We’re definitely not the kind of band that would release a bunch of singles.
Namen sind doch nicht Schall und Rauch – zumindest, wenn deine Band den Namen einer brutalen Gruppierung von Aufständischen trägt. Die Band, die vormals als Viet Cong auftrat und mit ihrem Debüt eines der besten Alben des letzten Jahres veröffentlichte, musste sich deshalb nach immer lauteren Empörungen umbenennen. Nun sind sie als Preoccupations unterwegs und haben ein zweites Album am Start – ihr zweites “self-titled”, ganz zur Freude des Gitarristen Scott Munro. Wir haben uns mit Scott am Telefon über den neuen Sound der Kanadier und die Vorzüge von Schallplatten und Montreal unterhalten.
During the past year, you received a lot of negative media attention for having a band name that offended a lot of people. Has this controversy and your name change influenced your new music in any way?
Not consciously, I guess. Although I’m sure that it has to have, ultimately. I can’t imagine that if this year had gone without that, if we had had a different name originally and it hadn’t gone through the ringer, then I feel like we maybe would have made a different record. But I’m not sure. You can never tell. Honestly, I sort of enjoyed the fact that it was a clean slate for the record. We got to do whatever we wanted to do, because it didn’t necessarily have to be the same band anymore. Like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Why then did you decide to call yourself Preoccupations? The name suggests the opposite of a clean slate to me.
We chose that name for a few different reasons. We were basically taking suggestions for names from anyone. We got suggestions from the protesters, we got a bunch of suggestions from the internet. But then our friend Chad VanGaalen sent us a bunch of different lists of names. Basically we just narrowed it down to five of those names that were our favourites. And then out of those five, Preoccupations was the only one that wasn’t taken already. But I do like the fact that it can be read a few different ways, depending on how you want to see it.
Is the idea of having a clean slate also the reason why you gave the album the same name as the band?
I really do like self-titled albums a lot, so it was kind of exciting to have another chance to have a self-titled album. To the point that we even thought about just changing our band name again for the next record. And then just keep releasing self-titled records under a different band name every time, which I would be fully into.
While your lyrics are still marked by insecurity, the music on Preoccupations sounds less harsh, less physically heavy but rather mentally so. How do you explain that?
We all had been in bands that were guitar bands before [Preoccupations], so it was nice to be able to experiment with some different sounds and try playing some more keyboards. But then we’re all still into having it be intense or whatever you want to call it. I think we were trying to create a similar atmosphere but with some different sounds. Because of that, the record is not as harsh in the same way that the first full-length was. There’s not really any guitar noise stuff on it, but we’re all still into the same dark sounds and imagery.
You still recognise that it’s the same band that made Cassette and Viet Cong, though.
Totally. The singing plays into that a lot, I’m sure. The vocals always make it different, and it’s the same four of us making the music, so because of that it will come out a certain way. What everybody brings to the project is what makes it sound the way it does, more so than whether there are keyboards on it or guitars. The ideas are still coming from the same place.
Have you listened to a lot of New Wave while you were making the new album?
Oh yeah. Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark gets rocked a lot in the van, and we’re all New Order fans of course. I love New Wave, there’s lots of great bands. At least half of my favourite records are from the late seventies or the early eighties. There’s a bunch of other good records that were made, but a lot of my favourite ones, at least currently, come from that era.
You ended Viet Cong with an outright massive song called “Death”. On Preoccupations, the eleven minute song is placed right in the middle of the album. Is that meant as a provocation?
“Death” was clearly the closer on that first record. There was no other song to finish the record with but “Death”. And we’ve still been closing off our set with that song, mostly. Whereas “Memory”, it didn’t have the “closing the record” element. We worked on it for actually quite a long time. Basically every studio that we were in for this record, we worked on “Memory” in some way or another. It’s nice to close the A-side, but as far as the end of the actual record goes, I think that “Fever” ultimately worked better. Plus that was also the last song that we recorded and we went into recording it knowing that that was the missing piece of the record. We had most of the record sequenced, but we needed the song to end it.
Then there are “Sense” and “Forbidden”, two songs that seem more like sketches…
They’re both really old recordings. I think “Sense” might even date back to 2012 or 2013. “Sense” was a keyboard thing that I had from when we did our first EP. It’s actually the secret track on the EP, after “Select Your Drone” it goes into “Sense” played only on keyboards. We had a bunch of versions of that one and during the mixing process we came back to it and realised that they would go really well [with the rest of the album].
“Forbidden” was always sort of the intro to something else. We had two different times where what it was the intro to became another song. Pieces of what became “Zodiac” were in the end of “Forbidden” at some point or another. Maybe after having a little bit of time away from it as a song, we were more able to just take it for what it was. Because it is an interesting little bit. It never turned into a song beyond that. Also, the record needed a breather around that time, too, a couple little songs that weren’t quite as intense.
You are talking a lot about sequencing. Is the two-sided vinyl format your model for when you are making an album?
Oh yeah, absolutely. That’s my personal favourite medium for listening to music and so I definitely do think of it in that sense. You need to have your sides even. Plus I think that makes for a good record, regardless of whether it comes out on CD or digitally. We’re definitely not the kind of band that would release a bunch of singles, you know? All my favourite records are albums. There’s a few bands that I like singles of, but the stuff that I’m really passionate about are things that have an arc throughout them. Any record I’ve made, I’ve always been thinking of it in terms of what the sides were going to be.
A lot of interesting dark bands are coming out of Montreal or Toronto. Is there a lot going on in Calgary too or do you sometimes consider moving to a bigger city?
Funny that you should mention that. Matt has actually already moved to Montreal, his girlfriend lives there now. Mike has also been living in Toronto. We’ve scattered all over the country for the moment. I am currently still living in Calgary. Honestly, the Calgary music scene is pretty good. There’s a bunch of venues there, there’s a bunch of great bands. But I think most of the musicians that I’m friends with are at least somewhat transient. Some of my friends will live in Victoria for the winter, because it’s really beautiful there, and then go and live in Montreal for the summer. Have a city experience for a part of the year and a smaller town vibe on the west coast for the winter.
I don’t know if it necessarily matters. It is nice to be in a big city for a while, though, because there are just things that you get out of a city, the cultural hub of the city. In Calgary, you don’t get all the touring bands. Every band that tours in Canada plays in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. If you want to see good bands all the time, then those are better cities to live in than in Calgary. But at the same time, if you want to have a studio space and work like crazy through a whole winter, then Calgary is a great city to live in, because there is nothing really to distract you from doing that. In Toronto, you could go to a great show pretty much every day of the week or go to some kind of party. There is always something going on, whereas in Calgary, there is nothing going on except for what you put on.
What would a perfect Friday night look like to you?
Maybe just eat a nice dinner and then get drunk by a river somewhere. Smoke a joint and watch a movie. Or play synthesizer. I like that actually, that might be my actual answer: smoke a joint and play some synthesizer.
Preoccupations is out 16/09 on Jagjaguwar/Cargo Records.