New York City-based experimental duo Blues Control is made up of Russ Waterhouse and Lea Cho. Cho is a classically trained pianist. Waterhouse, a self-taught musician, started playing guitar and keyboards, and he began experimenting with home recording in high school. As a teen, he was a fan of Miles Davis’ electric era and free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman. After attending college in New York City, Waterhouse says, “I had access to a lot of different kinds of music.” He played in indie rock bands, dabbled in the city’s noise-art scene and got into hip hop. None of those genres prepare a listener for Blues Control’s 2012 release Valley Tangents (Drag City Records), but Waterhouse’s DIY ethos and Cho’s classical training definitely contribute to the duo’s unique and confounding sound — music described by Waterhouse as “psychedelic instrumental rock.”
Blues Control finds inspiration through jam sessions but also by sharing new music with one another. “We’re excited by music we’re listening to at the time,” Waterhouse explains. The musicians sometimes ask each other: “What if we were to combine this one thing we’re excited about with this other thing we’re excited about? What would that sound like?” Sometimes the duo builds music around a simple beat. “We start writing songs just for the sake of having new material in our live set. Things develop slowly, we might have an idea — we might even start performing it live. If it has potential we’ll use it on an album.”
Valley Tangents is a record that is intriguingly all over the musical map: “Love’s A Rondo” is almost a straight-ahead jazz track, Cho’s nimble piano playing recalls Vince Guaraldi or Keith Jarrett while Waterhouse floats blissfully fuzzed-out and melodic guitar work over the leisurely tempo; “Iron Pigs” is a somewhat different story, propelled along by a marching tempo (think tripped-out elephants on parade), layers of cascading noise coalesce into ’70s-era synthesized horns and a progressive rock guitar melody. Soon it all settles down into a spacey and infectious groove.
Playing in a band as diverse as Blues Control has taught Waterhouse to never generalize about an audience’s response: “Every audience is different, depends on the city,” Waterhouse says. “Sometimes you play to an audience who is expecting something avant-garde.” How will Eugene audiences react when Blues Control comes to town?
Blues Control plays with Statue + Cowboy and JLS 8 pm Tuesday, Nov. 19, at Wandering Goat; $5 suggested cover.