Interview with Mike Lessard of The Contortionist
I was able to catch up with Mike Lessard, vocalist of The Contortionist while they were co-headlining a North American tour with Periphery, Intervals and TOOTHGRINDER.Â The Indianapolis six-piece, having stopped in Ottawa, were welcomed with outstretched arms and ears. We talked about his influences, his passions and other things that drive him to continue doing what he does; the following is what he had to say.
What does it mean to be the vocalist of a progressive metal band at this point in time, for you?
Uhm, I mean, I guess I don’t think about it? Whenever we work on music I just try to do what feels right and feels natural. I never really think about how it’s perceived or what it should be or what it shouldn’t be. I just do it until I feel like I enjoy it and then hopefully other people enjoy it. But I guess…yeah I don’t know what it really means to be a progressive vocalist in 2014.
With more extreme genres of metal today, there is arguably more progression, and in particular to this genre it seems that the growth is exponential. Have you experienced these changes in the last several years?
The flow of things have definitely picked up and changed as well. But even if you look back at some of the old school ‘prog’ bands like King Crimson, Y.E.S. and Rush, they were doing some of the things that bands are doing now so in a weird way it’s not exactly linear it’s almost a cycle. So yeah, it is progressing but I kind of feel like it is moving back around and coming full circle. But also you know, bands are starting to take stuff, different influences from different areas and mashing them around. Like when King Crimson and Y.E.S was around, there wasn’t Cattle Decapitation, there weren’t bands like that. So now you can infuse that with the weird ‘proggy’ rock stuff that King Crimson was doing, and then you get this crazy progressive metal. Uhh…I rambled a bit on that one (laughs) but I mean yeah! It is definitely moving at an exponential rate and sometimes you can look at it both ways, moving away from what was once there or incorporating what was once there. I guess it depends on your view of the topic.Â
Do you find that your writing style draws influence from more so literature, life experiences, or other music influences? Is there any particular process, which brings it out in you?
Lyrically it is kind of a melting pot of all of those, but mostly I listen to lots of lectures of different philosophers, abstract things. Basically anything that sparks my imagination is a good thing for me when it comes to writing. I watch a lot of movies I love Stanley Kubrick. I think the story telling he does with just visuals in his movies reinforce the storyline and the concept of what’s going on; and also in a weird way the story being played out in the visuals almost separate from the dialogue. So I am a big fan of movies, how they are cut and the different things that they use to keep it moving along and never feel stagnant. So I watch those, I listen to great minds like Terence McKenna, Alan Watts, people like that. People that think outside the box and not even necessarily people that have the same views as I do but people who are thinking differently. It just takes me to a different place and mindset I would not naturally go to if I was sitting in a room with nothing thinking to myself.
You guys recently did an AMA on reddit where you mentioned Frank Ocean as an influence, how does he affect your music?
Yeah Frank Ocean is a phenomenal R&B artist. I love R&B, as a singer, it takes a lot more so if you want to get good with your ‘trills’ and ‘fills’ you should listen to some R&B. Frank Ocean is a very interesting cat in the sense that his storytelling lyrically is unlike any other R&B artist. Most R&B artists, not all, are talking about being in the club and stuff of that nature. Frank Ocean has some songs like that sure, but he does it in a weird like tongue and cheek way. I really like the way he presents it, he presents it in a very interesting fashion. But yeah, Frank Ocean is actually one of my favorite artists.
Recently, you guys released a music video for your new record, Language.Â The music video was for the track “Language 1: Intuition”. For those who saw the video, could you possibly explain some of the collaborative components between the lyrics and visuals that were created?
My buddy was the director for that video, my friend from Maine. I’ve known him since I was 14 and when it came down to looking for someone to do the video I said I know a guy, I feel comfortable with him, and we built up a concept. We knew the concept of the album is slightly different than the way it’s portrayed in the video but we wouldn’t be able to do it the way it actually is so we had to come up with a slightly different take. It is very metaphorical in the approach, but it’s basically the idea of the intuitive nature of everything. Whether it is the process of being born or the process of dying, it’s all one in the same. Because when you die, is it the end of something? Or are you breathing new life to the earth because your body rots and creates fertilizer for other things to grow from. As humans we tend to think of our existence as the end all be all, but really we are just fodder for the earth at the end of the day. We are a part of the process, part of the growing process of the earth and not necessarily just ourselves. It’s all one in the same and it’s all moving together. So the video kind of represents that.Â
Could you explain how you came to be the vocalist for a metal project?
I’ve been involved with metal for about 10 years. I’m 27 so a little over 10 years. When I was a teenager I always did like more rock bands, I never screamed or anything I always sang. And then I played a show with a band called Haste The Day, forever ago, before they had ever been signed or anything and they had a high-pitched screamer. They also had singers in the band that sang beautifully, so when I saw that contrast between the two and how much the screaming and heaviness actually made the soft beautiful parts even more beautiful because of the contrast and the push and pull element of that I just fell in love with metal. That aspect of metal and taking and using it in that sort of way. That’s initially how I stepped into the realm of metal. Then I began to learn how to scream, to get where I am today it has just been a weird weaving pattern of meeting people and making music with them and then that kind of falling out, and then I started making music with some of the other people I have met along the way. Just networking really, in a weird web of craziness over the years.Â
Is there any other genre of music you would like to front someday aside for metal?
