I Was Totally Destroying It!!!
I met with the five members of North Carolina's I Was Totally Destroying It on a blustery November evening at their secluded rehearsal space/house for an interview, and after exhausting our knowledge of Death Metal (which only took a moment or two) we discussed their history, how they approach songwriting, their struggle with the concept of genre and the shelf life of their quirky name. What follows is a quote-driven narrative of our 45 minute conversation on their night-chilled screened in patio.
I Was Totally Destroying It (IWTDI) formed from the ashes of En Guarde a group that "slowly, slowly dissolved" according to John Booker, founding IWTDI member and one of the group's songwriting principles. "I was not very fun to be in a band with at the time," he says. "One guy moved to Switzerland, another guy got into another band that he was more into, and another guy moved back to New York."
"People couldn't just quit that band, they had to leave the state," says J. Curtis Armstead, guitarist and least talkative member of the group. Booker continues, "It was my first attempts at being a songwriter instead of a backing musician, and I was a little high strung about it at first."
So, as En Guarde drew to a close, a seamless transition followed into IWTDI. En Guarde was asked to perform at a 2006 Christmas show at Chapel Hill's noted Cat's Cradle. But, having lost a few members already, new faces were recruited to fill in the gaps. Those new faces formed the core of what officially became IWTDI one month later.
Where En Guarde thought of themselves in the vein of other Chapel Hill stalwarts like Superchunk, newer members differ in their opinions of the outcome. But, all agree that it was a big rock mess in the best possible manner, with three guitars, busy bashing drumming and melodic vocals over the top. A "clusterfuck of power chords" one member notes.
Contrastingly, the IWTDI's self-titled first record, released a bit later in 2007, is streamlined and dynamic in tone and tenor, if occasionally jagged in melody and message. Youngest member Rachel Hirsh, keyboardist and vocalist, notes Booker's songwriting is more sophisticated now. Booker retorts that things are also more collaborative and especially points out Hirsh's contributions (and somewhat pensively later in the interview notes the duo is a couple).
Since most readers won't know the story, the name I Was Totally Destroying It came from a conversation in which a bandmember was describing his efforts of busting up concrete. Positively busted concrete = I Was Totally Destryoing It. When asked how the name is holding up now that they're approaching their second anniversary, the reviews are mixed. Hirsh notes, "it's polarizing. People love it or hate it." And that dichotomy appears to be present even within the group. "I hate it," laughs founding member and drummer James Hepler. But, Joe Mazzitelli, mutton-chopped newest member and bass player, notes that "it looks great on a t-shirt."
When asked to give the "recommended if you like" list for their band, they struggle to align how they feel about themselves with how they think others perceive them. Some, they say, are likely to lump them in with an emo crowd. To my ears, they do reflect some of the guitar sounds and production values of early Jimmy Eat Word. But, I can equally hear flashes of That Dog, Versus and The Spinanes, as well as a dedication to the concept of "the hook."
Asked to give the elevator speech description of the group, Hirsh offers, "I believe it is possible to rock out in a very raw manner through a pop filter." Booker reverses the roles and says, "I think we're maybe more a pop band that has rock sensibilities." The two agree to disagree, while I crack a joke about a Buckingham/Nicks conflict already arising in the band.
Rather than belabor an attempt to describe them, I recommend you jump on some free mp3s to find out for yourself. The group has made a new EP available via free download on their Reverb Nation site. Among these tracks are what I think is perhaps their melodic high point -- the track "Done Waiting," which was produced by Josh Cain of Motion City Soundtrack, who Booker notes has taken them under their wing. The track combines Hirsh's draw-you-in delivery with a big sing along chorus and Cars-vibe keyboards.
So,take advantage of the free tunes. And, don't be too surprised if the next one, for which they are currently writing songs and intend to record in the coming months, rockets their profile up a notch or two. The band has the potential to be much better known this time next year. Maybe on a radio station near you.
Gary is a musician, blogger and powerpop fan who lives in Durham, North Carolina. He lived previously in Seattle, where he started and ran the Seattle Powerpop Blog and played bass in both the Scheme and Shake Some Action!, the latter of which now exists as a bi-coastal recording project.