Instrumental band My Education combines rock and classical elements


“Schiphol,” the latest release from Austin instrumental band My Education, starts out quietly and deliberately, fading into a short “Intro” track with droning strings, echoing guitars and the kind of spacious atmospherics that have been a hallmark of the group’s work since the beginning.

Over the next few songs, the music intensifies, pulls back, and swirls into psychedelic waves, traversing a dynamic range that makes the band hard to pin down to any one style or subgenre, much to their credit. It’s the kind of creative depth and adventurousness that tends to come only to musicians who have been doing what they do for quite some time.

In My Education’s case, that’s about 17 years now. Formed in 2000 after guitarist Brian Purington folded up another band with the same name that included a vocalist, the instrumental iteration of My Education quickly gelled into something that has lasted for the long haul.

Purington and fellow guitarist Chris Hackstie brought different backgrounds to the ensemble. Hackstie studied classical guitar in Florida before moving to Austin, while Purington’s musical ventures in his hometown of San Angelo consisted mainly of playing in punk bands. When they hooked up with violist James Alexander and keyboardist Kirt Laktas, who had been collaborating in a chamber trio called Senators, they hit on something.

The rhythm section has evolved over the years, with Scott Telles of longtime Austin outsider band ST37 now a fixture on bass and Earl Bowers playing drums. On “Schiphol,” they also list Skye Ashbrook as a member of the band for the live visuals he creates to accompany the band’s music at their shows.

That’s a significant part of the story with My Education, which often has adapted its music for film accompaniment. Their 2010 album “Sunrise” was written as a score to the 1927 silent film of the same name by German director F.W. Murnau, and a recent score they composed for a friend’s World War II documentary helped to pay for the recording of “Schiphol.”

“I always think cinematically with this music, whether there’s an actual movie that goes along with it or not,” Alexander says. He adds, half-jokingly, that the band would love to have “some Survive money,” referencing the Austin electronic duo’s recent smash success in making music for the Netflix hit show “Stranger Things.”

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Purington notes that “Schiphol” was more musical than visual in its aims. “I can’t really say I was imagining what it would be like in a movie or anything,” he says. But the larger budget afforded by the documentary film work helped them bring aboard renowned producer Mike McCarthy, known for his work with Spoon, Heartless Bastards, Patty Griffin and many others.

“It was great working with him,” Hackstie said. “He inspired some great sounds, and had some subtle suggestions that seemed to work.”

The album’s title, “Schiphol,” is the name of a major international airport in the Netherlands that was the band’s continental entry point when they toured Europe. Alexander and Laktas had been there many times before when they were members of Ultrasound, a group that also featured musicians who lived in the Netherlands.

They grew fond of the airport’s unusual, almost idyllic atmosphere. “I’ve been treated better in that airport than anywhere else in the world,” Alexander says. “It has an art museum in it, and it has this indoor park.” Purington adds: “You can ride a bike and charge your phone.”

Plus, as far as Alexander could tell after doing a little research, no band has ever named an album after an airport before. It’s led to a surprising side-benefit of publicity: “The Schiphol airport has been retweeting and favoriting a lot of our tweets about the record,” Purington says with a grin.

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International air travel soon will be a much more constant part of Purington’s participation in the band. He and his wife are moving to her home country of New Zealand shortly after the new album is released. “She got a really good job offer over there, and we have a son who’s 17 months, so it seemed like a good place to raise a kid.”

That will require some reshaping of the band, which will continue to perform locally without Purington. Alexander notes that drummer Bowers has proposed incorporating more electronic elements into the music, though they haven’t settled on anything yet. “Brian has the main guitar parts, and we’re not going to substitute a guitar player,” Hackstie says. “We’re going to have to figure out what songs and what kind of arrangements we can do.”

Purington will be with the band when they play South by Southwest showcases on March 13 at Sidewinder and March 14 at Maggie Mae’s, as well as a record-release show at Sidewinder on March 25. Their first show without Purington will be in May at the Pecan Street Festival.

But Purington will join them for a European tour this fall, and they’ll continue to write music together via online communication. “We have at least half a record already written,” Purington says. “I don’t see why it wouldn’t just be another small bump in the road.”

Hackstie concurs. “We’ve all been playing long enough to where it seems to me kind of a gift that in my mid-40s, I’m still playing music. We’ve got to hang onto that.”

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