Local punk trio Junior Rocket Scientist took the title of its latest release, Mu (Muah Records, 2016), from a concept singer-guitarist Britton Glenn read about in Robert M. Pirsig's bestselling 1974 book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
"Mu means, 'No thing. Like 'quality,' it points outside the process of dualistic discrimination. Mu simply says, 'No class: not one, not zero, not yes, not no.' It states that the context of the question is such that a yes or a no answer is in error and should not be given. 'Unask the question' is what it says."
This concept appealed to Glenn, who said he is fascinated by "opposites and polarities. Things ending and other things starting, but where is that line, really? Because it doesn't really exist."
Songs on Mu, like "Bean Blossom," reflect Glenn's interest in ends and beginnings.
"I feel like death is kind of a strong undertone to the album. ... 'Bean Blossom' is kind of a song about death and rebirth."
Mu's doleful tunes, hypnotic drones and urgent rhythms make that undertone audible. Northwest Music Scene praised the album for its ability "to pull out a complex, unique, and at times spooky and dissonant sound, all while keeping a distinct and infectious tone." The local post-punk trio released the album online in February and will celebrate with a show on Friday, April 15 at Neurolux. Local rock bands Braided Waves and Dark Swallows open.
Completing Mu was a gradual process. After JRS recorded the main tracks for the songs in January and February of 2014, Glenn added overdubs and tweaked the mixes in the months that followed.
"I feel like I oftentimes will listen to things a whole bunch and get a bunch of ideas," he said. "And then I'll crank it all out right before we want to try to get [something] mastered or whatever because I'm a procrastinator."
It took a while to develop JRS's sound, as well. Formed by Glenn, Brian Anglin, Joey Jeter and Mark Molitor in 2008, the foursome jammed and wrote material for a year before they played live.
"We actually recorded our first EP, ep3o (self-released, 2011)—which is a totally different, synth-pop thing—before we ever played a show," Glenn said.
JRS also took its time building its Garden City rehearsal space, Rocket Science Sound, where the group recorded Mu with drummer Christopher Smith.
"We built a huge wall between us and the neighbors," Glenn said, "and decked out the place with a lot of acoustic treatment that I built myself, like huge 4-foot by 8-foot panels that are 4 inches thick [and] filled with insulation."
The work on Rocket Science Sound paid off in an unexpected way: Built to Spill began rehearsing at the space and took JRS along as the opener on its 2013 West Coast tour.
"They were just hanging around and were like, 'So-and-so can't go on tour; we need to find somebody,'" Glenn said. "And I was like, 'We'll go if you want us to go.'"
JRS made a good impression on Built to Spill's audiences. L.A. Record contributor Scott Sheff reviewed a May 2013 show at famed Los Angeles music venue The Troubadour. He declared that the opening band "captivated the crowd not just with its eclectic mix of death-pop and garage rock but the ability of every member of the band to play each instrument."
"It's kind of unbelievable now because of some of the things that we did," Glenn said. "Doug [Martsch] was really into people getting up on stage with him. ... We'd trade off instruments with him, and I'd be playing Doug's guitar and soloing in front of a bunch of Built to Spill fans. Or we'd set up guitar amps in the back of the room so at the end, they'd be playing guitar solos and we'd be doing the same thing in the back of the room."
Glenn quit his job at the Boise Co-op two years ago, but stays busy bouncing between Idaho, Michigan, Oregon and Washington.
"I was foraging in the forest for chanterelles and lobster mushrooms and selling them to chefs in the [Newport, Ore.] area," Glenn said. "That was how I made money while I was there. That was pretty fun."
He insists JRS isn't done, though. After the Neurolux show, Glenn, Anglin and drummer Ross Demastus will head out for a short Northwest tour supporting Portland indie-rock group Helvetia. JRS fans can expect new songs in the future, too.
"I'm definitely wanting to start a new project also," Glenn said. "But there are songs that I write that I'm like, 'That's a Junior Rocket Scientist song.'"