I’m actually working on a solo EP right now, well at the moment. It hasn’t been released yet and a lot can change before it actually releases because I’m kind of scatter brained with music. In my free time I record and write a bunch of different stuff, I have country songs, I have R&B songs, I have a bunch of different stuff because I feel like if you can do a bunch of different genres there is something you can pull from different genres. It might not be what you expected to pull but you can, even something blue grass and stuff like that, and chicken picking? Like for guitar that can be applied to metal with some of the techniques for the real shreddy stuff. The same thing applies to vocals, so I try to do every type of genre but the EP I am working on now is sort of a dark R&B mixed with like a darker rock…yeah.
Did you expect you would be touring internationally in a metal band at this point in your life?
Yes and no. I’m pretty realistic when It comes to stuff like this, and coming up I knew it was really a 500/50 shot if your band is successful or not and there’s no formula, I mean there may be slight formulas but really there is nothing guaranteed formula. I knew I’d be playing music, I didn’t know for certain if I would make a career out of it but I always had faith in a weird way. So it is kind of a yes and no answer. I always knew there was a possibility that I wouldn’t succeed but I always planned on succeeding. I never left a safety net, and I feel like that made me work harder to get where I am. If there is no safety net you make damn sure you do what you have to do.
What are your hopes for this sub-culture and genre in the future?
I just hope people keep making music they enjoy, and people keep listening and it stays honest. You know that’s the key, like, when the progressive scene started getting a little more popular you start seeing every band start saying they are a progressive metal band or progressive hardcore band or a progressive rock band. I feel like people were using the term a little loosely, which are fine, people can call themselves whatever they want to call themselves at the end of the day it doesn’t bother me at all, and it doesn’t affect me. But I just hope people will keep making honest and genuine music that they appreciate and that people appreciate what those people are doing and hopefully it just stays alive…
And we’ll keep jamming, that’s what I hope. I hope people keep jamming and just have a good time cause that’s, that’s what this is all about, to make art, that actually means something.
Interview by Oliver LeniukÂ
Photos taken from Facebook
Interview with Adaliah
Adaliah is a part-progressive part-melodic hardcore band from the town of Bradenton, Florida. Comprised of six members with two vocalists they have been making heavy music for the past several years. Touring has brought them across the U.S.A. and now Canada for the second time as they support headliner Suffokate. They are currently promoting the upcoming release of their new album Shedding Skin, which is to be released through Mediaskare Records on November 4. I caught up with vocalist Jorge Sotomayor and guitarists Austin Coupe and Paul Knott in Ottawa to talk about what they are currently listening to, their take on the Canadian crowd, shenanigans, weather and hype for the forthcoming album.Â
How’s the tour of Canada been so far?
Sotomayor: It’s been pretty sick, all the turnouts have been awesome, everyone’s been super friendly and completely welcoming. It’s a really really good start.
How is it coming from Florida to Canada in the fall?
Knott: Amazing, amazing. The weather is perfect up here and the air is dry.
Sotomayor: It has it’s ups and downs, when we came up to New York, it was like 41 degrees but all of us got sick instantly from the climate change.
How has this toured differed from your last tour in Canada?
Coupe: The main difference is that the last time we were here we had Beheading of a King with us, and they speak French so they would help us out a lot when we were in Montreal or in Quebec anywhere. When it was our first time here we were just baffled like everybody mostly spoke French.
Sotomayor: All the fast food menus are in French.Â
Did you guys bring gloves? Or you know, windbreakers, turtlenecks or any of that shit?
Coupe: We definitely could have been more prepared.
Sotomayor: We didn’t think it was going to be this cold! Back at home it’s like still summer. Our merch guy only brought shorts, so he had to buy shorts from Wal-Mart.
So, Shedding Skin is coming out December fourth, in terms of lyrical content what differences are there when comparing the previous album?
Sotomayor: Everyone in the band kind of wrote something. Before it was just me and Tyler writing lyrics, but on this one Austin wrote a song, our bassist Ryan wrote a song. Everyone just had something to put in, I don’t know I just think its a lot more heartfelt than the last one, it’s way more personal than the last one, and it’s something that we can be really passionate about when we play and get our emotions out and like…kind of almost vent on stage, which is cool to us cause we are having a good time up there, doing what we like to do and people are enjoying watching it too. It’s definitely a cool feeling.
What about in terms of guitar, are their similarities or differences?
Coupe: Definitely more technical, we added a lot more riffs you could say the melodic stuff is a lot prettier, everybody always jokes around and says we got rid of our melodies but that’s not true at all.Â
Knott: Yeah, we just choose to release the songs that are not as good so we can come out with a CD with better songs. So people like want more, we don’t put out the most important song you know, we want them to find out when they get the album, we want it to blow up like that.
Do you guys see a difference in the American and Canadian fan base?Â
Knott: I feel that the Canadian fans are honestly a little bit more supportive in a way.
Coupe: Yeah, it’s because they don’t get us around very often.
Knott: Yeah so they don’t take it for granted, I guess you could say, and with American’s you know you get shows like everyday. All the American bands that are all popular now always tour the U.S so it’s different for them because all of these U.S. bands don’t tour Canada.
