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.

The craftsman behind CROSSS

The mystic indie metal of CROSSS is coming to Montreal before taking its new form in Toronto at the end of the year.

Originally from Halifax, singer/guitarist Andy March credits his interest in things spiritual in part to his time at a Shambhala Buddhist high school. It may also be where his chant-like vocals come from, moving over slow, heavy guitar riffs and relentless drumming.

March has just finished mixing the follow-up to last year’s heavy haunt Obsidian Spectre. The new record was tracked on familiar territory, during night sessions in Halifax’s Echo Chamber studio throughout 2014.

Like on Obsidian Spectre, he’s doing all the production work, from the engineering to the mixing to the mastering.

“It just takes forever. It kind of drives a person crazy trying to engineer and mix and master a record, and I think it probably dilutes its meaning, having to pass through the same brain so many times,” says March, who started CROSSS in 2008 in Montreal.

It’s common practice to have someone else master your record, but mastering is expensive. So March spent months training his ears to notice the minutiae that mastering engineers make their living from. The resulting LP was something you could crank without being overwhelmed, giving the songs more space, in the ‘70s style of recording.

“That one I felt went a little too far, it’s a little too gentle and comfortable. This record hits you a little harder, it’s not as easy listening,” says March. “It’s kind of in the middle, it’s not going to sound like a Ty Segall record, but it’s not going to sound like a Black Sabbath record either.”

He’s going for something heavier, with lyrics that are a little more relatable — while retaining the dark, druidic quality that makes a CROSSS record feel part grunge and part sacrament.

The record will be a kind of second half to Obsidian Spectre, and is expected to come out in the late winter or early spring.

The latest release from CROSSS is “Eye Seance”, one of two songs recorded in the latest Echo Chamber sessions written by Nathan Doucet, who plays drums in CROSSS and also plays under the name Heaven for Real.

Doucet and bassist Ryan Allen have been the main band for the past two years, but after touring this fall with a temporary lineup March will have a new band based in Toronto — with Mikołaj Gajewski on bass, and Kris Bowering on drums.

“Eye Seance” came out last month on Ottawa-based Bruised Tongue Records, typically a cassette-only operation. But thanks to a deal with March when he was making a hasty exit from Hamilton, Bruised Tongue has put out a handful of lathe cut records using Andy’s record lathe.

The track is on a split with “Young and EZ” by Toronto-based Soupcans. Bruised Tongue co-founder Pierre Richardson cut 100 records with Andy’s lathe, available through Bruised Tongue.

Lathe cut records are cut using a lathe (surprise), an old machine that makes impressions on rotating objects. Before tape recording, electric lathes were used to cut records onto plastic.

“I didn’t know where I was going to put my machine,” says March. “I have a few requirements, because it’s kind of big, and it makes a bit of a smell and uses a lot of power.”

He was able to make an arrangement with Richardson to store his record lathe in a back room of Gabba Hey!, a rehearsal and living space in central Ottawa. In exchange for storage and being able to come down a few days each month to work with the lathe, Andy showed Pierre how to cut records.

“The technology is still ancient, but there’s an online community of people and we were all experimenting over the last three years, and it just got to a place where it sounds really good, it’s consistent and doesn’t wear out,” says March.

Lathe cut records are made one at a time, so they’re only really ideal for rare and short-run releases. They’re known for inconsistent sound and short lifespan, but March says his records can be played on repeat for days on end without any change in quality.

Sandwiching art between two thin pieces of plastic, he creates his own short-run picture discs.

“There’s just like a lot of variables and there ended up being some pretty intense modifications to the machine [involved],” says March. Along with other experimenters around the world, March found using hard, smooth plastic and adjusting the lathe would lead to more reliable cuts.

“A couple of the developments I discovered by just staring at the machine for hours and hours,” he laughs.

“I’m a bit of a closet inventor, I’ve worked on a couple things that I’ve tried to bring to market, and it was really exciting to see it take off. I kind of have a way to make money off it which is pretty amazing.”

He’s working out an arrangement to bring the lathe to Toronto, where it would be moved to June Records, March offering his lathe services through the store.

“I’m pretty excited about it, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a job,” says March. “I’m excited to see if I can popularize it a little bit.”

CROSSS play Sept. 18 at Club Lambi (Telephone Explosion Showcase) and Sept. 19  at Brasserie Beaubien (Craft Singles Showcase).

