Friday, April 23, 2004

Wolf Parade Interview & GO RIN DO Loft Party Review

Wolves have never thrived as solitary creatures. They are at their best when they are in a pack, surrounding their prey and then savagely tearing into it's flesh. On Saturday, April 17th, a pack of thirsty Montrealers crammed into a St. Laurent Blvd. Loft (dubbed GO RIN DO), listened to a trio of fine local bands, and drank enough beer to inebriate a small German town in the process. Happily, no animals were harmed.

About 70 lucky locals and a couple of high-profile guests turned out to see Wolf Parade and friends. In the crowd, I recognized a couple of pals from Concordia. A photographer from a local weekly was also snapping shots during the final set with his digital camera. He promised me some shots to accompany this review but I haven't been able to reach him yet.

Before any of the bands took the stage, I managed to corner Dan, the lead singer and guitarist from Wolf Parade. He was kind enough to answer some of my questions, as you can see in the interview below. [Ed Note: For a song-by-song analysis, check out this other piece on the WP. Enjoy.]

First up was Naomi Watts (a guitar/drummer duo, not the actress) who shredded it's way through some stark, nearly Scandanavian metal. Their sound almost resembled early Sepultura but without a bass player and with no singing. As spare as it was, their performance got some heads banging to and fro. Both musicians were definately technically gifted so I think it's just a question of finding a bass player and a singer.

After a brief intermission, Spencer from Wolf Parade surprised about 42 percent of the crowd by sitting down at the keyboard with a drumstick in one hand and the keys in the other. (When he plays alone, he calls his one-man band Sunset Rubdown). The kick drum was in position just close enough to the keyboard so that he could keep a beat while playing various chords simultaneously.

Spencer's music was hypnotic, droning on a bit at times, but interesting just the same. I would almost venture to say that it sounded like experimental jazz, except for the slightly precocious singing. Spencer's vocals were excited and emphatic, almost like he was trying to compensate for the jarring keyboard sound, which can grate on the nerves after awhile. Still, most of the crowd enjoyed the set and he proved that he is ambidextrous.

After the Rubdown was over, while I was waiting for Wolf Parade to begin, I spoke with Win & Régine of the Arcade Fire who were looking happy and healthy despite a grueling American tour with the Unicorns. Win mentioned that the Boston show was plagued by a poor sound system but the Philadelphia show was a great success. Régine pointed out that the Philly show was in a church basement and the old wooden walls were great for the acoustics. They said they were tired of being on the road but were looking forward to releasing their first LP--they've just recently finished recording it and now they're getting it mixed. (A friend of mine also mentioned that it looks like they're going to sign with Alien8 Records, the same label as the Unicorns. I'll keep you posted!)

Eventually, Wolf Parade took the stage. After a bit of calibration by Hadji on an Apple iBook, the WP darted into a bold first set. Dan's raw, authentic guitar style complements Spencer's keyboard perfectly and Arlen was pounding the drums quite handily. Hadji's bleeps were buried in the mix somewhere on most tracks but he added a couple of tangential sounds that made the tunes complete. The crowd stood transfixed, some in wide-eyed wonder and others moshing or pogoing. A red light (at least I think it was red, or is that just my memory playing tricks on me?) was shining on the band as they played on the makeshift stage to raucous applause. Everyone was in accordance... the Wolf Parade rock.

Montreal police interrupted the show sometime after 1 AM because of a noise complaint from a neighbour. They ordered that the show be shut down. After sweet-talking the cops and promising the party was over, Dan returned to the stage and announced that he would play four more songs. He warned us that the "Boys in Blue" would be back any minute but wished us a good night as a group, and then kicked straight into a four-song set that eclipsed every local show I've ever seen. Except for one faulty start due to a broken string, WP were nearly flawless. The last song, "This Heart's on Fire", caused a massive cheer to erupt from the crowd. (Potential first single for their new LP?)
Below is the interview I conducted with Dan. It appears unedited except for the occasional clarification (in brackets).


Wolf Parade Interview

JB: What sort of direction are you guys moving in musically or in terms of the local scene?

Dan: I can only really say musically because the local scene here is so fragmented and weird. I mean, you probably know from going out to shows and stuff? Musically, I think... We started out as just me and Spencer, the keyboard player... putting together songs in his bedroom, basically. And then, uh, I guess we just worked out this thing where we do fifty/fifty song writing and I think the songs we have been writing now are a lot more open, a lot weirder. Spencer and I have completely different approaches to writing songs. I just fucking love like pop music, basically... I really like Old 60's R & B like Otis Redding and stuff like that and I'm just hardwired to write chord changes like that (laughs). Spencer is more like Prog Rock basically, not that he listens to it... but he's just really musically talented and he's always kind of pushing things to not be standard chords. I think my shit is getting more refined and his stuff is too, and it's melding together better.