Do you guys have any crazy stories from this current road trip across the Canada and the U.S.?Â
Coupe: Not in Canada, literally like the day before we left for Canada we played a show in Maine and the people there were getting pretty messed up, they were doin’ some weird stuff.Â
Can someone expand on that?Â
Sotomayor: Basically the guy was like, rolling on something, molly or ecstasy, I don’t know, and he gave us a few beers and then as soon as we cracked them open he was like, “you need to chug that right now, because my friend’s band is about to play. So you better slam that shit.” And the guy from Suffokate said he was going to take his time and the dude was freaking yelling, “NO YOU FUCKING SLAM IT RIGHT NOW!” He was tripping out hard.
Coupe: Now that I remember, last night in Montreal there was a fight and I guess there was a kid on a longboard who somehow got into a fight on the street with some guy, he jumped on top of him and was beating him up pretty bad, the police came over and arrested the guy getting beat up. It was pretty crazy there was a bunch of cops.Â
What are you guys listening to right now?
Sotomayor: Lately we’ve been listening to the new Kublai Khan but we don’t always listen to strictly heavy stuff, we have been listening to this band called Purity Ring and this other band called As Tall As Lions, which is sort of an indie band. I can’t even explain Purity Ring it’s just awesome.
Coupe: I listen to a lot of rap, new Lil Durk is the shit, new Gucci is the shit, and I’ve been jamming a lot of that. They were bumping Wu-tang last night in Montreal so that was sick.
Knott: I don’t listen to rap, I like a lot of indie stuff and soft stuff, I like to sing a lot. The band Harvard is fucking awesome, they are kind of like Circa Survive in a way, it’s really sick. I’ve mainly lately been listening to stuff like that more than metal I guess you could say. I still love metal obviously, but I like to broaden my music choices.
You can catch Adaliah on tour this fall, follow their Facebook page for updates on tour dates as well and stay posted for Shedding Skin, which will be released November 4, through Mediaskare Records.
Interview by Oliver Leniuk
Pictures from Facebook
Interview with Ty Taylor of Vintage Trouble
By Owen Maxwell
It’s not often that a band can make you feel like you just stepped out of a time machine, but California retro-revival rockers, Vintage Trouble, pull it off perfectly. The band is the real deal, playing old-school rhythm and blues mixed with a bit of rock, pulling of some amazing stage antics and some outfits lifted right from the fifties. I spoke with lead singer, Ty Taylor, about the band’s new acoustic EP, The Swing House Sessions, and where their aesthetic comes from.
The band has such energy to them, why did you decide to slow things down for an acoustic EP?
Well there are a few reasons for that. We’ve been touring relentlessly recently and our only time to write has been on the bus, meaning all of our songs have been coming out acoustically anyways. We wanted to show our fans both sides of our sound so this allowed them a peek at our writing process too. We also really loved how artists like Otis Redding or The Rolling Stones would always have that one quiet nugget on every record like “As Tears Go By” that turned them from a one-sided band into artists, we wanted to make a whole album of that kind of sound.
Many of your recordings just don’t have the incredible electricity your live sound does, why do you think that is?
On record you just can’t match the experience of a live show. You’re not only missing the visual component but the ability to play with call and response that we do live. There’s also the fact that we had only been playing together three months when we made our first recordings, it’s more practiced live than on record. Personally I think that’s how it should be; the live show should always outdo the record.
The first time I saw your band the energy and call and response you brought to the performance made it seem almost religious to me. Do you have any religious background that might explain this?
Well I was brought up going to church and I’m actually an ordained minister so that definitely plays a significant role. People want to yell though, when you give them that call and response, you are allowing them to release all that pent up energy from all the garbage they have to deal with in their life. That experience allows them a spiritual release akin to some kind of religious experience.
Not only does the band sound like they come from the fifties but you all dress that way too, where does this aesthetic come from?
Well the music definitely plays the biggest role. I always admired bands from back then who would wear suits on stage, so we’re partly emulating that. At the same time though, I also see it as a sign of respect, you wear a uniform to go to work, I don’t want to go on stage looking like I just walked off the street. If you’re wondering if this is how we usually dress though, the answer is yes. I’m wearing a shirt and tie right now and we’re not even playing for a few hours. We’re all lovers of vintage fashion so we thought we’d express that live.
Your stage antics in particular are some of the craziest I’ve seen, I haven’t heard of anyone climbing over seats on Letterman before. Where does this come from?
I like to let the music dictate what kind of energy we bring. I’ve always seen the audience as a fifth member of the band. When I start a call and response or run through the crowd, I’m getting them to play their part and energize them too. We haven’t had a single crowd let us down yet. We once had a show where an audience member jumped on stage and started dancing around and bumped into some of the equipment. I wasn’t mad though because I felt we’d brought that energy out of him and that was worth it.
Who are your major influences?
The biggest would be Tina and Ike Turner, The Rolling Stones, a bit of Led Zeppelin, Little Richard, Chuck Berry. Our sound mixes rock and rhythm and blues together so it’s mostly a mixture of that. One of our favourite modern influences was definitely Amy Winehouse though; she was driving soul for a modern audience.
What’s the best show you guys have played?
Our favourite headlining slot was playing in an old castle in Santiago, Chile. The acoustics were amazing, the crowd was diverse and alive, the atmosphere was just crazy and the excitement we could elicit from them made it unforgettable.
