BY VANESSA SALVIA // Instrumental Eugene band building its commercial portfolio
The five members of Eugene’s Post-rock band This Patch of Sky might not move around on stage very much, but their music will take you places. With no vocals, their music rides an instrumental wave that can be both spare and elemental and a lush dreamscape.
They’re also riding a growing wave of music licensing that has landed their music in commercials for Ford Mustang, Petco, ESPN and others. This Patch of Sky was selected to write songs for the soundtrack of a documentary about the comedian and actor Russell Brand called Brand: A Second Coming that made its debut at the SXSW music festival in March.
This Patch of Sky, which guitarist Kit Day formed in 2010, is five guys, including guitarist Joshua Carlton, cellist Alex Abrams and drummer Nathan Trowbridge. A keyboardist recently left, and Joel Erickson, formerly on bass, has taken over on synths. Their new bass player, Ryan Rosenberg, a friend who relocated from Louisiana, made his performing debut with the band at an August 22 show at WOW Hall in Eugene.
Turning their instrumentation into soundtrack-worthy songs is a major talent. Their music is carefully constructed and planned to evoke emotional responses while allowing space for personal interpretation. The post-rock genre is less about technical mastery than it is about using the instruments to create new textured and layered sounds that build to an emotional pitch. That’s not to say, though, that the members can’t play.
“Our music is more than just, ‘Let’s play,’” says Day. “It’s, ‘How many sounds can we create that don’t sound like our instrument and how big of a sound can we make it live?’”
Abrams, the cellist, has the most rigid background. While the other members played in a variety of punk, metal and indie bands before This Patch of Sky, he had played only in orchestral and academic settings. It’s a different mindset, but he loves it.
“With post-rock there’s more of an emphasis on the sounds you create and being very specific about what it sounds like as a whole with the other instruments,” Abrams says. “With a vocalist there’s already a meaning ascribed to the song, but with instrumental music it’s a little more abstract and we all feed off that.”
Day says about five years ago he heard a song by the instrumental band This Will Destroy You, and that’s when he first realized that not only were bands making instrumental music, the music could actually communicate evocatively without language. Six months later he started This Patch of Sky with Trowbridge and Erickson. Carlton joined in 2012 and Abrams a year and a half ago. “We didn’t really have high hopes,” says Day. “We just wanted to have fun. We were all musicians and we didn’t have a singer.”
The commercial and film licensing has come about due to hours of behind the scenes emailing to make connections, but still, it’s not something that they really thought would happen. So far the band has released two full-lengths and two EPs. They have nearly everything written for a third album and plan to start the recording process by January 2016.
After their second album, Day says people began commenting that it would sound good on a commercial or soundtrack. Day began tracking down and emailing music supervisors and got the band listed on a few licensing platforms, which allowed their music to be used in commercials and opened the doors to the Brand project.
“I got one response from a music supervisor and he said, ‘We’re actually working on a movie right now and I think this song will fit,’” says Day. “Before we knew it we ended up writing a whole bunch of music for them.”
The Brand soundtrack ended up featuring five songs written by the band for the movie and four previously written songs. That experience led to a relationship with the global leader in music publishing, Kobalt, which is actively working to find more film score opportunities. “It’s always been a goal of ours to write soundtracks but we never thought we would actually be doing it, so it’s kind of surreal to see it happening and potentially see it happening more,” says Day.
The band had only about two weeks to write the original material for the Brand film. In response, Erickson and Trowbridge, who has an audio engineering degree from Lane Community College, sped up another of their dreams—to open a recording studio. Called Silver Sky, they set up their equipment and started recording This Patch of Sky’s material for the film. Trowbridge primarily handles the recording while Erickson handles most of the production.
The Post-rock genre has grown over the years since bands like This Will Destroy You and Explosions in the Sky inspired the first wave of instrumental bands. With so many bands out there trying to mimic that swelling instrumental landscape, the songs can all start to sound the same. That doesn’t faze This Patch of Sky because of their closeness and their no-ego approach to songwriting.
Erickson says they don’t hesitate to speak up when a fellow member is writing a piece of music that’s not the best it can be. “There’s no ego in this. Everything is sacrificed for the song and what the song needs. The song is above everything.”
“I don’t think our band has the fear of saying, ‘Oh, we don’t want to deviate too far form our sound,’” says Trowbridge. “We’re always creating a new sound and it’s always This Patch of Sky.”
It’s not just soundtracks that people are noticing. This Patch of Sky’s music was recently added to a curated Spotify playlist called “Deep Focus.” The playlist features mostly instrumental music geared toward relaxation and concentration. Within two weeks of being added, the band already had more than 206,000 individual streams. The playlist itself has 975,000 people following it.
The band is also planning on performing at Dunk Festival, a Post-rock festival in Belgium that will be held in May 2016. Plus, they’re scheduling a few other overseas shows at the same time. That’s a lot of new ears for a band already teetering on the edge of not being able to keep up with their day jobs while also putting in the time the band and studio require. Day, the band’s founder, has a wife and three children.
All successful bands have to work through this transition period and it remains to be seen how This Patch of Sky will handle it. But based on how quickly they’ve grown and the popularity they’ve achieved within a few short years of being together, it’s clear that the next level is not far away for them.
“We’re in this together,” says Day. “And we want to make the best music we can make.”