ComFest preview: Chemistry fuels Lo-Pan’s musical explorations on forthcoming Colossus

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From the June 26, 2014 edition

With the forthcoming Colossus, the musicians in Lo-Pan finally learned to let go, embracing the possibilities offered up by the potent four-piece lineup rather than hewing to some prescribed genre classification.

“When we started this band we were trying to figure out what it was, and being pigeonholed in the stoner-rock genre it felt like the vocals needed to be a certain way,” said singer Jeff Martin, 35, who joined drummer Jesse Bartz, 37, for a mid-June interview at a Clintonville dive bar. “The great thing about this album … is I’m finally able to embrace what I love about music, which is melody and harmony. We were just expressing whatever wanted to come out and letting it be what it is.

“That was a new experience for us, and if we tried that at the beginning of our collaboration it might not have worked as well, because I don’t know that we could have gotten out of our own way. But we’re older now [and] we’re more mature. It takes time … to learn how to be yourself around other people before you can approach things in a selfless way artistically.”

This growth is further reflected in the album’s subject matter, and Martin said seven of the 10 tracks the band recorded at Coney Island’s Translator Audio alongside producer Andrew Schneider (Unsane, Cave In) are rooted in the concept of overcoming some greater obstacle.

“I don’t think I started out to write that way, but [the songs] all ended up being about moving through something or moving past something, and doing that with my own wits and my own faculties,” said Martin, who grew up in a musical family (his mother was a music teacher, choir teacher and vocal coach) but long-hid his vocal talents because as an adolescent he was uncomfortable being “the boy with the good singing voice.” “It’s been a long couple years for me, for a number of reasons. Some of the songs on the record (which is due out Oct. 7) are about stuff in the past, and some of them are more current.”

And some of them, like the spacious, melodic “Regulus,” are far less grounded in reality, with Martin taking advantage of the comparatively wide-open composition and allowing his imagination to run free, envisioning himself as a resident on a far-off planet faced with extinction.

Yet even these galactic excursions are rooted in the musical chemistry developed between the players as they’ve crisscrossed the earth in recent years, opening high-profile tours for the likes of Torche and High on Fire, in addition to maintaining a busy headlining schedule of their own.

“We hit that level where there’s a lot of unspoken compromising going on, especially with the music,” Bartz said.

“I would agree with that. When we’re onstage or we’re in the van together, we don’t really have to say anything anymore,” Martin countered. “I can tell when we’re getting tired. I can tell when it’s time to kick it up a notch onstage. You can feel that ebb and flow, which is something that comes from spending that time and really getting to know someone.”

Photos by Meghan Ralston