Following their most excellent show at Bar Robo in Ottawa on June 1, we caught up with Kingston’s doom-pop trio Deux Trois.
Deux Trois is the project of Nadia Pacey of Konig on drums and lead vocals, Benjamin Nelson of PS I Love You on bass, and Ben Webb of Carvings & We Are Adam West on guitar.
The band recently released Health—a must listen to album which is at times ideal for lounging in the shade on a hot breezy summer day and at time points transports you to a muggy sweaty dimly lit basement show. It has post punk ambience with hints of cosmic gloomy pop and sprinkles of early Yeah Yeah Yeahs, all wrapped up in very much their own sound.
Check out our interview below and then have a listen to Health.
Interview with Deux Trois
The three of you have all been involved in music projects in the past. What was the impetus for Deux Trois’ formation? What lead to you three making music together?
Ben Webb (BW): Serendipity.
Benjamin Nelson (BN): We met at the movie, Serendipity.
Nadia Pacey (NP): I had a contract with Princess Sammi Records in Kingston, ON, for which I was making a record as Konig. During some upheaval at the label, I started collaborating with Benjamin, and a few months later, after we’d toured some and decided that we needed a guitarist to give more heft to the mids, I happened to see Ben outside of his work for the first time in eight years, and knew that he would be right. There was a rightness – that what the sound needed was something that Ben would excel at writing, knowing his taste, history and skill.
Before the album release, Deux Trois released a few tracks—Dave and Late Night Girls. Can you talk about these songs and how they fit in to what you are doing with the new album?
BW: They’re definitely the most digestible songs.
BN: But they do –
BW: They have teeth.
BN: Those two are very good examples of the range of where the record goes—emotionally, thematically, the way the songs sound and feel, those are the opposite ends of the spectrum. The rest of the record is in between
Your music draws on 80’s influences that include post punk, dark pop, and synth. As this is a departure from all of your previous sounds, what has drawn you to the kind of music you’re making with Deux Trois?
BN: For me I think it’s all my education, time I’ve spent studying music that we’re now making – this is the band I’ve always wanted to be in.
BW: I think for me it’s like a natural sort of trying to – instead of trying to over-complicate anything, it’s all about serving the song as opposed to be the most complicated or heavy – this is the band I never knew I wanted to be in.
NP: Until I started writing music and reworking these songs with our band, I’d resigned myself to being quiet, being very shy about sitting behind a kit. I was afraid of being too loud; much apologizing for being so if I was. I was very uncomfortable with the snare in particular. Now it is one of my favourite instruments to play. I played tracks off of a computer or a cellphone for four years instead of performing music live because I didn’t have confidence in my ability to do it in front of people. Making the sound of the record, and it being a kind of thirty minute confession, was about finding a sound that feels good to play and not distancing myself from other musicians, or from musical experimentation; choosing to look right at some of my points of shame and challenge them rather than letting them sit in the back of my mind, where they can effect how I look at everything else.
What bands or artists are you listening to currently that inspire you or blow your mind?
BW: I’ve been listening to new Joan Of Arc – 1984. It’s a challenging listen at points.
BN: I don’t keep up on new music that much, because I like old music. The only new music I really hear by choice is top 40 radio, however, I am a big fan of Ariel Pink’s last record, entitled: Dedicated to Bobby Jameson.
NP: I just spent an hour listening to rap in the car. I keep going a little nuts over Leikeli47, forgot how much I love Eminem produced by Dre. The video and song both for Childish Gambino’s This is America are, together, mind blowing music at its finest. Also, seeing Sylvia Wrath [recently], I felt my soul in her coolness and songwriting. I recently heard a song called Sleep by Sasha Slug as well—that was very good.
What was it like putting together the Health EP and pressing it out on vinyl? For newer bands that are looking to do the same, is it a difficult process?
BW: Well as far as design, I really didn’t have much to do about that. Nadia and Ben sort of had that pretty close to done by the time I joined the band.
NP: We started the design process in October, yeah.
BW: As far as is it difficult: it’s expensive and I think you have to decide if that’s worth it for you. There are cheaper ways to get your music out there. I know it was important to us to have a physical release because we all love that format.
NP: It helped us that Benjamin and I are both designers, but that in particular Benjamin is a record album designer and has been for a number of years. The pressing itself we did not do – it was done by Precision Pressing, whose project manager, Tristen, was great in sorting us out. Paul, the sales associate who we originally spoke with to get the project going, was also very helpful. But yes, it’s an expensive deal.
