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The Contortionist plays the Emerson

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The Contortionist - SUBMITTED PHOTO

How The Contortionist, one of Indianapolis' premier prog-metal acts, got its start is pretty typical. What happened after that is not.

As Robby Baca, one of the quintet's guitarists, noted in a recent interview, he was steeped in progressive rock by his bassist father at an early age. Listening to bands like Rush, Genesis and Yes was common in his household.

"I guess it's always been something I like to hear," Baca said.

It inspired him to pick up a guitar and teach himself how to play it. Baca admits he didn't take to it immediately.

"I definitely had a couple years where I had no idea what I was doing," he said. "But, for me it was something I was doing all the time. It came naturally over time."

Baca found kindred spirits while attending high school in Noblesville about five years ago. He initially joined what would become The Contortionist as the bass player. He, second guitarist Cam Maynard, his twin brother Joey on drums, bassist Chris Tilley and singer/keyboardist Jonathan Carpenter started out playing Coheed and Cambria covers.

When The Contortionist began performing publicly, Baca says it was in "arcades and people's sheds." The limited number of underage venues here was enough to coax them into expanding their fan base beyond Indianapolis and central Indiana.

"Before we were even signed, we did a tour we booked ourselves that took us out to California," Baca said. "We had already been all over the place when we got signed. We were definitely trying to get out of Indianapolis."

The keyword is "signed." A few short years after coalescing and recording two self-released EPs, The Contortionist were introduced to Paul Conroy, co-founder of the hardcore/metal label Good Fight Music. He promptly offered them a contract in early 2010. By August, they had their full-length debut, Exoplanet, complete.

"It's been really good," Baca said, of their relationship with Good Fight. "They've always been on the same page as us, and they've never tried to put their hands in the writing process. That was important for us."

Exoplanet could easily be Herculean heavy throughout if not for The Contortionist's insistence on having honest-to-goodness melody and ambiance. The track "Expire" is unadulterated metal, but "Axiom" is like a lullaby with piano and acoustic guitar.

Extensive touring last year, including a jaunt through Australia, made them even tighter as a band.
"We've gotten better at communicating musical ideas to each other," Baca said. "We're able to understand each other better. That definitely helps with writing music."

He expects that to shine through on their second record, which The Contortionist recently finished recording in Florida.

"Everything is sounding fucking huge and great," Baca said. "It still has the weight of Exoplanet, but with the heavier stuff we've gotten more technical, and with the softer parts we're trying things we never attempted on Exoplanet. But I think if you like Exoplanet you'll definitely like this one."

Even now, when playing the old material, Baca hears an ongoing evolution and maturation.

"We've played them for so long now that we find things we don't like and want to change," he said. "They've grown into something even better. The new album is definitely more of a leap."

Music like this commands such amelioration, though. A continual pressure to improve at your craft and push its limits and possibilities. Baca and the rest of The Contortionist aren't invulnerable to such stress.

"There are a lot of super-sick guitar players in our realm of music," Baca says. "I can say honestly I'm not anywhere near a lot of them. I do feel some pressure, but it's not like a crippling thing. It's something that still comes naturally."

The Contortionist will play with All Shall Perish, Carnifex, Fleshgod Apocalypse.

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