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Speading Indiana Music
EP in a Weekend #13: Mayans
Posted January 06, 2016 by Kat Coplen











(Photos by Sanai Bills)


The latest EP in a Weekend is a sonic tale of three percussionists. Now, I know you know the whole setup by now, but it's a new year, so let's refresh: For an EP in a Weekend, one Indiana musician picks another Indiana musician (or two, or three, or four …) and they collaborate with one Indiana recording engineer to write, perform and record one EP in one weekend. EPs in a weekend are experiments in time crunch, in new musical collaborations, in, well, lots of beer.

EP 13 was recorded by Mayans: a.k.a. Rob Funkhouser, who chose Parker James with whom to collaborate. Both Rob and Parker are classically trained percussionists, and thus, this EP in a Weekend is unlike any of the 12 previous (although now that my fingers type that statement, it's obvious to me that each EP is entirely singular. That's what makes this project such a blast.) But these three percussionists – Sharlene, you'll recall, drums in Thee Tsunamis and White Moms – did make some sweet, white magic together, with the help of a few toms, a couple of vibraphones and a zillion metal bowls. The recording went down in Sharlene and John Zeps' basement studio setup, where, as engineer, Rob says, Sharlene became “basically omnipresent in the album, like the narrator who might actually be the main character of the story.”

So, suit up, friends, and answer this question: Are you ready to read almost 5,000 words of interview questions and answers about this EP in a Weekend, a.k.a. one quarter of a garden-variety novella? Of course you are, because beyond being totally badass classically trained percussionists, Parker and Rob are goddamn delights. Don't miss a catchup with EP in a Weekend's current engineer queen Sharlene, either. Are you ready? Okay, hit play: 

(All right, one last note: You can seee Rob and his cacophony of metal bowls live and in person Friday at the Irving, where he'll play with Drekka and Rest You Sleeping Giant. Free! All-ages!) 

MFT: When did the planning process for this EP in a Weekend start, and how did you decide to bring Parker on? Did you consider adding any additional players, or were you set on a duo?

Rob: I contacted Sharlene about recording this EP on the 9 of June, shortly after Parker and I had happened to play together as part of a large ad hoc ensemble for a performance of Terry Riley’s In C. Parker was a friend-of-a-friend par excellence who I had met once or twice in person, but had played vibes in the band Mid American. His work on that EP and performance, as well as his enthusiasm for collaboration really set the plans for this project in motion. Parker was the first person I asked to be on this project and we originally envisioned it as a trio. All three percussionists we asked ended up having scheduling conflicts, and the timing of finding out about those precluded us from finding a third player. At the time we thought this was a bummer, but I don’t think this is the case now.

MFT: What instruments did you utilize throughout?

Rob: Throughout the session I used a table full of metal mixing bowls, a couple of Sharlene’s toms, and a few cymbals. While it was a little more minimal than some of my solo setups, I think the limits helped me to really focus on the collaborative aspect of it, and allowed me to give Parker ample space musically.

Parker: I brought my Musser vibraphone, an old shitty glockenspiel that I still need to return to a friend, a rack tom, and a snare drum. I think that’s it for me. I had several different kinds of mallets —hard acrylic mallets, medium hard cord mallets, extremely soft yarn mallets, drum sticks, metal rods, etc. So that enabled me to mix up my tone colors a bit on my instruments.

Rob went a slightly different route. He brought various-sized mixing bowls and strange metal objects, as well as some more traditional drums and cymbals. I know he brought more but you’d have to ask him, it’s been a bit. The metallic sounds he brought paired well with my aluminum mallet instruments, I think.

We tried not to limit the sounds in any way, shape, or form. When we were planning, I just walked around my house with a couple different mallets just hitting stuff. I went down into my basement and started banging on loose pipes, looking for resonant ones. If I had had more scrap materials around I literally could have brought the kitchen sink.

MFT: Rob, tell me about building your bowl kit that I often see you with.

