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Artist Mon Feb 22 2010

Sonic Weapon Fence: Chicago's "Lost" Band

Snyder_Ehlers.JPG

About two years ago, when Chicago resident Patrick Ehlers was watching Trekkies, a 1997 documentary about die-hard Star Trek fans, he learned about Star Trek-themed novelty bands such as The No Kill I and Warp 11. At the time, Ehlers was getting into the show Lost, and he was soon inspired to form his own Lost-themed band.

Born in March 2008, Sonic Weapon Fence is the only Lost-themed band that Ehlers and his bandmates know of in the Chicago area, joining other Lost-inspired bands such as the New-York-based Previously on Lost and LA-based The Oceanic 6. Sonic Weapon Fence was recently profiled in the Sun-Times, and referenced in The Guardian and The A.V. Club. With the final season of Lost on air, the band is currently promoting its debut self-titled album, which was released in November and is available on iTunes.

"It was kind of born out of a joke -- that it would be a funny, novel thing to write music about Lost," says Ehlers, 27, discussing the band's origins over drinks at Argo Tea.

Ehlers (bass, vocals, keyboard) recruited childhood friend Pete Pfarr to play drums and sing background vocals, and college friend Pete Snyder, 26, to sing vocals and play guitar along with occasional bass on songs. Multi-instrumentalist Jason Hetelle joins the band for its live shows.

Initially, Ehlers explains, "the goal from the get-go was to write songs as quick as we [could], learn them and to hell with the quality. But we abandoned that early on and started writing quality songs we would [have written] for anything else."

Since forming, the band has played around six live shows, including stints at The Mutiny and the Elbo Room. On Thursday, the band plays Silvie's Lounge, 1902 W. Iriving Park Rd., at 10:30 p.m., followed by a show in Milwaukee on Friday at the Bayview Brew Haus.

"I think the goal, musically speaking, was to just write songs that would be enjoyable, quick and fun," Ehlers says. "This is for fans of the show and for people who don't know anything about the show. We get in, we have a good time, [perform a] two- or three-minute rock song and get the hell out. We don't really want to overstay our welcome with novelty."

Ehlers and Snyder both became interested in Lost at different points, and they aim to write songs about overall themes discussed in the show, not necessarily specific episodes. They often dip into Lostpedia ("The Lost Encyclopedia") for reference, and also use their imagination to explain mysterious parts of the show. Ehlers points to one song -- "Quite Unseemly, Keamy," which Snyder wrote -- about a character "who does bad things" on the island.

"As far as something to be obsessive about, there's no limit to the number and kinds of details you can explore -- or invent -- when writing songs about Lost," Ehlers says. "We invent things all the time. For ["Quite Unseemly, Keamy,"] Pete kind of imagined, why is he like that? And that's fun and funny to do."

Over a catchy guitar riff, Snyder sings in "Quite Unseemly, Keamy," "Gone within a season, every cameo a gem, his cards were dealt, his fate was sealed long before the island/ No daddy never paid him mind, his mom was never home/He was born and raised a latch key kid, he lived and died alone."

Snyder says being in a band and following Lost goes well together, and he makes it a point to watch and discuss the show with friends.

"I think there's an overlap of personalities in the type of people who like to talk about minutiae, and those who like to play pop music, who like to be in bands and meticulously lay out songs," he says.

The band, whose name references a sonar fence that protects the islanders, spent about a year recording the album in Pfarr's home studio in Racine, Wisc. The band is set to record more songs shortly that will be available online and in another TBA format.

Snyder, who also plays in a Misfits tribute band called the Missed Fits, says he's inspired by guitar-based rock bands like The Strokes, and he generally writes songs in a matter of hours. "If there's a cheap synthesizer sound or distorted vocals, I probably wrote that song," he laughs.

Ehlers, who has a solo album called A Better Glass, says in contrast, he approaches songwriting from "a singer-songwriter standpoint," citing Ben Folds and Andrew Bird as influences. Ehlers often takes months to complete a song, with generally the chorus coming to him first followed by different chunks of the song. On the keyboard-driven "SUBJECT: Rabbit," Ehlers sings, "Rabbit number one, we shot him into space. Number 45, we ground off his little face with a sander powered by number 91. Rabbits nine through 12 are ammo in the rabbit-gun." The song includes the chorus, "Just be glad you're not a rabbit or we'd do these things to you."

Ehlers adds that drummer Pfarr is inspired by "pop-punk" bands and has a side project called Of Science and Numbers.

While all band members write most of the songs separately and take different approaches to songwriting, the band recorded the album live with Pro Tools. During its live shows, the band plays music from its record, new songs and actual music from Lost. At one recent show, Ehlers brought a fan up on stage to draw a John Locke scar on his eye.

"We try to have fun at the shows, and hopefully other people are enjoying it as well," he laughs.

"It's a way to have fun, it's not a window to our souls or anything like that," Snyder adds.

Although the band's debut album unexpectedly coincides with the final season of the show, that doesn't necessarily mean the band will break-up when Lost ends. Ehlers and Pfarr have talked about starting a new band with songs about "other aspects of nerd culture," though nothing has been formally decided.

"I honestly don't know," Ehlers says. "We could keep writing songs about Lost, we could do other things, or we could just break up and go our separate ways. I think we'll work that out when we get there."

Listen to Snyder and Ehlers discuss which song they think is each other's best work, as well as their own personal favorites and their songwriting process, below.

Follow more news about the band on Facebook here and on MySpace here.

Full disclosure: Snyder is a friend of mine from high school.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

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Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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