Toiling away at the heart of the northeast’s multiple increasingly fertile music scenes are two up and coming artists that, upon the emergence of their new duo project Px3, seem ready to bring some serious artistic talent to bigger and bigger stages: drummer Rob Madore and keyboardist and saxophonist Isaac Young. In their own bands and countless iterations of local supergroup performances, the two have cut their teeth in the same circles that served as the early proving grounds for bands like Dopapod, Lespecial, Goose, and many more.
Cut to 2019, when the pair debuted a brand new project to the world, the completely improvisational jazz and electronic outfit called Px3. Anyone familiar with the work of Madore or Young so far knows how comfortably and creatively either can thrive in a musically improvisational setting. For anyone not familiar yet, this new project is the perfect introduction to their abilities as a pair, and to their masterful take on synth-driven, dance jazz experiment.
Recently, Px3 released their first album, Metaphysic, a live record that is a tremendously executed single set recording taken from a show performed recently at Bishop’s Lounge in Northampton, MA. With all but one track being a previously conceived composition, the album is a wild ride through funk, psychedelic rock, dance music, and more. You can stream the album’s first track, “Musomania,” courtesy of Px3’s official YouTube page.
Last week, Madore and Young sat down with The Poke Around to talk about the new album, their approach to improvisation, and much more.
The Poke Around: So, as Px3 you two have played a number of shows by now, although not too many yet. At this point, does it feel like you two are pretty dialed into one another musically, or do you find there’s discovery happening with each new performance?
Rob Madore: I’d say all of the above, honestly.
Isaac Young: Yeah, I’m with Rob. We’re definitely dialed into each other. I feel like there’s this telepathic communication on stage.
Rob: I mean, we can always get stronger, too. But we really surprise ourselves all the time.
Isaac: Oh yeah, defintiely. Because it’s so heavily surrounded in an improvisational mindset, that the unpredictabiity allows us to grow in ways that we don’t expect. There’s that inherent connection that we have on the bandstand, but because we act more as conduits for the music, rather than going in with a pre determined setlist or compositions that have fixed forms, it allows us to ebb and flow in a way that we kind of discover a new chapter in our playing with each performance.
Rob: And every night is different. Some nights I’ll bring less drums, and I’ll play a lot differently then. The Arch St show and the La Boca show were really different from each other. I feel like Arch St was more…dance, I’d say? I haven’t listened back to it.
Isaac: Yeah, I’d say the Arch St show was a much darker show, and the Middletown show was…I don’t want to say happier, but just not as dark, hahaha.
Rob: Kind of more on the jazzier side, I feel. But yea, so we never really know what we’re going to play. But it helps having just one other person to focus on and play with. Because we can stop whenever we want, or cue hits, or whatever. On an instant, because we’re right in front of each other, and we just giver each other the look.
Well I always wonder about bands with more members versus bands with less, and how that changes the roles of what needs to be played. And with Px3 having just the two of you, do you find it a challenge that there’s much more space to fill musically?
Isaac: I like the space actually, I like the freedom. I think of it more as a blank canvas. I like playing in a larger ensemble as well; it uses different parts of my brain. Rob takes over some chord stuff when he’s doing synth stuff and looping, but I have a different role in trying to think of both sides of the harmonic section, like the way the bassist glues together an ensemble or the way chordal shapes or melodic shapes add a secondary or third element to it. But I’m thinking in a completely different way compositionally. It’s almost like I’m treating it like a live writing session, because I’m always manipulating and adapting harmony, as well time and then trying to lock in with what Rob is doing. I love it. I mean I love it, I don’t care what kind of ensemble it is, haha. But there is something very liberating about just having two and being put in that fun challenge of having to think of myself as an orchestra, rather than just a pianist or just a saxophonist. That challenge of how do you make two people on stage sound like a six piece band.
Rob: Yeah, that’s more on him. I’m just playing drums. But yeah, if I were in a six piece band, my style of playing might not work as well. We can loop a bunch of instruments together to get the same sounds as a bigger band, but I know what he’s playing and it’s on a recorded loop. When we’re playing with other people, it’s not on a perfect scale, so I really have to think about playing with a loop while I’m improvising. That’s different than playing with a bunch of other people, where they could just play along with you, and map the differences and the times.
Getting into your album, Metaphysic. Have either of you been on a live album release before? What is it like to go in knowing you are going to perform something live that will become this permanent creation?
Rob: It’s actually pretty funny, because we were not expecting that show to be recorded at all. This guy…I don’t his name, Isaac would know.
Isaac: Yeah, this guy Peter More. Peter was very generous to drop us a message like a week and a half after the Bishop’s show, saying he had taped the show. He gave us access to the recordings, and we mixed and mastered it, and we just thought it captured a really beautiful hour and twenty minutes of playing that we were both proud of. It was just a moment. Sometimes there’s this energy transference that is live that doesn’t necessarily get captured or manifested on tape the same way it does when you’re in the same room. And we both felt, and Rob you can correct me if I’m wrong, that it was somehow able to transcend that live setting in a more passive listening. So it was a good representation of the madness that we create on stage, by not going in with a pre-fabricated plan but allowing the energy of the room to guide that journey. And it just happened to be captured well on tape, I guess given the shape of that room, and the way the sound is.
