rock. But yeah, no label in our opinion can really define whatever it is that we are. We are who we are. The genre of music is not post-rock or rock, it’s explosions in the sky.

You really are a genre of your own.  So what does the future hold?

Well that’s a good question for any of us, right? What does the future hold?

God, who knows. With Trump as president…?

Exactly…. These are the questions that we have to ask one another. Hopefully, the planet remains intact, and we can all keep making music and enjoying music the way we do.

Catch post-rock kings Explosions In The Sky on their Australian tour:

February 19th | The Gov, ADELAIDE
February 20th | Melbourne Recital Centre | SOLD OUT
February 21st | Melbourne Recital Centre | SOLD OUT
February 23rd | Sydney Opera House
February 24th | QPAC, BRISBANE