Explosions in the Sky: Blowing Up
From 'Friday Night Lights' to Wednesday night at Radio City Music Hall, here's how Austin, Texas' finest instrumental-rock quartet blew up.
With a little help from Friday Night Lights, Explosions in the Sky’s “sad but triumphant” soundscapes have made them rock’s unlikeliest success story.
Explosions in the sky’s most famous song is not actually by Explosions in the Sky. The Texas quartet wrote and performed the score to Friday Night Lights, Peter Berg’s 2004 movie, but what you hear over the opening credits of its beloved, just-ending NBC spin-off, is a knockoff by veteran TV themesmith W.G. Snuffy Walden. “They asked us to do it,” says EITS guitarist/sometimes-bassist Michael James. “We didn’t know it was going to be a good show!”
The association has still helped. In the four years between 2007’s All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone and the new Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (Temporary Residence), Explosions in the Sky have taken wordless rock to unexpected heights. Sitting in the living room of his Austin home, James, 33, along with guitarist Munaf Rayani, 30, and drummer Christopher Hrasky, 37, figure that every time something cool happens — the movie, headlining New York’s 6,000-capacity Radio City Music Hall in April — that’s the best that it can get. “Let’s pause and think a second,” says Rayani. “We’re an instrumental act. On an indie label. From an underground scene. How lucky for us that this has become our lives?”
The band met cute in 1999 when James, Rayani, and Mark T. Smith, 36, skater friends originally from the barren West Texas oil city Midland (sister city to Odessa, where the book and movie Friday Night Lights take place), saw a flyer Hrasky put up in Austin’s Waterloo Records looking to form a “sad but triumphant” rock band — a description that still fits their music. They bonded over Wes Anderson’s first film, Bottle Rocket.
Milan Kundera once said, “All my books could be called The Unbearable Lightness of Being“; similarly, all songs by Explosions in the Sky sound like explosions in the sky. They don’t play art rock, just heart-swelling, lung-filling, three-guitars-and-a-drummer rock that, like any great pop music, isn’t always subtle. “It’s like reading a book versus seeing the movie,” says Rayani. “For us [the songs] mean specific things, and for someone listening they can mean specific things.”
And for some, they mean touchdowns. “I’m not a sports fan, but I remember watching highlights with post-rock guitar instrumental music over these slow-motion shots of football players,” says Brian Reitzell, music supervisor for the Friday Night Lights movie. “It’s triumphant and it’s emotional and that’s what sports are for.” (Explosions’ music has subsequently been used in the show.)
Take Care features six tracks over 46 minutes. “What’s always the hope for us,” says Hrasky, “is if we write a ten-minute song, it doesn’t feel like a ten-minute song.” “Trembling Hands” is certainly a departure — markedly up-tempo, a mere three minutes plus, it even starts with an “ah ah” sound that actually was produced by human voices. Other tracks, like “Be Comfortable, Creature,” have a more experimental, creepy feel. “No one’s going to be walking down the aisle to that song,” Hrasky happily notes, referring to the fact that “Your Hand in Mine,” from Friday Night Lights‘ soundtrack, has become a wedding staple.
“There’s a little more mystery,” says James. “We don’t always have the baseball bat out, like, ‘All right, ready to be happy? Bam! Ready to be sad? Bam!’?”
Of course, the fact that EITS are the most successful band of their kind doesn’t stop people from suggesting one improvement. Sometimes a fan will approach them and volunteer services as a singer or lyricist, just in case they’re looking.
“Oh, we have been,” Hrasky says. “Twelve years, we haven’t found anybody.”Rayani shakes his head. “Auditions have been going terribly.”