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.

A Film Noir Disco Fantasy

Photo Olia Eichenbaum

Fame and fortune sounds just fine to Jef Barbara, he’s just not in a rush to get there.

He just spent five days in Austin to play South by Southwest, including the annual GayBiGayGay show alongside Cakes da Killa and Mykki Blanco, and the POP Montreal showcase. But rubbing shoulders with the industry’s kingmakers isn’t quite his style.

“I tend to not really enjoy going to parties and trying to schmooze with the right people […] it’s not my thing,” Barbara said a day after returning home to Montreal. “I spent a great deal of time eating tacos and enjoying the weather.”

The festival is known both for packed venues with fans eager to lap up the hype and empty rooms—but this year’s SXSW sported some questionably huge acts, like Lady Gaga and Jay Z, alongside the unknowns.

“I’d rather not force things too much, but of course should I be given the opportunity to play for Samsung and get paid a million dollars, I’m not stupid,” Jef laughed. Jay Z’s partnership with the tech company gave festival-goers a chance to see him and Kanye West play if they had the right phone.

But a festival like Austin’s indie music mecca, where similar bands are often grouped together, does show how unclassifiable his music really is. From new wave riffs to sequin-laced synths—to the odd Pink Floyd-like guitar explosion—it all revolves around Jef’s voice, hanging in anticipation off each sparse vocal phrase.

“I won’t fit in with the R&B crowd, nor will I fit into the synth-pop wavey crowd, nor do we fit into the traditionally rock ‘n roll, indie rock crowd,” he says. “Everything’s sort of in the mix, there’s further layers of identity that are put on top, such as my queer identity, that make up who Jef Barbara is.”

Jef has returned to Montreal just in time for a show at La Sala Rossa, celebrating the 15th anniversary of Archive Montreal, who put on the annual Expozine festival, and to raise money for their Distroboto project—local art vending machines in various Plateau spots for over a decade.

His second LP, Soft to the Touch, came out last fall on Club Roll Records, its 14 songs tied together more by its synthy aura than its sound.

Grainy, glammed-up music videos place Jef in front of the camera striking poses, surrounded by a lush fantasy world where everyone is easy and the drinks are free.

He has a background in theatre, but acting is something he could never fully commit to.

“As an actor you’re always subjected to somebody else’s view of you, you have to correspond to one’s idea to what a character should look like and what they should sound like and who they should be,” he said.

“As a singer, you’re not only your own actor but you’re your own director. Creating my musical universe was the easiest way for me to express myself in a holistic way.”

Jef Barbara is both a performer and performance, in a sensory bath of film noir and fluorescent light. But it’s getting harder for him to separate Jef the persona from Jef the person.

“It’s become rather confusing because a big part of the Jef Barbara character was inspired by inherent characteristics that I already had,” he says.

“It is composition, but it’s based on elements that are already part of my personality that I just decided to exploit, and to a certain extent to caricature. I don’t know if it’s a character anymore. I’m a bit confused.”

Jef Barbara (Archive Montreal anniversary w/ Pyongyang + Tony Ezzy) // March 22 // La Sala Rossa (4848 St. Laurent Blvd.) // 9 p.m. // $12

Originally published by The Link Newspaper.