Comparing emo rockers with jam bands is like trying to find similarities between lemon juice and bleach. They're on opposite sides of the spectrum, and the combination can sound nightmarish. Casual Encounters, who play this weekend as part of the annual holiday bash put on by indie record stores Music Saves and Square Records, take these labels, toss them around and combine them into an appealing cocktail of sound. Singer-guitarist Matthew Rolin, guitarist Cassie Bishop, drummer Lisa Paulovcin and bassist Antoine Henderson embrace labels like "emo hippies" simply because there isn't a more articulate way to describe what they do.
"I've always been interested in guitarists that didn't just play power chords," says Rolin, describing how Built to Spill and Television influence his songwriting. "You can either write a song where the guitar is bashing out a rhythm or you can write a song where the guitar is literally playing the major melody. I feel like it's more fun to mix it up between those two things. There's a time for dumb, bashing-out stuff, and there's a time for pretty-sounding guitar stuff."
Both guitar styles can be heard in Casual Encounters' songs, which veer between time-warp-slow jamming and punchy, ornately organized riffs. Rolin and Bishop's guitars wrap around one another, swirling into an exhilarating pop bubble, which is constantly threatened by Paulovcin's cymbal hits. Henderson says he coordinates his funky bass parts around Rolin's.
"There's really no genius songwriter [in the band] or anything like that," says Rolin. "There's no totalitarian dickhead. I come up with an idea, and then everyone just rocks out really hard on it."
In addition to songwriting credits, the group also shares a secret rock language. Abandoning technical terms like "chorus" and "bridge," Rolin jokes that they have "the sensual part," "the rocking part" and "the rock riff."
"We don't have verse-chorus-verse songs," he says. "We have rock-sexual-rock songs. But the whole thing is epic."
"We call everything epic," adds Paulovcin.
That includes the recording process for the band's first EP. Instead of holing up in a studio, Casual Encounters took a three-day vacation to the Hocking Hills. They hauled all of Rolin's "ghetto" equipment to a tiny cabin in the middle of the woods. Using a decade-old laptop, old cords and whatever else they could find, the band recorded five songs in what Rolin describes as the smoothest recording experience he's ever had.
"You just take all your equipment there and record at any hour of the day without anyone bothering you or calling the cops," he says. "Your cell phone doesn't work there, so there's no distractions."
The band took its name from the lewd, crude, occasionally humorous section of Craigslist, where you can search for casual "encounters." Ultimately, the foursome hopes the band can still be found in a Google search, a mission that members sarcastically say is their top goal.
And with their EP now available, the band aims to spread the word.
"I wanna play anywhere where there's people who actually care about music," he says. "Even if it's just, like, one person who I don't know who comes up afterward and is like, 'Hey, what's your guys' name? You guys are good.' I feel like that one random person that actually likes us is a lot more important to me than constantly trying to be the cool kids on the scene."