Whatever gizmos Pram decide to use, their performance at X Avant is bound to be memorable.
PRAM as part of the X Avant Festival at the Music Gallery (197 John), Saturday (October 25), 8 pm. $25-$15. 416-204-1080.
The last time Birmingham-based avant-garde ensemble Pram had enough label funding to venture across the waters and tour Canada was when, briefly and incongruously, they were labelmates with Slayer and the Black Crowes.
That was in the mid-90s, when the experimental art-rockers were signed to Too Pure Records, which became a stateside subsidiary of American Recording, Rick Rubin's boutique label for long-haired rockers who need it loud. To no one's surprise, this ill-fitting association didn't last, and Pram's North American visits have since been extremely rare or, in Canada's case, non-existent.
Pram multi-instrumentalist and original member Matt Eaton says this wasn't so much a case of ignoring their North American fans as it was a logistical and financial dilemma.
"It is more difficult for us to tour with our full show than it is for, say, normal indie rock bands that just have guitars," says Eaton over the horn. "We have a certain amount of instruments that are peculiar to us, that you can't hire [rent].
"There's a homemade theremin. Little bits and pieces, antiques, all these things that have to come with us. It makes our baggage quite expensive. Plus, there's a lot of us. A projectionist as well. You're getting the full Pram show, which is a minor miracle."
With the exception of the didgeridoo, which, according to Eaton, has been "sullied by hippies (which) Aboriginals are mad about," exotic and unconventional instruments are a defining aspect of Pram's 18-year career. Every one of their albums sounds like it's strenuously trying to dissociate itself from its predecessor.
Since their nascent Too Pure days, they've expanded beyond their initial Stereolab-ish sound to experiment with jazz, drone, psych and electronic sounds behind Rosie Cuckston's ghostly vocals.
"In the record-shop dividers, we fall between the lines. But we've been around so long, nowadays you find us in the electronic section," says Eaton. "We're past caring as long as people don't call us post-rock. We're not a band like Tortoise who do improvised extended jams. We're not really an electronic band because, when you see us live, we have loads of wind instruments. The live show is quite
acoustic-based. We've been called a lot of things and made no money out of it."
Perhaps they can reap some lucre from their just-released DVD, Shadow Shows Of The Phantascope, a comprehensive collection of their videos, short films and animation. Or maybe from Prisoner Of The Seven Pines (Domino), a new remix EP of tracks from Pram's 2007 release, The Moving Frontier, with rethinks by, among others, Psapp and Modified Toy Orchestra, both of which Eaton insists turned out fabulously and represent the newly discovered creative territory that keeps the band pumped.
"Every album moves forward from the last one. It's what keeps you interested in doing it," he says. "Maybe there is a key to the band's longevity. It's something new each time.
"I feel like we've only scratched the surface of what we can do as Pram. There are always new things to be done, especially now that we work with a fantastic visual artist on the live show. We'll get to the end of our lives and only have scratched the surface."
Eaton discusses the financial difficulties of touring.
Discusses keeping Pram afloat without label support.