“You can fill up a lot of space if you’re smart about it.”
By Ian Thomas
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Dan Provenzano and Kevin Nickles have released music as Writhing Squares since 2013, but their musical collaboration began nearly a decade earlier in Slatington, a smallish town in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania.
“Kevin and I grew up a mile down the road from each other. We went to high school together and started playing rock and roll together in our friend’s basement,” Provenzano says in a phone interview with the duo. As rock and roll origin stories go, it’s pretty unremarkable, but that doesn’t account for their definition of rock and roll. After moving to Philadelphia, their current base of operations, Provenzano played a stint in Purling Hiss, Nickles in Taiwan Housing Project. But they sought a vehicle that would allow them to explore their shared sensibilities and showcase Provenzano’s bass and Nickles’s saxophone. Thus, Writhing Squares was born.
Provenzano and Nickles began experimenting, building a big sound from those minimal elements, guided more by instinct than ethos. Over the course of a handful of singles, splits, and two LP’s, they’ve tweaked the equation, adding a spray of synth here and an increasingly frequent drum machine there, but never straying too far from their core of minimalism. The real through-line of the Writhing Squares, though, is the interplay between Provenzano and Nickles. The instrumentation is incidental.
“The whole idea of the band is ‘What can Kevin and I do together?’ If I played piano and Kevin played the tambourine, well, it would be a piano and tambourine band,” Provenzano says. “Kevin plays sax and I play bass.” It’s that simple. In Writhing Squares, Provenzano and Nickles are doing exactly what they want. They allow that what they want might change and that’s exactly the point of Writhing Squares.
“There’s not too much of a high concept,” Nickles says. “We have friends who are drummers. Maybe one day we’ll play with a drummer. Or maybe one day we’ll have a guitar player play. But right now, [those are] our strengths and we’re just putting our strengths into this band.”
“Steely Eyed Missile Man,” the hard-driving single from this year’s Out of the Ether LP is as far from high-concept as rock music can get, as the pair seek to bury Provenzano’s spat-out vocals in sweaty, swaggering grooves. It’s music to walk off your job to, but only after trashing the place.
The two advertise their sound as “loud and sloppy space rock,” taking cues from prog-rock titans like Hawkwind and Yes. As a duo, the epic sweep of the prog sound is refracted. It reflects as something darker, but just as big. Filling the small rooms that Writhing Squares tend to play, the sound connotes threat and menace. In the open, its aggressive minimalism would read as quixotic.
“That’s kind of part of it too, just showing how much you can do with just two people. You can fill up a lot of space if you’re smart about it,” Provenzano says.