Our favourite show in general though is a toss-up between opening for the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park which was a dream come true and opening for The Who in Madison Square Garden. The Who show will always be special for me after my nephew told me how amazed he was from our show.
What’s next for the band?
We’ll be touring for the next few months and then we’re releasing a new LP on Bluenote Records that should be coming out by the end of the winter. We love this label and playing for them has always been a dream of mine.
Photo by Lee Cherry
YACHT Interview: Live tonight at The Hoxton! – PICK OF THE WEEK! – Interview below
Who: YACHT w/White Fang & Digits
Where: HOXTON, Toronto ON
When: Friday Sept, 26
Event Details and Tickets $14: http://thehoxton.ca/events/yacht-september-26-at-the-hoxton-toronto/
The psych-dance cult band YACHT is just one of the many creative outlets that keep bandmates Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans busy throughout the year. Self-described ADD-types, they divide their days between making music, playing with computers, writing scripts, or in Claire’s case, nurturing her deep appreciation for Science Fiction via her ever-insightful blog, Space Canon, where she’s been deconstructing the genre and its literary relics since June 2008.
The two kindred spirits, who became fast-friends and partners after bonding over mutual fascinations with all things mysterious, phenomenal, and occultist, are erudite souls with a thirst for knowledge. As a precocious teenager, Jona went as far as to forgo a proper high school education, favouring instead a self-education consisting of a pre-adolescent Tommy Stinson-esque rock & roll trajectory with his trouble-making older brothers. Nevertheless, without attending a single day of high school, Jona earned his G.E.D at 16 years old.
Some time ago, when asked by Spin Magazine about the genesis of the name YACHT, Jona offered that the name is in reference to Y.A.C.H.T., an alternative school in Portland, Oregon. “It stands for Young Americans Challenging High Technology. It refers to an education program that was held in Portland, Oregon. I was enrolled when I was 16, back in 1996.” While this may be less than true, as Jona reveals below, both he and Claire, respectively, were spiritual valedictorians of the hypothetical learning institution in their missions to channel an array of concepts from technology to the communal elements of religious ceremony, which they’d eventually unite to achieve through highly danceable performance art.
Such a ceremony takes place tonight in Toronto at The Hoxton, where YACHT will be supported’ by Burger Records’ whimsical psych freaks, White Fang, an opening act attendees are privileged to have on the bill. In honour of the event, The Scene offers an interview from my back pages. I had the pleasure of conversing with the infatuating pair a while back in Idaho, where YACHT were taking a break from their recent time-off to play a one-off show at Boise’s glorious Treefort Festival. Jona and Claire, chilling in the extremely stylish hotel room provided by the fest’s promoters, spoke freely of their youth, their music, their love of science fiction and their compulsion towards mystery.
How would you describe yourselves as high-schoolers?
Jona: I was a very traditional and classic drop out. I didn’t attend a single day of high school. I was playing in a punk band with my older brother, starting in the end of 7th grade and all through 8th grade and my brother somehow convinced my parents it would be a good idea for me to not go to high school and for us to pursue this dream of being like this pop punk protÃ©gÃ© band of, you know, like brother and younger brother band.
So you didn’t even make it to day one?
Jona: No, not even day one. I was doing a correspondence course thing where I would take classes through Portland State University and they would mail the transcript of those courses to where my family was growing up in Astoria, Oregon two hours away.
Tell me about the courses you took at the alternative school Young Americans Challenging High Technology (Y.A.C.H.T.) ?
Jona: That actually never happened.
Ah! A myth!
Jona: Yeah, it’s a beautiful myth. That place existed… but yeah, I never attended it.
Claire: Wow, breaking down the walls already.
Jona: So yeah, I did the (correspondence) courses for a year but the high school stopped accepting the credit from the college. There was like a weirdness where I still don’t understand what happened. I think it’s because both of my older brothers were horrible high school students so the school had it out for my last name. “Oh, another one of these kids, fuck that!” So, I did that for my freshman year and then as soon as it was legal to drop out, I dropped out and took the GED when I was 16.
Claire: You had better things to do. I was a pretty traditional high school goody two shoes / searcher. I’m an only child so I didn’t have any siblings to tell me what was cool and I didn’t really have a lot of cool friends either. I mean, I love my friends from high school… I was just trying to figure out who I was, you know? A lot of it was like, one year I wore JNCO pants and one year I was really preppy and then one year I’d like… when I discovered Weezer, I became like a nerd rock kid, and that was kind of like my major identity in high school.
Jona: Mixtape clubs…
Claire: Yeah, I had a mixtape club that I think was probably the reason I got into college because it got a lot of local press at the time… I went to a lot of shows…
Jona: Wait, how did it get local press? How did your mixtape club get press? That’s so weird!
Claire: I actually don’t know… It was like someone’s older brother’s friend heard about it and then they wrote for the local newspaper.
Jona: So, it was a puff piece? What are the high school kids up to?
Claire: Yeah, it was the front cover of the Living section in The Oregonian… but it was a huge deal for me at the time.
What kind of stuff were you listening to in the really embarrassing years – when you didn’t know any better?