Rob: My normal setup that relies heavily on metal mixing bowls came about when I received a phone call from Dylan Ettinger in 2009. He asked me to play a show with Peaking Lights and I said yes before really considering what I was going to play. I eventually ended up at Walmart tapping various bowls, pots and pans, figuring out what might work for a setup. Legitimate percussion instruments are very expensive so this was my way to take a shot at building my own setup without much risk, should it get destroyed in the hellfire that was a Clinic basement show in Bloomington. The first show had everything on a table, but I quickly moved some things to a rack, which was a repurposed gong stand I had built a year or so before. All of this was rebuilt after my car was stolen in Austin, Texas in late 2013. I’m not sure if it will ever be finished. I seem to be making changes to it each year it exists.

MFT: What's the most satisfying musical moment on the EP? What are you most pleased with?

Rob: That is a tough one. I think the most pleasing part of the EP is “Wine Red Pt. 1,” which is the first piece in which you get a much deeper harmonic progression than some of the earlier pieces. That being said, I think my favorite part of the EP is “No Vibes of Saturn,” wherein Parker and I are playing a rhythmic game of sorts and trying to keep everything we’re playing separate from each others’ parts. There are a lot of fun leapfrogging rhythms and asynchronicities that I love in percussion music present in that piece.

MFT: Rob, have you ever recorded an EP in a weekend-length of time before? If so, how was this experience different? If not, what will you bring from this recording into future recording sessions?

Rob: I wrote all of Mellow Mania in the course of about 24 hours in late summer of 2014, but since I was writing and recording everything it was a much different experience and I could edit everything on the fly. I learned a lot from working with Parker and Sharlene in that I had two other equally important opinions working toward making one coherent body of music. It was very refreshing to be working multiple people toward a common goal, as much of my previous work had been solo.

MFT: Parker, I think my favorite track is "Prison of Garbage," but then again, I'm a totally sucker for vibraphone. Take me through the development of that track. What was the first nugget of an idea?

Parker: You and me are both suckers for vibraphone. “Prison of Garbage” was the last track we recorded. The first kernel evolved from that short rhythmic figure you hear at the beginning. I think I just grabbed some notes that I liked the sound of and played them with no regard for finesse. Rob, with his own prison of garbage piled up on his table, was able to match my senseless vibra-trash with beautiful, cacophonous gestures. We ran through it maybe three times then put it to tape. Each time was different and only one ended up on the record. It’s a little sloppy but you can almost hear us listening to each other. Fun to look back on.

MFT: Rob, where is Sharlene's presence felt most on the EP, in your opinion?

Rob: Sharlene is basically omnipresent in the album, like the narrator who might actually be the main character of the story. In terms of outright sounds, she proposed bringing in these sounds that were already on some of the tape we were using, which Parker and I were okay with. Those are the weird samples of people talking and other non-percussive sounds you hear in some of the tracks. That being said. her mixing choices for the pieces really bring the EP to life throughout its duration.

MFT: As is the case with instrumental albums, listeners (and writers!) often want to know: does this EP have a narrative concept / story / arc associated? If so, what is it? If not, what's freeing about making music free of narrative constraints?

Rob:We didn’t really have a narrative in mind for the album, but retrospectively is feels loosely like a Kung Fu movie that leaves off at the climax. The bowls I use are definitely a result of the time I spent studying Indonesian gamelan, and that, coupled with some of the pentatonic scales Parker uses in the first few pieces, gives it this West-imitating-East feel at the beginning. So when “Wine Red” starts with the more complex harmonic language, it feels like narrative development to me. If anything, its a narrative of Parker and I really getting to know each other as musicians.

MFT: Tell me about the structure of the Wine Red song pairings, conceptually.

Rob: If I remember right, I think they might have even been two takes on the same idea, as evidenced by the opening vibraphone line. They just went in such different directions, the first being more melodically driven, and the second more percussive, that they felt right together, without it feeling like a strict repetition.

