Locals: Second time's the charm for Master Servos bandmates

Andy Downing, Columbus Alive
Ian Pushea (left) and Matt Auxier

Near the midpoint of "Electric," a track off Master Servos' self-titled debut album, musicians Ian Pushea and Matt Auxier stroll right up to the edge of the cosmos. "And then I stood at the edge," the two intone, delivering their words atop stabs of vintage synthesizer, nothing but wide-open galaxy ahead.

It's a small moment, but it captures the sense of limitless possibility the two envisioned when they first launched Master Servos in late 2014. At the time, Pushea's former band Red Feathers, a rock 'n' roll quartet with a hard-won reputation as a borderline-unhinged live act, was in the midst of dissolving, while Auxier was entering into his final months playing guitar with prog-rock behemoth EYE. So, naturally, the two longtime friends gravitated to synth-pop.

"We both have been playing guitar in guitar bands forever and needed something different," said Auxier, who joined Pushea for a mid-December interview Downtown. (The two will be back together to celebrate the release of their debut album on Kvltvre Klvb with a concert at Ace of Cups on Friday, Dec. 16.)

Initially, the two holed up for months of writing sessions that produced more than 40 songs, as well as several versions of the band. "We kept going through these [musical] transformations as it was happening," Pushea said.

Despite the lengthy gestation period, actual songs tended to arrive in quick succession, helped along by a truncated approval process.

"When you're in a band with five people, it takes a while to write a song. If one person in the band doesn't like a part, it's like, 'Well, OK, let's figure out another part,'" said Pushea, noting that Master Servos already has two more full albums' worth of material recorded and at the ready. "With just the two of us it's easier. If I say it sucks, it sucks. If he says it sucks, it sucks. And then we move on."

Early in the band's history, Pushea and Auxier experimented with live drums, eventually gravitating toward an electronic kit as a means of distancing the new project from their rock roots. Regardless, there's an undeniable Sunset Strip swagger that bleeds into percussive cuts like "NYE," which comes on like a bratty outtake from the "Drive" soundtrack, and "Jesus Came Down," a buzzing thumper that mimics the feel of hauling down a neon-lit thoroughfare. This head rush is countered by slower, trippier numbers like "Clouds" and the hazy "Pills and Therapy," which sounds like it's knocked back plenty of the former (while skipping out almost entirely on the latter).

The pair's musical chemistry, further honed by years of friendship, was somewhat lacking the first time the two played in a band together seven or eight years ago in Super Silver, a precursor to EYE from which Pushea was booted - or at least that's how he remembered it.

"I didn't kick him out, really," Auxier said. "[EYE drummer] Brandon [Smith] and I just started getting into weird, avant-garde Kraut-rock shit, and Ian was already starting to go the other way, so it just didn't work out."

"Musically we were pulling apart," Pushea said. "But those guys were also getting more serious about what they were doing and I was getting more careless."

With Master Servos, these concerns have completely dissipated. Though the two don't always take themselves seriously, they approach the music with the needed gravity.

"Nothing annoys me more than when people are like, 'I don't care what people think of this.' I do," Pushea said. "That's why we've waited so long. That's why we kept throwing things on the wall. That's why we kept trying to figure out our sound. In some way, some people out there will have expectations of what we're going to do. I'm not trying to break those expectations, but I'm trying to live up to them in some way. I don't want people to hate what I'm doing."

Ace of Cups

9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16

2619 N. High St., Old North


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