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"There was one fight called Soup vs. Sandwich.' Basically like a can of soup fighting this sandwich, essentially. A totally weird, weird sporting event." John Schmersal, creator of Enon, is talking about a show his band played in Boston a few months back. They opened for something known as the Kaiju Big Battel, an indescribable amalgam of Japanese monster movies and pro wrestling that has a rabid, cultlike fan base in Boston. "These guys dress up in insanely cumbersome outfits and wrestle," he explains. "It was fun, but it was way more of a sporting event than rock event."
Sport event, rock show either way, it got the band a little notice in the New Yorker. And it's not the only notice Enon has gotten for its delayed sophomore effort, High Society, after a year of music-business red tape. With some personnel adjustments and a new deal with Touch and Go records, Enon is set to pick up where it left off.
The band first threw its hat into the ring with 1999's Believo!, released by the promising but now defunct label See Thru Broadcasting. Run by Dave Sardy, who gained notice as a producer for such disparate acts as System of a Down and Marilyn Manson, the label appeared to be a safe haven for up-and-coming, left-of-center bands. See Thru paid for and recorded Enon's follow-up, High Society, which was slated for release in June of last year.
Unfortunately, the label went out of business before the album could be released. When See Thru fell through, High Society, a delightfully twisted and fragmented pop record, was lost in the void and so was the band. Unable to continue touring behind Believo!, and with the second album finished but unreleased, Enon was effectively sent into forced retirement.
"We waited from last June until this June, doing nothing," says Schmersal of the downtime. "It was kind of like the longer we waited, the less we could do. We'd already done a shitload of touring on Believo!, and we couldn't really afford to tour on that record anymore until we had something else out. It was very frustrating, to say the least."
But Schmersal has hit hard times in music and life before and has shown great resilience. Enon itself was created from the ashes of Dayton, Ohio's high-fashion sound freaks Brainiac. Back in 1997, when Schmersal was the band's guitarist and was flirting with stardom, major labels courted Brainiac heavily but the band's potential was cut short that same year, when founder and lead vocalist Tim Taylor died in a car accident.
That's when Schmersal saw an opportunity for a solo project, an outlet for ideas that never were fleshed out in Brainiac. The solo idea slowly grew into Enon an experiment merging sound manipulation, pop sensibilities and quiet discord. Today it seems to be more of a musical place or idea than a band with a fixed lineup of players.
Enon has seen several personnel changes since its inception, as well as different incarnations as a touring and recording group. People have come and go, all amicably, but the band's membership now has held steady for a couple of years. The latest evolution of Enon features Schmersal taking on most of the vocal and guitar duties. Toko Yasuda plays bass, helps with songwriting and sings, while fellow Ohioan Matt Schulz plays the drums. The other player on High Society, noisemaster/sonic manipulator Rick Lee, whose homemade instruments and sound treatments brought a lot to the album, opted not to stay with Enon after recording, preferring instead to play the musical field.
When asked how the trio compensates for Lee's absence while playing live, Schmersal explains that, at first, the live shows were "kind of like a pickup game. I used to run around a lot more, like a wild Indian onstage, you know, like a chicken with my head cut off, and antagonize the audience. There's a lot less of that going on now, because I am playing guitar more than I was. It's caused us to be a lot tighter just in general, because it's all about the bare essentials. At first, it was frustrating, for sure." He adds, "But I don't think you'll notice."
The image of Enon opening for a bunch of humans dressed as monsters wrestling each other for entertainment gets close to the essence of the band's music. All monster-movie kitsch and po-mo genre inversion, Enon understands the need for serious fun. "There are a lot of people out there that take their thing too seriously, and not that I don't take music seriously, you know, but we definitely have a sense of humor about it," he explains.
"We make fun of our own songs and other people's all the time. Sometimes you make fun of somebody's song, they will get gravely offended, but it's totally open for it. I mean, it's just music."
The man behind Enon found himself branching out into other areas of music for fun and profit. As a paying gig, Schmersal worked on creating music for cartoons. The music, first incidental, has evolved into something else. "I'm writing theme songs for cartoons this company is developing. They are making up cartoon properties, and I make the theme song for it or a couple of songs and they try to sell the whole idea, like for a pilot to somebody.
"I'm into it, but I wish that it felt like it was a little more viable, because it's not like I'm working for Cartoon Network or somebody," he goes on. "I work on things that don't really exist. I like writing these songs, but I wish it were a little closer to what you might imagine. I think our music is way more off-the-cuff and crazier-sounding and more cartoonlike than the songs I'm actually writing for cartoons."
He's right: Enon's music could be the soundtrack for a dark dance club in some cartoon parallel universe. High Society is a 41-minute, 15-song, surreal tour encompassing straight-up rockers, big-keyboard pop songs and fun-house experimentation. Experimental but not indulgent, the songs don't pussyfoot around: They appear fully formed, explore the tensions of technology and organic sound, lay down a few hooks and disappear.
Schmersal's slurry, unaffected but often treated vocals range from song to song, adapting to enhance the environment. If comparisons must be made, his voice calls to mind midphase Lou Barlow or even (eek!) Beck.
In the past, vocal duties were handled solely by Schmersal, but on Society, there are more colors in Enon's palette, thanks to Yasuda's stylishly girly voice. Yasuda, ex of the art-rock discord masters Blonde Redhead, allows Enon to stretch into new territory. In fact, some of the album's best tracks are skewed '80s, big-keyboard, melted dance numbers with Yasuda on lead mike.
"Carbonation," a nasty, catchy pop number sung by Schmersal, is a good metaphor for the use of samples and treated sounds that permeate this release. They bubble past, adding to the texture, but they don't feel like studio gimmickry or a musical crutch rather more of an accent.
From solo project to touring act to trio, Enon is now the product of a collaborative process. "If anybody has an idea," says Schmersal, "show your idea and take it to its logical course, and if your idea runs out of steam, and you basically don't know where else to go with it, then other people get to have their input about it. We've been pretty lucky. Usually the feeling's pretty mutual about stuff. It has been a pretty easy collaborative process."
While collaborations are okay, there is another tool many bands use to create new songs, and Enon is not fond of it. "We don't usually jam out our songs very much, and I think that not jamming actually makes the songwriting process go faster," Schmersal explains. "I mean, a lot of bands are really good at jamming, mind you, maybe it's more organic. But I think it takes longer to write songs by jamming, usually."
And just in case you were thinking about dropping the name Enon on your less musically endowed friends, here's a little guide: Enon named for a town just outside of Dayton is not pronounced e-NON but more like E-nun. This according to whoever answered the phone at the Enon Government Center, in Enon, Ohio.