Catastrophe Helps Rainer Maria Stay Together, Grow Up

New album sees maturing band drift from emo roots; tour starts April 20.

NEW YORK — In a low-key Brooklyn bar, Kyle Fischer nurses a whiskey to cure a cold and marvels about Web marketing.

One day his band, Rainer Maria, has approximately 10,000 MySpace fans, and the next — thanks to a random (and unpaid) advertisement for the band’s new record, Catastrophe Keeps Us Together — the group has gained another 7,000 or so friends.

“I really don’t understand how all that stuff works,” the self-confessed technophobe said.

The guitarist has other concerns — first and foremost, the upcoming 25-date North American tour in support of Catastrophe (released April 4). And though he’s under the weather, he’s incredibly psyched to show off the record.

When Rainer Maria last left us, their outlook was drastically different. The trio had just survived a difficult inner-band breakup, chronicled in 2003′s Long Knives Drawn. Evidence of struggles were front and center; the title track contained the passionate plea “Let’s get over each other/ So we can fall in love again!/ Won’t you hold me/ Make believe that you don’t loathe me.”

“At one point, for a period of six months, [singer/bassist Caithlin De Marrais and I] couldn’t be in a room together very well,” Fischer said. The band is rounded out by drummer William Kuehn.

Despite the internal tensions and aftermath, the band endured, coming out a wiser and more mature group, which is reflected on the latest record.

The formerly Wisconsin-based outfit started out a spiky, emo-laden indie-rock group in 1995, relocating to New York in 2000. The fifth album finds Rainer Maria (named after the poet Rainer Maria Rilke) sloughing off their dramatic adolescent tendencies and discovering a self-assured middle ground where seething restraint and calculated explosiveness meet.

Coming upon this new musical topography was due in part to outside circumstances.

After Long Knives, the band parted ways with its record label and decided to write the follow-up without financial backing. “It was [financially] strained there for a few months,” Fischer said.

The gamble paid off: Their first coup was signing to Grunion Records — the new label from powerhouse management company Q Prime, which represents Metallica, Shania Twain and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The second was scoring Grammy-winning producer Malcolm Burn (Bob Dylan, Patti Smith), who produced all but two tracks (the album’s opening double shot was handled by Interpol producer Peter Katis).

It’s Burn’s firm approach that helps set the material apart from the band’s older tracks.

“One day, Malcolm just shut everything off and went into the kitchen and started making his lunch,” Fischer said. “He’s like, ‘This isn’t working. Come back Monday when you all are ready to make some music.’ ”

The slap in the face set the tone for the rest of the recording and kept the trio on their toes.

“We joked later that Malcolm was like the Zen master, kicking us out of the dojo for not maintaining the Buddha mind.”

Much of the material recorded with Burns demonstrates newfound emotional contours, with acoustic tracks and slow-burning mid-tempo numbers that brim and bubble with controlled passion.

While the Rainer Maria world is now in a comfortable orbit, Fischer understands that fans are still looking for clues that might indicate otherwise. The album title, for one, seemingly echoes the band’s relationship woes, but the catastrophe in mind was actually the 2004 re-election of George W. Bush. Fischer’s absence from vocal duties and lyric writing added further speculation about the band’s current dynamic, but he sees it as part of a natural evolution.

“Caithlin has grown so much as a vocalist. Her voice is, like, so amazing, and my voice is peculiar. It kind of draws attention away from hers.”

But he does admit that the breakup affected their lyrical approach and the old call-and-response vocal attack. “Dramatically, the songs went from ‘us’ kind of songs to ‘me’ songs. They went from, like, these dialogues to single narrative perspectives.”

Though their lyrics continue to mine the territory of lost love and the emotional aftermath, Fischer said even when the songs were about each other, they were always careful to not get too autobiographical. “We’re always, like, drawing. You know, like, tracing something but not really describing it.”

He finished his drink and smiled. “It’s amazing that we’ve had the same lineup for 10 years,” he said.

Rainer Maria tour dates, according to their publicist:

  • April 20 – Washington, DC @ Black Cat
  • April 21 – Williamsburg, VA @ College of William and Mary
  • April 22 – Chapel Hill, NC @ Wetlands
  • April 23 – Atlanta, GA @ Eyedrum
  • April 25 – Orlando, FL @ The Social
  • April 26 – Gainesville, FL @ Common Grounds
  • April 27 – Baton Rouge, LA, @ Res Star
  • April 28 – Houston, TX @ Walter’s on Washington
  • April 29 – Denton, TX @ Dan’s
  • April 30 – Austin, TX @ Emo’s
  • May 2 – Phoenix, AZ @ Modified
  • May 3 – West Hollywood, CA @ Troubadour
  • May 4 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
  • May 5 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
  • May 6 – Seattle, WA @ Paradox
  • May 7 – Vancouver, BC, @ TBD
  • May 10 – Minneapolis, MN @ Triple Rock Social Club
  • May 11 – Chicago, IL @ Beat Kitchen
  • May 12 – Chicago, IL @ Beat Kitchen
  • May 13 – Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop
  • May 14 – Ann Arbor, MI @ Blind Pig
  • May 15 – Toronto, ON @ Horseshoe Tavern
  • May 16 – Montreal, QC @ El Salon
  • May 20 – New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
  • May 21 – Philadelphia, PA @ First Unitarian Church