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Making it Epic: Sitting in with Empty Space Orchestra 

click to enlarge Lindsey, you forgot your glasses.
  • Lindsey, you forgot your glasses.
Lindsey, you forgot your glasses.
About a story underground and lounging amongst scattered drum cases and other instruments, the entirety of Empty Space Orchestra is gathered in silence while a surging whirlwind of an instrumental rock song thunders through the room. Lindsey Elias is tapping her feet with the rapidity of the last bounces of a ping-pong ball, matching the complex rhythms booming from the computer speakers, which makes sense, because she's the drummer.

Leaning back in a chair in front of a computer supplying the aforementioned song, Shane Thomas unleashes a grin from the side of his mouth as a heavily distorted guitar melts into the song, which makes sense because he's the guitarist. Bassist, and the band's newest member, Patrick Pearsall and keyboardist Keith O'Dell stare at the floor, taking in the song, which they tell me is called "Clouds."

This is a live recording of a recent rehearsal in the underground practice space that they share with a number of other local bands, but the new sound of Empty Space Orchestra comes through clear. It's a tougher, bigger, beefier, faster sound than on the exclusively instrumental debut disc, Big Bang, which it should be mentioned, won't hit the streets until the band's McMenamins show on May 6. A band starkly changing its sound after only a year in existence isn't typical, and perhaps not particularly wise, but for Empty Space, a staggeringly unique rock/jazz/everything else band that's achieved almost un-rivaled popularity in Bend, it's all understandable.

"A lot of times people think they need to follow a set of rules to get people to like them. But we just do what we want and people seem to like it," says Thomas.

If there is a rulebook for popularity, ESO certainly has never read it because there are probably chapters on keeping a steady lineup, creating catchy lyrics (or lyrics period) and playing a style of music that people can easily identify with. Although instrumental, the band isn't dishing out free form jazz or noodly jam cuts. Rather, ESO hangs its hat on spandex-tight numbers that are remarkably scripted with each change meticulously crafted and locked into the band's collective memory. This isn't simple stuff.

"We really try to make it epic. We're not trying to make the verse-chorus-verse-chorus songs," says Thomas.

This winter, ESO played a free show at McMenamins and not only filled the room but sent people, many of whom seemed to have showed up for a first glimpse of the act, into the hallways. The quick local rise to recognition for ESO, who range in age from 20 to 29, is difficult to pin down, considering bands in neither their age bracket or style have fared all that well before them. But O'Dell offers an idea.

"We've played music together for so long that we're noticeably tight and people respect that," says O'Dell.

Pearsall, who joined the band only two months ago following the departure of saxophonist Graham Jacobs to Costa Rica, seems a little stirred up when discussing how the band is referred to - once in this very publication - as "wiz kids" or any other label that points out their age.

"Yeah, they're young, but so what? It's not like they're twelve or something," Pearsall says with a hint of vitriol that disappears when his "wiz kid" bandmates crack up.

The band has also been pegged for another reason, and that's because their hurricane of a drummer is a woman. Hence, "that band with the killer chick drummer" could probably serve as a second name for ESO, should they ever need one. But Elias doesn't seem to mind, gladly chatting with fans after shows and hardly apologizing for the absolute rage with which she attacks her kit.

"Since middle school I've been the drummer girl, so it doesn't bother me," says Elias.

ESO's tightnesst formed in the music department of Summit High School where the band's founding members - Elias, Thomas and O'Dell - served as the rhythm section for the school's jazz band. Coincidentally, the bass player in the Summit band was Pearsall's younger brother. Thomas and Elias - who've long been dating - were then in the psychedelic rock band Pater Familias before they decided not to move down to Ashland with the rest of the band.

Inside jokes run rampant through the group on this warm afternoon in this underground bastion of Bend's music scene and it's rather obvious that this isn't a rare occurrence. Sarcastic as hell and witty to boot, the members of ESO seem to get along more like childhood friends than an emerging rock band. But Elias says there have been times during rehearsals when that hasn't been the case.

"There were some times in the beginning when I'd be in the corner thinking, 'Oh my God, these two are going to rip each other's heads off,'" says Elias, referring to Thomas and O'Dell, both of whom burst into laughter once again.

"Yeah and you'd always be on his side," O'Dell says, pointing to Thomas.

"Hey, that's not true," Elias protests, spinning from side to side on her drum stool.

The same goofy laughter spills out through the dungeon-like confines of the practice space and it's clear that any such feuding has since passed. And that's good, because it seems this crew might be together for a while to come.

Empty Space Orchestra
7pm Wednesday, May 6. McMenamins Old St. Francis School, Fr. Luke's Room. Free. All ages.


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