Immediately after I wrapped the Daniel James interview (which you undoubtedly watched last week) on February 15, the second part of the day began as I made my way to the train to cross the San Francisco Bay into Oakland. My appointment was at a practice space, which turned out to be a more convenient location for everyone than an apartment. Awaiting me there were Robin Landy and Eric Kuhn, the instrumental indie rock duo known as Silian Rail. I had met them on an assignment for Performer Magazine that, due to the company’s restructuring, was never published. I hope this episode can make up for it.
On the night of November 21, 2008, I found myself in the basement performance space of San Francisco’s Retox Lounge, which was decked out with busted guitars, as well as seats and windows salvaged from a commercial airliner. The first band on the bill that night was Silian Rail, a guitar-drums instrumental duo that basically became my new Tristeza and Tortoise all rolled into one from the first tune they played.
Instrumental indie rock isn’t the most humorous stuff to listen to — it tends to come off as really serious, for diehard music-heads only. And it would be all too easy to look at the track names on Silian Rail’s debut full-length, And I You, To Pieces, and deduce that they’re a couple of pretentious dorks. Maybe the second part is right, but seriously, Eric Kuhn and Robin Landy are a couple of truly down-to-earth, good natured, funny old friends from North Carolina who don’t take themselves all that seriously.
The song titles, they freely admitted, were the product of simply not being able to come up with titles all that easily. It’s one thing when you’re working with actual songs with lyrics — you can always grab a key lyric and make that your title, and in most cases that’s your best bet anyway. But with instrumentals it’s a little tougher. You have to be more imaginative than that. Or call on your friends for help. And have some fun with it, which they do.
The living room house party in an airplane vibe of the venue probably had as much to do with the band’s stage presence as anything, but the fact that these two were perfectly at ease arguing with each other over what they were going to play next was also awfully charming. I wish I had footage to share of some of those moments, but I made up for it when visiting the band at their Oakland practice space.
Eric and Robin share the story of how their friendship led to the serendipitous start of the band and rattle off a long list of inspiring influences, among other things in the footage I shot on February 15 of this year. It brings a little more insight into what drives their music, though I’m still amazed at Eric’s stamina. The guy plays in three different bands, and is such a well-rounded, nuanced, even virtuosic drummer that a friend of mine who generally steers very clear of indie rock couldn’t help repeatedly gushing over how impressed he was with Eric’s drumming at the Retox show. And Robin’s got such a confident yet precise touch on guitar that it seems inevitable she’ll be heard on much more than her current recordings, or short films in the MadCat Women’s International Film Festival.
Silian Rail — “The West”