Rob: It’s definitely raw, and I really like the rawness of it. Usually with my thespians, listening back to it….even like old Phish tapes or old Dead tapes, listening back to those. I have friends that have used tapes and not CDs or anything…
Isaac: Yeah, Maxwell XL-II’s, man….
Rob: Yep. But yeah, I just like that sound.
Isaac: But yeah, we had no preconceived notion that it was going to be taped in any way. But then it was, and was gifted to us in such an organic way that we decided to allow it to be heard by everybody. Because it was this great snapshot of what we’re doing.
On that idea—one thing I’m always curious to ask artists is how often they listen back to themselves and to old shows they’ve performed. Do either of you enjoy or not enjoy doing that?
Isaac: I do it all the time. I went to a conservatory, and this going to date me, but I had a mini disc recorder, and I’d record every practice I did, and then when I was eating dinner or whatever, in between hours and hours of practice, I’d find it’s the truest mirror, because you can’t hide behind a recording. It’s a capture of exactly what you play. The growth in playing, and the language of improvisation, benefits from listening back with both a subjective and an objective ear. It’s hard to do that, because it’s like hearing your own voice on tape, like, “Oh my goodness, I actually sound like that?” And there are moments where I have to take that, and address it, and grow from it or say hey, that was a really off moment.
Rob: I do what Isaac does, during practice I’ll record my ideas and see how they sound, from that perspective. But as far as live shows, Isaac’s pretty much the mastermind of the audio for this project, and I trust him. But I don’t know what it is, I just never really listened back to the live shows that I play professionally. I’m different in that aspect I guess. It’s in the past, and I’d just nitpick myself too much. You kinda have to do that if you want to excel at something, but I already do enough of that in general, haha. I’ll just listen back to myself and get self conscious about my playing. But it is very helpful. It’s cool to have those moments when you listen back to something. You know, I don’t necessarily remember everything I play, but then I’ll listen back to it and think, “How the f*** did I do that?”
I would imagine there’s a balance there, between analyzing yourself but also not over-analyzing, and sometimes getting out of your own way, out of your own head.
Isaac: Yeah and that happens all the time actually. There’s this disembodiment that happens sometimes, where you leave physical self. These moments where you’re there, but you’re not there, and the music is this living, organic creature that we just happen to be a part of, and allow to hit the air. It’s really quite cool.
So Px3 hits this really cool area between jazz and electronic music. Was there a particular instance or source that influenced either of you two to these genres?
Rob: For me, it’d be a few years ago, I was studying with this drummer from Quebec named Stehapne Chamberland. I’d met him through one of my past teachers, and took some lessons with him when he was in Connecticut. But I would meet him in Manhattan, where he had his jazz studio. It’s called The Music Building, it’s on eighth avenue. Then we’d go see some live music, just crazy drummers. All the people that I really looked up to. But I’d go every weekend to see jazz, at places like 55 Bar or The Blue Note. We’re really fortunate, being located where we are, to see stuff like this, because NYC is such a great bubble for this music. So that was probably around five years ago, that I started to go see jazz and other stuff all the time, and when I realized this was what I wanted to do.
Isaac: For me, it had to be thirteen or fourteen years ago, when I saw a video of Miles Davis’ concert called “Call it Anything,” which is his 37-minute show at Isle of Wight, and right before Hendrix played, so it was this wild thing. That’s when I had my ears opened up to the usage of electronics. It’s Keith Jarret and Chick Correa both on Fender Rhodes, but both with ring modulators and delays and all this stuff. So it was this moment for me like, wait a minute, this is jazz, but there’s all this modern manipulation of signal flow and sound. It opened up my ears to move away from bebop—because that’s what I was studying. I was in school for jazz, and all of a sudden I had this revelation that we’re building off of this framework of harmony. Harmony is universal, to an extent, stemming from an earlier peon. But turning it on it’s head, by rhythmic manipulation. Being a keyboardist, and having access to synthesizers and voice modulators and virtual synths and all this stuff, I really got into sound design, how to create sounds that have an air of familiarity but are also otherworldly. In this way that allowed me to take the ideas I have that are stemmed in tradition and push them to a boundary, or to this astral plane, that never existed before. So, I’ve been into that for awhile, but this is the project where it’s been executed with such ease and grace, and fun.
You guys have dubbed Px3 as the “apocalyptic organ duo.” With, “music to end all times” being on of your headlining descriptions. Was it your intention upon going in to have this dark theme?
Isaac: Haha. I’d say it comes from our irreverent sense of humor. When Rob and I conceptualized this project, it was as this secondary outlet for our improvisational voices. There’s these incredible moments in No Mind where we do get to improvise, but there’s structure and we don’t want to go off on these twenty-minute, tangential moments. Because it may not be appropriate necessarily for that avenue or the fan base. So we started this project, and said okay, let’s do a couple of shows ad just see what happens. And people started showing up, and then more people started showing up, and it was a recurring theme in our conversations together, at least to me, that we were so humbled that people kept showing up in relatively strong numbers to see something that we[‘re doing as a passion project.
