Beneath the handclap rhythms and New Christy Minstrels harmonies of "Divisionary (Do the Right Thing)" -- the addictive title track from Portland ensemble Ages and Ages' new sophomore release -- there's a Zen-like wisdom that sounds like spiritual advice.
"Do the right thing, do it all the time/ Make yourself right, never mind them/ Don't you know you're not the only one suffering," sings frontman Tim Perry in the chorus, as his bandmates' voices chime in on the crescendo.
"But it's not like I've achieved nirvana and now here I am singing this stuff," says the singer, who brings the group to The City this week. "I'm constantly trying to improve and push myself, and the music is just a manifestation of that struggle."
To clear his mind of distractions before composing "Divisionary" -- and its other songs such as "No Pressure," "Our Demons" and "Calamity is Overrated" -- Perry immersed himself in a 10-day silent retreat.
"It's a very old form of meditation called vipassana," he explains. "And the aim is to practice this completely in an isolated environment."
There were no cellphones, Internet or casual conversations. "It was interesting to spend time where none of those things were available, and the only thing you could do was observe, inside and outside of you," he adds.
Perry calls the experience "the hardest thing I've ever willfully done." By the second day, he was telling himself that he reached the vipassana point and learned everything he could.
But he stuck it out. The stationary meditation process itself proved frustrating, as did simply being alone with his own thoughts. He began to notice little moments when he felt anxious, fearful or lonely.
"And how I looked forward to meal time, as if it were a theme park visit, like 'Sweet! Time to eat an orange!'" he says. "When all the other noises fall off, you learn a lot about yourself."
The Oregonian almost short-circuited on information overload. The retreat started to affect him -- and his voice -- physically, which was terrifying initially but ultimately transformative. He's reluctant to discuss what he went through, though.
"That's why communication is not permitted. You're trying not to hear other people's experiences that may, or may not, be similar to your own, and then seek that out," he says.
Perry says vipassana made him a better songwriter and a better person, and he absolutely would do it again.
"It was weirder to me that I hadn't ever done that before," he says. "That I'm in my 30s, and I've never once spent that many consecutive days in silence. Everyone should try it."
IF YOU GO
With Ages and Ages
Where: Brick and Mortar Music Hall,
1710 Mission St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Tickets: $12 to $15
Contact: (415) 800-8782, www.ticketfly.com