Local music: Altered States of the United Snakes

By Columbus Alive
From the July 12, 2012 edition

Like many a musical mad scientist, Davey Highben inhabits his own distinct reality, one where contradictions and chaos are means to making sense of earthbound existence.

For Highben, making music is “the only thing that really brings me to peace,” even if that music is among the least peaceful racket a human being could conceive. He is a self-proclaimed perfectionist who “could work on something for 10 years trying to get it right,” but someone with Highben’s hunger for creation “(doesn’t) have the time to wish for the perfect idea of something.”

Instead, Highben leads his band Altered States of the United Snakes (AS*US for short) on a sonic scouting mission, attempting to pluck transcendence out of the ether and bask until it dissipates. They leave their lo-fi punk rock open-ended, keeping structures loose and always searching for new approaches.

As bassist Fred Pfening explains, “We’re trying to find the moments where it goes beyond what we could plan.”

While Pfening and drummer Mat Bisaro have become trusty co-conspirators with Highben over the years, other catalysts have come and gone. The sonic upheaval once provided by departed guitarists Tom Derwent and Adam Fleischer now falls to The Unholy Two noisemaker Adam Smith and his oscillating feedback network.

That said, the band’s lineup and sound have stabilized a lot since the days when Fleischer would invite guests to play with AS*US on a whim.

“For a while, since we never practiced, it seemed like a good idea,” Highben said.

This Saturday they’ll celebrate the latest document of their combustible cacophony. “Pagan Tiger Swing Band” was originally released last fall as a comically limited CD-R. Now 300 copies are coming out on vinyl courtesy of Ohio experimental label Lost Treasures of the Underworld.

The band is playing two release shows in the same day, one at Used Kids and one at Ace of Cups, which seems like a good way to cut your audience in half. But as Bisaro put it, “I don’t think any of us are in this for the audience.”

Photo by Greg Bartram