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Joint Chiefs of Math: Born in The Basement.

July 23, 2013

JointChiefsOfMath01smallText by Ed Newton. Image by Abigail Reimold.

Kevin Keenan and Marcus Denke of Joint Chiefs of Math sit in Denke’s Northern Liberties space, recalling their first musical efforts together. It was 2006 when the two began collaborating at drummer Denke’s parents’ house in Emmaus, Pa. After a while, Keenan, a guitarist, started living there. It seemed easier since the two spent so much time with one another anyway. Keenan parked his beat-up van right outside the Denke family residence.

“My dad was so pissed,” Denke remembers.

The guys set up practice space in the basement and began writing songs.

In 2008, Denke moved to Philly to attend Temple University. A year later, Keenan packed his bags and moved to the city as well. Since then, the two have found their niche by showcasing their bastardized brand of noise rock in basements and other DIY venues around the city.

The duo realized pretty early on that they both brought out something special in one another.

“I was writing guitar parts and the way he played drums just meshed really well,” Keenan says.

Keenan is more straightforward and guitar-heavy, which is balanced by Denke’s more technical, layered stuff that he writes on a computer.

“Pretty much all of the songs of his that we play were written in FruityLoops,” Keenan adds, referring to the web-based audio editing program now known as FL Studio. “Then it gets translated into guitars, loops and now synthesizers.”

It’s their enthusiasm for innovation that led to the Chief’s distinct sound. The group’s impressive collection of gear has become notable within the local music community. They feature custom guitar pedals (like the “momentary mute” switch Keenan designed for quick, silent musical transitions), multiple loop stations and other randomly salvaged pieces of technology.

Keenan’s songwriting usually stems from hearing a sound.

“I immediately think of something that will go great with that sound,” he says. “I think a lot of people, when they use pedals, they write a guitar part and then they put a pedal on top of it, you know? And like, that’s cool and that works sometimes but I think in terms of what I do, I wouldn’t be able to write what I write if I did not have those pedals.”

In July 2012, the band released their debut LP, Wires, through their own label, Associated Sounds, Ltd. They’ve toured extensively, testing new material that will be featured on the Word Alive 7-inch that’s due out this summer.

The guys confess that traditional venues fail to capture that same raw energy that the group’s more intimate, unconventional performances do.

“Playing on a stage is weird,” Denke explains. “We both agree that the further you are from the crowd, the more awkward it feels. It’s good to be close.”

“When we play at Maggot House or IHOP Estate or in West Philly or somewhere in South Philly,” Keenan adds, “these kids come out. They might be a little drunk but they love it. They get so stoked and we feel that. It’s this crazy exchange that we haven’t felt at a real venue. Our music was born in basements and that’s where it belongs right now because that’s where it works.”

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