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One of those did-you-know stories I remember being told as a kid was about the Dead Sea, that it’s so salty that you can just float outstretched on top and read a book without getting it wet. Pure X’s music feels like that, thick with a sultry saltiness – in ever sense – and lean-into-me heat. The first and only time I’ve seen them play was at our SXSW party back in March. The sun had set by the time they took to the rooftop stage but they radiated the day’s 90+ degrees back at us.
The Austin, Texas based trio – Nate Grace, Jesse Jenkins and Austin Youngblood – have been making tripped out, ecstatic grunge music together since spring 2009. “I had been jamming by myself for a year or two prior to that, but I’d had been hanging around Jesse and Austin for a while,” writes Nate. “Jesse and I had played in a band that fizzled out pretty quickly. Austin and I had roomed and skated together for a while. I was getting tired of playing music by myself so I asked the dudes to jam with me. We recorded a tape that first week and played a show or two. Things were sounding good so we kept playing together and eventually decided to give the band a name and start releasing records under that name.”
That easiness – just getting together, recording a tape, playing some shows – is central to Pure X. It’s due in part to the world they’ve created in Austin, inhabited and nourished by their wide circle of friends and fellow musicians that include Sleep ∞ Over, Survive and Troller. (Incidentally, there’s a wonderful feature about Pure X and the Austin scene over on The Fader.) There’s a beautiful simplicity – and, yes, a purity – to their music and their attitude that just feels right. It’s kinda summed up something they said on their Twitter the other day: “the way we use the word “success” is meaningless. the only real success i can forsee is to be able to die with a smile on your face.”
After a handful of EPs and 7“s, Acephale finally released their debut album ‘Pleasure’ in the UK on Monday. The whole record’s a keeper but Surface, Struck Livin and Heavy Air in particular chime with the slow, growling ache of those things we call loving and living. I dropped the band a few questions last week, here’s how they went down.
Excuse the punning but ‘Pleasure’ was a long time coming… How come?
Nate, Pure X: Well, we had the whole name change thing which took a little while to figure out and was a real pain in the ass. We also had to figure out who was gonna put the record out. And then when all that was done we had to wait for the whole industry machine to get rolling. But it is out there now and I’m happy for that. I would have liked it to come out sooner, but you know, it came out when it was meant to come out and I’m fine with that.
I love the album. Are you happy with it? Is it what you intended it to be?
Nate, Pure X: I’m generally happy with it. I don’t think i could make anything that I’m completely happy with, but I like certain aspects of the record a lot and I’m glad that it was actually finished and was pressed onto such beautiful vinyl. I never intended it to be anything but an actual living, breathing “album” and I feel like we accomplished that. To me it is a cohesive work that speaks to a certain period of my life- so for that I am thankful.
“The inspiration came from being alive and living through these songs. We would have made the album whether you or anyone else gave a shit.” Nate, Pure X
Jesse, Pure X: I agree. We took our time and did it exactly how we wanted and, to me, it worked. It’s nice to have that moment in time be packed up and shrink wrapped and finished.
What drove the creation of it, got you in the studio and inspired you to make it?
Nate, Pure X: This is just what we do. This is what we were born to do and I suppose that is the only motivation I’ll ever need. The inspiration came from being alive and living through these songs. We would have made the album whether you or anyone else gave a shit.
Seeing you live was my highlight of SXSW. There seems to be little separation between how you sound live and on record. Is that something you strive for?
Nate, Pure X: Not necessarily. We recorded the album live because that was what we were feeling at the time. I was sick of hearing all this super thought out, tracked out, boring ass computer music everywhere and I wanted something that had some fucking life in it, some gamble for christ’s sake. We also had very little money to pay for studio time, so we had to bang shit out when we got the chance. We worked with what we had and I think we did a pretty good job.
Jesse, Pure X: Both our live sound and recorded sound are changing a lot right now. We’ve gotten more focused and potent live because we’re more in tune with each other’s style. We play as loud as possible and none of us ever open our eyes.
Pleasure, ecstasy, purity…these are very present, clear themes in your music. Is that what music means to you, what life means?
