Zale Hassler of 200 Million Years
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Although 200 Million Years’ band name evokes time frames on a geological scale, the Denver act is moving anything but glacially these days. The trio releases its sophomore EP, Ma, Saturday, Jan. 22 at Hi-Dive, and it’s already making the band’s self-titled EP, which was released less than a year ago, look like old news. With a more refined sense of purpose, the band holds onto its atmospheric elements as it puts its soul and electronic elements into sharper focus. The result’s a swirling dose of psychedelia that (usually) doesn’t let its experimental roots stand in the way of getting down. In preparation for Ma’s release, songwriter-guitarist Zale Hassler spoke with A.V. Club about expanding the act’s sound for this EP—and beyond.
A.V. Club: Ma is a big step forward from your debut EP. How do you chalk up so much artistic growth between the two releases?
Zale Hassler: We were really just figuring out what we wanted to do as a band. Like, “What are we trying to do here? What are we creating?” I think as we recorded that one, it was happening, but we really didn’t know how to tap into it.
AVC: As you were developing your sound, you also had to develop an audience, since there really isn’t an existing niche for psychedelic-electronic-groove bands.
ZH: It’s still hard to develop an audience. It’s difficult because if we know we’re playing a show with Houses or Snake Rattle Rattle Snake or something like that, we play our music a little more toward where that band is, you know what I mean? We can push that rocking vibe and keep the crowd’s interest. It’s not manipulating what we do, just playing it more intensely or softer and relaxing with it.
AVC: Now that you have a couple of recordings to serve as a template for your sound, does it make it easier for audiences and sound guys to get what you’re doing live?
ZH: I think it’s kind of difficult because it’s really mellow stuff. It does have this electronic element, and has that grooviness to it. It’s more of a headspace for people. It’s kind of difficult to translate that in shows. I’m really excited to get this onto a record where you’re not dealing with sound issues or different things, or not feeling good about what you’re playing at the moment.
I always feel bad for sound guys, because we’re probably one of the shittiest bands to have to do stuff for. We get up there, and we’re checking laptops and loop pedals, and it’s like, “Whoa, I wasn’t really prepared for this.” Most guys will do a pretty damn good job.
AVC: There’s a lot of experimental stuff on Ma. Did you ever reach a point when you felt you were taking the experiments too far?
ZH: Only when we’re trying to write 20-, 25-minute songs. The cool thing about this group is that everyone is so open-minded. Everyone goes, like, they can feel the magnet that someone is leading us to, and play into that, and then get comfortable. We are all so open to anything that happens. I wouldn’t say that there really has been a moment when we’ve been like “Hey, we need to chill out.”
AVC: You said that the songs you’re writing now are shorter than the two 10-minute cuts that finish up the EP, though.
ZH: I’m realizing more and more that you can’t write a 10-minute song successfully all the time. People have the attention span of a three-and-a-half, hopefully four-minute song. Certainly the songs that we are working on now are a lot shorter. They still keep the same ambience, the same tonal quality that we’ve done.
AVC: Just make it more succinct?
ZH: Exactly. People don’t want bullshit. The bottom line is, “Yeah, I know you can flower this up and it’s cool, but just give it to me.”