Evan Fraser has a lot of instruments. Like, hundreds of them. And not just guitars and drums and all that boring stuff—he collects music-makers from all over the world that are completely foreign to anyone who isn’t an ethnomusicologist.
His favorite is the jaw harp—that little handheld mouth harp instrument Snoopy likes to play. It’s one of the most global instruments around, and one that’s important to his band Dirtwire. The group blends instruments from all over the world with electronic beats, so the more international flavor he can add to his music, the better.
“You can find jaw harps in every Asian country, every European country. Africa and South America have a mouth bow, which is essentially the same thing,” Fraser says. “They’ve been the gateway to learning each music culture from every continent. That’s what we’re all about—blowing out those clichés, not getting cubbyholed by any one thing.”
He semi-jokingly refers to his band as purveyors of “swamptronica,” but even that doesn’t do justice to the unique sounds Dirtwire creates. The band is, in the truest sense, a synthesis of organic acoustic instruments and cutting-edge electronics, and Fraser, David Satori (known for his other band Beats Antique) and recently added third member Mike Hoffman are influenced by anything and everything.
“I feel like you can get inspiration from one note of an instrument. I like bringing the organic voice to the world, especially as technology continues to jump to the forefront. I feel like it’s great to be able to balance the two. It’s a way to bridge different worlds that we love,” Fraser says.
Despite the democratic nature of their instrument selection, the end results tend to sound more like electronic than folk or world beat. Fraser sees what they’re doing as creating electronic music that is more interesting and varied than the millions of strictly computer-based producers are creating. The beats are familiar to anyone that loves house and techno, but the melodies and harmonies are more lush than anything a computer could generate.
“We’re a breath of fresh air to the electronic audience because it’s not total computer, alien slaughter. We like to blend it all together, and do it in a tasteful way,” says Fraser. “People appreciate dancing to full-body music with plenty of bass and a nice melody. In my opinion, that’s missing in electronic music.”
In the studio, the threesome begins with pretty much any instrument they can imagine, and then layer on an organic or computerized one they feel complements it. Touring is a whole other story: the laptop is their rhythm section, and a lot of the acoustic instruments they recorded with stay back at the studio, but are still heard on the backing tracks. They lug with them mostly small instruments (remember the jaw harps?) that will fit comfortably into a suitcase, and they play those to give people a show that mixes live and pre-recorded instruments together.
“I like small, portable instruments,” Fraser says. “If there’s a harmonica part in the computer recorded, then we just take out the harmonica, and there’s room for me to play it live. The same thing with all the other instruments.”
Dirtwire formed around the same time as Beats Antique. To some degree, they’ve recently been getting more attention because of Beats Antique’s success. Satori and Fraser go all the way back to the California Institute of Arts, where they met as students. They immediately hit it off, and shared a vision for the kind of genre-bending music they could make together.
“David and I really think alike. We all enjoy a similar aesthetic. There are things we love about electronic music, and things we love about acoustic, Appalachian and blues, folk traditions,” says Fraser. “Blending the two just seems natural to us. It also gives the music a wider audience, and a new platform.”
INFO: 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 20, Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. $15/adv, $20/door. 479-1854.