It’s something I’ve always dreamt of doing, to be on stage and have that relationship with an audience. So the “apocalytic organ duo” was this fun branding thing where we’re like who knows, The world is messed up, but let’s use this music as this beautiful moment that we all get to share together.
Another thing that really fascinates me about improvisational music in general, but also your project specifically, is this balance between making music for listening to, in a more serious sense, and making music for dancing, something you can can get down to.
Isaac: Yeah sometimes I feel like my aesthetic towards music can border on alienation of the audience, which in moments is really appropriate, especially coming from a jazz background. It’s a niche. Yes, jazz is this beautiful American tradition and so richly steeped in history, but it alienates most audiences. And I grew up listening to Phish and the Dead, and all that. I must have been like eight years old when I was given my first Phish tape, and I’m remember being like, oh my god, this is music? Hearing Page McConnell play, I was like, I want to do this, but with my own flair. And in past musical projects I’ve been able to get close to that, but the audience is there with you, because I didn’t find that balance. Rob allows me to find that balance, because we both come from similar listening backgrounds. It’s funny actually, the first time the two of us met we didn’t even talk. We played together first, and then we talked. We met at Cody’s house, and jammed together, and then we finished and we’re like “hey, it’s nice to meet you,” hahaha. And then we were comparing our listening tapes. He’d asked me if I’d heard of this project Mehliana, which is Mark Guiliana and Brad Mehldau, this record Taming the Dragon. And I was like, “Dude, I listen to that like once a week.” It was evident that our ears were tuned into the same frequencies.
And that allows us to dip our toe into both worlds, to go deep into these dark, psychedelic moments, and then also go into these really danceable moments where someone doesn’t need a deep education in music to have this visceral reaction.
How long after you guys met would did it feel like the chemistry really started to form?
Rob: I would say almost pretty instantly, to be honest. We had met at that party but were doing our things. Like, I was in a project with two of my friends, Andrew Callahan and Jeff Cummings, Electronic Soul. We played improvised music over Andy’s compositions, and they both moved to opposite ends of the country. We had one last show as a trio, Jeff flew up from Florida for that one. And I knew that Isaac was all about that genre of music, so I hit him up and was like, “hey wanna play some sax at this gig? It’s all improv.” You brought your Moog, too.
Rob: That was the first actual gig we ever played, then shortly after I joined No Mind, and we just started playing from that. A lot of people were saying to me, you two should do your own thing. Plus I had my residency at Pacific Standard Tavern going, with Ryan Berry, and we would a bring a guest keyboardist or guitarist up each week. One of the shows I got Issac, and it just fit, and he became our regular keyboardist for the gig. Ryan would say the same thing, and of course he was busy with Cabin Fever. So why not just do a duo thing, even just for fun? And I never imagined it going the way that it did.
Isaac: Yeah, we did the first few shows, and then all of a sudden Vermont wanted us up there, and we got signed to Loose Leaf, and we were like, “Oh shit. So people are digging this.” Hahaha.
Rob: I tried for twenty years to find a project where I felt accepted by people, and starting with Isaac…maybe it was just the amount of time I spent trying to do something in this capacity, but it almost seemed effortless. It’s so natural. I’ve never felt as natural a connection in a band like this before.
Since you mention RMAD, you guys have done shows with that project, which has you playing together but with one or more special guests, billed alongside a Px3 set. What is that like? Is there a sort of compartmentalizing that needs to happen?
Isaac: I would call it this blurred lines, contiguous flow. Whereas we’ll the do the first set as the duo, and then maybe the first third of another set as the trio, and then we’ll invite musical guests up. So it takes listeners on this additive sort of musical journey.
Rob: Yeah, it gives it these layers.
Isaac: And it’s a different sound, too. The two projects have a very different sound, which is great. There’s that thread that ties it together, which is Rob’s and my voices, but bringing in Berry’s incredible playing takes it to that different place. Because it’s a third energy brought into the band. So the lines are blurry, but hopefully distinct enough that they sound like two separate musical thoughts.
Rob: I think the real challenge with me and Isaac playing together….like, we did the first show together at Bishop’s, for this fundraiser for a music festival up in Greenfield called Manifest. We got there after the headlining band had set up, which I was also a part of, and if you know the room it’s a very small place. I didn’t have any room for my kick drum. So I was like, “Well f**k. Guess I’m playing bare minimum.” And I didn’t have any electronics, and it was really on Isaac to play everything harmonically, while I just played the drums. I wouldn’t even say we were nervous, it was more like, “Well, shit. This is gonna be interesting.” But that was a top show for me, one of my favorite shows.
Isaac: No yeah, I liked that constraint. It forced us to take a different path. And that’s what is so beautiful about doing this thing, going in without a plan. Those moments of surprise can really come more readily, keeping that open mindset.
For upcoming tour dates, videos, and more, head to Px3’s personal Facebook page here.