MFT: Sharlene told me she's starting to notice some patterns in the flow of creativity during EP in a Weekend sessions. She told me, "A lot of people come in without any ideas. They want to come in and start ideas with their band. It's usually a little weird at first, and we get a couple beers in us. And usually the band just kind of plays together, and the first thing that someone usually picks up on, like, “Hey, we should keep going with that,” [happens]. And then the second song is busted out. The second song is always my favorite song. It's always so good, and the band starts to feel more comfortable and starts to write more songs" Was this your experience? How did the weekend progress creatively for you?

Rob: That’s really funny, because I think her narrative pretty much describes how ours went. “No Vibes on Saturn”is definitely when I started feeling very comfortable with Parker as a musician, and it was when we really started communicating musically. That piece is also my favorite in terms of concept to recording success. I think the first day was eaten up by recording those first two songs and setup. That second day I think we were both much more comfortable with the direction of the project, and knocked out the rest of the EP without a lot of stress.

MFT: What do you respect about each other's creative process and performing style?

Rob: I think the two things that stuck out to me about Parker’s playing style at that time was his ability to bring something new and stretch an idea in different ways on each take, and his ability to multitask musically. This latter strength shows a lot on “Processional”, where he plays toms and vibes and I am basically accompanying him.

Parker: Rob and I both have a healthy irreverence for the state of contemporary percussion music. He and I have spent a lot of time bitching about these lame composers who write lame music for marimba…these guys who have cushy academic jobs and make a pretty penny writing extremely pedagogical music for high school and college students to learn. I’m a teacher so I absolutely understand the need for pedagogical literature, but my musical soul just gets a little bankrupted every time I have to listen to, say, saccharine arrangements of pop standards for marimba, or contrived Debussy transcriptions for vibraphone. He and I see a different trajectory for percussion music, and it’s definitely not unique to us, but we both recognize that the predominant esthetic in percussion music nowadays is very diluted by pedagogical concerns.

MFT: Parker, What did you know about Rob's playing style, coming in, and what were you excited to build off of?

Parker: Funnily enough, I knew very little about his playing style going in. I had never seen him play. In late May 2015, we played Terry Riley’s “In C” together at the Hi-Fi with Ensemble AMP and the In D Collective. That piece is a massive quasi-improvised piece for any number of instruments and musicians. Our performance utilized 18 participants. So even though we played that gig together, I never heard him because we were on two different sides of the stage with about a dozen musicians in between us! I was aware he was into improvisational percussion and we had had lengthy conversations about it, so that night we drunkenly agreed to take a shot at the EP In A Weekend together using found percussion and whatever else we could scrounge up.

MFT: What other percussive duos or groups were inspirational to you during this project?

Rob: My favorite percussion record will probably be For No One in Particular by Billy Martin, Grant Calvin Weston, and DJ Logic. It definitely introduced me to using the gong-like sounds I pull from my bowls in context. Some of Sharlene’s work with the samples actually ended up reminding me of the DJ Logic work on that album a lot. Other than that, at the time of the recording, I was just starting to take interest in the wider world of percussion music again, but nothing had a direct inspiration that I recall.

Parker: I’m a big fan of So Percussion. They’re a quartet out of New York who have really sort of set off a movement in the last decade of young percussionists as improvisers.

Right before I moved to Colorado I was involved with both Ensemble AMP and the In D collective. Ensemble AMP is Derek Johnson’s chamber group based out of Fountain Square. He was my composition teacher up at Ball State and now he’s a great friend and colleague. His group has been an inspiration to me and shown me that there’s an appetite for a different kind of chamber music within the Fountain Square arts community. In D collective is an ongoing, ever-evolving group of percussionists that plays a lot of different stuff; from improvised percussion music and experimental soundscapes, all the way to more standard percussion repertoire. Those guys and gal have opened my ears up to the sounds around me, and got me asking whether any sound I hear is truly “bad.”

MFT: What did you and Rob discuss in terms of Mayans' sound / feel / vibe / goal? What "is" Mayans to the two of you?

