Chris Ward and Andrew Thiboldeaux are sitting in a booth at Johnny Brenda’s, the Fishtown haunt where Ward books talent, to talk about their band Pattern is Movement’s still-new album and a bill they’re headlining at the Spruce Street Harbor Park with Moon Bounce on Thursday. Their self-titled fourth, out on the Hometapes label, is only three and a half months old, and, as I put it, the record feels like their softest.
“Softest how?” Ward asks earnestly.
“Less harsh, less thrashy—a little more melodic, a little more delicate,” I try to explain.
“I would agree with you. I’d definitely say it’s rounder,” Ward replies, crediting many things with the wonderful end result. “Because I was part of the engineering, that was definitely part of my idea. I wanted to round it out.” Thiboldeaux composed the record, as they put it, and Ward laid in his drum parts last, a rather unconventional but ultimately effective method for letting the drum parts find their home on each track.
“One of the things that we did was something I’d never heard anybody do: We recorded the drums last,” Ward says. “My drums were responding to everything that was existing. So my parts subconsciously were cutting in and out where I wanted something to stick out.” Or when he wanted them to fade into flickering percussion, delicate French horn, lush strings or airy synthesizers. Ward’s pretty clear: This was a great idea for the record, for him, for the sound they were seeking, and for the mixing he’d hoped to achieve.
“[It] turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made as a drummer. There’s things on that record that I can’t play live–it just happened. I’ve tried,” he confesses. “I’m not a trained drummer, so there’s a bit of mystery to what drums are. I don’t really know what I’m doing.” Of course, he knows what he’s doing. But there’s a great freedom in the admission that their process isn’t standard or traditional. In any way.
Their dynamic as Pattern Is Movement is a curious one, spanning 20 years and resulting in a seemingly natural creative process. Thiboldeaux is quiet, but chimes in with astute observations as Ward relates stories from their deeply Christian childhoods: sharing A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum” at a musical show-and-tell in middle school, pocketing lunch money to buy records from Sam Goody’s and only being allowed to watch MTV or listen to rock music when it was Stryper.
“Ever see Jesus Camp?” Ward asks. “That’s us.” I reassure them that they’ve made it out alive. Thiboldeaux jokingly asks, “Have we?” then concedes, “Yeah, we did.”
“I think music was a big part of making it out for me,” says Ward, who made a life-changing decision when he matriculated at the super-conservative Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA for philosophy and religious studies. Thiboldeaux went the much-less-spiritually-specific route by attending Lock Haven University. They migrated to Philadelphia almost a dozen years ago and, at the insistence of one of their heroes, John Vanderslice, formed a band—despite the beaten-in imperative of us all to get a “real job” at 21.
I list some of my favorite duos in rock music: Sleigh Bells, Phantogram, Quasi and [old school] Black Keys, and Ward adds Wye Oak to the list, the Baltimore duo with whom they just toured. And Thiboldeaux tosses out Tegan and Sara, Hella, Spencer Seim and Zach Hill’s thrash duo from Sacramento. Quite fitting company for PIM.
Their 2004 full-length debut, The (Im)possibility of Longing, feels like a distant memory, even though it still captures the lovely interplay between the two. Often dubbed math or prog rock, you can hear the Pinback reference they often get—but also bits of newbs like Speedy Ortiz and the post-punk scuzz beauty of The Men. But on the new one, they sound refreshed after a little hiatus. Take the beauty of “Suckling,” for instance. There are finger snaps, playful key romps, sluggish percussion and some of the band’s prettiest vocal accomplishments. You can hear bits of the R&B and hip-hop they were secretly enjoying as teens.
We talk about the evolution of artists and how fun it is to cheer on folks whose sound changes from record to record. They set up a tour and opened for St. Vincent’s Annie Clark back in 2008, and loved watching her take the delicacy of 2007’s Marry Me to the prog bizarro beauty of her eponymous LP earlier this year. To convey how he cherishes the way Clark’s gone deeper and darker with each St. Vincent album, Ward recalls the Jennifer Lawrence-executed Rosalyn character in American Hustle: She loves the beautiful stink of her nail polish, a smell that she can’t get enough of, even if it smells a little of rotten eggs. “The same thing can be said about our transition,” Ward says. “I think she’s being her authentic self.”
For Pattern Is Movement, they wanted to sonically “wear the rap and R&B and gospel that we grew up on” on the its metaphysical sleeve. “It’s part of the DNA of the record,” Ward boasts, cheerfully reveling in the local rave reviews it’s received over the summer.
“I’ve kind of had a love-hate with the [past] records, and I don’t have it at all with this record,” he beams. Sure, it “took forever to make, and I think that’s part of it. I 100-percent love this record.”
Thurs., Aug. 21, 7:30pm. Free. With Moon Bounce. Spruce Street Harbor Park, Columbus Blvd. at Spruce St. delawareriverwaterfront.com