Claire: I mean, like my favourite music in the world up until I discovered independent rock music was Frank Sinatra, show tunes, and like old standards and musical soundtracks. I’ve always kind of been into the classic songwriting of like The Rat Pack, which is so, so lame. I remember I used to dance around in my parents’ living room doing the greatest hits of Sinatra. But then in the early years… you know, you name it. I came of age musically when Napster happened so it was like that thing where you find that one song you like and then like everything you could possibly find that was connected to that in any way; just searching through the web, through connections until you find that thing you really love. Like I heard a Weezer song on the radio and from there it was like, The Pixies, The Replacements, you know…
Jona: But also Fountains of Wayne
Claire: Also Fountains of Wayne… and like Nerf Herder. So it was like everything at once and finally I whittled it down to the right choices… but it took awhile.
Jona, how about you?
Jona. At 6 years old I was listening to Maxwell’s Silver Hammer on repeat and other Beatles things. All my musical influences of my early up bringing came directly from my two older brothers. They were first into break dancing, then into skateboarding, so all of the music around that – early hip hop and like punk and all that stuff… I think the most embarrassing stuff was like the mid 90s pop-punk. I was super into NOFX (laughing) which I think still kind of holds up.
Being really into music growing up, what were some of the most memorable shows of your teenage years?
Jona: My first show that I got to go to of my own choosing was for my 13th birthday. I saw Nirvana, The Breeders and The Melvins… It fucking blew my mind.
Claire: Pretty early in the game I started volunteering at an all age rock club in Portland called the Meow Meow – which definitely doesn’t exist anymore and it’s taken many forms since then – so I was always going to see super local bands. I was really into like indie rock when I was a teenager, like I loved (laughing) Death Cab for a Cutie and stuff… Jona is a little older then me and so he was like playing in all these local bands in Portland when I was a teenager going to shows… so weirdly, we were at a lot of the same shows but like 15 years before we met.
Were you aware of him?
Claire: I remember like, (to Jona) I’d heard of your bands. I’d heard about (name of old band) when I was a teenager.
Jona: What?! Really?? You’ve never told me that!
Claire: Yeah, I’d heard the name. Anyway, also like Built To Spill and Modest Mouse. That was my scene.
Jona: Also The Microphones…
Claire: And The Microphones. I loved all that K Records stuff.
Jona: We’re going to go see Calvin tonight in L.A.
Claire: Yeah, with The Hive Dwellers
Wicked! What are the bands these days that you cannot miss?
Claire: I highly recommend you see Hot Chip if you can. That’s, I think, maybe one of the best high production value concert experiences now.
Jona: I wouldn’t say high production. That sounds like Britney Spears or something.
Claire: It’s just an impeccable show. It’s beautiful!
Jona: It’s not about lights or the visuals. It’s truly about them being a radical band that takes risks and makes awesome mistakes.
Claire: Yeah, they’re the best band in the world. We toured with them last year and every night was like church.
Would you watch every show?
Claire: Yeah and I never do that, but it’s one of the greatest bands of all time! I’ve never watched a show every night, all the way though, as a fan.
So, having been deeply into musical awesomeness, at what point would you say you discovered that you too, could be awesome?
Claire: Still trying man…
Jona: I’ve never truly owned or felt ‘being awesome’ once in my life.
Is that so?
Claire: Yeah, I can vouch for that.
Why do you think that is?
Jona: I don’t know. Because I’m never satisfied with anything that we do. I always think we can do it better and that’s why we keep making new things.
But what about when you’re performing to a packed, sweaty room where the audience is just so clearly feeling it?
Jona: Right, no that’s happened before, yeah.
Claire: Yeah, that happens all the time.
Jona: It happens all the time.
Claire: I mean Jona is a purist and sort of OCD and a super hard worker and he’s never satisfied, which is the reason that we are able to have enough energy to move forward and change and not get stuck in our ways. I tend to live in the moment a bit more. I don’t think we’re the most awesome band in the world but there are moments when things go well where I’m like, “This is life, I get to do this, I’m so happy and grateful”, you know?
Jona: We’re totally grateful, that’s not what I mean.
Claire: Yeah, he wants to push himself… and I do too.
What are the highlights of any given tour?
Jona: All of it is the best part. Just being able to go on tour. Like even when a promoter gets us a hotel room, I’m like, “What?! We get to stay in a hotel?!” The house we rent right now in L.A. is pretty nice but still, we get to stay in places that are nicer than where we live, which is a trip. And just like meeting people. The best part is meeting people… truly.
Claire: When you’re at home, when you’re not on the road, you don’t get much feedback other than the Internet in terms of what people are feeling or how your work is resonating with other people, so going on tour and actually talking to people and hearing personal stories about how they’ve come to like your music and the experiences they’ve had with it or what they think it means and how they want to share it with their friends and who they think you are and who they want to be based on who they think you are… There’s so much there! It’s such a give and take so it’s really beautiful and constant and tactile in a way that you really don’t get unless you’re out there on the road.
Of all the places you’ve called home, it seems like L.A. is your Shangri-La…
What is it about L.A.?
Jona: I fell in love with it when I was in a punk band with my brother. We toured and played in LA a handful of times and yeah, for me, it always seemed like a place I was never allowed to live, like I didn’t get the privilege to be able to live there. So living there now is like a weird abstract dream, I guess.
