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Life Is Twigs / Psychic Pinball
Release Date: January 25, 2019


For Album Downloads, Click Here

Chicago trio Protovulcan sound like their name — a little mysterious, just a bit science fiction. Treated vocals deliver lyrics over crisp drumming as the buzz of guitars and synths flesh out arrangements that add to the compelling feeling of alien messages from beyond. Vocalist/keyboardist Will MacLean notes how Protovulcan’s combination of sounds is so distinct, listeners sometimes have to reach a bit to describe it:
“When people see us live, they say things like, “It’s awesome to see electronica actually PLAYED!” I don’t think we are really electronica, but it’s nice to hear. I think it’s because we play synths, but no sequencers or drum machines. Just a live band.”

Protovulcan’s other longest serving member is drummer Deric Criss, who’s worked with MacLean on many musical projects for twenty years. After MacLean ‘s stint in Variety Lights, with Mercury Rev veteran David Baker, and Criss’s own duo Aleks and the Drummer, the two bonded again in the first version of Protovulcan and began recording and playing at a rapid pace.

“The project came around because my brother Will asked me if I wanted to play with him. Just him,” Criss recalled in a 2015 interview. “He was going to play synths and vocoder vocals. And I thought, ‘I will give Will a practice because he’s my friend, and we have a history.’ Then I showed up, and his songs were really great. Honestly, I was kinda taken aback. So I decided to play this thing out. And the tunes came really quick.”

Soon they both felt a third person was needed — enter guitarist Nick Ammerman, coming off his time in acts like the Fake Fictions and his own long running solo project Scare Quotes. That led to the band’s third overall album, Life is Twigs, recorded by hometown legend Steve Albini.

“It got that name,” explains MacLean, “in part because both Deric and I had a number of life things happen, and I’d thrown at him the idea of recording with Steve Albini, for fun. He was afraid it’d cost too much, then one day texted me, “F*ck. Let’s do it! Life is twigs.” Which sounded about right.”

Protovulcan have an ear for the past not only in their music but with what they use to create it — MacLean mentions using instruments like a Wurlitzer electric piano and a Korg Vocoder, while Ammerman plays a 60s Galanti Grand Prix. But they thrive on creating music that’s not simply recreating an era but finding new combinations and fusions that could only happen now.

MacLean illustrates this, as well as their own experimental dynamic, by discussing how one of their newest songs, the slow burning, dramatic “Snake Legend,” came together: “It started with a Nick riff, and we jammed over it. When we listened back, Deric said, ‘Hey! I’m playing in 3! That’s the first time I’ve ever played in 3.’ Nick said, ‘I’m not sure it’s 3. I’m playing in 4.’ But they are both right – Deric is in 3, Nick is in 4 over it. Then I came up with a theme that made Deric say, ‘Hey! Why’d you go all John Carpenter on us?!’”

With praise from figures like the legendary David Thomas of Rocket From the Tombs/Pere Ubu and Ladytron’s Reuben Wu (who singled out a “perfectly imperfect” sound), Protovulcan have a new EP in the works, videos to go with it, and plenty more to come in the near future.

-Ned Raggett


Press contact: Bill Benson, Bill at
Radio contact: Adam Morgan & Nelson Wells; radio at

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