Indie quartet Stories in Braille translates epic narratives into ambient rock
Four experimental, indie rockers of Christian faith dare you to quit judging books by their covers. Meet San Jose-based Stories in Braille: Curtis Kern (drums) and Brandon Wright (bass)—two full-time college students—Jala Tass (guitar), and college student pastor Jay Kim (vocals/lyrics/guitar). Since 2008, Stories in Braille’s page-turning tales of love, unity and valor have been articulated through meticulously crafted ambient music, into albums that are, essentially, a more entertaining version of audio books.
“That’s the idea behind the band,” says Kim. “To tell stories that people can feel.” That philosophy is reiterated on the band’s Facebook and Myspace pages, where a quote by author Jim Fiebig is prominently displayed: “There is a wonder in reading Braille that the sighted will never know: to touch words and have them touch you back.”
Kim admits that he can’t recall a time when he wasn’t fond of reading—a fact evidenced on the band’s debut LP, Bravery, released in June 2010, wherein poet Ralph Waldo Emerson and French physicist/writer Blaise Pascal are referenced.
“Words have always been very informative for me—I’ve always been intrigued by the rhythm and cadence of words and sentences,” says Kim. “Sometimes, my writing just comes from the sheer kind of joy in putting words together in a particular manner or rhythm that works for a song.” That joy functions at multiple speeds—from the rapid, stream of consciousness on “Frailty’s Anthem,” a song about failure and progress, to “The Afterword,” a tribute to his wife Jenny, which took months to finish.
Bravery is characterized by sympathetic and uplifting lyrics carried by Kim’s mellow, yet unwavering voice, Kern’s diverse drum beats, and a dreamy drone created by the combination of guitars and keyboards. The inspirational outcome is illustrated by the album cover, in which a boy stands in a forest, with a golden crown and wooden sword. Rather than destroy his enemies, the boy’s intentions are expressed in “Kings Across the River,” in which Kim urges, “Friends and foes, take up your arms. Let’s fill these skies with swords of hope.”
When crafting his tracks, Kim looks to novels and a multitude of musicians for songwriting inspiration. Lately, his muses have been David Bazan’s “Strange Negotiations,” Thrice’s new single, “Yellow Belly,” Los Angeles-based band Future of Forestry, Bon Iver, and Jónsi, whom Kim describes as “one of the best live music experiences” he has ever had.
This Sunday, locals just might say the same about Stories in Braille’s first Santa Cruz gig, booked appropriately at The Abbey. Tracks off of Bravery are to be expected, as are songs from their sophomore LP, Here Is Love. Released in March 2011, the album is a compilation of traditional and contemporary Christian anthems, including John Newton’s classic “Amazing Grace,” with ambient rock style melodies.
Though the bandmates are unabashedly tied to their faith, Kim insists that people of all faiths can (and do) enjoy their music. “We all go to church, and we’d all say we’re Evangelical Christians … but we’re not a Christian band,” he says. “Stories in Braille exists outside of that sphere. We had a lot of requests from people to record these [classic] songs—I’m proud of [them] though, because it’s who we are.”
This fall and early winter, the ambitious quartet will release two new EPs, which Kim describes as, forming a “pretty conceptual” and “super dualistic, dynamic thing.” Asked about the band’s target audience, Kim says “We don’t think about that—anybody who wants to hear story through song.”
Stories in Braille plays at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28, at The Abbey Lounge, 350 Mission St., Santa Cruz. No cover. Call 429-1058.