Claire: It’s lovely. I think it has a really bad reputation probably but it’s a vast intensely chaotic city that has so many options and possibilities contained within it. Of course, there are the negatives but there’s this obvious thing about it being really accommodating climate wise. You never feel depressed by where you live physically, which is a weird major thing.
Jona: You know. I mean, you live in Toronto
Claire: Sometimes when you live in a place like Portland or Toronto or New York, where you leave your house and it’s like you’re being bullied by your environment and in L.A. that doesn’t really exist. You just leave your house and inside and outside are the same. Everywhere you go there’s no limitation. We live in a beautiful home with a fir tree and flowers in the garden… it’s just like idyllic.
And it’s obviously a great film city. I know you two are pretty into film…
Claire: Well, we’re both really big Science Fiction heads. Like all time favourite movies for me are 2001 and Blade Runner. And they’re doing a Science Fiction retrospective at the L.A. Museum.
Jona: We just saw a movie at LACMA called Phase 4, which came out in 70-something.
Claire: It’s by Saul Bass (title designer for Kubrick among many others) and he only directed this one movie in his entire life. It was like this really weird psychological Sci-Fi thriller that was about all of the ants in the world becoming, as if each ant was its own single cell in an organism, like one massive intelligence organizing themselves against humanity. So, it’s like this creepy dread… kind of like an Acrophobia style insect-terror but you only ever see like little tiny ants.
Jona: …Two scientist set up shop to try and study what’s happening and it becomes this amazing psychological warfare between the ants and the two scientists. There’s an alternate ending that we got to see that wasn’t part of the movie. Have you seen Altered States?
Jona: That kind of visual effects stuff happened in the alternate ending of this movie… such incredible, beautiful, analog psychedelics.
What are your favourite sci-fi novels? Besides Hilton’s Lost Horizon, the source material for your album, Shangri-La?
Claire: Oh, well, Phillip K. Dick, JG Ballard…
Jona:â€¨ Ursula Le Guin
Claire: Also William Gibson is a living hero… there’s so many but if you want just one name it’d have to be Phillip K. Dick. I was trying to do a tally recently, cause he wrote like 60 books. I was trying to figure out what percentage I’d read. I’m working through the cannon. I think I’ve read half.
Jona: Claire actually has a blog called Space Canon that reviews only Sci-Fi books.
What is it about religion and ceremonial rituals that fascinate you so?
Jona: I grew up Catholic, so… that’s the origin for me. Just wanting to know why I’m doing all these things as a kid.
Claire: And maybe trying to recontextualize it as an adult into something that is actually meaningful to you instead of just scary.
Claire: I think there’s a lot of overlap between religious ritual and culture and music ritual and culture, at least in our eyes. There’s this idea of going into a prescribed space with a group of strangers in order to experience a thing that’s sensibly transcendent. Together as a community or unit. Obviously, there’s the musician, or preacher, above and looking down at the congregation, or the audience, translating mystical creative, or mystical spiritual, thoughts into language or art in order for the audience to understand it and communicate with it directly. All that stuff… there’s a lot of common ground. So we always like to play with the language of it a little bit and try to recreate rituals that might allow the secular community a glimpse into what it might be like to participate just sort of culturally in the community of religion without any of the dogma or the bad stuff. All the good community, good feeling, sharing, transcendent people things without any of the lies.
To touch on the bad stuff… what are some of the historically darker cult occurrences that fascinate you?
Claire: Oh, all of it!
Jona: Yeah. Jonestown, number one.
Claire: Jonestown is fascinating. I was super into Heavens Gate. I love Heavens Gate because they were web designers. Did you know that? They made their living designing websites. They had a design company called Higher Source.
Jona: Higher Source too is like the most genius name… of all time.
Claire: Marshall Applewhite! The back story of that cult is unreal crazy. Like they all castigated themselves because they believed that sexuality was evil. It was really interesting.
Jona: The Rajneeshees…
Claireâ€¨: Yeah, The Rajneeshees in Oregon were really interesting too.
The fact that Heavens Gate happened essentially because a guy couldn’t deal with the fact that he was gay is just so mind-blowing.
Claire: A lot of weird things happen cause guys can’t realize that they’re gay. Honestly. Or that they have sexual desires outside the realm of ‘normalcy’. That was the case with Jim Jones. It was the same thing.
Are you guys still having as much fun in YACHT as you always have?
Claire: Yeah! I think we’re having more fun honestly.
Jona: Yeah, I think we are having more fun. There’s a new freedom that has fallen upon us.
Claire: We have a nice band that we like so much. And we all like to hang out.
Jona: And now that we all live in the same city. That really makes it special for me.
Claire: We’re having a lot of fun because we always have our fingers in a lot pies. We’re all very short attention span type people so…
Jona: Now that we’re like shifting focus to a TV show pilot, playing rock shows feels totally crazy.
Claire: Yeah, it feels fake. My head is somewhere else sometimes, you know? And we get back to playing shows and we’re like, “What? Who are these people?”
When did you first feel like YACHT was getting somewhere?
Claire: I mean putting out a record on DFA records changed our lives.
Jona: Even before that. Just going on tour with LCD Soundsystem. That was like the real turning point. DFA opened new doors. I never thought that we’d be able to afford having a band. It was always just an economical choice to be a laptop dude. And then to be able to expand to including Claire… that was a turning point.
