Things you should expect from New Jersey's Thank You Scientist: intensely arranged prog tunes, a horn section, some funk, catchy-as-hell melodies and a dose of jazzy improvisation.
Something you should not expect from the band, which plays San Antonio's Paper Tiger on Tuesday, June 7: the members having an easy time explaining its sprawling sound.
"We're whatever the hell we are," guitarist Tom Monda said in a Zoom interview from his home in New Jersey.
Even when pressed for the stuck-in-an-elevator-with-the-head-of-a-major-label pitch, Monda played coy: "Think of all the things that are going to make you the least amount of money and stick them in one band."
Bits and pieces
While Monda's semi-joking response minimizes the magic of Thank You Scientist, he's not completely wrong.
Let's start with the prog element. Thank You Scientist got its first break from Evil Ink Records, which released the band's debut album in 2014. The label belongs to Coheed and Cambria's Claudio Sanchez, a chap who knows a thing or two about prog. And, not surprisingly, Thank You Scientist has toured with Coheed and appeared on the band's curated sea cruise.
"There's some overlap between us, but we're coming from different places with different influences," said Monda, who copped to an obsession with Frank Zappa during his formative years.
And then there are the horns. Those mean jazz, right? Well, it depends on how deep you want to go. Thank You Scientist incorporates a trumpeter, a saxophonist and a violinist — all of whom improvise during solos. Monda is a jazz cat who plays in jazz side projects. And the essence of jazz is improvisation.
Again, it's not so easy.
"We get to scratch that improvisational itch when we play live, but the majority of our stuff is super-composed," he explained, citing personal influences such as Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny and John Coltrane. "I could say [Thank You Scientist] is a long-term psyops to convince normies to listen to jazz, but it's not the case."
And the melodies? There's no disputing the songs have big hooks. Vocalist Salvatore Marrano sells the melody with a distinctive high-register voice, which places him firmly in the prog lineage.
"Good songs are good songs," Monda explained. "It doesn't matter if they're three-chord songs or five million-note songs."
If you're thinking Thank You Scientist sounds like a troupe of high school marching band geeks, hey, you're not wrong there either. That much was obvious from the time the group dropped its debut Maps of Non-Existent Places, but things were cemented with the 2019 single "FXMLDR," the video for which featured the members playing alongside the epic Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps.
So, with all these different directions and the band's studious vibe, is it a safe assumption they used their pandemic downtime to great effect? That one's easy. The band released the fruit of those toils, the EP Plague Accommodations, last November.
And speaking of everyone's favorite plague, Monda said Thank You Scientist is prepared for whatever its lasting effects happen to be on live music.
"Being a touring musician is like staring into the abyss," he said. "What if we're the last generation of bands? It's gonna be a setup in the venue with five iPads and five guys Zooming in from their bedrooms."
But for now, music fans have access to live venues, and the band is taking advantage of that. For its current tour, Thank You Scientist is paired with Strawberry Girls, a band considered progressive or math rock, even if Monda said it's coming from a "different zone."
"More of a post-hardcore kind of vibe," Monda explained. "When we pick bands to tour with, we ask ourselves, 'What's a balanced evening of music?'"
No surprise Thank You Scientist likes to mix things up. After all, that kind of topsy-turvy alchemy is the essence of the difficult-to-describe group. Its musical diversity has allowed it to share stages with anyone from Periphery to Devin Townsend to Consider the Source to Haken.
Monda said he's looking forward to the San Antonio show since he's got fond memories of previous Texas appearances.
"It's usually my favorite stretch of shows. It's a little bit of everything," he said. "The people are friendly. Last time I was there, I had my bike, and it was a great place to bike around. It's a beautiful city."
And any chance Monda finally came up with a less oblique way to describe Thank You Scientist's sound? Not really, but maybe that's too tall an order — even for a guy involved in creating it.
"With music it's hard to have a perspective on what [it] even sounds like, because it sounds so different to you," he said. "If you listen to our music on records, it's a lot different than how you experience it live."
$20-$25, 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 7, Paper Tiger, 2410 N. St. Mary's St., papertigersatx.com.
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