Words by Lindsey Anderson
Genre-melting Cincinnati-based band Us, Today has a lot to celebrate. With their 4th record, ‘Computant’ out in the world and a tour in process, the three piece band has a busy few months ahead. ‘Computant’ can best be described as a buffet of sound; each track holding a distinct energy and vibe that’ll take the listener on a highly enjoyable audio voyage. The trio’s disinterest in trying to fit in a single musical genre has only freed up the band; giving them more room to experiment with every sound the world has to offer.
Personally I hope video game developers catch wind of Us, Today. The combination of chaos and ambience exhibited on this record puts me in the mind of my favorite video game scores and how the composers are able to flawlessly underscore an ambient walk in the woods as well as a chaotic final-boss battle.
Tom Tom got the chance to chat with Kristin Agee(vibraphone & keys) about the new record, her history with the vibraphone & the Us Today’s progression from 2010 to 2018.
How did the album release party go?
Not to sound cliche but it was magical! There was so much positive energy in the room and it was so much fun.
What’s the music community like in Cincinnati?
I would have to say that the biggest scene in Cincinnati is folk/bluegrass. There’s a decent rock scene and a decent punk scene as well but as far as the music Us, Today plays, experimental rock/instrumental rock, there isn’t a huge scene for that here. We’ve always had a bit more luck finding our audience when we’re out on the road. We do have a group of devoted fans here in Cincinnati!
Since there isn’t much of a community around the kind of music you play, how did you get introduced to the experimental rock genre?
I met Joel(guitar in Us, Today) half-way through 2010. He worked at a coffee shop and I came in one day and we started talking about how we were both musicians looking for a group; we also talked about the music we liked. Joel actually turned me on to a lot of music I had never heard before; bands like Jaga Jazzist(an 8 piece instrumental band from Norway),Tortoise, Battles and a lot of other musicians who make instrumental rock music. So when we started this band, it was basically Joel sharing with me music I had never heard before and us trying to figure out how we can do similar things with him on guitar and me on vibraphone. We then invited my friend Jeff to play drums and that completed our lineup.
How did you get introduced to the vibraphone?
I actually started on drums; that was my very 1st musical experience! I joined school band and learned how to read music. When you’re a percussionist in band at school, you have to know how to play all the instruments under the percussion umbrella and through that, I got introduced to orchestral music. I then ended up studying orchestral percussion in school and that’s how I got introduced to mallet instruments like xylophone and bells. And then I kind of gravitated to the vibraphone because of its size, the range and its portability but also the sound of it; it’s just a beautiful sound! I often tell people that the instrument itself is so beautiful, I feel like my job is pretty easy in the band!
What was the inspiration for ‘Computant?’
I think the thing that makes this record stand out is that we got to purchase new equipment so we could mess around with some new sounds. After the last album, we had this moment of ‘what do we want to do next?’ and the first step of that was spending some money and getting some new toys to play with! My big change this record was that I got pick-ups for the vibraphone so essentially, I turned the vibraphone into an electric vibraphone. So I’m now able to run my vibraphone through guitar pedals and on most of the album, I’m effecting the vibe with distortion, delay or tremolo. Now I’m able to get sounds that I wasn’t able to get on previous albums and that has really improved my sound.
Speaking of equipment, if money was a non-issue, do you have a dream vibraphone set up?
Well I have to say that the vibraphone I currently own, it’s a Yamaha goldbar vibraphone, is my dream vibraphone! However, now that I’ve dipped a toe into the world of pedals, I want SO many pedals now!
What were your 1st thoughts when you heard the final product of ‘Computant?’
My very 1st thought was ‘I can’t wait for people to hear this!’ We did a few sound collages on this album; kind of like interlude tracks. The seam of our album we took from spam messages we get on our social media pages. Our band name is so close to USA Today that we get a lot of spam USA Today messages. So I did a few sound collages of me reading the spam, distorting my voice and putting different effects on it; and that was stuff we had never done before. I’m particularly excited for folks to hear the sound collages!
In what ways is 2018 Us, Today different from 2010 Us, Today?
When Joel and I started talking about the music we like, we didn’t really have an idea of what the group was going to be. We just wanted to play together and try things we hadn’t done in other bands before. We knew the instrumentation we were picking but we weren’t going to sound like anyone else so we spent time experimenting around what we’d sound like. I feel the biggest difference between 2010 and 2018 is that we’ve put out a few albums and we know who we are now; we have an identity! We know how to write with each other now and the album-making gets a little easier each time so we’re able to do a bit more in terms of visual elements. We put out more videos with this album release than any of our previous albums. We also made a pretty great light show to go with our live performances; that would’ve never happened in 2010.
How would you describe your music to a listener who has never heard of you all before?
I could use a number of descriptors but to put it in the simplest terms, I usually say experimental, instrumental rock. I feel like those 3 cover all the points in the our music. Instrumental because there’s no singer, rock meaning it’s aggressive and loud. And then experimental because we use some sounds and harmonies that you don’t hear in pop music.
If you could describe your music to a listener without using genres, what would best describe Us, Today?
That’s a good question! There are so many ups and downs in our music; we try to play with some controlled chaos. I’d say we’re like an ocean where in one minute it’s calm water and in the next, there could be a raging storm! Sometimes it’s smooth and it flows and other times it’s rough.
Upcoming Tour Dates
Be Here Now
The East Room