Claire: I think with DFA, just having that stamp on the back of our CD made people see us in a different light, or at least understand where we were coming from more and it re-contextualized us in a way that has been helpful. But I still just think we’re fortunate to be able to make a living doing this. I’m happy to just pay my rent.
How did you adapt to getting bigger?
Claire: Well, we’ve all been playing and touring in bands for 10 years. So for us it just feels like every day is one foot in front of the other and slowly accumulating enough of an audience or an ability to do what we do – a practiced ability to do what we do economically and efficiently. It just feels to us like we’re getting better at it. And it’s all been really gradual.
Jona: Yeah, like incrementally changed.
Claire: Everyone we meet, it’s just like one more in the clubhouse. Lets keep going.
According to your website, when Claire joined YACHT (which until then consisted of Jona as “laptop dude”) and the two of you became a unit, there was some sort of inaugural ceremony. Are you able to describe it?
Claire: It was just a major change. We were living in Texas at the time. We lived in West Texas in a town called Marfa, which is known, among other things, for having an optical paranormal phenomenon called the Marfa Mystery Lights and Jona and I went out there together. Curiosity drove us. And we saw this said optical phenomenon, which our record is named after: See Mystery Lights. I wouldn’t say that it was ‘knock it out of the park’ transformative or magic but it was this thing where we both just stood face-to-face with a very real living mystery. No one really knows what the lights are. There’s been various forms of investigation but there’s no real concrete answer. And there’s no solution. We’re both like really self-taught computer-fiending, information hungry youth. We are used to having answers. So, just coming across something in which there was no way to really know, and that we would just have to live with that, it was something that really changed the way we think about both art and music. That art has this value that is similar. That there is no real answer. Art is mysterious and it shines a light on the world that is interpreted differently by everybody, so we kind of made a vow at that point that that is what we would officially do and decided that we were both going to be feeling these themes in the same way so why not join forces and make it a cohesive vision that we would call YACHT. We pretty much just always record there now. It reminds us of what we’re trying to do.
By: Zach Gayne
Finding “a sense of freedom” with The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney
It was 2003, and unless you lived under a rock, you heard about the Jack Black comedy School of Rock. The latest by director Richard Linklater featured Black as lovably unlovable musician Dewey Finn, posing as a prep school teacher to recruit kids into his rock band. The movie celebrated rock and roll in all its glory, and featured a pretty kick-ass soundtrack. A whole new generation of kids was opened up to the majesty, the sleaze, and the power of rock music. Millions of bright-eyed youth across North America would form taste based on the well-curated sounds that backed the film. The classics were present: Cream, The Ramones, and Bowie, even Zeppelin approved.
But what about the little guys featured on the soundtrack? The new up-and-comers? What’s become of them? Young Heart Attack didn’t take off. England’s The Darkness ran headfirst into a rehab-breakup. But while Dewey Finn was coercing the straight edge, fun-hating Principle Rosalie Mullins into allowing him to take the kids on a ‘field trip’ to a rock show, something happened. The American public got a taste of what would become one of the biggest rock bands of the next decade, when “Set You Free” by The Black Keys howled through the dingy dive they convened in.
11 years down the road, guitarist and singer Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney have almost single-handedly revived rock on the charts. The duo’s monumental success, culminating in six Grammy awards over a two-year span, has hurdled ever farther into the American mainstream. Now a household name across the world, Auerbach and Carney dubiously sidestepped the run-away pop-culture train they hadÂ fuelledÂ withÂ the radio-rock hit El Camino. With this year’s Turn Blue, the two band mates, along with longtime producer Danger Mouse AKA Brian Burton, floated into relatively new territory; with spacious, atmospheric song structures and thick, oscillating sound floors, Carney, Auerbach and Burton made a record as dense and lush as their previous work was gritty and bare. The devastatingly tall and endearingly friendly drummer unpacked the record a bit.
“This record was all done digitally,” remarks Carney, perched atop a bar chair at a bare black high table. “It’s such a crazy dynamic range, that when it gets quiet, it almost feels gross. So we were experimenting with noise floors and toneless, almost, sounds. Turn Blue is a great example of that, kind of that gurgling. Every song there’s something like that going on.”
The record is a stark, almost antithetical response to El Camino’s slick, touch-and-go riff-rock. The darkness and near-viscosity of Turn Blue is intriguing, and predictably had reviewers and fans alike loading their semi-automatic keyboards in preparation for a Danger Mouse hunt. Carney understands the animosity, but he’s quick to defend Burton.
“Writing about music is a difficult thing, especially when you don’t have access to the band and you’re pitted with guessing. It happens to a lot of reviewers and it happens to a lot of fans, so logically, you go through and say, ‘Okay, well this band made songs and records in a basement on their own, and then they started working with this producer, and that’s the culprit.’ It’s totally not true.”
He continues, “We love working with Danger Mouse for a lot of reasons. One of them is he keeps his hands off the sonic stuff. He’s more concerned with arrangement and melody, and in a way, he has the same kind of minimalist ideas that we do.”