JB: Becoming more cohesive?

Dan: Yeah... both are moving in their own direction but Spencer is learning to play straight up pop stuff more and the parts I'm writing for his songs are more in line with what he's doing.

JB: This summer, do you have any festivals or tour dates planned?

Dan: No, that's the weird thing. After the show, we're going to take a break for two months. Our electronics guy Hadji is going tree planting in bug-infested British Columbia... he does it every year. He stands to make a ton of money so would be dumb for him not to go.

JB: You haven't thought of trying to find someone to fill his position?

Dan: Nobody could do what Hadji does. I can't think of one fucking person that would be able to pull off what he does. He's just really good with sound and the parts he comes up with are, you know... he's not working from a "schooled musician" point of view, he's just interested in manipulating sound.

JB: Does he contribute to the music or is he sort of the "sound guy"?

Dan: He totally contributes to the music with analog synth programs on the laptop. He's got this fucking huge box of old analog is like a theremin. He'll control it with his hand and play the keyboard with the other one. When we started, he wasn't in the band and now he's so integral that we're at the point where we don't want to play without him in the band. It would sound empty without him. It would just be bad to try and replace him to play shows. I think what we're going to do this summer is I'm going to work on writing some more songs and Spencer is going to write some and we're going on tour after July.

JB: Have you thought of doing any more shows with the Arcade Fire? I know they've did a show recently down in Boston with the the Unicorns.

Dan: Actually I talked to Tim and Win... I used to play bass in the AF. I think maybe eventually we'll do shows but right now, as much as I love that band, maybe it's better that as bands we play separate shows. Maybe in four months, after we've built our own following... Then, we can go on a short tour together. To be able to access that... if we go play a show supporting AF there will be kids that haven't heard of us and vice versa. And they were really great with us when we started, they were already sort of established. We had our first show ever with them so that was really nice... we just sort of traded people.

JB: And the Bell Orchestre as well, right?

Dan: They're not so much a rock band. They're schooled musicians. McGill music school sort of, they've got classical training... they're all really good at their instruments. I'm not necessarily really great at playing guitar and I know that as amazing a song writer as Win is, he's not like a virtuoso guitar player. I think there's a weird difference between those bands. (The Bell Orchestre) improvise and I don't think they're coming aesthetically from the same place. But I'm so tired, I'm kind of losing the plot.

JB: That's o.k. man, we're both playing it by ear and we both have a few beers in us so it's all good.

Dan: I've got a real problem with the booze, man.

JB: Same here. How do you deal with that, actually? Is your band a party band, like the atypical 80's kind of rock... any booze, women and drugs, or are you guys a sort of more modern version of that?

Dan: I don't really do drugs anymore. I used to do a lot of drugs and I can't really do 'em. We're just a bunch of drunks. We're all from Victoria. Victoria is kind of the Australia of Canada. It's a really weird isolated island community and people out there like to get fucked up.

JB: You guys are all from Victoria, B.C.?

Dan: One way or another, we've all lived or played in bands there.

JB: Is that where you met?

Dan: I met all those kids in Victoria separately and then we all hooked up out here. Spencer used to play in a band called Frog Eyes that are really good. They're coming out here on tour with Destroyer.

JB: Dan Bejar's band? The guy from the New Pornographers?

Dan: Destroyer is fucking amazing. Frog Eyes is actually his backup band for this tour so they're doing this weird thing where it's Frog Eyes, and then Frog Eyes backing up Destroyer but Spencer used to play keyboard in Frog Eyes and co-wrote a lot of the songs from their first record along with Carey, their lead singer. And I used to play in a band called Atlas Strategic and we went on tour a lot and then broke up.

JB: What kind of style was that? More punk?

Dan: It was a lot more fucked up, it was like crazy Talking Heads style stuff but with Sun Ra organ. We had this huge Hammond organ and this dude who played organ and synth and bass pedals all at the same time. We didn't have a bass player in the band. We were just two guitars, a giant organ and drums and lots of weird metal percussion bits... super rock!

JB: Something like Robby Krieger but updated, kind of? Like the bass player being the keyboardist?

Dan: Yeah, totally, like an amphetamine Tom Waits pretty much summed it up. That band was totally doomed from the start. We were dealing with Sub Pop and we went on tour with Modest Mouse a couple of times and then when we came back the last time, the band completely disintegrated because I think we all hated each other. Well, not hated each other but we were all too neurotic to be in a band together, too flaky. I had some really shitty personal family stuff happen and I moved out here because I just couldn't handle it. And I told Sub Pop basically that the band didn't exist anymore.

