The freaky new face of American invention

Photo by Gary Lavourde

When he’s not belting out swampy party tunes alongside his wife Miss Pussycat’s puppet shows, Quintron is inventing the kinds of instruments we’ve never even thought of.

His latest invention, the Weather Warlock, has been in the works for years. It’s an analogue synthesizer emitting drone sounds that reacts to changes in wind direction, moisture and U.V. levels.

“Oh, nothing is ever finished,” says Quintron when I ask about the state of the Weather Warlock, which is heard on the new Quintron & Miss Pussycat record Spellcaster II: Death in Space.

“It’s presentable. I would say that it’s in the final prototyping stages where it really has its own soul now, but you can always make a better one.”

Quintron spent four weeks last spring in Captiva, Florida doing a residency at the estate of the artist Robert Rauschenberg, where he focused on the Weather Warlock and Miss Pussycat made an inflatable stage for puppet shows that fits in her purse.

Despite all his different projects — inventing instruments, performing with Miss Pussycat and leading of the Ninth Ward Marching Band during Carnival season in New Orleans — he says he always tends to obsess over one thing at a time.

What the residency did provide was access to a gymnasium-size studio and tool shops for a month.

“That took a lot of clutter out of life,” he says.

The Weather Warlock manipulates a droning E chord, Mr. Q saying his choice of sounds was “an intuitive, artistic response to the sounds that make me happy.”

Working with analogue audio sounds, he experiments with different circuits, and then solders in place what he likes.

“Building circuits is like very, very slowly playing an acoustic guitar,” he says. “It’s hearing things and adding capacitors and taking components away.”

The invention gets most of what it needs from the weather, and uses low voltage to power the synthesizer. He says the most difficult part was getting it to survive the weather he was trying to capture.

“To sit in the rain is one thing, but to sit in the rain for six months and endure that intense U.V. that we have in New Orleans too, the elements started breaking down,” he says. “There’s a lot of field testing, it’s still undergoing transformation.”

He’s bringing the Weather Warlock along on tour. For a few U.S. dates he’ll play as Weather for the Dead, a band that only performs at sunset, building a wall of distortion around the Warlock’s drone.

It’s “a super heavy loud rock thing”, completely different than the live stream of another Weather Warlock back home in New Orleans.

“If you hook up these variables, this energy that is provided for you, it’s like having a baby sit there and play your synthesizer for you all year long [...] when the weather is playing it, you have a true element of liveness,” he says.

“I would call this live music.”

In the long-term he’d like to set up other Weather Warlock base stations, offering live streams of the weather provided by a “club of nerds” around the world. At one point there were talks of doing distribution through Jack White’s Third Man Records.

In 2012 he posted a video of an early Weather Warlock prototype, explaining how the sensors work. He's made a mock infomercial for one of his earlier projects, the Drum Buddy. It’s clear he wants to share his inventions, but going into mass production would ruin it for him.

“I’m pretty choosey about who the stuff goes to,” he says. “I’ve never gone into full-on bonkers Drum Buddy production.”

“I still like that it’s specially my thing and it’s associated with my music. There’s a few of them out there, but it would make me sad if there were millions.”

Instead he says he’s part of what he hopes his whole country starts doing: appreciating hand-made things, craftsmanship and that their products were made at home.

He says that's how to bring manufacturing back to the United States, and it’s pretty clear he’s a believer in the power of American invention. After all, he’s mounted the grill of an old Cadillac to the front of his organ rig.

Quintron & Miss Pussycat are playing le Divan Orange November 21, part of the M for Montreal festival.

Caribou plays the sentimental DJ

Photo by Thomas Neukum

Accessibility is a tough art to master.

Writing music with universal appeal can come off as pandering, or be outright bland. But Dan Snaith doesn’t rely on cliché to reach the masses, even if his latest Caribou LP is all about love. The love he’s singing about is complex and human, not some pre-packaged romance.

