Change is good for Enon. After spending years as one of New York’s most inventive and prolific bands, Enon surprised everyone by taking a break and moving to Philadelphia. This fall, Enon burst back on the scene with a new album and energy to burn.
Enon first emerged in NYC just when that scene was beginning to get national attention. Enon founder John Schmersal (vocals and guitar) moved to New York from Dayton, Ohio in 1997 after his former band, Brainiac, disbanded due to the sudden death of their frontman, Tim Taylor. In New York, Schmersal met up with Rick Lee and Steve Calhoon both formerly of Skeleton Key, and began recording as Enon (pronounced "E-nin", Schmersal will have you know). Matt Shulz, a friend from Schmersal’s teenage years, came on as the drummer.
After releasing "Believo!" in 2000, Lee and Calhoon left the band and Toko Yasuda picked up the bass lines. With Enon, Yasuda also made her singer/songwriter debut. Her vocals provided a delightful, straightforward counter to Shulz and Schmersal’s complex, noisy tendencies. Yasuda’s presence. was reflected in the pop overtones of the band’s follow-up, "High Society."
For several years, Enon was incredibly prolific, putting out one record every year between 2002 and 2005, releasing nine singles, posting "songs of the day" on their web site and touring constantly. Schmersal acknowledged "pumping out" music during those years. Overworked and stressed, in 2005 Schmersal and Yasuda decamped to the City of Brotherly Love while Shulz continued to play in several bands around New York.
The move to Philadelphia, where Schmersal owns a house, was both critical and critically remarked upon. The New York Times even featured Schmersal and "girlfriend" Yasuda (the Times made no mention of Yasuda’s role as bassist and vocalist for Enon) in an August 2005 article dedicated to Philadelphia’s status as New York’s sixth-borough. Schmersal views his adopted home city as essential to continuing to create music.
"Oh my God, it’s paramount," says Schmersal via Yasuda’s cell phone. Continuing to rhapsodize about his unlikely paradise, Schmersal slips out of the Florida hotel room he is sharing with his bandmates as they wrap up the southern leg of their fall tour. Schmersal’s main issue is the space he can afford in Philadelphia. The house, which he shares with Yasuda, has a basement studio for rehearsal and recording. "It’s everything to me at this point," says Schmersal.
This being said, Enon hasn’t entirely relinquished New York. Schulz still lives in the area and Schmersal and Yasuda regularly return to the city for work and shows. "I miss my friends and the food in New York," says Schmersal. "But I also miss the way New York used to be, and that doesn’t seem to be coming back. I miss the way things were when I first moved here." Schmersal makes no secret that he considers himself to be "priced out" of Manhattan and even Brooklyn. The biggest change he identified between the New York City of today and the New York City of 1997 is the cost.
"I got really sick of having a practice space that we had to share with 50 bands or whatever," says Schmersal of Enon’s New York City rehearsal room. The band would have to set up and take down their instruments after every practice. With 50 bands vying for the same space, he adds, "you really have to budget your time."
Schmersal tried to turn his frustrations with New York City’s space and time constraints into opportunities for creativity, becoming an expert in recording cheaply and quietly. Along the way, he inadvertently tailored Enon’s sample-driven, electrified sound to the practical constraints of making music in a city where space is an ever-costlier commodity.
"It’s about the lack of space and the lack of opportunity to be loud," says Schmersal about making music in New York. "A lot of records that we’ve recorded in the past have come out of the lack of space that you have to work with – home recorded, done on the fly, cheaply. Being a prolific band at the time, we were recording things before we worked it out as a band."
The making of "Grass Geysers…Carbon Clouds" proceeded very differently for Enon. Schmersal describes the recording process as almost luxurious. With Schulz coming in from Brooklyn, they could work out songs in Schmersal’s basement without having to worry about anyone else’s schedule.
"With this record we sort of wanted to work stuff out like a normal band," says Schmersal about recording "Grass Geysers". Instead of relying on samples to fill out songs, Enon could "do something a little more practical." According to the frontman, that meant making songs that would translate better live than Enon’s more electro songs.
The result is a record that feels spare as compared to Enon’s past sample-heavy and gleefully glitch albums. The album’s focus is on the grinding guitar riffs, precise drumming and the interplay between Schmersal and Yasuda’s vocals. Schmersal occasionally referred to being lazy, as in too lazy to pull out the keyboards, but there’s nothing languid about this album. Perhaps because the band had more time to refine their songs instead of creating a sprawling opus, Enon has produced an album that rips through 12 songs in just over 35 minutes.
The pace is breakneck from the creepy opening "Mirror on You," through "Ashish," the last song on the album and, at 4:29 the longest. "Ashish" is Enon at their most atmospheric and it’s a jarring respite from the frenzy of the previous 11 songs. However, Enon fans need not worry that the band is checking their cheeky electro sensibilities at the door. "Dr. Freeze" has plenty of wobbly synth and blasting lasers befitting a song about a super villain. Many of the songs feature both Schmersal and Yasuda singing, another welcome departure from past albums where songs were dominated by a single vocalist. "Those Who Don’t Blink" is a super fast punk tribute featuring both singers sprinting through the lyrics in tandem. "Paperweights" has the pair crooning the chorus over deep dark bass and eerie synth lines.
Like their closing track, Enon is benefiting from a more relaxed pace, as long as Schmersal and his band mates can keep from getting too comfortable. "I was amazed at a certain point that it has been so long," says the energetic Schmersal of the "Grass Geysers" recording process. Recording mainly at Schmersal’s home with some basics laid down at Brooklyn’s Rare Book Room, Enon did not have to worry about a studio clock for once. After a while "it was like, jeeze we need to create a deadline for ourselves or this is going to go on forever," says Schmersal.
Now that Enon is settled on straddling Philadelphia and New York, Schmersal doesn’t feel like relaxing for too much longer. "I feel like I want to do stuff all the time again," Schmersal keeps repeating. "I feel like the sky’s the limit."