Experimental Notes from The Non

Fingers fly across fretboards, nothing but dark blurs against the glow of bright lamps that backlight the stage and everyone on it with pure, white radiance. The musicians, four of them, are little more than silhouettes casting rays like sunbeams through a fine, fog machine mist. The sound flowing from the amplifiers undulates between crisp, soaring melodies, explosive guitar solos and funkadelic bass riffs. The energy is palpable. It’s the kind of music that sweeps you up and away like a flood from a bursting dam, but instead of that pesky drowning aspect that comes with facing real flood waters, there’s only a feeling that you are exactly where you should be, listening to something important.

Somewhere between jazz fusion and post-rock, The Non is an experimental, ambient band, but it’s unfair to pigeonhole them with a string of subgenre labels. They are what they are and whatever that is, it’s working.

Just ask the fans who voted The Non “Best Rock Band” in the 2008 Oklahoma Gazette Woody Awards. Or the fans who cross state lines to catch their shows. “The fans are dedicated. We have people who don’t miss a show,” bass player Tom Bishop says. “At our last show, I was pumped to see the long line to get in, but then I heard someone say they were going to have to cut it off soon and I felt terrible that these people were going to be turned away. I’d never experienced an emotion like that, to be so happy and feel so terrible.”

The Edmond foursome, comprised of Bishop (bass), Mack Hawkins (drums), Wil Norton (guitar) and Zachary Zeller (guitar) — all in their late teens or barely in their twenties — made a name for themselves in the music world in the past two-and-a-half years since they conquered the competition at the Edmond Memorial High School Battle of the Bands.

Their groovy, high-energy music is spreading across the country and, thanks to the Internet, The Non enjoy international attention. Perhaps their unexpected popularity in Russia has something to do with the universality of wordless music. A thousand people can listen to them play one song and walk away with just as many interpretations.

The only vocals in their entire catalogue come from a couple of their songs which use pre-recorded voicemail messages played from a cell phone directly into the guitars’ pickups for an eerie, ethereal effect. Even without lyrics echoing in concert-goers’ heads the day after a show, the infectious (in a good way) tunes can linger indefinitely.

“We decided to call ourselves The Non pretty quickly after we started jamming. The inspiration for our name is simple. We didn’t really aspire to fit into a certain genre, and The Non is our way of saying we’re the ‘non-genre,’” says Norton. “It’s our own thing. It’s our own music. We’re always trying to push ourselves to be more innovative and I think that’s what drives the direction of the music.”

The Non released their first album, “Paper City,” in 2007 and are feverishly building material for a sophomore album that they hope to record in Chicago this summer. An independent band, the members do everything themselves. They book their own shows, tour on their own dime-all while trying to succeed in college and the music world. Bishop is a freshman at OU, Norton and Zeller are juniors at OCU and Hawkins attends UCO.

The Non never set out to be an instrumental band. The lack of a vocalist just came naturally to the kind of music they produce. While the prospect of a lead singer isn’t something the band is actively considering, Norton says fans shouldn’t be surprised if the new album follows a different creative path than “Paper City.” He assures fans, however, that the music will still sound like The Non.

Luckily, that sound is loose enough that every member can bring what they want to the music without a loss of integrity. Bishop notes that for the new album, the band is focusing on heavier instrumentation and more intricate songwriting. “The process has changed,” he says. “It used to be that we got all of our material from jams. That’s what’s different about the next album. A lot of it didn’t come from jams. It came from our heads.”

“I think we’ve definitely developed substantially,” says Bishop. “I can speak for the other guys more than I can for me. I know that sounds weird. They’ve always been really good. They’re some seriously stellar musicians, but I’ve noticed that they’ve improved. I hope I have, too. I hope I’m not dragging behind.”

To hear The Non’s music for free, visit www.myspace.com/thenonband.

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