Parker: As it turns out, we discussed very little. I’m a poor planner anyway, so we briefly discussed what sounds/instruments we were bringing and that’s about it. I had maybe an idea or two for a track--Exercise #1 was literally an exercise I had previously written to help me with my pentatonic scales—but that was essentially the only preconceived track on the EP. And even then, that Saturday was the first time Rob had ever heard me play it, so what you hear on the record is him reacting in real time. The rest of the tracks blossomed very much “in the moment” from one of us just sort of going, “Hey, what if we did THIS…"

MFT: Sharlene commented that you're both classically trained. What has been your course of study, musically? Where can someone go to hear your work? 

Parker: I studied classical percussion, composition, and recording at Ball State and got a degree in Music Media Production. I’ve been a jazz vibraphonist since high school, however, so jazz has figured into everything I do, intentionally or not. I think you can hear it on the EP as well--when you’re improvising, you’re always relying on your instincts and learned tendencies, to some degree. Improvisation really allows your background and your voice to shine through. Spontaneous composition within your own vernacular.

Now I’m working on my Masters in Percussion at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Still jazzing, still improvising. Rob’s writing me a suite for solo vibraphone and I plan on recording it and premiering it here in Colorado at some point. I gave him little parameters, of course, so I have no idea what that mofo’s gonna come up with. Hope it’s loud.

I don’t really have any recordings of my improvised works. I did, however, just put out an album a couple weeks ago under the name Infant Jim. These are all more traditional songs, but some of my “chaotic” tendencies definitely come through. You can listen to it for free at

MFT: If this is someone's first time listening to an entirely instrumental percussion album and they TOTALLY LOVE IT, what other artists / albums / performances would you point them to, locally? (Besides your own wonderful work, of course.)

Rob: One of the beautiful things about living in Indianapolis is that we are a hub of percussion activity on a national scale. The Percussive Arts Society is based here and they run a museum that is dedicated to playing and preserving the history of percussion. They also run a conference called PASIC that draws percussionists from all over the country and many parts of the world to Indianapolis to listen and play new percussion music. The next one is in November, and I am very excited to see and meet many people that I have only read about or encountered on the Internet and elsewhere. That being said, there are two very awesome people that come to mind in terms of percussion in our ares, namely Tyler Damon and Ten-Can Percussion.

Tyler is based out of Bloomington and plays some brilliant drum set based improvisational music, and collaborates often. His style is definitely from the free-jazz side of things, but his conceptual and musical instincts make him one of the most interesting solo voices in percussion Indiana has fro offer. His album Softened Skull is a brilliantly minimal percussive opus. Ten Can is an ensemble that is led by Indianapolis resident Corey Denham, and they have helped commission some music, and always play very interesting, very new repertoire. The Midwest in general has some amazing percussionists floating around that are doing some amazing things. I am not aware of any albums per se, but they definitely have some great recordings on sound cloud that are worth checking out. In the past year I have had the pleasure of bringing both Aaron Michael Butler and Victor Pons to Indianapolis for percussion-only gigs and they have both been astounding and champions of new music.

MFT: Sharlene, is that the first time you've worked with instrumental percussionists on this kind of scale?

Sharlene: Yeah, definitely it's been the only one.

MFT: When you're preparing for an EP in a Weekend, is it important for you to know the person's oeuvre? Or do you like to keep it more fresh, and just let them experiment in a way that's not confined by your previous impressions of what they've recorded?

Sharlene: It's important to have a fresh mindset. I've done that with everything we've done, because it's different every time. Because they're doing this for someone else -- they didn't say, ' I want to record.' They're doing this for MFT – it's important to give them space, like, “If you want to do that, you can!” And to not be biased. Because [their ideas] could be different in their head. And what if they do it, and it's badass? There's no, “Well, you know, that will sound different than your last stuff.”

But I like knowing what people do [in advance] in terms of recording, to know how they play.

MFT: How does the setup for guys like Rob and Parker, versus more traditional three or four-piece band?

Sharlene: Well, Rob's always into experimenting, and he's really laid-back, sort of like, “Whatever you want to do!” I just had him set up, and I put my mics around him. He just trusted me with what sounds good. It's good to know who your heavy hitters are and who your people who tink around. [laughs]

MFT: The EP in a Weekend program has been happening since 2012. You've done four projects as an engineer and one as a player. Are you now the official recording engineer of the project?

