Photo: Ruby Claire
Jason Rabb – Guitar/Vocals
Nick Foster – Drums/Mezzo-baritone Roto Tom/ DoubleSnap/Brake Drum/Tent/Sandpaper/Double Bass Ratchet/Lion’s Roar/Shovel/Toast/Abacus/Service Bell/ Salad/Sleeper Hold
Emerging within a musical climate increasingly populated by power duos, it foot, it ears is one more local duo, but a duo with a difference. it foot consciously renounces the displays of might offered by local favorites Eagle Twin, a band they still greatly admire. To the contrary, it foot searches for ways to surrender power, to create music structured around states of syncope, stuttering and collapse. it foot, it ears consists of Jason Rabb, former guitarist of Salt Lake thrashpunk legends The Bad Yodelers, and Nick Foster, multi-instrumentalist/percussionist known as one half of Palace of Buddies. I met it foot behind Sam Weller’s, in the American Towers plaza, a rough acre of barren concrete chosen by Rabb as a fit location for a game of marbles between both members of the band. “I think this will make talking easier,” said Rabb, escorting me out of the bookstore.
Standing in the Brutalist architectural site, devoid of plant life and all color, I was struck by the blankness of the space, like a sheet of loose leaf. It felt not just empty, but aggressively so, as if deliberately withholding anything to make the body comfortable or set the eye at ease, as if designed to block writing. Nowhere to set my bag, no table to write on, I lacked my bearings. Rabb, intent on marbles, stepped into the middle of the concrete and crouched over to trace out a circle with a piece of bright blue chalk. With another minimal addition of pigment, he drew an X as a locus of action, then began laying his agates out. Rabb said, “The rule of play is knuckle-down.”
My encounter with it foot would be on their terms. This controlling of the situation could have appeared inhospitable, but the band’s evident curiosity about how such imposed conditions might open new possibilities made the gesture feel more playful and inclusive. Preparation, preconditions and restrictive rules are axial for the band. “Jason prepares his guitar as John Cage prepared the piano, fitting it with alligator clips. They rattle and buzz as he plays,” Foster told me. Rabb, in turn, described Foster’s kit. “It’s literally a junk setup, made of found objects, old shovels and brake drums.”
We discussed the ingredients combined in it foot, it ears, but it became clear that the band’s method, and their achieved sound, is more fundamentally the result of subtractive than additive methods. This is hardly to say Rabb and Foster are not composers––they are, in the strict sense. The two met in the Music Composition program at the University of Utah. There, they took required courses in performance technique and analysis. “We did drills in percussion rudiments and we studied Bach chorales, but what really interested us was more modern music,” says Foster. He says that it’s only recently he can look back on music pedagogy with some appreciation. Rabb’s opinion is less ambivalent. “I hated school,” he says. Still, it seems both musicians have retained from formal education an ability to use rules and restrictions creatively.
“Nick holds me to the rule of ‘No Strumming’,” says Rabb. By proscribing this most banal convention, It sacrifices one compositional means, and thus opens the door on a broad field of awaiting alternatives. What is true of chord patterns and progressions is also true of rhythms, tempos and melodies. The result of such exclusions, though initially stark, is a swooning, surging Mannerist sound, devoid of groove but for that very reason always squirming with anxious energy. Consequently, while Rabb and Foster, who deliberately play from sheet music during performances, name their product “chamber rock,” it makes as much sense to call the work of this duo “a cappella rock,” concerted madrigals with electric guitar and percussion.
To use current names, it foot sounds not unlike the clattering, thumping rumpus of Tom Waits and underground guitar hero Marc Ribot. Rather than bawling witty hawker’s doggerel, as does Waits, Rabb opts for Sprechgesang, “singing” of the sort developed by expressionist composers Arnold Schoenberg and Kurt Weil. This technique refuses to fall into either full singing or mere speaking, but willfully occupies the uncanny interval between them. Conceive of such a voice, taken off the operatic stage and set down beside a campfire, and you may grasp why it foot, despite their chamber references, also call their music folk. “Academic,” says Foster, “but blues, too.”
This refusal to separate high and low parallels a refusal to divorce art and life. It makes sense to view Foster’s penchant for tossing and serving salads during performances in such a light. For it foot, no metaphysical limit divides musical instruments from cooking tools. Against the elitist claim that appreciating true art requires some higher faculty of judgment, it foot proposes, through music and cuisine, that it’s all just a matter of taste. “I prefer dark greens,” says Foster. “Kale, chard, beet tops.” While bands from more recognized genres may strive to be hip, funky or punishing, it foot, it ears prefers, said Foster, to be “wholesome.”
it foot, it ears will perform as part of Craft Lake City, on Saturday, Aug. 13, at The Gallivan Center. Their music, as well as information on other upcoming gigs, can be found on their website: www.itfootitears.com.