We gathered together to listen to the test pressings we received, and discussed what we heard beyond the music. Before approving vinyl you have to be able to discern what is different about different pressings and make comparisons between them so that errors, warps, or too much scratching, can be recognized and acknowledged. It’s not difficult, but it is expensive and requires some research beyond having enthusiasm to do it well and right. To know that our record is a 12″ 45rpm record, and that the grooves and information are given more breath in their imprint because of that, is a decision that I feel very good about, and am glad that I can appreciate now. I couldn’t before.
Can you talk about what’s in store next for Deux Trois as far as new music and touring goes after the Health EP is released?
NP: We have a couple shows coming up, and might be speaking with a booking agent for future work. We have been working on three new songs, all of which we’ve played live since writing. I’m looking forward to the point when we collaborate fully as songwriters for the next record, and going to places we might not have been before.
BW: I’m personally excited for Wolfe Island Music Festival. It’s a festival that I’ve been going to and experiencing the excitement of for years, and this will be my first year playing. I’m feeling really good about these new songs; we’re sort of moving in different directions and looking at new sounds, which is always super exciting.
Ottawa indie-folk rockers Amos the Transparent are celebrating 10 years as a band with the release of their new album Anniversaries Saturday night at The 27 Club. And why not celebrate the occasion with some delicious craft beer? Music and beer go together like wine and cheese. The band has collaborated with Big Rig Brewery to release a special limited run of Amos Anniversaries beer—a 5.2% pilsener that will please the palate for many.
A decade and four albums later, Amos the Transparent have cemented themselves as a quintessential folk-canadiana. They have performed at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest, CityFolk, SXSW, WayHome, The Strombo Show, CBC’s Q, and even the Big Sound Festival in Australia. They’ve also hosted an annual holiday show around Christmas time that always sells out. Needless to say, Ottawa loves Amos.
I caught up with lead vocalist and guitarist Jonathan Chandler to talk about the band’s longevity and the new album. Have a read below.
Amos the Transparent releases Anniversaries Saturday, May 12 at The 27 Club along with another veteran Ottawa group who have gotten back together for a few one-offs—The Love Machine—as well as Rumfit Mosey. Ticket and show information can be found here. Upcoming shows:
May 12 — The Ottawa 27 Club
June 21 — Ottawa Dragonboat Festival
July 8 — RBC Bluesfest
August 25 — Neat Café (Burnstown)
Interview with Jonathan Chandler of Amos the Transparent
This band has been together for 10 years now, which is much longer than most. What is the glue that has kept Amos around until now?
JC: Honestly, the fact that we are indeed friends has kept it fresh over the years. Because we genuinely like each other, I think that creates an open space for everyone to feel valued and feel free to discuss concerns or ideas. A band is indeed a relationship—a big complex family relationship—and just like a regular one, you need to work at it.
How have families, new business ventures (like Shoebox Recording Studio) and the passage of time affected how Amos approaches writing music?
JC: Scheduling has never really been an easy task with this band and it’s numbers but with growing families and big boy (and girl) careers, the windows become even smaller so that element of compromise and understanding has to be pretty strong. That said, we have our regular scheduled time that we meet weekly and everyone knows that that time is precious so we use it to the best of our abilities. Be that writing, rehearsing or just having everyone present to chat about concepts or ideas.
The band collaborated with Big Rig Brewery to make an Anniversaries beer. What is that about, and how did this partnership come together?
JC: Last summer Chris ended up running into Big Rig’s Brew Master Lon and Chris Phillips and they ended up, you know, sharing compliments about each others ventures. The idea of celebrating the 10-year milestone with a record came up and Lon expressed interest in helping out in any way he could, because, you know he’s a gem. Fast forward many months and we reached out to Big Rig and the plan of launching the Pilsner together was put in action. We’re really stoked about it—the beer is awesome and it’s just a cool piece of memorability to hang on to.
Is there anything you can think back and laugh about now when looking at yourself in your early 20’s being in a band?
JC: I laugh at the idea that I once thought we could take a 9 piece band on the road. Mind you when this band started, I wasn’t a newb to touring but my expertise was definitely not… seasoned. There are photos of us playing NXNE or festivals of the likely with trumpets and a line of singers… just absurd.
The new album explores many sounds and textures, keeping listeners engaged throughout. Can you talk about a common theme or meaning behind ‘Anniversaries?’