Under the microscope with Nick Zammuto

Nick Zammuto is a musical mad scientist disguised as a luddite, living with his family in a wood stove-heated house he built himself in Vermont. He tinkers with new sounds and inventions away from the distractions — and insane rent — of New York.

Zammuto is best known for his genuinely unclassifiable work with The Books — a two piece band he formed with cellist Paul de Jong in Brooklyn at the turn of the millennium, characterized by its heavy use of found audio material, from long-forgotten voicemails to clips from courtroom TV shows.

Since The Books called it quits at the beginning of 2012, he's been hard at work — releasing Anchor, the second LP with his new band Zammuto, Sept. 2.

“[The Books] died before its time, at least from my perspective. I was trying to start from scratch something totally new, and it had this frantic energy to it,” says Zammuto, about the environment he wrote his first “solo” record in.

But after playing over 100 shows following the first Zammuto LP, that frantic energy has grown into more thoughtful, fully-formed songs on Anchor. The record marks a whole new way of doing music for Zammuto — nearly all analogue, with a band shaping the sounds instead of the samples that defined The Books.

It's especially the connection he has with drummer Sean Dixon that has redefined the way Zammuto writes — the two quickly bonding over their love of polyrhythms. Dixon would come up to Zammuto's home for days at a time, recording infinite drum loops, attacking the beat from different angles until the right texture emerged.

“I don’t think on my feet particularly well, when there’s too much going on in a room I kind of shut down. I think that’s why I’m drawn to the more isolated, scientific kind of approach,” says Zammuto.

“I think of my studio as a microscope, where I can really focus on the details. Let the foreground dissolve into the background in a way.”

His studio is his little refuge, joking that once he comes inside his home with his three kids he can't have a complete thought.

“I kind of think of it like the TARDIS in Doctor Who,” he says of his studio — which still looks like an old shed from the outside. “It’s become more like an Apollo mission in there, I can reach 400 knobs from where I sit. I can go anywhere at any time, it’s pretty fun.”

He completely redid the studio for the recording of Anchor, in part with help from an Indiegogo campaign to fund the purchase of vintage analog gear. Playing with a full band awakened an interest in controlling sound in real time.

“A visceral experience is what I’m going for. I feel I’ve done a lot of intellectual music in the past, and I suppose there’s always going to be that layer to it, but I really like rock shows, it turns out,” he says.

“The idea of really being able to saturate a space with sound just really appeals to me these days.”

Nick started playing guitar in high school, but it was only after he got his first computer in the late ‘90s that he started writing music. Playing with a drummer has now changed his whole perspective.

“It’s tremendous. I just feel lucky to be able to play off people. It’s such a rush,” says Zammuto. “The Books was such an unexpected success [...] until I started playing music with a drummer I didn’t understand what live music was.”

Anchor begins with a literal departure from relying on samples. As album-opener “Good Graces” starts, a flurry of voices fade into the background, leaving Nick's voice (albeit sometimes processed) the only one left on the record.

He's trying out several new sounds on Anchor, from the new wave pop of “IO” to the pensive “Sinker”, sounding more like their former tourmates Explosions in the Sky.

“I can’t repeat myself. It makes me ill if I feel like I’m doing the same thing I’ve done before,” he says. “Really I wanted to perfect my recording process, so rather than reaching into other people’s recorded material for the perfect sounds, to be able to generate them ourselves.”

An insatiable appetite for learning new musical approaches may not be the best way to find a huge audience, but it's how Zammuto needs to work. And the fact that his Indiegogo campaign sought to raise $10,000 — but went on to raise over $30,000 — means that he has enough people supporting him in whichever direction he goes.

“[Crowdfunding] is bringing up a whole class of musicians in a way, and that’s really exciting to me. We can get away with a much smaller audience; a few people scattered in different cities around the world is enough,” says Zammuto.

“It changes the whole trajectory of my career — instead of having to be beholden to an industry that's all pretty jaded about music [...] and going through endless middlemen, getting a tiny fraction of the actual business that’s being done.”

Nick and his family try to keep their overhead as low as possible so they can put more money into their creative projects. They have a strict no-contractor rule — if they can’t do it themselves, they don’t do it.