Sharlene: No, I don't think so. I like doing the recordings for MFT, and being in charge of that. But the plan was never to have me do them all. We're still interested in other studios doing them, but the rules aren't really set up yet for how it's changed. I talked to some other people like Vess von Ruhtenberg. I would like him to do one, and he has his own studio. Before, it hasn't really been done in home studios. We have a pretty modest setup in our basement. It's not like you're going to Postal Recording and you have all these bells and whistles – but that would be nice! We just have to work on our relationships with some studios.

MFT: So the plan for 2016 is to expand where they're happening and who's recording it, but you'll remain on in a coordinating role.

Sharlene: I would like to, yeah! I like recording, too. I think the sound could be helped. [My setup is] so simple.

Like with the hip-hop EP, as soon as I started to do the EP in a Weekend, I was like, “There's no hip-hop EP!”And they did a really awesome job. It's really good. So I want that to happen again, with different studios.

MFT: As a listener, I feel like I often hear a full album, and think, this has five great songs on it. Why isn't it just an EP? As a listener, do you gravitate towards full albums? EPs? Do you have any thoughts about the EP/LP relationship?

Sharlene: I like the idea of being about to be a concept, to do a short release. Thee Tsunamis did the Delirium and Dark Waters release when we were going through this dark monster phase. It's cool to get that out and not stick those songs on our record, where we're doing love songs and stuff. I'm a person who collects 45s and singles. I'm all about the A and B sides. I feel [like you] usually like, “Why wasn't the B side the A side?! This is so cool!” I like what you can do with an EP. I like having that short idea, a theme. But you know, you can get more out as a musician doing 13 songs. Plus, you can do the dishes longer if you just put on an EP instead of an LP. You don't have to go back and switch it.


MFT: What was the most surprising song that resulted from these sessions? What song went in a directional that you didn't expect it to?

Sharlene: I had no idea what was really going to happen. I'm still not really sure what happened. [laughs] But they're both classically trained, so I got some really great video of some rhythms that I've never heard of. I'm self-taught, and they've been studying, and got to learn all of these cool tricks. In between sessions, they were like, “You know, you go hip-po-pot-amus” [miming a rhythm while patting], and I'm like, “What is that?!”

The first song, in terms of recording, with the vibraphones, is really cool. We have this nook in our basement, and I usually put the drums back there. I put the vibraphones there, and I stuck mics in the ceiling and on the floor under them. I got these really awesome feedback tones that you couldn't hear playing the vibraphone, but they came through in the recording as this crazy wall of sound that's waving throughout. I really like that. That's one of my favorite parts of it.

MFT: How do you feel like you and the people who have come before you in this project are shaping the legacy of Indiana music? What is it contributing to MFT's mission to further expand what Indiana music will become?

Sharlene: There's a lot of performers before. I think that it has sort of come down to Earth in the way that people make music here. There's a lot of studios here, but a lot of music that's made in Indiana is made in somebody's bedroom. It's made in somebody's little tape recorder. People find someone that lives in their neighborhood. Not that it's had more of a sense of community, but I feel like it fits more with the spirit of the music in Indianapolis. Doing it in a big studio is awesome, and a cool experience. But doing it in your friend's basement with a pack of beer and a tape machine is what you do at home. I feel, in our basement, really comfortable. John [Zeps] has great equipment that he always lets me use, which is so helpful. I think that he really relaxes people. I think that it's easier to inspire creativity in a place that people feel comfortable. It's been a lot of my friends. A lot of people I know have done it since I've taken over, and a lot of people have reached out to me. I feel like it's gotten to a little bit of a different group. I think everybody should do it.

MFT: How does someone get involved?

Sharlene: Email me! If they want to put together their own band, they can do that. If they want me to put together a band, I could totally do that. I think that a way to spread it out more, a way to make more people know about it, is for a musician to pick their own band that they've never played with.

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