Our Love is an exercise in Snaith getting outside his own head, sharing his most personal music to date with his voice no longer heavily manipulated or buried under samples.

“I think it is a confidence thing,” says Snaith. “The consideration of ego is to say ‘let’s put in as many things as possible to kind of prove to people that this music has enough going on to justify its existence.”

Snaith’s latest is brimming with confidence while at his most vulnerable, managing to create a sense of space on Our Love that before had always escaped him. He’s shaken the insecurity of people hearing him singing, a byproduct of playing hundreds of shows since the release of his last LP Swim, including a tour with Radiohead.

But Snaith says there’s always a bit of doubt whether he can do it again, despite the mounting acclaim over the course of his last three Caribou releases.

“It hasn’t really made it easier. I still put in long, long hours making loads of tracks that don’t get used, trying to figure out something new and exciting that could form the basis of the sound of this record,” he says.

“One thing that confidence and experience helps with is I kind of know I just need to keep working and something will happen.”

Though he’s been based in London for the past decade, the Dundas, ON native invited two fellow Canadians to collaborate on Our Love. Owen Pallett’s violin can be heard on “Silver”, and Jessy Lanza is featured heavily on “Second Chance”. But their impact on the record expands beyond that, Snaith sending them (along with his friend Kieran Hebden, better known as Four Tet) early demos to get their input.

“A big part of what made the record so special is their input, when I hear those songs I’ll always remember them,” Snaith says.

“I just rely on that so much. When I make something and let it sit for a month I can be objective, but the day after, the week after, I don’t have that distance to judge it. Especially with Owen and Jesse, they’re coming at the music from a complementary but different angle.”

Dan first collaborated with Owen under Snaith’s club moniker Daphni. They were both in Toronto at the time and Dan proposed the two try and make some dance music.

“I said, let’s just book a studio and see what happens. And we had so much fun. We got in there and I was just hitting buttons and jamming away on things, and he was getting out a piece of paper and writing everything out on a score,” he says.

Snaith, who completed conservatory piano himself, says it’s more than Owen’s training that makes him such a great musician, capable of bridging gaps between the classical world and the pop or dance music worlds.

“He has a different way of picturing what’s going on,” says Snaith. “There are plenty of people with classical training but Owen’s one-of-a-kind. His take on music is very, idiosyncratically, his own.”

With Caribou growing out of home recording experiments for the past 14 years, on Our Love Snaith is at his most intimate, singing about his own experiences and those of his close friends.

He’s pulling from what he says have been the happiest years of his life, while also having friends go through divorces and losing friends from his and his parents’ generation. “Julia Brightly” is named after his friend and sound engineer who passed away in May.

On this record Snaith builds an appropriate space for this kind of soul-baring. The record is largely warm, soft and pulling from one of the most sensitive musical styles — R&B.

“The first thing that was aesthetically exciting for me was the production sounds in contemporary R&B. Glassy, synthesized things where everything is very manufactured and glossy [...] with a synthetic frame for a human voice,” says Snaith. “I thought the record would be much more in that way.”

But on the most tender moments of Our Love, like the slow crescendo “Back Home” and album closer “Your Love Will Set You Free”, it’s the classics that come to mind — albeit with a digital palette. Playing Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye records for his daughter crept into his writing in an unexpected way.

“Those records were doing what I wanted this record to do, which is to be warm and generous, to share my personal life," he says. "Those records are the epitome of that, feeling the presence of the person who made the record in the room when you listen to it.”

“Mars”, the closest thing to a typical club song on the record, is the outlier. Originally written a couple days ahead of a Boiler Room set he did with Jamie xx in 2011, there was something about the track that made him want to keep it off his Daphni debut Jiaolong. The treat of being able to hear its propulsive, syncopated drum line played by a live band is reason enough.