They heat their home all winter with wood they chop themselves. Nick's wife grows most of their food. When we speak he’s just finished building a giant catapult for the “IO” video. Nick says it can launch a 10 pound rock 350 feet, but he’s betting he can make it go further.

“My neighbours are into it, they’re not worried about coming under siege or anything,” he jokes. “Having a giant canvas of 16 acres to work on is really nice.”

Zammuto plays Casa Del Popolo September 6 with Saxsyndrum.

Passovah Summer Fest preview: Smokes

Smokes are in the process of expanding, but this time they're looking to steer clear of 11-member jam bands.

Their sweat-inducing rock is rounded off with a little melodrama and a love of syncopation. Starting off as a guitar / violin duo three years ago, the band will play their first show as a four-piece tomorrow at the Piccolo Rialto as part of the Passovah Summer Fest.

Singer/guitarist Nick Maas and violinist Patrick Cruvellier moved to Montreal to study at McGill, but stayed for the music. They were first in a “crazy weird prog fusion band” called Bananafish, working together musically – and becoming roommates – since then.

“We needed to figure out what kind of band we wanted to make. We knew we wanted to play some rock and roll," Nick says. “I hadn’t sung in six years playing in bands, and I felt that I had a lot to say.”

Patrick started playing violin at age 6, but decided to move away from studying sheet music when moving to Montreal.

“I definitely have a passion for it, though I think I never fully connected with classical music," says Patrick, who played for years in orchestras and string groups. “I got kind of burnt out on it and realized I’d rather be playing music with my friends.”

They started playing with drummer Jeremy MacCuish two years ago, the two working on what would eventually become Smokes for a year before that.

MacCuish played drums in Parlovr, who signed to Dine Alone Records before going on hiatus last year.They met Parlovr singer/guitarist Louis David Jackson at a call centre (that happened to employ several musicians that they would eventually share the stage with) soon after leaving McGill.

They started rehearsing at the Torn Curtain, the practice space also used at the time by Parlovr.

“They were a huge influence for me, a really awesome band in Montreal at the time. We got to hear a lot of them, and we thought, man we’ve got to get him in our band,” Nick jokes.

Now adding Andrew Miller from The This Many Boyfriends Club on bass, they get to expand things a little more, and finally have someone to take care of the low end.

“It frees us up in some ways, now I don’t need to play power chords," says Nick.

“There are some great things about being a trio, it forces you to try different things," adds Patrick, "but there was a certain point that we realized a lot of what we want to be doing is playing high energy rock music. We realized sometimes we were dumbing down ideas just to fill out the frequency range.”

The band released the Unlucky EP last November with Dan Lagacé behind the board at Breakglass Studios and recorded it all live off the floor.

"[Lagacé] pushed us to do something we wouldn’t have done if it was just the three of us going into a studio," says Nick.

Now they’re working on a full-length with the opposite approach, doing the writing and recording over several months, at the Rosemont studio where Les Breastfeedersrecord their stuff, engineered and mixed by Marshall Vaillancourt (who plays in Archery Guildand No Aloha) and Miguel Marcil-Pitre.

They intend to release two songs this fall, with plans to release the album next summer.

As they grow their sound, they're trying to be ever-more concise. While Nick grew up in Milwaukee listening to jam bands like The Grateful Dead and Phish (hence Bananafish), he's now less about self-indulgence and more about structure.

“I used to have an instinctive backlash to short, poppy songs but I kind of grew out of that. Living here in Montreal there’s so much variety that I just decided to go to shows all the time, and as see much local music as I can," says Nick.

“[With] a lot of musical friends, some are making rock music, but it’s not the predominant [genre]. People are so supportive and it’s nice to get that cross-pollination."

Patrick also plays with the guys in Saxsyndrum (who both used to be in Bananafish), and also plays with Ohara, (who’s also playing the Piccolo Rialto tomorrow) and Year of Glad.

He's “the high-demand violinist, no one cares about guitar players,” jokes Nick.

“It’s not about the genre necessarily, we just hang out and go see each other’s shows. In a community where loud rock music isn’t really the focus it’s awesome to see people that are super supportive. If you’re passionate about it, it doesn’t really matter.”

Smokes play the Passovah Summer Fest with Frog Eyes, PS I Love You, Nanimal, CTZNSHP, Cat Pontoon, James Irwin and Ohara August 21 at the Piccolo Rialto.

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