Photos by Erick Doxey
Max Harnishfeger leapt into music in fourth grade, as he took on the upright bass. Through middle school and high school, he expanded his horizons to guitar, piano and eventually synthesizers. While Max was a few years my junior, I certainly remember him quietly tinkering and keeping active at our alma matter in the wheat fields north of Spokane, Washington. As time passed on, Max stayed diligent in his musical pursuits, including new bands and studying audio technology at Spokane Falls Community College. In 2011, with bandmates spread around Washington State, Max began a new project with Karli Ingersoll (née Fairbanks) called Cathedral Pearls. The duo would round Cathedral Pearls into a foursome with the addition of Max's wife Carrie and Karli's husband Caleb. Through several album releases, Cathedral Pearls played numerous shows & festivals and Paste named the band one of the "12 Washington Bands You Should Listen to Now" in 2012 (fun fact: they were ranked above Macklemore). However, in late 2012, Karli and Caleb decided to begin the endeavor of opening a new music venue in Spokane, The Bartlett. With the Cathedral Pearls train slowing down, Max's musical itch needed to be scratched. "Caleb and Karli gave me a strong encouragement to explore what a solo project would look like for me," Max recalls. "Then they went even further when they booked me for a New Year’s Eve Show at the Bartlett before I had any material. That really jump started me to make a lot of decisions in a short amount of time." With this, Water Monster was born. During Max's aforementioned teenage musical forays, he spent a fair amount of time exploring synths and computer based music. Influences like Broken Social Scene and Prefuse 73 sparked interest early on. Flashing forward Max felt Water Monster was a solid outlet to explore his own songwriting through electronic music. Over several months, Max forced himself to write 750 words in the morning and spend at least an hour a day improvising with musical ideas he'd come up with on the computer. The first track to emerge from these early Water Monster sessions was "Rest". And with Karli & Caleb's booking, Max would open for one of his musical influences, Helado Negro, on New Year's Eve at the Bartlett. This early live show gave Max a push and a reason to tailor Water Monster. Another Bartlett show with fellow Washingtonian electronic act ODESZA plus a feature on Karli's Collect Sessions provided further opportunities to hone the music in. Max credits the Bartlett in the development of Water Monster, but also the Spokane scene at large. "I think the Bartlett has had a huge effect on the music scene in Spokane. Not only are more people able to see a great show here, but I think it has also raised the standard for local music. I’ve been really surprised to see the level of support and community that is here in the music scene and that has given me a lot of hope for where Spokane’s future is in the arts community. There are a lot of young people rising up and taking ownership of the culture and that’s really exciting." While new acts and ideas were arising in Spokane, Water Monster was one of the few electronic projects. Yet Max found this as a challenge to tackle, which seems to have paid off. "Lot’s of bands that make very different music than us have vocally expressed their support as well as been to alot of our shows. I think we all see when someone pours a lot of their soul and time into making art that they are proud of and can get behind and support it even if it is different. Diversity in culture is a beautiful thing and I’ve been really proud of Spokane’s ability to not pigeonhole themselves into supporting one type of music—we all cheer on and root for one another and it helps everybody get better at what they are doing." However, it would take a trip around the globe to Germany before Max and Water Monster evolved to the next stage. While listening to Devendra Banhart's Mala and Volcano Choir's Repave albums, the trip spawned what would become Water Monster's debut Survive The Night EP. "When I was in Germany, I got really severe jetlag and at night I would fall asleep for about a half hour and then just be wide awake until morning. It started to deeply affect my mind. I felt like I was going crazy—like I was stuck in this monotonous loop of trying to sleep on one side, then the other, then pacing the floor, then starting all back over again. Survive The Night draws upon that feeling of isolation that I was feeling not being able to sleep while my wife and child are right in the same room with me sleeping great." Max enlisted Caleb's brother Scott Ingersoll on guitar to help flesh out Survive The Night. " I would email him rough demos of the songs and he was very diligent at coming up with unique textural guitar to enhance them. He’s been really amazing to work with because he makes a big contribution to the overall sound without making it all about him—he’s not just shredding over the top of the tracks or over do anything," Max notes. Together, Scott and Max crafted what would ultimately become a five song debut album. For the fellow synth dweebs out there, Max shared that he used the Arturia MiniBrute and DSI Mopho analog synths, both for tones and as samples for drum programming. Survive The Night is a confident virgin voyage into electronic territory. While patient and subtle, the album shows little hesitancy tackling new instruments and ideas. Max's songwriting, proven with Cathedral Pearls, certainly stands on its own, but it's exciting to see one of Spokane's talented musicians pushing new personal boundaries and trying untested grounds. The intricate, swelling, panning synths are complemented by Max's vocals, lyrics that aptly describe the Germany experience and Scott's fitting, nuanced guitar work. I, for one, am fascinated to see how Water Monster evolves and grows. Survive The Night is available on Bandcamp now. Also view the new video for "Southern Lights", directed by Sean Finley. Water Monster performed at Bartfest 2014 this weekend, but watch their Facebook page for news on upcoming shows.