On the Tundra’s first album, “Electric Walls,” got its name from the annoying rehearsal room walls that sometimes shock the band members.
The current also makes its way into the instrumental band’s buzzing, effects-heavy sound.
“We try to keep it catchy and accessible without falling into the trap of sounding like other instrumental bands,” said University undergraduate and guitarist Mark Leahey.
As a founding member of the Detroit band, The Sights, Leahey has toured with the legendary indie rock band, Guided by Voices, and even with Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant.
Originally from Michigan, Leahey went to music school for three years at Wayne State before he moved to Eugene last year, where he started On the Tundra. The seven-piece indie rock band that took nearly half a year to assemble now plays about six gigs a month at house shows, night clubs and music venues.
On Saturday, On the Tundra opened for Electric Six at the WOW Hall. They started with the uplifting keyboard chimes and forward-marching drumming of “The Axe,” contrasting later with the more wavering, mystical tone of “Song 13” and heavier numbers.
“It’s really fun to dance to,” said Autumn Freedom, who dates the keyboard player.
“There was a lot of climax, but no crescendo. That one song just kind of dropped off,” said Matt Young when the amplifiers had stopped rocking back and forth, appeasing the fear that they would fall over onto the drummer, and On the Tundra headed to the WOW Hall green room couches to have some Newcastle Browns.
Guitar player Nic Gusset played violin and African rumba before finding a love for punk at age 12.
“We’re not formulaic. We try to mix creative pop with darker expression,” Gusset said. “It’s not necessarily a contradiction.”
The instruments-only path of On the Tundra was more appealing to some at the WOW Hall than to others.
“There’s no crappy singing. I like how they can stand alone without that,” Peter Vickory said.
But Aaron Drake just didn’t get it.
“I wanted to know what his voice was like,” Drake said.
Leahey often gets this response.
“We always hear, ‘You’d be so much better with a singer,’ but it’s not like we’re just doing it to be different. It’s just specifically, that’s the kind of music we like,”he said.
When Leahey listens to music with vocals, he rarely ever pays attention to what they’re saying, but how they’re saying it.
“I listen to it as an instrument. You sort of have to think about it more cerebrally. There’s not as much to latch on to,” Leahey said.
To carry a big voice without a vocalist, the band currently has seven members. But On the Tundra is still expanding, as Leahey plans to add another drummer, a horn section and
strings into the already instrument-heavy line-up.
“Being able to do all of that without sounding messy is the trick,” he said.
The long-form, improvisational style is complemented by Leahey’s nearly 20 effects pedals that he carries on stage when he performs.
“It’s all to expand the sound as much as possible,” Leahey said. During his creative process, Leahey records ideas and then plays alongside them to build new layers.
“(Effects pedals) allow for a lot of creativity because you can pretty much make your guitar sound however you want it to. I feel like I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface with the option that those things provide,” said Leahey, who plays a mid-1990s Fender Jag-Stang.
In August, the band launched a California tour after recording its first album in June. The band is now trying to get “Electric Walls” released on a label.
“It can be stressful to do all of that,” said Leahey, who is married with two kids. “But it’s really the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do.”
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