On Stage with Relaxer: “…best accompanied by smoke machines and trippy light shows.”
by Brittany Nader
When describing local band Relaxer’s sound, “passive progressive” — though said in jest by founding member Jamie Stillman — may actually be the most astute way to describe it. With a healthy mix of heavy riffs and echoic vocals, the prog-rock, psychedelic aspects of this foursome’s sound are highly prominent, coupled with a specific type of laid-back vibe that’s marked by each member’s years of mastering their skills and cutting their teeth in other local bands. The mix of larger-than-life performance and slacker sensibilities offstage makes for quite the interesting contrast.
Three-fourths of the members spend their days working at EarthQuaker Devices, where Stillman serves as founder and master builder, and on several nightly occasions they join forces to create the type of music that sounds best accompanied by smoke machines and trippy light shows.
“I think over the years we have morphed from Pink Floyd to Black Sabbath,” Stillman says about Relaxer’s sound.
Joe Scott, known as the mastermind behind another local band, White Pines, lends his vocals, lyrics and guitar to Relaxer. The group is a bit of a mishmash of long-established Akron bands, perhaps a supergroup of sorts, comprised of members of nostalgic ensembles such as Party of Helicopters, Drummer (Patrick Carney’s former band), Duunes, Houseguest and so on. Each musician, from drummer Bradley Thorla to bassist Corey Haren, brings a wide range of virtuosity with their respected instruments, paired with the experience and varied stylistic sensibilities to create a new and interesting sound with Relaxer.
While Scott acknowledges Stillman’s assessment of the band’s current sound — something difficult to determine without comparing to other established bands — he jokingly describes it: “It’s like if Yes couldn’t play their instruments.”
Relaxer has seen its fair share of sonic evolution over the past six years, with much of what made the group distinct early on having come from former keyboard player Steve Clements’ larger-than-life synth. Stillman serves as the band’s only original member, recruiting Scott, who was admittedly afraid to sing on his own without having his guitar in tow, and eventually Thorla, whom Stillman and Scott both credit as contributing heavily to Relaxer’s current musical style. Haren then joined as bass player, which his bandmates find ironic considering he is probably the best guitar player out of the bunch. Nonetheless, the quartet has an easygoing dynamic that both meshes well and results in tremendous live performances that are evidence of each member’s individual influences and prowess.
Last summer, Relaxer finished recording their new album, “Unreal Cities” — their latest since 2014’s “Lasers.” The new release was recorded by Ben Vehorn at Akron’s own Tangerine Studios and is slated to be out for public consumption this May. Relaxer’s writing process has gotten easier over the years, the band agrees, with a relatively simple formula of perfecting all instrumentation first, then moving on to Scott’s lyric writing and vocal arrangements.
“There’s a lot of notes going on when we play, so I have to be careful about how I add vocals to it,” Scott says.
Stillman says the writing process for the new album was easier than years past, where the band would jam and demo various sketches of numerous songs but only consider about 12 tracks they feel are actually complete. Recording this album felt much more focused, he says, and many of the songs organically came together at a more rapid pace. Thorla says the band spent a weekend tracking and just a day or two mixing, followed by Scott taking a week in between to do his vocals without having the looming pressure of studio time.
“I noticed writing with a synth with Steve is awesome, but it takes a lot of time if you want to do something interesting with the synth,” Stillman says. “Writing without one now is a little faster. It seems infinitely easier.”
Though Clements has taken time off from Relaxer to focus on family and other musical endeavors, the band members collectively say he will likely join them on stage for their album release shows. Relaxer has enjoyed playing venues like the Grog Shop and Beachland Tavern in Cleveland but noted Annabell’s and Musica as favorite local staples. They are still up in the air about where to hold their album release shows, but they will be performing in Kent, Cleveland and Columbus in upcoming months.
Relaxer will play the following shows this spring:
March 18 at Stone Tavern at Michel’s — with Turbeaux and Birthday Noose
April 24 at Beachland Tavern — with A Place to Bury Strangers
May 19 at the Columbus Psych Fest
Stay up-to-date with Relaxer’s latest shows and releases at RelaxerBand.com.
Their latest album, “Unreal Cities,” will be available for purchase this May at Square Records, My Mind’s Eye Records (Cleveland) and on iTunes and EarthQuakerDevices.com.