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Anathallo abandons concepts

Courtesy of Anathallo

March 18, 2008

Bret Wallin understands patience. In the last year, the Anathallo multi-instrumentalist has both broken into the top 50 Wii Madden 2008 players after four months of play (“It was just important to realize the importance of the ground game,” Wallin said.) and spent three months awaiting the release of his band’s as-of-yet untitled third album.

But while Wallin and the rest of the Chicago-based septet are eager to put out the follow-up to 2006’s Floating World, they have practical considerations in mind.

“It’d be the easiest thing in the world (to self-release the album), but I think it’s just interesting to try new things,” Wallin said. “If we would be able to find a home for the record that does, in a way, help your touring prospects.”

Trying new things seems to be the bands’ current direction. Though Anathallo’s last record was heavily based on a Japanese story involving ghosts, murder and a dog, Wallin said the band was ready to move away from concept-based records when it came to writing the new album.

“It was almost refreshing to have the slate clean and try different exercises,” Wallin said. “What would it be like to write each song and let it be what it ought to be and not to feel that pressure? I think it’s interesting to do that, get to around song five or six, start listening to the lyrics and realize there are these themes that are interesting, at least to us. These songs do speak to each other, but not nearly in the intentional way that Floating World worked.”

Even without the backing of a label, the band recorded its new album the way the members wanted to, free of any constraints (time, financial or otherwise) with the help of a Vicks commercial featuring its music.

“It was incredibly liberating,” Wallin said. “It changed the entire feel of what we were doing. And who knows if this will hurt the record, but it felt a little less desperate in the sense of we could be going down making this record, and it felt much more like a celebration that we’ve been a band for seven years.”

Wallin has plenty of cause to celebrate. In its seven-year history, Anathallo, originally from Mt. Pleasant, Mich., has played more than 15 national tours and completed its first UK tour last month. Anathallo’s unusual instrumentation, a reflection of the band’s open-mindedness, has also earned the band a healthy interest from fans. Scissors, balloons and bells make as much sense in the members’ hands as guitars and drums do.

Still, the heavy touring schedule the group has taken on has caused it to lose as many members as it currently features.

“There was one tour where financially we weren’t cutting it as well,” Wallin said. “We played this awful show with some eyeliner bands. We found a hotel parking lot ‘cause we thought it’d be the safest. Our drummer at the time speaks up, ‘Guys I think I’m leaving the band.’ That was a jump-off-the-cliff moment.”

Only three members, Wallin included, have stayed with Anathallo since the band’s inception. The new record will be the first to actually feature some of the band’s current musicians.

Wallin said the band has been positively shaped by its frequent lineup changes, and this seemingly unfortunate trend ultimately provides the lifeblood of Anathallo.

“I think the infusion of new talent, especially the infusion of people that are really excited to tour, has probably kept us doing this longer than if we had kept the same folks around,” Wallin said.

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