by Al Cordray

In the Pacific Northwest, there are still (and probably always will be) a top cream of special bands that remain well-kept secrets despite brandishing a balance of superb musicianship, exhaustive showmanship and amazing talent. Floater have been thinning the blood of West Coast concertgoers for almost a decade. Their unique concert experience has continually raised the bar of quality sonic output and crowd participation in the release of pent-up human emotion. Their latest album, Burning Sosobra, embodies this theme vividly, while taking the band into a more positive emotional direction.

The first time I saw Floater play, about four years ago, I was so stunned at how ferocious and delicately melodic they were that I stood immovable and stared, completely oblivious to the people, the bar and the rest of the world on its axis. I was much like the fans bassist/vocalist Rob Wynia describes late in this interview. But it changed something within me...cleaved a narrow exit on the lip of my boiling cauldron, and set my soul to pour out. Since then, I have yet to see an equally fulfilling show from other bands. The whip of aural and visual beauty, emotional peak and affiliation with thousands of their fans has often made their concerts the crux of my experience with popular music.

[ dave amador, pete cornett, rob wynia ]

I was able to kick around a few ideas in retrospect with Mr. Wynia, who was happy to turn off the stove and postpone dinner for a little over an hour to answer my questions.

You have a new album, Burning did this come about?

Rob Wynia: Well, that's a tough one to put into a short answer. We had a couple of songs that we had been playing for a while, and we started off with a couple more new songs, and then the folks at Elemental Records said, "Hey, do you want to do an EP?" And it didn't seem like it was a good idea to do an EP when we had enough ideas that we didn't really feel like we had fleshed out.

So rather than do an EP immediately we decided to work on some of these ideas that we had and flesh them out and rehearse them to the point where we felt like they were ready. It was good, because a lot of times you have a collection of songs that you've worked on kind of sporadically over a long period of time, but this record has a little bit more of a cohesive feel because all of the material on it was all practiced and crafted regularly. It was like, three days a week we'd just get together and work on the bridge of this song, and the chorus of that song and that kind of thing. It was definitely thought up as an album, which is a nice way to do it.

The cover of the album has a burning papier-mâché-type character. Did the band construct this guy?

Rob: For all intents and purposes, yeah. It was an idea of mine that I came up with, and I hired a guy who builds floats for the Rose Parade up here in Portland to construct this 30-foot effigy. He and I got together a few times and kinda did sketch work to iron out what it was going to be made of, how it was going to be built, where it was going to be built, what it was going to look like and all that. Then he set to work, and it's a framework that's welded out of iron, and then it's filled with straw and wrapped in flammable canvas.

Wow. What did he think when you approached him with the idea?

Rob: I think he thought it was a really good opportunity to get some work. [Laughter] I don't think float makers really get a lot of work. Once a year you get to make a float or something... He was really excited about that, that and most of the time they're asked to design something that's meant to go on a chassis and drive through town for an afternoon. I told him it has to be X feet high and flammable so we can burn it, but ideally it will have a metal core so that we can burn it and use it again in the future for film shoots and stuff like that. And then on top of that, it has to be stable enough that it can stand in the sand. What we did was we went in at low tide and put it up with trucks, and then when the tide came up and the waves were right behind it we started shooting.

[ burning sosobra ]

"Exiled" MP3

That's cool.

Rob: It was a blast. It was actually really amazing.

Where was it done?

Rob: On a beach up in Washington. We had to find a big stretch of deserted beach...which is harder and harder to find anymore.

Talk to me a little bit concerning the concept of Burning Sosobra.

Rob: What it comes from is there's a god called Zozobra in a lot of Mexican history. They have like a crossover of Mayan beliefs that when they met with Christianity they sort of created these altar gods, and Zozobra was one of them. Basically he (or she/it) is the god of bad luck. It's sort of a doom and gloom character that represents war, poverty, famine, violence...that kind of thing.

