Musician Ben Sharp has never been particularly fond of language, so it makes perfect sense he would abandon it altogether with his solo instru-metal project Cloudkicker.
“Words have always been clumsy, and speaking to people was not ever really my thing,” said Sharp, 28, over a hot cup of tea on a chilly mid-March afternoon. “Like a lot of other people, I was self-conscious about everything, and it’s not fun to put that on display.”
Even so, many of Sharp’s earliest bands centered around vocalists, and it wasn’t until the Los Angeles native, who relocated to Columbus in 2007 and now makes his home in Clintonville, attended a 2004 concert featuring instrumental rockers Explosions in the Sky that he started to appreciate the impressive power this wordless approach could generate.
“It had the impact of the more aggressive music I was listening to, without a lot of the elements I thought were superfluous,” said the musician, who will be making his live debut as Cloudkicker when he takes the stage at Ace of Cups this weekend with an assist from Intronaut, an L.A.-based prog-metal band that will serve in the dual role as concert headliners and Sharp’s backing group. “I realized to have an impact with your music maybe you didn’t need to do the obvious thing, like scream or use loud, distorted guitars.”
Some of the most stirring moments on Subsume, the musician’s latest release under the Cloudkicker banner, are also among its quietest, Sharp immersing the listener in long, ambient passages that evoke the same weightless sensation as taking in a 3D screening of director Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity.” Also like “Gravity,” these more serene moments tend to be interrupted by explosive outbursts, violent gusts of space junk blowing through and shredding absolutely everything in sight. On tunes like “A Weather Front Was Stalled Out in the Pacific — Like a Lonely Person, Lost in Thought, Oblivious of Time” (Sharp might not have a fondness for language, but his most-excellent song titles still come on like the work of a frustrated novelist-in-waiting), the mood can shift abruptly, moments of serenity suddenly giving way to hammering metal riffage.
These stylistic swings are due at least in part to the wide, deep musical well Sharp draws from. In conversation he talked up the influence of everything from Swedish metal crew Meshuggah and Icelandic orch-rockers Sigur Ros to composer Thomas Newman, best known for his work on scores to films like “American Beauty” and “Road to Perdition”
“I really am taking a wide range of influences and trying to mash them up into one thing,” he said.
But while this sense of experimentation has occasionally included toying with words (voices haunt the background on the title cut off 2011’s Let Yourself Be Huge), Sharp still can’t envision a future where vocals take on a more dominant role.
“I sing in the shower sometimes when I’m alone, but I’m even self-conscious about that,” he said. “Based on the responses I get from people, the message [in the music] comes across even without [lyrics]. I think something is being communicated in a way I could never do with words.”
Photo by Meghan Ralston