JC: From a writing perspective, these songs span a couple years. When I listen to the finalized album, I listen to the music and arrangements that we made as a collective, as opposed to the lyrics. I feel that musically speaking, the band is at its best and most comfortable right now and it shows with what we’ve made here, as a collective. I’ve always found myself struggling a bit with lyrics, trying to not sound redundant or foolish (which I know I’ve missed a couple times!). Regardless, there are many songs here about reflection and acceptance and I do feel that some of the words are among those I’m most proud of.
It seems like the band is still having fun. Does this mean we’ll get another anniversary in 10 years from now?
JC: I think we’ve explored the option of calling it quits enough times that we know where we end up at the end of that conversation—making another record! So, as long as folks might be interested in hearing new songs, I’m pretty sure we’ll supply some in one way or another.
Ottawa’s Rich Chris recently released his first full length solo album, Tales of Nostalgia.
The 14 acoustic tracks were recorded over the last four years while Rich Chris has been busy playing with countless other bands, most recently rocking out in Positive Charge.
From the 14-second intro track all the way through to the final song, which clocks in at over five minutes, Rich Chris has his heart on his sleeve, remnants of parties in his beard and stories to share. His punk rock roots certainly shine through in some of his strumming patterns, faster songs and vocals, but you can certainly can’t deny the folk influences and the ever present troubadour mentality emphasized with the harmonica. It is rather fascinating that an album which spans so many years—and consequently several important life changing moments and being mixed/mastered by different people in different places—can still feel as cohesive as it does.
My favourite thing about Tales of Nostalgia, and Rich Chris in general, is just how real and down to earth every song feels. He is not trying to paint the magnum opus. This is an album you can throw on and close your eyes and feel like Rich Chris is in your living room or around a fire performing for you and a bunch of your best friends about things you can all really relates with. As a life long resident of Ottawa, I’m also a sucker for songs that mention local landmarks and trigger fond memories from my past. Songs like “228” which chalked up full of trips down memory lane for me, that even if I didn’t know Rich Chris back then I feel like we had several similar experiences at parties and local watering holes like 1848 and Nostalgica during our university years.
Have a listen to Tales of Nostalgia below and kickback with the friend you never knew you had, or for those who know Rich Chris listen to your good buddy’s great work.
Ottawa punk rock veterans The Creeps are back, releasing their first album since 2014’s masterpiece Eulogies on May 4th. Formed in 1999, The Creeps are by far one of the capital’s most accomplished and appreciated punk bands. I should also add that personally, Eulogies is my favourite record released by an Ottawa band. So what could we expect from a new album? How would new material measure up to the immensity that was Eulogies.
Well, fear not. The Creeps have spent years playing shows, touring, and continue to have fun doing it. Sure, they may no longer be teenagers, plus there are a few kids and grey beard hairs in the mix now, but that hasn’t changed the fact that this band knows how to write damn good albums—front to back.
Beneath the Pines is an 11-track offering, and it’s packed with goodies. The group has taken a new direction on this record, one they have never taken before. Traditionally The Creeps have written crunchy, uptempo, and in your face pop-punk that many of us have come to know and love. Skottie’s soaring melodies always rode the over-driven tones of his guitar, carried by Ian’s flurry of bass notes and Jordy’s percussive onslaught. Moreover, their music usually uses disturbing imagery to touch on themes such as death and suicide, and other things that are generally…creepy. These are staple characteristics of The Creeps, and the band actually released Old Crimes: Singles Collection 2009-2013in April of 2018 in advance of the release of the new album, and one listen through this collection will give listeners a great sense of how the band approached music in the past.
The Creeps’ new album Beneath the Pines will be available on vinyl May 4th. Photo taken from Facebook.
But Beneath the Pines is a departure from what The Creeps have done before. To call this album “slower” than its predecessors would be selling it short, and imply that it doesn’t have the same grit—that just isn’t true. While the band moves away from the darker themes that they faithfully pursued in the past, Skottie’s irresistible vocals and lyrical phrasing and the group’s catchy buildups to epic choruses are what weathered fans will recognize instantly, and fall in love with. The compositions are recognizably The Creeps, but the band experiments with different tempos, guitar tones, and a more open sound.
Songs such as “Bottom of Things”, “Scared”, and “In My Mind” are all more restrained instrumentally than most of us are used to. However, that doesn’t take away from the tracks, as Skottie’s vocals come through much clearer, with slight reverb, giving a lot of depth to the melodies he and the band weave. It is pop punk taken to another level, illustrating the maturation of a band that started as kids, now translating their ideas through the lens of adulthood. Old fans who have grown with The Creeps will almost certainly love the direction Beneath the Pines takes, and new listeners will surely fall into this album and appreciate its subtle intricacies.
