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Maps & Atlases hangs on to its indie cred

The Chicago-based rockers will play with Menomena on March 9 at Mojo’s.

By Pierce Courchaine | March 4, 2011

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Despite being together more than five years and receiving largely positive reviews, the Chicago-based rock quartet Maps & Atlases hasn’t lost its indie cred.

Before releasing its debut album Perch Patchwork last year, Maps & Atlases only released two EPs (which are infinitely more hip than albums) in their existence. The change, though, has been welcomed for fans and the band.

Guitarist Erin Elders said the band was planning to make both EPs full-length albums, but eventually decided not to.

“They just kind of seemed to work as smaller pieces of music,” Elders said.

Although Elder points to the full-length album as a point of pride, he still sees room to grow.

“We’re always trying to evolve and examine what we did on the last record and how we can expand on certain ideas,” Elders said.

The band’s two EPs, Tree, Swallow, Houses and You and Me and the Mountain, were hailed as math-rock masterpieces and earned Maps & Atlases a spot on tour with small label overachievers Portugal. The Man and The Fall of Troy, just to name a few.

Perch Patchwork is more rock sounding than math-rock sounding, and tames a little of the band’s technical prowess. Elders said the band’s technical abilities started when they were young.

“All four of us kind of grew up playing music and music has been a large part of our lives for a very long time,” Elders said. “Early on, that was kind of the bonding point.”

Elders said some of his early inspirations were, surprisingly, free jazz and 1970s progressive rock. The cover art of Perch Patchwork is a different inspiration entirely.

The cover of the album, as well as the cover of the upcoming single "Living Decorations", was done by a Chicago artist named Ed Cardash. A friend of the band discovered Cardash’s work a couple years ago. After the artist died, Maps & Atlases paid homage to his work by putting it on its albums.

The band is letting its fans experiment with its music now as well. On the group’s website, fans can participate in a remix competition using stems from three of the songs off Perch Patchwork. Fans can then pick parts of each song they want to remix and submit them to the band. The winners of the competition will win themselves a boatload of merch, including shirts and music.

The result of this creative activity could be, not surprisingly, another EP. But that’s up in the air, Elders said.

“We don’t really know where we're going with it yet,” Elders said with a laugh.

For now, Maps & Atlases will tour the States before a stop at South By Southwest and a tour in Japan. Touring overseas, Elders said, is always a little different.

“It’s a little bit more like a formal setting,” Elders said.

The group recently returned from a tour in Europe, where the group was building up its international presence. The group’s upcoming U.S. tour, which includes a show March 9 at Mojo’s, will be alongside Menomena.

“Here, it seems like a bunch of people hanging out, like band plus friends,” he said.

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