DJ-ing gave him a chance to completely base his set off the audience, picking songs as he goes, being a part of the crowd while dictating the soundtrack. It’s the polar opposite of what he does live with Caribou, where he’s an avid multitasker — especially since touring with the more electronic-based, pop-take on Ricardo Villabos Swim LP.

“There are some points in songs when we’re playing live when I can’t pay attention at all to what’s going on in the audience, there’s so much going on [onstage],” he laughs. “I have to be making eye contact with Brad [Weber] who’s playing drums, and John [Schmersal] who’s playing bass and Ryan [Smith], stepping on this, pushing this button, singing, making sure the timing is right.”

Since the release of Swim in 2010, they’ve been playing more dance music festivals too, where they’re the only act hauling guitars onstage. With two hybrid drum kits and a bunch of other tools, they’re able to turn Snaith’s layered studio compositions into something that can only be experienced at his shows.

They change things on the fly, grouped close together no matter how big the stage as images are projected onto their white t-shirts. What they’re able to accomplish live is a testament of how well they know each other musically. Dan has been playing with Ryan since they were 13 years old, with Brad since 2007, and John since 2009.

Having finished Our Love in April, Dan says the last few months have been filled with eager anticipation, waiting for the world to hear the record he made for us. And with the glowing reviews piling up, he has nothing to worry about as far as public opinion is concerned.

“That moment when it’s coming out and you’re just starting to do shows you get this instinctual read of how they like the music, whether they need some time to absorb it, it’s a really exciting time,” he says.

“It’s kind of a fulfillment moment of all those things that you’ve been working on for the last four years.”

Caribou plays Metropolis November 10 with Jessy Lanza.

Saxsyndrum is chasing chameleon grooves

The local duo Saxsyndrum is willing to adapt to any situation. They sometimes go acoustic, adding violin and upright bass. At other shows they’ll be belting out late-night future funk as their core two-piece.

"Saxsyndrum's thing is doing something different every time. It’s kind of tied together by having saxophone, having drums and being weird," says Dave Switchenko, the sax half of Saxsyndrum.

“We change our stuff up enough that people kind of expect it."

The band’s new record SXD_EP comes out November 4 through Art Not Love, a local label run by Charlie Twitch from ¡FLIST!, and true to form it’s like nothing they’ve put out before. Most of the EP is more suited for an ambient set, coming from recording samples Dave and Nick Schofield wrote separately. The first three tracks by Dave use only saxophone, the last three by Nick only percussion.

"A year-and-a-half ago Dave was setting up his studio and working more at recording sounds, hitting the saxophone, getting pops and squeaks out of it in a home setting,” says Nick. “The EP was born out of that kind of experimentation."

The two had been listening to a lot of beautifully arranged, carefully scrutinized music by producers like Four Tet, Pantha du Prince and Jon Hopkins at the time. When Dave came up with the album-opener "Maceonectar", they applied for a FACTOR grant with a demo version. When the funding came through, they were able to pursue the idea.

They recorded most of the sounds heard on the EP in a 12-hour session at Hotel2Tango with Radwan Moumneh, who does audio-visual performances under the name Jerusalem in My Heart.

"It ended up being a really good match. He had a ton of really great ideas about saxophone micing, and just general sound treatment for the drums and the sax,” says Nick.

Using 12 microphones to record the drums gave them a huge range of blending options for the EP. The sounds that didn’t make it will most likely show up on future releases.

"[Radwan] brought ideas that ended up influencing the sound of the EP,” says Nick. “Like putting a microphone in an ISO booth across the way, it has this Phil Collins-esque reverb that we never would have thought to go for because we don't have the means to do it."

The process taught them about mixing together abstract sounds, and presented an opportunity to make more minimal music.

"If you have a guitar trio, or classic bass drum sound, a lot of those will sit nicely together. But if you're using a lot of really weird crazy samples from a saxophone, they're going to be competing with each other,” says Dave. “For me it was a big learning experience giving them a place in the mix.”

"It allowed us to be more selective since we were in such a controlled environment," adds Nick. "It makes you realize what you want the listener to be paying attention to."