And once a year they would have festivals in the villages where they would build a great big effigy of Zozobra, and everyone would yell and scream at it, and throw stuff at it and everything, and then they would set it on fire, and once he had burned down, they'd party until dawn. The whole deal was it was supposed to expel all of their demons. It was sort of a way of getting rid of their bad luck so that they would have peace and prosperity for the rest of the year.

Where that came from was we had had several years as a band where, for a lot of reasons--and we can get into this a bit or not--a lot of things had gone really, really south on us, and we were incredibly miserable for a few years, and I'm amazed to this day that we struck through it all. But we ended up running into some new management, and our record label changed hands, and a lot of things we thought would end up really terrible ended up being really good. And we sort of pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and decided we were going to put out another record. Because of the attitude of those of us in the band, and what we felt like we'd come from, and where we were hoping we were going. We decided that that was a really suitable really fit. Actually the day of the shoot was a kind of tears of joy, very emotionally charged time...because we really saw it as, for Floater, like we were starting from scratch, like we were starting all over again.

So it embodied the accumulated garbage?

Rob: Yeah, we had really accumulated a lot of bad baggage, so when we did Burning Sosobra we just kind of threw it all out. We really threw caution to the wind in a lot of ways, and we tried a lot of new things we had never done. We were very experimental, and we had a lot of fun with it. Generally speaking, we've had a lot of, especially with the last few years, we've had a lot of what we had done be really dark. We started really exploring other areas and trying to kind of, just across the board as a band, get rid of a lot of our baggage and lighten up a little bit and try to take a more positive attitude.

[ floater at portland's crystal ballroom - photo by dave of murphy ]
photo by dave of murphy

Sounds positive.

Rob: Yeah, so that's really where it came from.

I'd noticed that sort of feel on songs like "Independence Day," and even "Equinox" has a positive vibe to it.

Rob: Yeah, well, all three of us had gone through a lot personally, emotionally and financially, and in every way we were really in the dumps before we started making this record. It was just like, one night we were all sitting around talking and everybody snapped. We said we're either going to quit and drown our sorrows and be miserable, or were gonna grab this whole thing by the throat and turn it around ourselves, so we decided to do the latter.

Seems like a positive way to go about it, dedicating an album to it.

Rob: It's been really great so far. I mean, the making of the record was just a lot of fun, and highly emotional, but in a different way. The photo shoot was great, and all of the CD release shows were a great experience. It was sort of our way of giving the finger to a lot of our...troubles.

The guitar work on this album seems a lot more pronounced.

Rob: We worked with this guy in the studio, Bill Barnett, who did a lot of the engineering and a lot of the production. He's a guitar player, and loves guitar, and when we were working with him he was really a stickler for getting the vocals and the guitar more out there. He was a real slave driver for getting good takes, [laughter] which is a really good thing--I mean, it's tough to deal with, but at the same time they're back there behind the glass cracking a whip on you to keep you doing well, you know, saying, "I know you can do better than that."

Dave did most of the guitar work on the record, and he definitely got the whip laid to him a few times and I think it brought out the best in him. And some of the other guitar work, Bill did some, and I did some, and Pete did was brought out a little more than it has in the past.

What would you say about Dave's role in writing the new album?

Rob: Everybody has their own way of influencing the final sound in any band. Dave, I think, reached some conclusions of his own, before we made Angels in the Flesh (and Devils in the Bone), the album before this one, that he really wanted to try some really "out there" ideas guitar-wise. So what we ended up with was a lot of times I'd come to him with a basic chord structure--you know, it goes A to B minor to G, and the chorus goes here, it goes D--and he would say, "Okay, knowing what the basic chord structure is, I'm going to try all these weird different special effects..." and picking patterns and all kinds of bizarre little...nuances that only he could think of. And he would kind of throw them in, and he definitely pulled that off.

I think on Angels he did an amazing job of that, and on Sosobra he did an amazing job of it. On the first two records, Sink and Glyph, he was looking consistently to do the heaviest thing he could, he was always looking for some kind of real heavy metal power chord type of thing, and that changed the sound of those records a lot. He has a huge influence on what the sound is going to be.

[ dave amador ]

"Independence Day" MP3

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