“When we made our first record, I was 21, Dan was 22, and we didn’t know what we were doing. That was basically the case for the first four albums. It was two dudes who love music figuring out how to do everything, and doing it all on our own. So just from the amount of time like learning and understanding how to be better musicians, how to be better engineers and better writers… It’d be really hard to end up 12 years down the road doing the same stuff as when we didn’t know what we were doing.”Â
Carney mulls for a moment, resting his chin on his right hand, peering at the wall.Â
“I was obsessed with synthesizers as far back as right when I got into music. We’ve always wanted to incorporate that kind of stuff. Before we even made [2008’s] Attack and Release, we both had a large collection of keyboards. We just never used them… There is a very stark contrast between the first record and, say, Turn Blue. It’s drums, a little bit of bass, guitar and singing, and this new record, it’s anything we wanted to play, and that’s the only difference.”
Carney implicates the Keys inherently miniature size in the early days. “It was really restrictive before for us. Most bands aren’t two-piece bands. We were concerned for a long time about how to perform the songs we made live, so therefore it just instantly limited us. It wasn’t until we kind of decided just to record what we wanted, instrument-wise, and not really be concerned with how to play it, that’s when we really started embracing a lot of stuff.
“It actually made it a lot more fun making records,” Carney asserts earnestly.Â
“The last thing I would be concerned about is what a band is doing other than the music they make,” mutters Carney. “And if you don’t like the band’s music that they’re currently making, then just don’t fuckin’ listen to it. It seems pretty simple to me.
“Artists in general always get called sellouts. Especially musicians for some reason, it doesn’t really happen to actors, it doesn’t really happen to painters, it doesn’t really happens to film makers or writers, it happens to musicians and I’m not really sure why that is. It doesn’t concern me. It used to bother me, when someone would say something like that, or give us shit, but as artists the last thing you need to do is worry about what other people say. Trust the people close to you. Don’t listen to some fucker on the internet.”
And yet, while stiff-fingered critics are slinging mud at the band, bands are slinging mud at the wall, in desperate hopes something will stick.
“A lot of my favourite bands have made multiple records that I don’t like at all, but it doesn’t mean I don’t like the band. That’s just part of the creative process. Andy Warhol’s made probably more garbage than he has anything worthwhile, but he’s still a great artist,” he confesses pointedly.
“A lot of people who are critical of people’s decisions don’t really have a grasp on what the creative process is like… I’m not referencing us really, I’m referencing certain bands who aren’t breaking through but doing the same amount of work as a band that does. They work harder than most people, and usually they’re not bringing home much money. Cause you see a band play in a big room, and [they’ve got] a tour bus and everything, but that money has to get divided like seven different fuckin’ ways. A band trying to figure out a way to continue to do what they love shouldn’t necessarily get ridiculed. It’s not like they’re wearing shirts that have like Pepsi logos on it, they just decided they would work extra hard.”
Clearly invested but still somber and paced, he remarks, “Somebody’s looking at Gaslight Anthem, and calling them sellouts. Those guys are probably just fuckin’ trying to support themselves.”Â
Carney, as is nearly impossible to not do, harbours some frustration over the music industry’s venomous grind, but not in an utterly, singularly bitter, cynical sense. Rather, in the end, it’s an oddly quixotic and ‘at-peace’ mantra that he reveals.
“I know that the person who has made the most amount of money off of music probably in the last 10 years is the person who started Spotify,” he shrugs. “That’s the reality. The guy that has made the most amount of money off music has probably never written a song. So musicians always get fucked a little bit.
Chin once again nested in hand, he goes on to expand the picture: “I’ve never been disillusioned with music. Right when we started, we just wanted to make records and we’ve been able to do it. You just learn from other people’s mistakes, and your own mistakes, how not to get screwed over. As a musician, no matter what, if somebody’s calling you a sellout, at least people are listening to your music in some way, and that’s really what it’s all about.”
The sun begins to shine on the shadow of major-label horrors.
“With all the bad fall-out any band can have from doing something different than what they’ve previously done, at the end of the day, you’ve still cheated the system,” he accentuates. “In any creative industry, there’s a lot of people who figure out a way to make money off of shit, because artists are usually slightly distracted. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter too terribly much because we are doing what we love to do.
He says honestly, wryly, “No one really is that passionate about writing code to let people stream music, and if they are, I wouldn’t want to be them. Everybody’s a capitalist to a certain degree. You’re kind of forced to be if you live in North America.”Â
So, cards on the table and eyes on the Aces up the sleeves of their detractors, Carney and Auerbach trundle on, hopefully for another 13 years on top of the previous, and as they do, they’re faced with a daunting reality: they are shaping the music of generations of new musicians. Just as Junior Kimbrough, Pavement, and DEVO were to them, they are to millions of fresh-faced, brace-faced music listeners and, importantly, creators.Â
“On this tour, I’ve met some people who’ve told me they’ve been listening to our band since they were like 12, and then last night we had a 13-year-old kid come to the show, and its cool to see,” he intimates. He almost allows a smile, but not quite. “It just reminds me of being a kid. That’s when music really is the most special.
“When you’re like 11-18, you define yourself through the music you listen to. It’s the first sense of freedom, cause you gotta get up, you gotta go to school, you gotta fucking get your grades, then you have to get a job, and you have to worry about all this shit, but the one thing is, you can always listen to whatever the fuck you want to listen to. Everybody will figure out a way to do that.”Â
Interview and words by Luke Ottenhof