There are any number of factors that can cause a music scene to blow up. A single breakthrough band can drag the spotlight into its hometown direction, or a host of creative underground bands can generate a point of critical mass, as in '80s Minneapolis or '90s Seattle.
Now something similar may be happening in, of all places, Provo, Utah, the stomping ground of Desert Noises.
The band's roots-psych sound blends Beachwood Sparks' cosmic country melodicism with the arid Southwestern rock shimmer of Calexico. The result is textured mid-tempo rock with a meditative vibe. Sonically, it's not much like Neon Trees' dance-punk or Imagine Dragons' alt-pop, but then, most regional music scenes are less about a sound than an attitude.
"Growing up, it was always an awesome scene," recalls Desert Noises singer/guitarist Kyle Henderson. "I used to go every weekend to watch the raddest bands. It's a college town as well, so most of the bands break up. But they love playing, [and] without our local scene we would've never gotten the guts up to go out and tour."
Henderson also received a helping hand from singer-songwriter Joshua James, another fine artist living in Provo who went on to make a name for himself. James recorded and released some of Henderson's music on his own label, after which Henderson joined him as touring bassist. Six months later, Henderson went off on his own.
"I just found a love for touring, and he doesn't tour as much I would love to," recalls the musician. "So I started to book my own shows and just do Desert Noises stuff."
That was just two years ago, and the band has since undergone a number of lineup changes, including a nearly complete overhaul since the release of last year's sophomore album, Mountain Sea. Henderson's brother left the drum kit behind to join a Mormon mission, the bassist left, and James, who played guitar on a couple tours last year, had other obligations. Nevertheless, Henderson and his various bandmates have kept touring nearly nonstop, while slowly working on new material.
Henderson notes that the new songs sound a little different from Mountain Sea, which nonetheless had its own offbeat departures like "Bible Study" (which is the spitting image of early Modest Mouse) and the infectious world-beat chant "Hey Ah" (which comes on like a roots jam but is actually much more concise).
The album's finest moment arrives with the final track, "Where I Go," which balances an uncharacteristically loud, bass-drum-heavy rhythm against a fluttering, finger-picked folk melody that exploits the tension in subtle swells — almost like a post-rock act gone Crosby Stills & Nash. "That was the last song that was written for the record, and it's probably our favorite track," says Henderson, noting that the song was written entirely in studio.
Desert Noises have been assembling material for a year and will soon be heading back into the studio in hopes of releasing a new album in early 2013. In the meantime, the frontman offers some advice for musicians who want to make a go of it — even if they're not part of scenes as supportive as Provo's.
"Get out there," says Henderson. "You can't expect it just to happen. You have to put your shoulder to the wheel and pay your dues. We're dirt poor, but we have experiences no one else has. We just take those as payment."