Montreal’s Pallice are gearing up to release their debut EP Aesthetic through Ottawa label So Sorry Records this spring, and we’re excited to premiere their brand new track “Prince Charles” here on Showbox. Pallice’s minimalist synth pop balances simplicity in songwriting with textural and sonic mosaics that bloom with colourful flourishes. The comforting rhythm of drummer Jeff Kingsbury ties expressive guitar work and warm, flowing bass lines together.
The band is wrapping up a six-date tour of eastern Canada, and they will be playing the final tour date in Ottawa this Sunday, April 29th, at Pressed along with Shadowhand and mal/aimé. Advanced tickets can be found here. Listen to the new track “Prince Charles” below, and read through Gregg’s interview with multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Morgan O’Leary earlier this week.
Interview with Morgan O’Leary of Pallice
When did you write these songs?
MO: These songs all came about between fall 2016 and fall 2017. They started as little pieces and ideas early on and grew into what they are on the record over those two years.
How did you know they were done?
MO: It’s so hard to know when a song is done—is it ever done? We did a bit of arranging and added/removed parts in the studio. They only really felt done when the mixes were done!
What do you write about the most?
MO: Mostly I write about nostalgia, friends, family, dogs. A lot of it is about being young and taking your time in your youth.
What inspired “Prince Charles”?
MO: “Prince Charles” is named after a street that I grew up on. I met my still-best friend who lived across the street from me then, and we shared lots of dreams about growing up and being adults. Now that we’ve reached that we sometimes think back on that time and how funny it was that we wanted to be older. This song is kind of an homage to that youthfulness.
What’s different about the live show compared to your record?
MO: I think the live show has a lot of dynamics that you can only create with live instruments, especially after the addition of another synth player and vocalists on stage. The recorded songs are meant to be pop songs, but in the live version we stray a bit away from that by extending instrumental sections of songs and trying to play with audience expectations.
How many members are in the touring band? What instruments do they play?
MO: We’re touring as a five piece. It’s Yolande Laroche on synth and backing vocals, Wesley MacNeil on guitar, Julien Dussault on bass, Jeff Kingsbury on drums, and myself on vocals and synth. Yolande, Julien and Jeff are all members of the Ottawa band Pony Girl and those three together play in a project called mal/aimé who are playing sets on this tour as well.
When I say “Ottawa” what comes to mind?
MO: Ottawa is filled with friends of Pallice.
Your dream act if Pallice could open for any artist, dead or alive?
MO: Dirty Projectors
Your one wish for this tour?
MO: I hope that we can surpass some expectations of what people might have assumed we would be like—we all want to put on a really fun and energetic set. We hope that the live shows we play on this tour will get people excited for the album release.
There are few bands in Ottawa that have as big of a sound and stage presence as Saint Clare does. With each release the band puts out, their music becomes more grandiose. The band just released their third EP on April 20th, and it is arguably their most ambitious record to date.
The seven-piece outfit does not shy away from taking risks on EPIII. With bold and thunderous percussion from Daniel Devries leading the way—particularly in climactic, fuzzed-out tracks like “Burn Burn Burn”— Matthew Saint Clare and his band push it to the limit, without going overboard. When there are seven people in your band, it can be really easy to muddle up some of the instrumentation, ultimately decreasing the quality of the overall end product while also putting certain band members in the back seat.
That is not the case with Saint Clare. The EP was masterfully recorded by Jarrett Bartlett at Little Bullhorn Studios, and mastered by Andy Magoffin at House of Miracles, each of whom did an incredible job bringing out each tone, each horn, and each riff. When it all comes together, as it does in EPIII, the big-band sound is a beautiful thing.
The EP kicks off with the fist-pumping, foot-stomping track “Get You Down,” instantly hitting listeners with a solid dose of power-pop fused with garage rock, and sprinkled with the sound of ska-like horns throughout. “Closer to the Devil” is a song that we’ve heard before, as the band released a video for the track back in October. No matter how many times I’ve played this song, it just refuses to get old. It’s satisfying to hear how the other four songs fit around this previously released track.
The biggest treat for listeners is how this EP ends. “Burn Burn Burn” is a grimy, fuzz-filled track that makes you want to jump in your 70’s muscle car and slam on the gas in a cloud of burning rubber and never look back. I actually felt like I was watching the climax of an action movie with this one. Then, finally, “So Low” comes in to round off the album and injects us with all those warm and fuzzy feelings that throwback power-pop does when played loud, and repeatedly. This final track is my favourite on the album, and reminded me of other local heros such as The White Wires, Steve Adamyk Band, Sedatives, The Creeps, and other fun Ottawa Gaga era bands. Saint Clare measures up to the greats of this city.
