It's been a long and fruitful run for indie-rock trio Rainer Maria. Guitarist Kyle Fischer, drummer William Kuehn, and singer-bassist Caithlin De Marrais formed the band in Madison, Wis. in 1995, just as the so-called "emo" trend was taking shape in the national scene, but their majestic tone and melodic sound rang throughout their music.
They've made sure to hit Charleston on several recent national tours and return this week in support of their fifth studio album, Catastrophe Keeps Us Together (Grunion), which hits the streets on April 4.
The band name comes from two-thirds of the name of symbolist poet Rainer Maria Rilke. After releasing a cassette, the band resurfaced with a self-titled EP on the Polyvinyl label in 1996 and embarked on a series of low-budget "all-ages" tours across the Midwest. College radio took notice of the 1997 album Past Worn Searching and 1999's Look Now Look Again, both on Polyvinyl.
After relocating to Brooklyn in 1999, the trio "holed itself up in a converted cow barn" and recorded a batch of songs for their breakthrough album, A Better Version Of Me (Polyvinyl). Released in 2001, the nine-song collection stretches out from the band's indie rock/emo roots into more spacious and spacy territory. De Marrais' expressive vocal range was striking and emotive. Her voice soared over the droning guitar chords and syncopated drum accents like a bird. The collective rock stylings of it all compared well with those of Throwing Muses, The Anniversary, Shannon Wright's early stuff, The Ex's straight-ahead material.
The long-awaited Catastrophe Keeps Us Together (Grunion) is the trio's first studio release since 2003's Long Knives Drawn. After extensive touring in North America, Japan, and Europe '03 an '04, they finally returned to the studio.
"We came home from touring without a set label situation," says Kuehn. "It would have been easy to go back to doing things the way we had for so long. Instead, we wrote the most personal songs we could, without time lines or deadlines, answering to no one but ourselves."
A full "guitar rock" production and massive drum sound marks Catastrophe Keeps Us Together — recorded in Grammy Award-winning producer Malcolm Burn's (Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Emmylou Harris) upstate-New York home studio — is a step forward for the band. De Marrais' voice sounds stronger and more confident than previously, and Fischer's jangly guitar work aims for atmospheric heights. Additionally, two tracks were produced by Peter Katis (Interpol, Tiger Lou).
"Malcolm's studio didn't have any rules or restraints when it came to music," De Marrais explains. "It was a space entirely devoted to freethinking and interaction. You could start playing the piano in one room, and end up singing in another, all live, in a single take."
"Peter really understood right away what to do with the songs we brought him," Fischer adds. "He did an amazing job of translating to tape exactly what we do, then drawing out all the best stuff for the listener to latch onto."