While they may cover a whole spectrum of sounds in the band’s many forms, Nick says there is a specific feeling they’re going for. An amalgamation of everything they’ve been working on is set to appear as a new full-length in 2015.

"When I was studying electro-acoustics one of my profs always said 'don't fall in love with your sounds' and that really stuck with me," says Nick.

"Don't make something and just fall in love with it because it sounds nice and pretty. Does it really say something, does it make you feel something? Does it represent the people who made it?"

Saxsyndrum is releasing the SXD_EP with the Hilotrons November 6 in Montreal at Cabaret Playhouse, and November 7 in Wakefield at the Blacksheep Inn.

Whatever it is, make it loud for Deafheaven

San Francisco black metal-meets-post rock group Deafheaven became a buzz band of metal after the release of Sunbather last year, a dense record with an atmosphere of detachment throughout. While thematic records and bringing out the piano for segue tracks isn't all that innovative for metal bands, with careful songwriting they seem to effortlessly go from shredding with the best of 'em to swelling climaxes as euphoric as Explosions in the Sky.

It's an approach that has gotten the attention from more than the typical headbanging crowd.

Their latest single “From the Kettle Onto the Coil” is about as straight-up metal as these guys get, singer George Clarke saying it came from a sense of excitement that the current lineup would be recording together for the first time.

“We went through rough times with members, but these guys have been so good. They’re excellent players, we have an idea of what our goals are, and we all get along really well, which is the most important thing. We’re all really good friends," says George.

“That song came together really quick. It was mostly used to just have fun recording together.”

On Sunbather Clarke's voice has a distant quality to it, but on this single it's front-and-centre. He says it's because he's more comfortable than ever with his voice.

“I’ve always pushed myself to see how strong my voice is. When you take a year between recordings and all you’ve been doing is using that muscle for months on end it comes naturally. It’s a matter of control,” he says.

"I kind of have it easy, but Dan [Tracy] our drummer he has to always keep himself in shape. A 30-day tour can start to stress your body out, and we’ve been pushing 50-60 dates.”

They’ve spent most of the year touring, as the band becomes more than just George and guitarist Kerry McCoy. Bassist Stephen Clark and guitarist Shiv Mehra have now been in the band for over a year, George saying everyone's taking part in shaping the band's heaviness.

“You never really know until there is a big piece there to look at," says George of new material. "But we’re all on the same page. It’ll be cool. It’ll definitely be different, and I want it to be different. I think it will sound like Deafheaven but it will sound bigger.”

Without staying within genre lines, George says there are two elements needed for an idea to make it into a Deafheaven song.

“It has to sound good. I think everyone in my band has a good taste in music, or I at least trust their taste in music" he says. "Secondly, it has to transition well. When you are attempting to flow between different genres the main thing you should be concerned with in songwriting is transitions, because otherwise a 15-minute song will feel like a 15-minute song.”

“We’re pretty open-minded to new ideas and new experiments,” he says.

The band looks to black metal when it comes to threading together their lengthy material.

“Bands like Weakling, Agalloch, Burzum, or Coldworld, there’s a million of these black metal bands that do long songs well. They do it because they transition well and the material’s there. And I really like the hypnotic element. I think you can get lost in a song. My first attraction the the atmospheric side is that trance, [where] all of a sudden a 13-minute song’s done."

It's the combination of that influence and Kerry's love of Godspeed post rock which leads to the foundation of their sound. It's also lead to tours with acts as varied as Between the Buried and Me and Chelsea Wolfe.

“A loud show, that’s what I look for, whether they’re on the indie side or the metal side,” says George. “I like that power.”

Deafheaven play Bar le “Ritz” PDB September 20 with No Joy and Indian Handcrafts.

