a Q&A with Irata

Back in 2010, the Greensboro, NC-based trio Irata released their impressive self-titled full-length debut, which landed on this site’s best of list that year. The band released the follow-up to the effort, Vultures, earlier this month through Silber Records, and the album reveals a band that has gone through a series of changes – both lineup and sonically. I spoke to the band about the new effort, their lineup changes and more right as the album was released.

WRH: How did the band form?  

I: Drummer Jason Ward and bassist Jon Case met through mutual friends in 2007. Current guitarist Cheryl Hall was found (though we don’t recommend this method!) through a Craigslist ad, and began playing with the band in 2011.

WRH: How did you come up with the name of the band?  

I: Check out the definition on www.urbandictionary.com.  ‘Nuff said.

WRH: Who are the band’s influences?  

I: I’d say we’re heavily influenced by bands like Tool, The Melvins, and Jane’s Addiction.

WRH: How would you describe your sound?  

I: Well, when people ask what we sound like I usually say, “Loud,” and that’s half the truth.  Dynamic, aggressive and powerful are pretty accurate descriptions.

WRH: Your newest album, which Silber Media released the other day, is a sonic departure from the band’s self-titled release. Irata is more along the lines of instrumental prog rock while the new album, Vultures is more along the lines of hard rock/heavy metal. The saxophones are gone and there’s more of an emphasis on vocals. What brought that about? Was it a concerted effort to change things up or did it come about organically?  

I: We are very proud of and still enjoy the first record; the idea to add vocals came because we felt there was only so much interest a band can draw as an instrumental group.  We tried out several singers, but could never find quite the right fit, so we just taught ourselves how to sing.  The sax left when the lineup changed again in 2009.  I can’t say we had a solid vision for the new sound, but guitarist Cheryl Hall’s strong rhythmic style and metal influences seemed like just the perfect fit.  It’s a sound we are all very pleased with.

WRH:H ow does the songwriting process work with you guys? Is it collaborative or does one member have the framework and everyone fleshes the idea out? And has that changed with the new album? How was it like to actually record songs with vocals and lyrics for the first time?  

I: For the Vultures EP, bassist Jon Case had main riffs and skeletons for the songs.  We play the riffs over and over; we re-write and re-re-write until the song feels right.  The process is collaborative in that everybody gives input as to what does or does not feel good about the songs, and we don’t just settle.  We’ll modify a song hundreds of times until we’re sure it will kick your ass!  Recording vocals was a little unnerving, but we had played the songs so many times in rehearsals and shows that it wasn’t too much of a stretch.  I still get chills listening to the end result on the EP.

WRH: I understand that there have been a number of lineup changes  – the band is currently a duo right? – how does that impact the live show? In other words, if I stumble onto Irata at my local little venue, how do you guys recreate your sound live? 

I: Irata has actually re-evolved into the three piece lineup that you hear on the EP.  While we were recording, we did put some elements into the tracks that can’t be reproduced live- like guitar overdubs and some stuff on keys- but you’ll find that the live show is quite similar to the album.

WRH: The band is based in Chapel Hill, NC, and I was curious to know two things: how is the music scene there? And what has been the response to your sound there? [ED Note: On occasion, a mistake is made here during an interview and here I managed to confuse Greensboro, NC and Chapel Hill, NC. I haven’t a clue how that happened but it did. Ooops!]  

I: We are actually based out of Greensboro, NC.  As far as the music scene in Greensboro, we really wish there were greater diversity in the types of bands that play here, as well as a greater reception for local bands. We’re pretty stumped as to why Greensboro residents don’t go out for live music more than they do, given the talented local acts in the are and the emphasis on the arts.  That being said, the response has been really good; a lot of people knew us from the “Irata” sound- with the sax and instrumentals- and the first show we played the new material I think I can be pretty confident in saying we blew a lot of people away.

WRH: What advice do you have for independent musicians who are trying to make it now?

I: Well, first I would ask musicians to define for themselves what the term ‘making it’ means.  Do you really want to tour and be on the road constantly, or do you want to release an album or two and play locally?  Do you want to pay your bills with music or do it for fun?  All of it is possible, you just have to know what you’re going for.  Additionally, I know you always hear this, but seriously: work hard.  Practice.  Get your sound tight.  Then go out and network; talk to people, hand out demos, fliers; play whatever shows you can for exposure; learn from your mistakes.  The thing about having goals is that you have to work to meet them, but it will be worth it when you get to do what you’ve always wanted to.