When particles collide, new particles are formed. Put electrons, neutrons, protons or any of those other, more exotic particles like neutrinos in a place where they can come together at super-fast speeds, and the results are unpredictable but fascinating. Physics is fun!
So it’s entirely appropriate that the Bangor rock duo When Particles Collide takes after its scientific namesake. A punk rocker and a jazz drummer, from very different musical backgrounds, coming together to make a big, satisfying bang.
Sasha Alcott and Chris Viner met while they performed together in April 2010, in Penobscot Theatre Company’s production of rock musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Alcott played Yitzak, Hedwig’s tortured backing vocalist and guitarist; Viner was Schlatko, Hedwig’s drummer. A few months later, the pair were playing a handful of original and cover songs here and there, at open mics and in their living room. By November, a band had formed — despite their musical differences.
“I think there are maybe four or five CDs that our collections overlap with,” said Alcott, who by day is a chemistry teacher at Bangor High School. “Carole King. Michael Jackson. Prince. Led Zeppelin. But that’s about it. Anything that was played in CBGB’s in New York between 1977 and 1981 is totally my thing. Chris comes from a much more jazz and jam band-oriented background.”
Alcott’s love of the two-and-a-half minute rock song, and Viner’s expressive, fluid, jazz-informed drumming meld perfectly. For Viner, playing with Alcott allowed him a chance to stretch his legs, musically. When he’s not playing with When Particles Collide, he drums regularly with the jazz group the Colin Graebert Trio, and is also the in-house drummer for the Penobscot Theatre.
“I needed a change of pace from playing jazz and that kind of thing,” he said. “I still love that, but it’s really kind of refreshing to play in a more rock-oriented setting. I’m not typically someone that’s really into songwriting, but I am now. I get [Alcott’s] songs.”
That combination of styles has served the band well, as it developed a sound around Alcott’s songs, many of which she had been writing on her own for several years.
“It’s two aesthetics that compliment each other, but also create tension,” said Alcott. “Tension with trust, anyway. That always makes things more interesting.”
Alcott’s songs are tough, heartfelt rockers, with deeply personal lyrics and alternately crunchy and jangly punk rock riffs. The duo setting shines a light on her words and guitar playing, which draw from such inspirations as early PJ Harvey, the Pretenders, Sleater-Kinney and the Pixies. Angry, fist-pumping anthems like “Dear Rachel” and “Not High School” fit perfectly next to the more melodic, introspective songs like “10 Years” and “Somebody Find Me.”
As a duo, Viner is tasked with being the entire rhythm section, a role in which he is eminently capable. His jazz background gives him a musicality and versatility that fleshes out Alcott’s songs. He utilizes the full potential of his drum kit, and is fearless in playing both big, crashing fills and delicate, polyrhythmic passages.
“He has a skill set that enables him to be both bass and drums,” said Alcott. “It gives us a much fuller sound than a duo might normally have.”
When Particles Collide have several shows coming up in the next month. On April 23, the group plays in New York City, and on April 29, it plays at Ipanema in Bangor with Alcott’s other band, Queen City. On May 21, also at Ipanema, the band will have a release party for its debut album, “Mass to Energy,” on a double bill with Belfast duo The Class Machine. You can also catch it semi-regularly at the Tuesday night open mic at Paddy Murphy’s in Bangor. For information, or to listen to preview songs from the new album, visit www.whenparticlescollide.com.