Roberta Bondar get darker with 'Caustic'

Photo by Andrew Carver

Photo by Andrew Carver

The dense, murky rock of Ottawa’s Roberta Bondar has gone even darker on their new record Caustic, reaching for the avant garde while retaining a grunge feel that would make them fit between the Cranberries and Smashing Pumkins on some ‘90s radio show.

Caustic was recorded mostly live off the floor in one day in December in St. Alban’s, one of the oldest churches in Ottawa. You can hear church organ throughout the record, adding another layer of dissonance to the harshest moments of Caustic.

It’s a different approach from their last two EPs, which were tracked separately in different living spaces and after-hours in a cafe they all worked at.

“Live off the floor creates more of a performance piece,” says singer / guitarist Lidija Rozitis. “The room itself plays a very important role in creating a tone for the album. The acoustics in that church were amazing and we all felt really comfortable even though we only had one day.”

As they worked through the Caustic material at St. Alban’s they could feel their late-night post-punk bouncing off the church’s walls around them, setting the tone for the record and providing lots of low end.  Lidija says you can especially hear the impact the space had on the slow-burning title track.

“A room can influence sound of the final product. Every show you perform is slightly different depending on the acoustics of the room, and who’s in the room, the reception of the audience,” she says.

While the band has some shared tastes in music, there are sounds flying in from all over, from the heavy to the meditative. Lidija says one of the things she loves about writing with Roberta Bondar is that each member sees the song from a different viewpoint.

“We all like to do things that are weird,” she says. “We’re not trying to emulate a certain sound, but trying to think about how to make new sounds.”

The band won’t be playing many shows for the rest of the year after POP Montreal and the Ottawa Implosion Weekend in October, and they’ll likely be thinking about tweaking their name too. Last week the band received a letter from representatives of Dr. Roberta Bondar, the Canadian scientist / astronaut the band is referencing, asking them to clarify they are not affiliated with the doctor.

When we speak it’s two days after the CBC, National Post and Ottawa Citizen have reported on the request from Dr. Bondar, which they found out about from a post on Lidija’s Facebook profile.

“At no point has anyone talked about the music at all. Especially with The National Post it was like we were just dumb kids trying to get more hits on our YouTube video,” says Lidija, adding there was never any conflict between the two parties.

For a band that sells their music on cassettes, she says it’s pretty obvious they’re not trying to profit off the doctor’s name. It’s just a tongue-in-cheek reference by an independent group.

“As a band I wouldn’t want to measure my success by being on the front page of a shitty conservative national newspaper because they realized a band has the same name as a relatively well-known Canadian icon,” says Lidija.

Roberta Bondar play O Patro Vys September 19 at 10 p.m.

Q&A with Hiroshima Shadows

hiroshima-shadows

Kieran Blake of local punk trio Hiroshima Shadows answered some questions about the band and their new record ahead of playing TRH-Bar September 19. Here's their self-titled tape, available for PWYC download and released last year via Born Recs.

How long has the band been together? Are you (Kieran) the main songwriter, or do the other members write too?

The band was formed over 4 years ago but I'm the only original member. It was originally me, Hannah Lewis who left to focus on her band Red Mass, Emily Bitze who moved to Toronto and formed Milk Lines with her husband Jeff Clarke of Demon's Claws, and a string of exploding drummers not unlike Spinal Tap. The current line up with Nick and Phil has been going strong for a while now, and it feels like the best fit; I'm the main songwriter and I definitely come in with an idea in mind for bass and drums but they come up with cool stuff I never would have thought of.

How do you decide what you write is "Hiroshima Shadows" or will find a home somewhere else? Do you always write on guitar?

Hiroshima songs are always written on guitar, or sometimes I just use a distorted bass if its a 'riff' driven song. There's almost no crossover between writing band songs and when I'm writing songs for my solo project because they're such different mindsets that I have to get into. There was one song that I felt was a bit too weird for my solo stuff so I roughed it up a bit and brought it to the band and that became "Drug Skill" on our record that's coming out later this year.

When is the Hiroshima Shadows record coming out?

