Drummer Gerhardt “Jerry” Fuchs, who played with Turing Machine, !!!, the Juan Maclean, and Maserati, among other bands, died on November 8, 2009, falling five stories after leaping from a stuck elevator car at a Williamsburg loft party. His feet landed on the floor, but the hood of his sweatshirt snagged on the elevator, pulling him back into the shaft.
Fuchs, 34, had moved to New York in 1995, but he’d gone to college in his native Georgia and regularly went back to rehearse with Maserati in Athens. He joined the band in 2005, five years after they formed, and his distinctive style—John Pugh of !!! called him “a robot built by cavemen”—immediately became a vital part of their instrumental postrock. When he died, Maserati were in the middle of tracking their first album of new material since 2007. They lost not only a relentlessly inventive and fiercely consistent drummer but also a close friend.
For a time the remaining members weren’t sure Maserati could continue to exist without Fuchs. But the drum parts were mostly recorded, and they decided to finish the album as a tribute to their friend. That album, Pyramid of the Sun (Temporary Residence), came out November 9, a day after the anniversary of Fuchs’s death. It affirms the band’s growth since 2007’s Inventions for the New Season, incorporating synths and sequencers into hypnotic Krautrock grooves and looping waves of delayed guitar. Coherent and unwavering, it’s a portrait of steadfastness in more ways than one.
Guitarists Coley Dennis and Matt Cherry and bassist Chris McNeal have recruited their friend Tony Paterra, who drums for Zombi, to play with Maserati on their first tour since Fuchs’s death. That string of ten dates begins Thursday, November 11, in Arlington, Virginia, and brings them to the Empty Bottle on Wednesday, November 17. I interviewed Dennis by phone last week.
How do you feel Pyramid of the Sun differs from Inventions for the New Season? What progress did you make between the two?
The band has grown tenfold since that record. I mean, we started writing the songs for Inventions probably four or five years ago. Anyone who really knows us would see a pretty obvious progression from then until now. When Jerry came on board, he started propelling the band towards a more danceable direction for sure. The new record has a lot more danceable elements, with synths and sequencers.
Steve Moore, who plays synths and guitars in Zombi, contributed on a couple tracks, right?
He collaborated on two of the tracks with us, “They’ll No More Suffer From Thirst” and “Oaxaca.” It’s pretty obvious that he had a heavy hand in those songs. Honestly, I think it’s the best record we’ve ever done.
Inventions has lots of drawn-out buildups at the beginnings of songs, while Pyramid of the Sun often dives right into the groove. Was that deliberate?
Possibly. Once we figured out what we were going for in each song, I think it was pretty deliberate. We definitely got away from the long Inventions intros. That was something we were excited about at that time and took a lot of inspiration and grew from. Not to say we’re not still into that kind of thing. For the most part, the songs were in a way kind of writing themselves. We had tracked five songs with Jerry before the last tour we did with him, and a couple of those songs weren’t even really finished yet. We just went back in and finished the songs according to how he played them. We were adamant about keeping everything that he did the way he did it.
On Chunklet‘s Twitter feed the other day, Henry Owings called the new Maserati the best Kraftwerk album in 30 years. I can only assume you take comparisons to Kraftwerk, Neu!, Can, and the like as high praise.
[Laughs] Henry said that? Yeah, I would take that as a compliment. I don’t know if you’re familiar with an old Krautrock guy, Günter Schickert? He did records with Klaus Schulze and played with Can a bit. We were obviously fans of his, and he contacted us not long after Jerry passed, really just to give us love, and ended up saying a lot of flattering things about the band. We took that as high praise from someone that was in that scene and in that world. We kept in contact with him, and now with the European tour we’re working on [for March], there’s a plan to do five or six shows with him.
Are you guys excited to get back on the road?
I think we’re excited and I think we’re nervous. Matt and I were actually talking the other night about how there have definitely been some stress nightmares over it. It’s a heavy thing to get back out there and support this record the way it should be. Once we all gathered our thoughts at the beginning of the year, we needed to figure out the next step. Do we finish this record? What do we do? It just became obvious to us that we needed to finish the record and support it as best we can. And when we made that decision, it was unanimous that we were going to ask Tony if he could fill in.
When I heard the news of Jerry’s passing, I didn’t know if you guys were going to disintegrate or what. I had no idea what to expect.
Well first off, Jerry was the best drummer I had ever seen—not to mention the guy was one of my best friends. There’s just so much going into the question of what to do, and honestly I don’t think any of us can say what the future of the band is. We haven’t thought that far ahead. These tours for the record were the main things we knew we wanted to do. Having the record come out and die a slow death sounded like the worst possible end result. That we’re able to get out there and play these songs and have people see the work we put into them is a tribute to Jerry. We all agreed that he would be furious if we didn’t support the record. He was so stoked about the songs we were working on that I just couldn’t see us not doing this.
Because Maserati is instrumental, Jerry played the front man, with his drums forward on the stage. What’s your live setup going to be on this tour? Is Tony going to take the same position onstage?
I don’t know. We’re discussing that right now. There are a couple of different feelings in the band on how we should handle it, but I have a feeling we’ll come to the right decision.
You said earlier that Jerry had tracked five songs prior to his death. How did you finish the album from there?
The first track [“Who Can Find the Beast?”] doesn’t have any drums, and we had an idea for that based off of “They’ll No More Suffer From Thirst” and “They’ll No More Suffer From Hunger,” which are two different sequenced songs. Jerry went in with me, and even though they weren’t completely written yet, he had those two songs kind of mapped out and played along to a click and sequencer and tracked them the way he envisioned. We went back in and wrote the songs basically to what he did, and the intro song was the third part to that trilogy because we wanted that sequenced theme to repeat throughout the record.
For the track “Ruins,” Matt had recorded some drum fills and parts Jerry had done at a practice, and we were able to grab that, loop it, and run it through a space echo and just fuck with it. We approached the song with the thought, “If Jerry was writing a song on his own, what would he do here?” We wanted to tap into that idea.
And then “Oaxaca” was a song we had written after, with Steve Moore—with the drum machine only. But when we got out to Austin to do the tracking, we realized the BPM was exactly 120, which was the same as another track Jerry played on. So we were able to cut little snippets and drop his live drums in there. In that sense he played on that song too.
The release date for Pyramid of the Sun is November 9, one day after the anniversary of Jerry’s death. I assume that was on purpose?
Yeah, we knew it was going to come out in November, and we talked about it and decided it was the right thing to do. I mean, the record is for him, and we knew we were going to tour around then, so it worked out that way.
Has there been any discussion or attempt to audition different drummers?
No, no. We haven’t even thought about that, man. We knew we wanted to support the record. We knew we wanted to play live. Tony was the man for the job, and luckily he said yes. We’ve been bros with him for a long time, and he felt like we were doing this as a tribute to his friend too. Other than that, I don’t think I could really say. I have no idea. I don’t think anyone does.