Hot steam rolls off Adam Ast’s coffee cup, held by his fretting hand, as he steps into an idling car outside the Lost Horizon in Syracuse. His words are sincere and calm, embracing the fact that his band Counter Pursuit was happy to headline the locals-only showcase that night, sponsored by radio station 95X.
“It’s a really good time to be playing in Syracuse,” Ast says.
As a band that falls into a subgenre related to indie and alternative rock, many fans compare them with groups such as Radiohead and the Smashing Pumpkins. He explains that they draw from influences such as Frank Zappa and the Grateful Dead, as well as heavier acts such as Between the Buried and Me.
“It’s a difficult band for me to categorize because it draws from a lot of different influences,” Ast says. “Not just my own, but everybody else in the band. We all listen to a wide variety of music, and they’re pretty obsessive about that too.”
According to Ast, Counter Pursuit originally formed back in 2007. Prior to that, he was playing in a band with his friend Ethan Jenks. Ast decided to move to Hawaii for a year and as a result the band broke up. When he moved back to the area they started collaborating once again. Jenks reminded Ast of previous material they had been working on.
“So we kind of finished that song,” Ast says. “That became “Warehouse Love” and that’s the last track on our (self-titled) album. And then we just kept coming up with ideas, so we put more songs together. And I had a few songs of my own that we threw into the mix. So we had a band and we were trying to find a rhythm section.”
After trying several musicians over the next few months, the original version of Counter Pursuit fell into place. The members included Adam Ast on guitar and vocals, Ethan Jenks on guitar, Pat O’ Harra on drums and Chuck Gwynn on bass. Gwynn is also known for his work with Mandate of Heaven and Flashing Astonishers.
“That was pretty good,” Ast says. “We lasted about a year.”
Soon after, they had to let their drummer go. He wasn’t keeping up with their new and complex song structures. Gwynn had to leave because his wife was pregnant.
“It was just Ethan and I for a while,” Ast explains. “We felt like we had a really cool band, and now it was falling apart.”
At the time, Ast was roommates with Shawn Molchanoff. Ast heard that he played bass but never actually heard him play. Friends continually told him that Molchanoff was a talented bass player, which led to a future jam session. Following this, a mutual friend put them in contact with Andy Walton, who had done a number of things in Syracuse over the years, including The Scarlet Ending.
“We thought he’s probably out of our league, he sounds very accomplished, but we got a hold of him anyway,” Ast explains. “He said ‘yeah, I’d love to audition.’ He showed up to audition with the three tracks we had recorded and knew them in and out completely; just killed them. That became the latest version of Counter Pursuit.”
Counter Pursuit’s debut as their current line up and full band was a self-titled release made available in October 2011. Before this, they recorded a three-song EP when O’ Harra and Gwynn were still in the band. Engineered by Greg Pier, the EP was recorded at Neon Witch Studios. These songs were recorded again and released a second time on the full-length, which Ast defends as being a much better product.
“It’s not bad,” Ast says. “But it’s nothing I would offer anybody necessarily, because we did those three songs again on the full-length and they’re much better versions.”
Ast and Jenks had been preparing to record for a while.
“After [Molchanoff and Walton] joined, it was pretty much getting them up to speed and getting as good as a band to go in there and bang it out,” Ast says.
They worked on it for a year. Ast says the basic tracks were done in a week, but the process of mixing and overdubbing became an extended, painstaking task.
“If it were up to me we’d still be working on it,” Ast admits. “It’s good, but I always want it to be better.”
Brett Hobin engineered Counter Pursuit’s full-length, self-titled, debut album at Hobin Studios in Baldwinsville, N.Y. Ast and Hobin produced and mixed the recording along with additional engineering by Jim Goldsworthy. The album was mastered by Jason “Jocko” Randall at More Sound Studio.
After delivering a finished product to their audience and beginning to build a fan base, Counter Pursuit continued to play live shows in their local area. Eventually, when the time to write more music came, their methods had begun to evolve.
“Our current approach is actually really different,” Ast says. “Everything we’ve done since that and since we’ve solidified as a band, we just immediately started delving more into [improvisation].”
The band makes a habit of recording their spontaneous jam sessions at their recording space. Ast burns CD’s for all the members so they can listen to their music later on, often times using what they created as a base for new material.
“Most times they just stay as jams and keep evolving,” Ast says.
Counter Pursuit’s new approach to song writing now draws heavily from improvisation. Ast admits that it can be challenging, especially considering many times each musician could gravitate in a different direction. Often their collaborations will result in an instrumental composition. He explains that their song writing style has led to half of their new material being instrumental and the other half making use of vocals.
“The structure is very strange,” Ast says. “I think from the point we’re at right now, we’re starting to want to get back to a more simple song structure anyway. You can only have so many seven to 10 minute long songs that keep your audience guessing. It’s good to have some straight forward songs too that people can get into, besides other musicians.”
Counter Pursuit continues to release improvisational jams online. Ast records them and then takes them home to mix and cut.
“Sometimes there ends up being some real gems in there, like jams that were very tasteful for the duration,” Ast says.
The songs that the band is really proud of they will post on their Facebook page. Ast explains this is not promoted with a lot of “fanfare” and they do not announce it as a new release. They simply post it as a new track and encourage fans to check it out. He admits that at this point they are still confused on how they are going to present themselves. Lately, they have incorporated a lot of their new endeavors into their live show.
As far as future plans such as touring, the band wants to make the next step, but face many challenges.
“Yeah, we’re all kind of ready,” Ast admits. “As a band, we’re at that point. We spent the past year really focusing on Syracuse and playing around here a lot. We haven’t really made it out of Syracuse at all, and we really need to. I mean we all work, we all have jobs, so the idea of going out on a two-week tour is almost impossible right now.”
He explains that in the meantime they would like to branch out to various cities such as Rochester and Buffalo. He feels like Counter Pursuit is progressing from one show to the next and each performance hold its own landmark. This night in particular, the band felt very honored to headline a locals-only showcase.
“There needs to be attention drawn to the fact that there’s a slew of bands in Syracuse that are awesome right now,” Ast declares. “You know, that have potential that would reach a wider audience if people even knew that they existed.”
He says that he is looking forward to the evolution of music and the local scene.
“Music is just this wide open incomprehensible thing that you can really just kind of plug into,” he says.
Ast feels that collaboration between artists is the effort of creating something that only exists when they “plug in” together. Practice is essential to get better and to explore new realms musically.
“What keeps music interesting for me is the fact that there is so much you can do with it,” Ast says. “The possibilities are endless. And I feel like exploring most of them.”
He also says that it is exciting to attend local shows again in the local area. He claims that there are many new bands emerging from the underground scene and it is refreshing, considering that it had been stagnant for a while, up until this point. He feels that there is something significant happening and people are excited about coming out and supporting local music again.
“Whatever we can do as part of the scene to keep that going it’s only going to benefit all of us,” Ast says. “Whether you want to or not. Maybe you worked all day, you’re tired, maybe you don’t really feel like going out. But you show up, you know. Throw your five bucks in the hat and check it out. It’s what we all need to do, really.”