Like many important bands, Seattle quartet Versing got their start in college radio—Tacoma's KUPS. The group's main songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Daniel Salas served as alternative music director there, where he met guitarist Graham Baker, drummer Max Keyes, and bassist Kirby Lochner. Now Versing are poised to spread their coolly combustible brand of rock on those said airwaves...and beyond if the world knows what's good for it.
Baker, Keyes, Lochner, and Salas have risen through Seattle's competitive rock ecosphere with nonchalant élan. They cheekily titled a previous album Nirvana, but never mind the bleach: Versing isn't emulating Sub Pop's most famous artist. Rather, these four twentysomething aesthetes are forging an exciting sound that finds a golden mean between lustrous noise and ebullient melody.
Emerging from a stint as a drummer in a stoner-metal band, Salas formed Versing as a vehicle to vent obliquely about his political and social views with irony and humor. Populated with strange characters, his songs often double as “critiques of centrism and conservatism, from a leftist perspective. That's a theme: committing to something or doing something that may be hard but is the better option. However, when I write politically, it's more allegorical and can be interpreted beyond the political realm. I find that more interesting to write about than my personal life.”
That being said, the pell-mell, ostinato-laced “Renew,” which Salas says is his most hopeful song, has a personal message. “It's about taking time to care for yourself—even when things are all weird and fucked up.” Meanwhile, the immersive, pummeling “Offering” evokes those twin pillars of 1988 rock: My Bloody Valentine's Isn't Anything and Pixies' Surfer Rosa. “I just really enjoy that droning line of guitar feedback,” Salas says. “We use a lot of feedback on our songs, but I think that's one of the more deliberately musical uses we've found for it. It's sort of a fantastical song about traveling through a mystical portal to stop an encroaching force of evil, and the feedback is like the whirring sound the portal makes."
Another fantastical song, “Tethered,” is a low-key, Daydream Nation-esque anthem with plenty of dissonance and surging, distorted guitars, plus rhythms that drive piles. Salas explains that it's “about how people are tied together,” figuratively. “It's a reminder of the interconnectedness of humans, to people who make excuses for not doing the right thing” for the greater good of humanity.
With Versing, songwriting is obviously crucial, but much of the pleasure in 10000 comes from its guitar textures. They're swarming, yet also spiky and agile. The funny thing is, Salas writes most of Versing's songs on his unplugged Gibson guitar. “I like a more shambolic tone than something that sounds really clean and put together. I like there to be some screechiness to it—something that's not right.”
Salas cites earlier purveyors of abstract rock music Cocteau Twins and Wire as major inspirations. Much of the rock that followed in the wake of 9/11, though, leaves him cold. “9/11 messed up a lot of things culturally, including music,” he says. “It engendered a deep social conservatism and nationalism that meant the chaotic and unpracticed sounds previously common in rock music had to go, in favor of tighter playing, more simplistic subject matter, and super clean production.”
Gently chiding the Seattle music scene's self-seriousness while acknowledging Versing's playfulness and irony, Salas says, “There's a 'let's just fuck around and see what comes out,' aspect of what we do, which I think is uncommon for Seattle bands.”
Versing's freewheeling attitude has paradoxically resulted in 10000, an engrossing album that's impossible to feel ambivalent about.