JB: The contract is void!

Dan: Yeah, I didn't call them for a year. They were interested in the band and when I got home... my mom died about a year and a half ago. It was right after the tour, and I just went completely nuts and didn't bother calling them.

JB: They got the message?

Dan: Yeah, we had a really bad reputation for not making it to shows and being total fuckups. We all knew each other in Victoria and its nice to play with people that you're comfortable with.

JB: When I went and saw you guys play with AF and Bell Orchestre at Salla Rossa, I noticed that some of the songs, especially the ones that had a keyboard feel to them... it sort of made me think of a cross between Hot Hot Heat and the Blood Brothers. I'm wondering if you've ever listened to either of those two bands?

Dan: Actually, that's funny, man. I've heard the Blood Brothers before, once or twice. But Hot Hot Heat, we all grew up with them. Arlen and Hadji both played in bands with Dustin (Hot Hot Heat's bassist).

JB: So you're from the same Victoria scene?

Dan: But I think... Hot Hot Heat, man (laughs)... those guys... (sighs audibly)

JB: A little too cloying for you?

Dan: Well, they used to be this hipster San Diego-style punk band, the San Diego sound... like Nation of Ulysees and that whole "tight pants" thing, a lot of screaming, really bratty singing.

JB: Really hardcore?

Dan: And they kicked their lead singer out and the keyboard player became the singer. When they were a punk band, I used to go to their shows and heckle them all the time. I just did it in fun, you know? But something happened when they blew up so big. It was just kind of depressing in a way. The music that they're making is for 14 year old girls, it's not for me... it's not really for any of their friends. A lot of times, it sounds like they're not throwing a lot of personal stuff into it... which is totally understandable considering the amount of fucking money they got from Sub Pop and then Warner, eventually. I'm worried about them now because I really like the drummer in that band... he's a super nice guy, the guitar player too. And they're in the shit-ass position where they put out this one record that was moderately successful... it did well in Los Angeles and they had videos on MuchMusic and all that shit. Now that they're exclusively the property of Warner, I think the label expects them to produce a fucking pop record because Warner has been shoving Hot Hot Heat up everyone's ass. NME in England has been Hot Hot Heat this and that.

JB: They're raving over them.

Dan: Yeah, it's the "new rock hype", like Franz Ferdinand or the Strokes were a couple of years ago and I don't know if Hot Hot Heat has it in them to do it.

JB: To go the long haul?

Dan: Or to produce a record that will be that inanely commercial and catchy. I wouldn't put it past them but I'm just worried that they won't be able to deliver, so...

JB: Speaking of Franz Ferdinand, you gotta respect a band that starts from a squat!

Dan: From a squat? (Smiles)

JB: They actually began in Glasgow, Scotland and they were squatting at a loft in this abandoned warehouse. After a month of searching, the cops tracked them down because they had been playing sort-of illegal shows without a liquor license. The Scottish cops said "We're happy we caught you because we've been looking for a month!"

Dan: That's fucking hilarious! It's wicked that they're not crusty punks, you know like...straight up, Tennessee-style, dreadlocked, Crass-listening crappy punks. I used to live in a semi-squat in Vancouver and we had some bands that played there from time to time.

This is when my Panasonic digital recorder ran out of space. (Damned SP/LP/SLP conspiracy!) Undeterred, we went on talking about various things including some good news--Isaac Brock, Modest Mouse's vocalist/guitarist, would be producing their upcoming album. A superb musician, Brock has already produced several critically acclaimed albums, including the 1997 MM release "Lonesome Crowded West" and also "Everywhere and His Nasty Parlor Tricks" in 2001.

This should help WP gain some attention in indie rock circles all across North America. As soon as college radio gets a taste of WP in the form of a full length LP, they'll probably sink their teeth right in! Tours with Modest Mouse might soon follow.

Interestingly, I spoke to three audience members who claimed to work for Sub Pop. One of them said that the show was incredible and that they had flown all the way from Seattle just to see Wolf Parade play. The alleged A & R execs sounded believable enough and didn't really give me the impression that they were Montrealers.

Perhaps the WP will join the Sub Pop family? It wouldn't surprise me, especially since Dan's former band Atlas Strategic was signed to the Seattle record label. Personally, I think Sub Pop is a great label since they were the former home of two of my all-time musical faves (Nirvana and Eric's Trip).

As Dan mentioned in the interview, the WP won't be playing any shows until July. I'll post any show dates as soon as they are available. Visit Wolf Parade's Official Site for audio clips and the latest WP news. You can also purchase their Untitled E.P. @ Cheap Thrills or other fine stores.