It sounds complex with layers of harmonies wrapped around melodies, and rhythms created by handclaps, shakers and noisemakers – along with the standard lineup of guitars, bass and drums.
But, for Ages and Ages, making its joyous, raw choral pop isn’t all that hard or complicated.
“It’s pretty simple,” said group founder Tim Perry in a late September phone interview. “It’s not like we reinvented the wheel or anything. It’s taking the elements of music we like, taking some of the elements of the music I’ve experienced and extracting the best parts of it and leaving the rest behind. We do want to the music to be something that’s inclusive. It’s more fun that way. And we love the harmonies and the weight of the voices on each other, especially in a live
Live, the eight-member Portland indie group group has captivated audiences from clubs to the Newport Folk Festival, where Ages and Ages was joined in July by the Berklee Gspel and Roots Choir in a uniformly praised performance of its “Divisionary (Do The Right Thing),” tapped as the “No. 1 Song of 2014 so far” by Paste.
That song, and the rest of the music on Ages and Ages' two albums, starts with Perry, who writes the material for the group he put together in 2009. Being “born and raised in the church,” Perry said makes writing for a chorus pretty easy.
“I usually just start with a melody in my head, a vocal melody,” Perry said. “I go from there and write the chords around it. From there, I build around that [melody and chords]. When I’m hearing the song in my head, it’s not just one part. I’ll hear all of them. I’ll get out a recording device, put down the melody and go from there.”
Lyrics, on the other, hand, take Perry longer to craft.
“I’m kind of obsessed with lyrics and making sure they represent what I want to say,” he said. “I like the flow of words, too. I pay attention to the way one word flows into the next and how they work together. That’s the hardest part of lyrics. You know what you want to say and you can say it easy to your friend. But it’s hard to put it in a poetic manner that comes together.”
Those lyrics very often contrast with the sunny, upbeat music as Perry explores depression, disillusionment and the need to find meaning in life.
“I feel like that’s indicative of a real tension that exists in real life as we struggle to find our way,” he said. “We come up against obstacles, in and outside of ourselves. We have to process those things to get what we want, to feel fulfillment to know what love is. Those are the things that are addressed in the songs. The darkness, the tension. But I don’t think that makes the songs dark.”
The songs sound far from dark live. Ages and Ages performances are uplifting, engaging and very well put together. That must come from a lot of practice, correct?
“There’s lots of practice and a balance between being able to incorporate all the specific elements we want in the music and making it raw, spontaneous, anything goes,” Perry said. “That’s what makes it fun. Nobody wants to see a person reading from a script.”
Ages and Ages released its debut album, Alright You Restless in 2011, garnering attention shortly thereafter when its song, “No Nostalgia” was part of President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign playlist.
Album number two, Divisionary, was released in March; it was well received, leading to bigger shows and festival appearance like that at Newport.
“We’ve done well with this album in many, many ways,” Perry said. “But to be honest, when we write it, record it and play it, at the forefront of our minds is not having to make money from it. If it was we’d have probably picked another path. The music industry is tanking and it never was a reliable source of income.”
Instead, for as long as it lasts, Perry said Ages and Ages exists to sing and play its distinctive brand of pop and to connect, bringing the group and the fans together embracing life in the moment.
“That’s the best we could hope for, that any band could hope for,” Perry said. “For that moment, we’re all here and that’s it.”