Desert Noises are from Provo, Utah, but it’s less a home than a recollection. With the release of their spacious 2011 folk-psych debut, Mountain Sea, they made the decision to be known as something more than a cool local band. Since then they’ve toured tirelessly from coast to coast, building a grassroots following and witnessing wider horizons than they could ever have imagined.
“We were just Utah boys, and we had no idea what the whole big world was about before we left. And now we can be anywhere and hold our own,” says frontman Kyle Henderson. “If we wouldn’t have taken the chance, we wouldn’t have hardly any of the friends that are now our best friends.”
There’s a pastoral element to that debut album that’s reflective of their name. Though at times their rootsy, billowing arrangements suggest a jam band, Desert Noises are closely attuned to melody, and they are surprisingly succinct songsmiths. Not a single song passes the four-minute mark, yet the music feels as loose and lazy as the backyard hammock on a breezy summer day.
Several songs, such as the album-closing highlight “Where I Go,” create tension by balancing a pretty, laconic drift with increasingly tense, driving rhythms and bursts of volume as strings circle in the distance. Other tracks like the jangly “Your Wolf” and tunefully angular “Bible Study” recall Northwestern indie pop acts Fleet Foxes and Modest Mouse, respectively.
Shortly after the album’s release, the band underwent a wholesale makeover. Mentor Joshua James had been playing guitar with the band but left to return to a solo career. James had released some of Henderson’s music and took Henderson on tour with him as a bassist. Six months of that was just the kickstart Henderson needed to take his own music to the next level.
“I found a love for touring, and he doesn’t tour as much I would love to. So I started to book my own shows and just do Desert Noises stuff,” Henderson says.
Brother/drummer Trevor left to go on a Mormon mission. Drummer Patrick Boyer and guitarist Brennan Allen stepped in. When bassist Riley Johnson departed in favor of Donny & Marie relative Tyler Osmond, it completed the overhaul. You can hear the difference on last year’s three-song I Won’t See You EP. Though the songs actually were written around the same time as Mountain Sea, they rock much harder.
Of course, some of that could also be a result of being out on the road. But it’s something they’ve carried into the recording of their new album. The collection is due early next year.
“You get a lot more rock and everything is just really wide open and energetic,” Henderson says of the new album. “Playing house parties and bars and stuff like that, as the crowds started to develop they [wanted] more drive to it. And we started liking to play songs like that.”
They’ve already finished recording 17 new songs for the as-yet-untitled album and are in the process of mixing them with producer Nic Jodoin. Though they won’t use all 17, they’re still mixing them all, and will use extras and B-sides as downloads and bonus tracks. They did most of the recording at Sonic Ranch, a world-class facility on a pecan farm bordering the Rio Grande in El Paso. The balance tracks and all the overdubs have been finished in Los Angeles, where Jodoin’s based.
“Beach House did their last record there. Conor Oberst has done a couple records there. It’s really a magical place,” says Henderson of the sprawling Sonic Ranch. “[Jodoin] really pushed us to be the best band we could be. It wasn’t a pat-on-the back type thing. It was like, ‘Okay that sounds good, next song. Let’s move along.’ It’s not done until it’s done and there was no celebrating early. He pushed us to keep focused.”
After releasing Mountain Sea on James’ little Northplatte Records imprint, they were looking to take another step up and did with the new Canadian label, SQE. The novel label seeks to be more of a services group. There’s lots of transparency, and they behave more like a concierge than a corporate overlord, working to empower the band, rather than control them. “They funded the whole thing from the beginning,” Henderson says. “There is no way we could’ve done it without them.”
He struggles to describe the forthcoming album or identify a resounding theme. It’s more propulsive than the debut, but beyond that it’s hard for him to say. “There are definitely some songs that sound different, but nothing we don’t want in there. Nothing that won’t fit,” he says. “Right now it’s a little hard to say because I’m so involved. I haven’t really taken a step back and had time to really think about what that theme is because I’ve kind got myself too far into it at this point.”
Nor is Kyle the only Henderson enmeshed in music. His 17-year old sister Katie Henderson has a band called Blue Aces, which recorded their first album with Joshua James last year. There’s no telling if or when she’ll kick the sibling rivalry into gear, but for the time being Henderson has a good head start. Desert Noises is poised to prick up some ears.