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A Madison thing we’re listening to: P’elvis’ “S.S. Montreal”

The instrumental-rock band unearths and remixes a gentle film soundtrack from its past.

The instrumental-rock band unearths and remixes a gentle film soundtrack from its past.
 

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P'elvis playing live at the Rathskeller, circa 2000. Photo by Eric Tadsen.

P’elvis playing live at the Rathskeller, circa 2000. Photo by Eric Tadsen.

During its run in the late 1990s and early oughts, Madison instrumental-rock outfit P’elvis often made aggressive and jarring music, employing jagged noise-rock rhythms and using saxophone to open up strange dimensions of texture and dissonance. What stands out in the two releases they’ve preserved on Bandcamp—2000’s HiFi Wreck In SloMo and 2003’s JetBlackItalic—is an artful sense of space. Even when the rhythm section of drummer Tony Sellers and bassist Kevin Wade is going full-bore, they somehow leave plenty of room for saxophonist Chris Maddox and guitarist Russell Hall to slither around. (Full disclosure: I am friendly with members of the band.)

That holds true on a rather gentle piece of music the band’s former members recently put back out into the world. P’elvis made the track “S.S. Montreal” for John Besmer’s 2004 short film Lifelike. Besmer, a Madison resident, won an award for the 19-minute work at the 2005 Wisconsin Film Festival. The track is now up on Bandcamp along with a four remixes by Wade and Hall.

The track finds all four of the band’s members at their most restrained, even more so than on the most contemplative moments of P’elvis’ proper releases. Hall sets the pace with a patient, two-chord part, Wade’s bass slides in without the usual delightful stabs of fuzz, Sellers propels things along with gentle ride cymbal, and Maddox plays long, mournful notes. The remixes all pull elements of the original track in different directions, some abstract and atmospheric and some more aggressive and beat-oriented.

“It appeared throughout the film as a recurring theme,” Wade says of the track. “I pulled it up for a listen sometime last fall and suggested to my fellow P’elvi that maybe we should release it on our P’elvis Bandcamp page along with some remixes. So, Rusty did a couple remixes (as Bell & Circuit) and I did a couple remixes (as Mixtmeaty). All created using the original track stems from ‘S.S. Montreal.’ No new recordings going on here—just the original film theme plus four new remixes. And yes, it is more atmospheric/less abrasive, but if you listen to JetBlackItallic, about half of it is pretty atmospheric, while the remainder is more aggressive like HiFi Wreck In SloMo.”

All four members are still active in Madison. Maddox has been distinguishing himself as a visual artist. Sellers and Wade went on to form the duo Dick The Bruiser, which shared a bit of P’elvis’ rhythmic sense, and Wade has been producing electronic music under the name BRZRKRZ. Hall’s projects over the past decade have included the bands The United Sons Of Toil, Tyranny Is Tyranny, and Twelves, and he also has an electronic project of his own, Bell & Circuit.

Currently Sellers and Wade are still playing together, though they’ve retired the Dick The Bruiser moniker for now. New recordings are in various stages of progress from Twelves, Bell & Circuit, and BRZRKRZ. P’elvis actually folded before I even moved to Madison, but I’d recommend listening to their work, especially JetBlackItalic, if you’re interested in a take on post-rock that is at once muscular and otherworldly.

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