For most of it's brief musical life, Rainbows has been more experiment than band. It's founding members both hold day jobs that most would consider far from mundane—Paurl Walsh owns a recording studio and builds analog synthesizers, Max Stein plays bass in up-and-coming Party Damage alums Wild Ones—but over the last 3 years, and despite living over 100 miles apart, they've carved out time, an hour here a weekend there, to re-approach music together as if for the first time, throwing out the pop playbook, putting down the guitars and getting back to the excitement that drives punks into basements the world over.
At it's core, Rainbows is two professional musicians trying to recapture the grace & joy of the amateur.
Walsh and Stein became fast friends while attending college at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle in the early 2000s—both with a focus on classical composition—but it would be a decade before their collaboration began. Walsh stayed in Seattle after college and co-founded the ExEx Audio recording studio, engineering and producing dozens of projects while also maintaining his own writing and recording career. Stein, meanwhile, moved to Southern California, playing in bands and writing classical compositions before a break-up landed him back in the Pacific Northwest—this time Portland, Oregon.
Though Stein and Walsh were still separated by a three-hour drive, the friends reconnected in 2012 and began to plot a collaboration. Because their in-person time together would have to be limited, they brainstormed a series of self-imposed restrictions that they refer to as “the contract.” Rule one: No guitars. Rule two: All vocals would be distorted or otherwise affected. Rule three: The duo would record the music as they wrote it, in breakneck sessions at Walsh’s ExEx studio that usually lasted just a few days.
These restrictions were meant to keep the duo from falling back on easy habits. Both Walsh and Stein are skilled guitarists, and wanted an excuse to play with synths (which Walsh custom-builds). By de-emphasizing vocals, they knew they’d avoid forming a traditional rock band. But these rules also helped fuse together a truly original sound, and by the time Rainbows first batch songs were recorded—they’d become the 2011 PCP STD OMG EP—the band’s sound was taking shape as an unholy concoction of pulsing EDM with chiptune spirit, mixed with math rock time signatures and glacial tonal changes pulled from the duo’s classical music backgrounds. Follow-up EP Boars Win took the formula to even greater heights, layering cascading abstract vocals to the intricate, baroque-rock soundscapes and adding newly explosive percussion to the mix.
Let’s Kiss, the duo’s latest and most impressive effort to date, finds Rainbows living up to its name with a sound that’s at once brighter and more mysterious. “Bhangra College” is Rainbows’ trunk-rattling take on mutant hip-hop, while “Chords” recalls early Aphex Twin by way of Battles. “Knuckles” is a moody piece of intergalactic beat science that rolls in on itself like a malfunctioning assembly line. In just three songs, Let’s Kiss heralds the arrival of Rainbows as a smart, scary, and multi-faceted duo that could literally go anywhere from here.
Rainbows has evolved since the 2014 Let’s Kiss recording session, too—gradually crawling out of the studio to become a full-fledged live band, and even adding a formerly embargoed guitar to its live show. The transformation from secretive, disciplined recording project to full-on live band is proving unpredictable and exciting, but Stein and Walsh bring the same sense of discovery—and the same classically trained ears—to the table in both settings, and Rainbows is only just getting started.