Nate, Pure X: Music is spirituality, it’s sexuality, it’s transcendence by way of lyric, voice, melody, rhythm, sound. It’s this dance that we do while we still can dance. Pleasure, ecstasy, purity – those ideas are directly related to the act of making music but I wouldn’t say that they entirely encapsulate the thing. Especially this thing we call life. I mean who knows what the hell that’s all about.
“Music is spirituality, it’s sexuality, it’s transcendence by way of lyric, voice, melody, rhythm, sound.” Nate, Pure X
You also play with the pleasure/pain thing in your Easy video. Is that (pain/pleasure, not S&M) something you see as part of Pure X’s identity? As part of the process of making music?
Nate, Pure X: I see it as just the way the universe is designed. Light and dark are inexorably intertwined – you can’t have one without the other. You can’t experience pleasure without feeling pain, you cannot know ecstasy without knowing despair. A lot of bad art is made by ignoring part of the equation. We’re looking at the whole thing and reflecting it for what it is.
I loved your Chain Reflection record, and the love that had gone into the art/creation of it. Pleasure is also stunning. How important was the presentation of this album to you – the heavyweight, pink splash vinyl and the gold foil, embossed sleeve?
Nate, Pure X: The presentation of a record is very important to us. I’ve been into vinyl since I was 15 and I can appreciate well thought out artwork and packaging. If done right I think it takes a record to another level. A big reason why we decided to work with Patrik [from Acephale] is because he takes that stuff just as serious as we do. A bad looking record is a disgrace.
Jesse, Pure X: If you’re going to take time to make a physical product, it has to look good. The presentation is almost as important to us as the sound. I see so much design, especially on records, that makes me cringe. I also see a lot of records that I buy based on the packaging alone. I want to make lasting records that people will come across years from now after the internet is gone and be genuinely intrigued by.
“I want to make lasting records that people will come across years from now after the internet is gone and be genuinely intrigued by.” Jessie, Pure X
Despite my very limited, one-visit experience of Austin, you encapsulated the city for me. Do you feel very Austin? How does your city influence you?
Nate, Pure X: I’ve lived here for going on 12 years, so i guess that makes me an “Austinite”? I’d say the pace down here, and in all of the south generally, is pretty slow – no one is in a rush to do much of anything. Maybe it’s because it’s so hot down here. But I feel like I really notice it when I go to big cities like New York. Everyone there is bumping into each other, they have like 50 projects going at once, they wanna talk about all the great shit they are doing. Then I get back to Austin and I can just feel the time shift. I step off the plane and I’m like, “alright, back in Texas, let’s get a fucking margarita.” But at the same time I get bored here a lot. The scene is tiny and you end up seeing the same people everywhere. So that type of shit motivates me to get out as much as possible. But then after a bit I always miss Austin and end up coming right back and going through the whole cycle again.
Jesse, Pure X: Yeah I’ve been here almost 10 years. I’ve talked to a lot of people from all over that have this velvet chain Slacker vision of Austin. There’s definitely an element of that. Living here is easy as hell which makes it easy to become complacent, but I see it more as an easy place to focus – especially focus on art. And yeah this is a small city and you gotta watch out for trolls of the past, but on the other hand there is almost no pressure to be socially involved here. Some of the best art in the world is being made here, but there is way less of a self-important “I must impress u” attitude.
Can you tell me a bit about Brain Club? How is the next release coming along and who is going to feature on?
Jesse, Pure X: Brain Club is a 12” vinyl compilation series that my friend Kyle Dixon [from Austin band Survive] and I started. We’re putting together the 2nd edition now. I’m not gonna say who all is on it right now but I can tell you that there are some NUGGETS. Look for it late this year or early next.
“The dream is to make music as intuitive as breathing or crying. To be able to communicate ideas and emotions directly through music with no translation.” Jesse, Pure X
What are your dreams with Pure X?
Nate, Pure X: To just keep upping the bar. To keep maxing out the next level until we make the perfect record. Then make like 4 more.
Jesse, Pure X: The dream is to make music as intuitive as breathing or crying. To be able to communicate ideas and emotions directly through music with no translation.
And what’s next for you?
Jesse, Pure X: We’re coming to UK/EU for the first time in November. Can’t wait to see this jewelry collection.
Nate, Pure X: Yea, real stoked on coming over there. We’re also working on some recordings that will hopefully see the light of day before too long.