It takes some bands five years to make a five-song EP, which is why it’s all the more remarkable that Columbus, Ohio’s Inbokeh (pronounced IN-BOH-KUH) has been able to release two EPs in the eight months they’ve been together. And these two releases don’t fumble around stylistically like you might expect a band to do in their early days.
The band — singer/bassist Jonathan Burgess, guitarist Daniel Swafford, and drummer Cody Smith — is a focused, disciplined trio. Their songs resemble the framework of U2’s or Ride’s early albums: Waves of echoing guitars seemingly resonating out into the stratosphere with a minimal, pulsing rhythm underneath — only louder and more massive than U2 ever was. Over top of Swafford’s squalling guitar wall, Burgess’ high, plaintive voice carries the weight of the melodies, with the music content to serve as turbulent texture.
It’s a tight, precise sound from a band that’s only been together since November, but in truth, the three members of Inbokeh have known each other a lot longer. Swafford and Burgess played together in high school before Swafford joined the military, and both men had played with Smith before. In fact, this band started out as a duo of Burgess and Smith before Swafford rejoined last year. “We had one practice with Daniel, and it just all fell into place,” Burgess says. “By the end of that first practice we had two songs written.”
It also probably helps when one of your bandmates is the boss. “I own a record label called Six 3 Collective,” Burgess says. “And Cody actually works with us in Artist Relations. So part of being able to record so much is that we have the flexibility and time and finances to be able to do it. But the other half of it is the creative part. We flow really well, which is funny, because we’re into different types of music. Daniel will start writing this indie-style riff, and I’ll put more of what I think of as folky songwriting over it, and it ends up being kind of poppy. The process has been there since day one.”
Burgess says that despite their varied interests (Swafford and Smith played in metal bands before joining up, and Burgess’ solo work tends toward acoustic singer-songwriter material), the trio is careful to analyze their playing and arranging to make sure it serves the songs. “I think a lot of that comes from us actually being music fans and being fans of songwriting,” he says. “For example, if we’re talking about a guitar solo, it’s a solo that’s meant to fit the song or convey the feel we’re trying to get across. You can really dictate how the listener reacts with something as simple as a guitar solo. Daniel can add rhythm and melody to give a song a certain feel. We talk a lot about texture, the feel and the length of songs. And that’s what it’s about. We act as a band.
“It’s about stepping away from your musicianship as an individual and offer something up to the band,” Burgess continues. “This is a song. A song is something different from an individual piece.”
In fact, Inbokeh’s musical bond is so tight that Burgess says they’re reluctant to bring in any other members. “I love being in a three-piece,” he says. “It’s a really good step for me, because I’m not used to playing in bands. I’ve done a lot of acoustic songwriting stuff. Bands are hard, because people have their own ideas about what a band is, and that can kind of stand in the way. Part of what works about the three of us is that we have the same ideas and goals for the band. We stand as one unit. With a four or five-piece, you’re adding a percentage into the chance that something could go wrong [laughs].”