Around the back of Tempe's Cartel Coffee Lab, just after 8 one night, the members of Chandler's Draa sit in a perfectly lined formation along the farthest perimeter of the alley, looking like they just got shot down by their prom dates. That wouldn't seem too farfetched considering the fact that two-thirds of the band just recently finished high school.
The coffee shop is, quite predictably, packed with bohemian undergrads waxing poetic on current events or effectively lassoed to laptops by earbuds. My quest for an iced toddy led to the fast realization as to why my current company were staring at their shoes in the alley five minutes ago, and the group of us were back in the comparatively serene parking lot as fast as I could humanly touchscreen my gratuity amount.
On the topic of staring at shoes, that's always one of the first words I hear when asking around about Draa: "You mean that shoegaze band?" Draa's percussionist, Seth Ponzo, is quick to comment on the designation.
"We don't really identify with the current 'nu-gaze' thing going on right now," he says, referring to the spike in popularity of the reverbed-out atmospheric brand of rock pioneered long ago by legends like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive.
"We don't really relate to the bands that are kind of paving the way with the revamping of that style. We are just a band that got interested in effects pedals and the tone possibilities they create," guitarist and vocalist MacAndrew Martin adds as bassist Matthew Johnson nods in agreement.
The "nu-gaze" revivalism spearheaded by bands like Pennsylvania's Nothing has been catching major hype over the past couple of years, as well as some controversy culminating most recently in a long string of transphobic and sexist tweets made by the unapologetically foul-mouthed Bay Area band Whirr toward the politically fired Olympia hardcore band G.L.O.S.S. The social media faux pas resulted in Whirr's getting dropped by its record label.
"We wrote and recorded an entire album not too long ago that sounded absolutely nothing like the material we're working with now," Martin continues, halfway talking into his sleeve in a meek voice. "We sat on it and decided that it didn't live up to what we really wanted to play. We're really just trying to progress as much as possible, so any comparisons to what's happening in the larger scope of music is coincidental, I guess."
In the theme of not releasing albums, don't bother trying to look up Draa's music online. You'll just find yourself staring at a river in Morocco from which the band's name derives (nobody in the band really seems to know why). Save for a mostly sparse Facebook page, Draa has no web trail and, more importantly, no music to stream or download. The group released a two-song live cassette in a pitifully small run of 25 tapes to coincide with a show in Flagstaff not long ago. That being the exception, the band seems to be nearly anthrophobic about its music.
It may seem strange within the confines of the digital age that a band can exist without haphazardly throwing out stocking-stuffer songs all over the Internet, yet Draa seems to be doing things the old-fashioned way, which means bringing its live performance game hard and letting the chips fall where they may. Over the course of the first and only year of its existence, Draa has made a stir playing university parties and events around Tempe and downtown Phoenix, leading to the band climbing onto larger bills with the likes of Broken Water, Soft Kill, Drab Majesty, Holy Drug Couple, and Wax Idols.
"We don't really identify with the current 'nu-gaze' thing going on right now." — Draa percussion Seth Ponzo
For a younger band to be gaining so much attention this quickly based solely on the merit of live performance and word of mouth is virtually unheard of in 2015 and speaks volumes to the level of musicianship and power these individuals are capable of achieving.
In a live setting, the band antes up with the best of them when it comes to creating an atmosphere. Their pedal-driven dream-pop trances are woven together with precise interludes of noise and effects freakouts that leave audiences bewildered as to what exactly is going on. Yet the madness is always reeled back to a cohesive structure before the ambient placeholders begin to border on over-indulgence.
Martin's somewhat hushed vocals fight for attention within the larger scope of the songs at times, but never in a manner that leads you to believe something is "off." He admits to utilizing a different approach to singing aimed at crafting a tone that, from an instrumental standpoint, fits best within a song. Though this isn't an entirely new concept, he makes it work well without neglecting his duty as a lyricist. "I'm not a singer by nature, so when it came time for me to do vocals in a band, I more or less took a different approach," Martin offers as the topic slides through our admittedly aimless interview agenda.
"Bands seem to sprout up every week and then suddenly have two entire LPs' worth of music up online without having even played a show. That sort of thing has just never really been our goal. We just want to write a record that we are proud of," Ponzo states, referring to the yet-to-be-titled album they recently finished recording. Whether the band will actually let anyone listen to it cannot be presently confirmed; nonetheless, there is a release show planned for Saturday, November 28, at The Rebel Lounge, with a lineup to be announced shortly.
As to where Draa is heading in the near future no one in the band seems entirely certain, and the members' collective interest doesn't seem to be piqued toward any one goal. As the music world seems to fall further and further into pits of pretension, Draa is an increasingly rare representation of what younger bands should aspire to be: inspired, driven, uncompromising, poised, and focused. The concept of quality over quantity is an increasingly rare bird in these woods, and whether or not it's consciously understood to the community at large, Draa's tactic is proving effective.
From my peripheral vision, I notice the parking lot's security guard placing a ticket on the windshield of my car (I'm in a one-hour spot), and the citation seems to organically cap my conversation with the group. As we walk over and I give a hardly enthusiastic apology to the rent-a-badge, I'm rewarded with an unexpected wave of thanks and appreciation from the band for my taking the opportunity to interview them.
Gratitude? Are these dudes from Mars? Can they publish a training manual for this generation's bands, who seem to think that they're owed the world on a silver platter because they threw together some garbage demos that achieve nothing other than to add to the over-saturated white noise of the music world?