The songwriting team at the heart of The Autumns––Matthew Kelly and Frank Koroshec––first met as children. They played on the same little league baseball team, and Kelly studied piano with Koroshec's aunt. The two reconnected in high school on the basis of mutual musical interests, and along with Eric Crissman and Jon Santana, started a band. All four lived in Santa Clarita Valley, the Los Angeles suburb whose claim to fame is the Magic Mountain theme park. It was not until they reached college age in 1993–1994, however, that the quartet began releasing demos under the name The Autumns. The first of these was a three-song tape entitled Tea and Sympathy, and the second a two-song cassette called Curious Snow. These EPs, along with The Autumns' regular performances in LA clubs, garnered the group a small but loyal following. In 1996, they issued a four-song CD entitled Suicide at Strell Park. The EP char ted at college radio, where Risk Records caught wind of it. In 1997, the label re-released Strell Park along with the band's debut LP, The Angel Pool. The latter quickly surpassed Strell Park on the college radio charts, bringing the band to national attention for the first time.
The Risk Era
Aside from the successful radio campaign, Risk's promotion of both Strell Park and The Angel Pool was less than stellar, and often incompetent. But the label did provide The Autumns money to tour, and the band's relentless traversing of the United States won The Angel Pool a fair number of converts. As luck would have it, many of them were music journalists whose glowing reviews of the album helped spread the word about it. Flipside, for example, heralded The Angel Pool as "a hypnotic pop masterpiece." Likewise, Big Takeover deemed it "too damn beautiful to pass up" and All Music Guide "an alluring mix of power and beauty."
Fellow musicians also took note of The Autumns, including some the band had long lionized. Cocteau Twins bassist Simon Raymonde, for example, was so taken with the group that he offered to produce their second album at Pete Townshend's studio in London. They leapt at the opportunity, and in 2000 completed their sophomore effort, In the Russet Gold of This Vain Hour, with Raymonde in the producer's chair.
By then, Brian Stearns had replaced Jon Santana on bass, and the band's sound had shifted in a less celestial and more austere direction. While this transition alienated some listeners, it attracted others. And as before, many of them were writers for music magazines. Outburn claimed that with Russet Gold, The Autumns were "poised to leave a lasting imprint upon the independent music world." CMJ characterized the album as "sumptuous," Evil Sponge as "sublimely beautiful," and The San Francisco Weekly as "intelligent, seductive, and a little bit cruel." Sadly, few outside the press would actually hear Russet Gold. Risk Records declared bankruptcy just before its release.
The Bella Union Years
Risk's sudden collapse found The Autumns unexpectedly adrift. Drummer Eric Crissman made his exit, although he stayed on as chief conceptual artist for the band, and was replaced by the gifted Steve Elkins (Bob Ostertag, Soko, Nico Stai). With no record company deadlines to meet, the new ensemble took the opportunity to work on two ideas the band had been pondering for several years, one a 50s-themed EP of love songs (Le Carillon) and the other an EP of cover songs (Covers). Both were released in 2001 on short-lived boutique labels. The two EPs kept the band's name in the pages of the music press, receiving favorable mentions in Pitchfork and All Music Guide, among others. In the same year, The Autumns put out a split 7" with the legendary Lift to Experience. This limited edition vinyl bore the prized imprimatur of Simon Raymonde's Bella Union recording label (Explosions in the Sky, The Devics, Fleet Foxes), and thus lent The Autumns credibility and relevance at a time when few labels were pursuing them. One exception to this indifference was Restless Records (Flaming Lips, The Cramps, Devo), which was enamored of Le Carillon and offered to release a full-length version of it––if only Kelly and Koroshec would obligingly compose six more songs in the same nostalgic vein. The pair passed, and set about writing and recording a new full-length instead.
This decision was risky, but it paid off. When Raymonde heard recordings of the band's new material many months later, he immediately offered them a contract. And in 2004, Bella Union released The Autumns' self-titled third album to an avalanche of accolades in the British press. The four-star reviews came one on top of another. MOJO proclaimed the album "unutterably beautiful but also hugely powerful." The Times of London wrote that it possessed "such majestic chutzpah that the epic gene in you will simply surrender." Rock Louder wished aloud: "Here's hoping this record earns them their due place in the pantheon of indie rock."
