When Jon Schoepke and Billy Morehouse, bandmates from a small-town metal group, reunited in Madison in the fall of 2008, they weren't just looking to hang out and worship Black Sabbath. They had a vision.
"We wanted to make some non-traditional sounding albums with looping, rock guitars and driving synths," Schoepke says. And thus, Ridley was born.
Before long, Schoepke and Morehouse were playing gigs around town both as a band and as DJs. Gigs led to new connections and new material, and before long, they found themselves recording their full-length album Materialize at Smart Studios with session musician Brandon Allen sitting in on drums. One of these songs was "Ascension," a tune inspired by the the Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., novel The Sirens of Titan.
In this book, the main character experiences a state called chrono-synclastic infundibulum as he travels from planet to planet. This state causes many types of truths interlock, and he realizes he can predict the future -- as long as he's not lying.
"Ascension" serves as a soundtrack to the novel, creating an atmosphere fit for space travel and epic discoveries. Arpeggios played on synthesizers converge and build for a minute and a half, making your mind float and your imagination take flight. After this liftoff period, vocals, electric guitars and drums explode into the sound cloud Ridley's created, setting the stage for a transcendental experience.
The song didn't start out quite so epic, however. While it's built upon sounds from 8-bit synthesizers, the kind you often hear in classic Nintendo games, these noises became a means to an end rather than the end itself.
"'Ascension' was essentially going to become what's known as a 'chip tune' song, which would utilize 8-bit synth noises, but eventually, the song became much larger in sound," says Schoepke.
At the same time, its scope expanded to incorporate some of Vonnegut's ideas -- and take Ridley's sound even further from its metal beginnings.
Schoepke says that developing a broader, more electronic sound helped Ridley go futuristic and gain more fans in the process.
"Our music had always been a hard pill to swallow, appealing to only a small amount of people who listened to metal," he explains. "We feel that with Ridley, we've reached out to a larger audience...by combining ambient, pop, rock and electronica."
While this track was one of the last Smart will ever record, it's just the beginning for Ridley. The band's releasing their new LP in pieces throughout 2010.
An MP3 of "Ascension" is available in the related files section at right. More music by Ridley is available on the group's MySpace page. The band will debut the next installment of Materialize during a release party at the Project Lodge on Friday, February 12.
MadTracks highlights and provides MP3s of songs performed by local musicians. All tracks here are provided with permission of the artist. If you are a musician based in the Madison metro area and are interested in sharing your work as a MadTrack, please send a message.