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November 21, 1996 * Vol. 6, No. 47

Autonomy vs. Shame

Rebels Without a Pause

by John Sewell

There's a good chance you haven't heard of Autonomy Vs. Shame. Instead of following the usual routes to local popularity (i.e. playing in clubs, schmoozing, and hoping for that pie-in-the-sky big break that never comes), these guys have adopted a different approach, building a following through playing word-of-mouth shows at parties in living rooms all over town, as well as playing out-of-town shows in equally unlikely places. This hands-on assault of the music scene has netted the band a reputation as being rebels, a characterization they don't feel is really applicable.

"A lot of people have said that we're a rebel band and that we're against this or against that," says guitarist Eric Bliss. "We're not really against anything, we're just for us and we're for the scene..."

Rebels or not, almost everything these guys do is somehow a departure from the standard rock 'n' roll configuration. Members Matthew Hall and David Basford switch their guitar and bass duties during any given set; Hall, Basford, and Bliss switch off on vocals, sometimes employing all three in the course of a song. Drummer Wolfgang Coleman occasionally switches from using drumsticks to mallets in quieter passages. In the world of Autonomy Vs. Shame, experiments and innovation result in a band that is constantly evolving.

The band's different approach carries over into the construction of their music. As opposed to the usual technique of a lone singer/songwriter, all of Autonomy Vs. Shame's songs are group compositions--a democratic songwriting process resulting in music that is textured and multifaceted. Their songs encompass a range of sounds and emotions, going from quiet, pretty passages to jarring discordance in a matter of seconds. The result of this aural complexity is a sound comparable to Jawbox, Thumbnail, Today Is The Day, or Fugazi in their more experimental moments.

These comparisons invariably lead to the conclusion that Autonomy Vs. Shame is yet another "emo" band, a niche that they don't necessarily want to be lumped in.

"I guess we could be considered emo, but I don't want to be stuck in a category where there's a certain crowd that comes to the shows," says Sinclair. "I invite people to take a chance and come see us. Maybe it's emo and maybe it's not. Maybe you'll like emo. That term means different things to different people."

"I think the term emo is pretty elastic," says Coleman. "I don't necessarily reject the label, but I don't embrace it either. We didn't get together and say, 'We're going to start an emo band.' People could also say we're a hardcore band. I've heard people call us math rock, too, but that's a very dismissive term I think."

"My biggest focus in music is to explore what I feel inside," adds Bliss. "I mean, I don't want to sound cheesy, 'cause I'm being sincere. Basically my music is an expression of me. I mean, it is emotional music, so if someone wants to call it that, that's okay."

The band will be releasing a split single with Chicago's Assembly Line People Program on the Constructive Interference label, which should be available within the next three weeks. True to form, the guys recorded the single on a four-track in their tiny practice space instead of going to a studio.

Autonomy Vs. Shame has had many excursions from Knoxville, performing in Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, and St. Louis, booking out-of-town shows through personal connections, and often playing in unconventional spaces.

"Traveling is always a problem because we don't have a van and we have to take several cars on the road," says Bliss.

"But we'll do it anyway because we love getting out and playing," says Coleman. "We lose gobs of money, but it's worth it because of what we get out of it personally."

As the band gains popularity, it is becoming harder to continue playing informal venues. "I think we'll eventually reach that critical point where we have to play in clubs on a real stage, just so people can see us," says Coleman.

Bliss agrees that the band may have to opt for bigger venues, but for now, he prefers intimate spaces. "I think I'll always feel more comfortable playing without a stage. I prefer to play among the audience without any barrier between us."

The band's main focus is to create the most intense musical experience possible. "I want people to go away from seeing us play saying 'damn, that was awesome,' no more, no less," says Bliss.

"We want to hit people in the face with our music," adds Sinclair. "We want people to walk away from the show feeling like they got their money's worth and that they really got something out of the show. My main goal is to get the music out to as many ears as possible, by whatever means necessary."

© Metro Pulse