The new album is completely finished, but we're seeing if any labels want to put it out.. if they don't it'll be out in some form by the end of the year. It's different in that it was recorded properly in a studio and mastered by a professional — we took a bunch of the old songs from the tape we released and recorded them with our newest songs — so the biggest difference is that the songs sound juicy now instead of half baked.

What do you like most about playing loud, aggressive music?

Well it's very cathartic to perform it, and its really fun to have people jumping around at your shows, but it's also refreshing and necessary for me as a songwriter to let loose and write about stuff that concerns me but I wouldn't normally write about. Like socio-political shit that would make me feel like a preachy douche if I was playing an acoustic guitar, or I can get away with sleazy songs about sex and drugs. My solo project is pretty inward so the band is outward. It's fun because it covers the other side of the spectrum of being alive. Solo I'm Dr. Jekyll and in the band I'm Mr. Hyde.

When looking up the band on Facebook I saw you made a personal account for the band. Did you find you weren't getting to the people you wanted to reach without paying Facebook? Would you rather the band not need to have Facebook (though it seems like a must-do for bands these days)?

Yeah, exactly. On Facebook pages they have this feature that tells you like "This post reached 14 people" and they also say "Do you want to boost this post?" And we have hundreds of fans on there that aren't seeing stuff we post so I feel like its a scam. So we made a personal profile and added all the fans. I'd like to one day just have a Twitter but I feel like people don't use Twitter as much -- you should add @hiroshimadows and make my dream come true.

How did you connect with Push&Shove?

We were hooked up with them for our Pop Montreal show, but I haven't heard much about them, they're a new thing right? So far so good; they're putting on some good shit this year.

Hiroshima Shadows are playing TRH-Bar September 19 at 9:30 p.m.

Pkew Pkew Pkew (gunshots) are having more fun than your band

 Talking about a band's name is usually a pretty lame way to start an interview, but with Toronto-based sloppy drunk pop punk 6-piece Pkew Pkew Pkew (gunshots) the question had merit. How would you pronounce that name exactly?

"The way that we intended it is they would go 'pkew! pkew! pkew!' and then just say 'gunshots' as boringly as possible. But people call us whatever they want. It depends on their level of enthusiasm," says singer/guitarist Mike Warne.

Most bands don't put sound effects into their band name, but Pkew Pkew Pkew (gunshots) are probably having more fun than most bands.

"We started the band as a joke. Me and the guitar player Jordan drew a picture of me and him on stage with Brodie [singer Brodie Matthias Bocelli] being the manager on the side of the stage. It was supposed to be a joke where we played synths and stuff, but we decided to play real instruments," he says.

"We weren't very good at synths."

Some of the guys had been in bands together before, but they had all worked together and knew each other for years. The band is full of guitars and they all sing. Every word is meant to be screamed back at the band live.

"A couple of us had been in bands before and they weren't fun. There was the work that is being in a band. This has the work, but it's still like hanging out," Mike says.

"We just hang out and drink, and now we hang out and drink and practice."

Their sound will be immediately welcomed to anyone who lived off of the Fat Wreck Chord punk of the '90s and early 2000s. Overtop of all that the lyrics usually revolve around how their best days are behind them, but we're going to get piss drunk with our friends so life's okay.

"I never played synth, it was fun to play around with, but we were never going to get good at them. Guitar is my instrument. I got a guitar when I was in grade seven or eight, and the only thing I listened to was Punk-O-Rama 1, 2, 3, 5, all those ones. We just started [writing] songs like when we were starting music."

It only makes sense to go back to the music of your youth when you're trying to face the future, bottle in hand.

"It's one of those things where it's easier to take seriously when we're making a lot of jokes. If you're in an indie band you're writing about emotional, serious things," says Mike. "The focus is more on having fun than making the most artful recording."

Pkew Pkew Pkew (Gunshots) play le Divan Orange Sept. 18 at 6:00 p.m.