While The Autumns marked a return to the dreamier quarters of the The Autumns' aesthetic, it was no mere reprise of The Angel Pool. The combination of Elkins' violent drumming and Kelly and Koroshec's expansive and experimental guitar work created a sonic ferocity unfamiliar from the band's earlier material. This more aggressive approach made for overwhelming live shows, which drew in fans by the hundreds back in Los Angeles. The bigger sound also required more manpower. The band thus brought aboard a third guitar player (first Ken Tighe and later Madison Megna), and meanwhile replaced bassist Brian Stearns with Dustin Morgan (Soko, Archer Black).
The augmented lineup soon began cultivating a fresh crop of songs, and in 2007 handed Raymonde an ambitiously dynamic new album. He loved it, and the following year Bella Union released Fake Noise From a Box of Toys to mixed reviews. NME found the album baffling, and scoffed that its elaborate song structures sounded like “Sigur Ros getting hurt in a free jazz boot camp.” Others were more generous, however. Time Out London wrote that the album "soars in epic, cinematic fashion but comes with a serrated, abrasive edge." Back in America, FILTER boldly declared that Fake Noise proved The Autumns were "everything that other bands wish they were." The album also had the distinction of being the first Autumns record to reach MTV. Director Piper Ferguson's (Ed Harcourt, Miranda Lee Richards, Ash) video for the single "Boys," which featured cameos by famed drag queens Jeffrey Star and Clint Catalyst, aired several times on the channel in late 2008.
Although The Autumns never officially announced their disbandment, Fake Noise and its two singles/EPs (Boys and Killer in Drag) were their undeclared swan songs. Having repeatedly toured in Europe and North America and produced four full-lengths and multiple singles and EPs, the group's members were at last drifting apart creatively. They went on to make numerous records with other projects, some of which continue to the present. But for those who were alert to The Autumns' presence on the music scene in the decade from 1997 to 2008, the band's oeuvre preserves in melodic amber many a cherished memory.
By the early 2000s, The Autumns' profile among fellow musicians was sufficiently prominent to lure collaborators. The most notable of these was R. Loren (Rich Loren Balling), who reached out to Matthew Kelly in 2005 with an offer to contribute two songs to the forthcoming The Sound of Animals Fighting album (Lover, the Lord Has Left Us). Kelly went on to co-write and sing on three TSOAF tracks ("My Horse Must Lose," "The Heretic," and "On the Occasion of Wet Snow") and to perform with the band in Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and several other cities. These shows included sold-out performances at the Best Buy Theatre in Times Square and The Wiltern in Los Angeles. Kelly's involvement with TSOAF helped introduce a generation of post-punk devotees to The Autumns, a marriage that would otherwise have been difficult to imagine.
While TSOAF produced admirers the world over, Loren's subsequent collaboration with Kelly took the "cult following" concept to a new level. In 2008, the same year Bella Union released Fake Noise From a Box of Toys, Hydra Head Records put out Pyramids, a genre-bending, black-metal-infused paradigm shift. The album's fitful blast beats and vicious/gorgeous guitar work were the result of Loren and Kelly's linking up with Matthew and David Embree (RX Bandits, TSOAF), and with a pantheon of other underground artists. Indeed, Pyramids' debut album featured a second disc of remixes by luminaries ranging from James Plotkin to Jesu to Black Tape for a Blue Girl. Such esteemed endorsements sealed the band's legend from the start, and touched off a cascade of subsequent collaborations. The quartet released an album with Nadja in 2009 (Pyramids with Nadja), for example, which included members of Cocteau Twins and Mineral. Subsequent collaborations featured members of Napalm Death, Ulver, Burial Hex, Windy and Carl, Blut Aus Nord, Krallice, Mammifer, Horseback, and numerous others. These recordings received favorable reviews in such revered and varied sources as Pitchfork, Decibel, and The Wire, all of which noted Pyramids' groundbreaking approach to the construction of sonic texture, as well as the band's signature synthesis of the brutal and the beautiful. As the LA Weekly put it, "Pyramids songs are free-time, all-encompassing static, black-eyed angels swimming with you to heaven in a rowboat. Seriously." In March of 2015, Profound Lore will release Pyramids' long-anticipated second (non-collaborative) full-length, A Northern Meadow.
Apart from TSOAF and Pyramids, Kelly also released records with Sugarplastic's Ben Eshbach (2010's Soviet League) and Evol Intent's Knick Weiller (2012's Minus Music).