When DEERPEOPLE guitarist Alex Larrea describes the Oklahoma band's Explorgasm as "a step in the weird direction," he's not overstating the case. The psych-pop sextet's 2012 EP includes a noisy ode to Jesus Christ that thanks him for dying young. Two of the five songs are in French, including "Des Bonbons Et Des Pipes" (translation: "Candy & Blow Jobs"), and "Dr. Gay Washington Pt. 2," the latter highlighted by the sultry croon of vocalist/flautist Kendall Looney and a closing free-jazz freakout.
Larrea and Looney, as well as singer/keyboardist Brennan Barnes, first played together as teens in a Dallas-based Southern rock band. When they broke up, Looney moved to Oklahoma City to attend college, with Barnes and Larrea joining her there two years later. After meeting up with Oklahoma natives drummer Jordan Bayhylle, bassist Derek Moore, and multi-instrumentalist Julian Shen in 2009, they formed DEERPEOPLE, a name borrowed from an episode of King of the Hill.
Living in Stillwater, a town located near the Oklahoma State campus, the musicians compensated for the lack of venues by playing lots of house shows. While embracing the DIY spirit, they also learned a little something along the way. "If a hundred kids in a little rental jump at the same time it can crack the foundation," Larrea reports.
Explorgasm evokes the chamber pop and psychedelic flourishes of Arcade Fire and the Flaming Lips, a striking contrast to the band's self-titled indie-folk debut. "We really wanted to make sure our first record was something very palatable," explains Larrea. "We wanted it to sound crisp and nice and neat. Then with Explorgasm we went in and we wanted to do this our way. We have all these hair-brained ideas for how noisy and crazy we wanted it to sound."
The group has since done all the basic tracking on its first full-length album, tentatively titled All They Left Were His Feet. (Larrea says they'll explain its meaning if and when the title makes the final cut.) Now it's a matter of figuring out how much more each track needs.
"All 12 hands don't need to be going at the same time," says the guitarist, "so it's definitely a struggle to do as much as you want to do, and make it work together, and not fight each other," he says. "There are some real shining moments on the next record where we've been able to achieve that."
Now in their mid-20s, the musicians have moved away from the drinking and partying of their college days due to their music's increasing complexity.
Larrea says the group's new songs are the hardest to play by far. "The speed of the tempo changes and the amount of articulation happening between three and four people at once, it's extremely difficult for us."
The group has also been paying more attention to its visual presentation, including live collaborations with an Oklahoma performance troupe that creates video backdrops to dramatize the songs as they're being played.
"Trying to make everything special and really engaging, you hit a limit with confetti, glitter and face paint. Eventually you need to come up with something else," he says of the troupe and its enthusiasm. "Even if they weren't quite sure what we were doing, they were excited that we were doing something different."