Stick to the Formula
by Kevin J. Elliott

Home survived the ’90s without a scratch. Their quirk-filled, oft-orchestrated indie pop may have never eclipsed the work of their peers (Pavement, Mercury Rev, Built to Spill), and they may have never found comfort and stability on one label, but in the span of two decades and 17 albums, they amassed an endless reserve of musical oddities. They’ve yet to fizzle out, to entertain sub-standard solo ambitions, or rest on their laurels and let things become old hat. Instead, despite being scattered across the country, the band has found a renaissance of sorts on Jajaguwar’s Oneida-curated offshoot, Brah Records. The release of 2006’s Sexteen and this month’s Seventeen has sparked a new interest in what were originally fringe-adored cult records in their time. The idiosyncratic pop experiment of XI (Elf: Gulf Bore Waltz); the deep space folk of 13: Netherregions; their Dave Fridmann–produced, psych masterstroke, XIV; and the recently re-released bedroom-recorded I-VIII tapes are all worthy virgin jaunts into the enigmatic web of Home obsession. (In 2006, I reviewed each and every one of the band’s releases, from IX on, in anticipation of a Home show in Columbus.)

Whether one is familiar with the joy of “Forgiveness” or the Floyd-esque epic quality of “Turn Away” or not, Seventeen is a solid survey of the collective personality of Eric Morrison, Brad Traux, Sean Martin and Andrew Deutsch. Unlike those past records, which came off as high-concept at times, here Home weaves together what sounds like a life’s work. The album, recorded at different times and places, in various moods and configurations, displays the indelible mark Home has stamped on indie rock. But in speaking with Deutsch, I’ve come to find that this piece-meal of styles and sounds is what has always made Home so inclusively special for their fans, and has, perhaps, been a bit too weird right about the time they were supposed to peak.

It seems like whenever it appears we’ll get no more releases from Home, something pops up. Is it safe to assume that you are in a band which, until one of you dies, will never break up?

Andrew Deutsch: I think that’s kind of the program, yeah. There’s no pressure at all. There is some pressure, because people are kind enough to print these things up for us and take the time to promote them, but he only reason we’ve made these last couple of albums is because Brah has been nice enough to ask for them. We are always recording individually and with each other, so when something comes up we pull it together and figure out what we’re going to do.

Sexteen was certainly like the zany, conceptual Home albums of the ’90s, and it all had a particular feel. But Seventeen sounds like it was made up of many different sessions, time periods, and personalities. Can you explain how the album came to be?

AD: Sean, who lives in Sarasota, Eric and I wrote the songs individually. A couple were recorded together, but Sean did all of the instrumentation and singing on his songs by himself. We put together a mix of almost 30 songs, and Sean was smart enough to say that we should trim it down. The thing that I’m excited about with it, which might not be good for marketing, is that it sounds like a mixtape in a way. Even with just my songs, there’s a variety. They don’t sound like they’re coming from the same place. I think that comes from recording my stuff with a lot of different people—everyone had different energies.

When you were most active, the first eight tape releases were nearly considered lore in indie rock, and many thought they didn’t really exist. Now that they’ve been released, after hearing them, the variety you talk about really makes sense on Seventeen.

AD: We had wanted to make the album more cohesive originally, but I think when Eric started compiling all of the songs we had recorded, I’m not sure if he got sentimental, but he definitely wanted to add that variety to the methodology of Seventeen.

Whenever I’ve read anything about the band in recent years, you are always referred to as a cult band. Do you have any theories on why this is, or why, during the ’90s, you weren’t as universally accepted as your peers? Do you think it had anything to do with your releases being scattered on a number of different labels?

AD: I think it was our interpersonal skills. I had serious interpersonal problems back then. I’m very relaxed now. There was a lot of music like that going on back then. I think we had something that affected some people differently. It might have been the variety of sounds on those records that kept people away. Actually, I do have a theory, about why it was the variety. If you think about it, most of the bands that do well have a “song” that they play over and over again. Like Coldplay, they played the best song in the world over and over. And I fucking love that song. I was just listening to it yesterday. Phoenix do it. That’s why a band like Animal Collective really blows my mind. I guess they used to love us as kids, which makes me really happy. I love how much variety they have in their sound. I’m glad people can do that now and be successful. I think that back then it was “this is what we do” and we were doing too many things. Plus we were all big dorks.

If you had to pick one of your releases as your favorite, which would you choose?

AD: Probably XI (Elf: Gulf Bore Waltz). X and XI were recorded at the same time. That’s when we were working the hardest. Maybe not the hardest, but it was when we were spending the most time on the records. We were exploring more.

I’m partial to 13: Netherregions, but I think your shining moment was XIV, which was recorded with Dave Fridmann. How did that relationship come about?

AD: Somebody had suggested it. Arena Rock had an arrangement with him and asked if we wanted to do it. He had already produced a couple records for Arena Rock, like Elf Power. We were big fans of his, so we were stoked. He was the sweetest, most down-to-earth, thoughtful dude. It was a really great experience.

I always thought that your orchestral tendencies were something that set you apart from other indie bands of the time, something I think matched perfectly with Fridmann on that album. How did that element enter into the band? Were you always conducting these imaginary soundtracks and symphonies and finding a way to fit them into a standard rock record?

AD: Eric was classically trained and he loved prog-rock. So that was all totally Eric. We tried a few shows with four-piece ensembles, and they were crazy fun. It was something different, so when he brought that to the band, we were stoked.

Even though back then you were always associated with bands like Pavement and Mercury Rev, you had a sense of humor, a sense of wonder and experimentation that eluded your peers. I’m curious to know what influenced your recordings when you first began.

AD: You know the song “My Friend Maurice?” That was the first song we ever recorded, back in Eric’s garage, in high school. Back then we were listening to Bo Diddley. We had a band called South Texas, which was a lyric from one of his songs. In high school, it was a lot of U2, Sonic Youth, and David Bowie. I was a big Bowie fan. When we moved in together and started recording, it was before Pavement, or at least when they first started, so when we started hearing that and Ween and stuff similar, we were excited that there were other weird people making fun music.