This EP is a must-listen, and makes me even more of a fan of this band than I was before. These guys know how to put together a hell of an album, so crank up the volume and press play below.
Ottawa’s Fools of Love have been hard at work on their first full-length album scheduled for release this summer.
The rocking three-piece have changed their names, changed their line-up, powered through having their lead-singer and guitarist living in Toronto while the other two members live in Ottawa and followed up one of my favourite releases from 2015 with a solid new track “Heavy Head.”
We spoke with lead-singer and guitarist Adam Feibel about all that and are premiering “Heavy Head” below. So sink your teeth into their rocking new song in anticipation of the upcoming full-length album while you read our discussion with Adam.
Let us start with the new name, what drove the switch to Fools of Love?
Trademark law, really. There’s another currently active band that has the rights to our former name, so it was safer to change it to avoid running into problems.
You moved to Toronto but the band is still Ottawa-based. How do you manage this? And are there any advantages you see to having the band in two cities?
It’s not easy. I’ve spent a lot of time on the train and the 401. We get together as much as possible and make the most of that time. But we each have a lot going on in our lives individually, so we try not to put too much pressure on ourselves. Now that we’ve finished this record, the hardest part is out of the way–now it’s really just about playing wherever and whenever we have the opportunity. And it’s a nice perk that whenever we play a show in the GTA, we have a place to stay.
Tell me about the switch from a four-piece to a three-piece.
We actually started as a trio. Only three of us recorded the EP. We’ve gone through a few member changes, so we were four for a while, but by the time we headed into the studio again we were back to three. But we’re planning to play live as a foursome.
What do you think is the biggest musical difference between that first release and your upcoming album The Howl and the Whisper?
I think it has a wider range of influences, but also a wider range of feeling. That first one big, loud, and fairly dark. We let a lot of light in for this one. It’s got a lot of heart. There’s more instrumentation–we added piano, organ, harmonica, cello, along with the usual stuff–and I wanted every song to have a big, memorable hook. You should definitely still play it loud.
What led you to this new sound?
That’s hard to say. When I start coming up with new material, it just comes out–any change is usually subconscious, or at least starts out that way. Personally, one thing I knew that I wanted was for it to have more depth. We left some stuff on the cutting-room floor that just didn’t have a place, usually because it was too one-dimensional or it didn’t match the feel. I looked at songs and artists that have stood the test of time and thought about why. What makes them timeless? I think a lot of it comes down to whether your song sounds good regardless of the arrangement–if you strip it to the bone, does it still sound great? That’s what I had in mind. We’d start with something simple and build it into something intricate and huge.
How was it to once again work with Cory Bergeron at Pebble Studios?
I can’t say enough about how much I’ve loved working with him. We would be doing marathon sessions and it didn’t seem to phase him. He’d just keep working his magic, suggesting great ideas, coaching us into our best performances. Working with a person for the second time, you’ve built a rapport and a chemistry. I felt understood. And he’s hungry to learn and try new things, which is crucial if you’re hoping to make something layered and unique. It was long, hard work but it was a lot of fun.
What’s the story behind your first single “Heavy Head” and why did you choose it?
This song started out of protest, since I’ve been pretty angry and despondent about a lot of things that have been going on around the world in the last few years and all the terrible people with black hearts that you have to hear about every day. But I learned pretty quickly that I’m not hardwired to write out of purely anger, so it turned into something else. I ended up writing it about good people who don’t know their own strength because they feel beaten down, or like they barely have a voice. It’s about showing that you believe in them. We need good people to lead the way. And so the song has some bite to it, some apprehension, but ultimately it’s got this big, uplifting chorus that really anchors the whole thing.
Do you have any shows or tours planned to celebrate the release?
We’re working on all that at the moment. We’ll have a couple album-release shows, for sure. And hopefully we’ll get out a lot more. I’m really excited for the record to come out, and to play these songs for as many people as we can.
We finally got around to checking out the latest release by Ottawa’s own Worn Robot, called Worn Robot 3.
The 19-track album, their third, starts with the first track “More Than You Know” sounding reminiscent of the brooding darkness of Elliot Smith but then quickly shift to more of an industrial and heavy sound in the second song, “Astral Leaf.” Then just as you get used to the change of pace, the next track is right back to those sombre acoustic sounds for a few tracks.
The fifth song, “Glitch in the Shell,” revs up the intensity again with its instrumental industrial edge, taking the listener to a completely different place. The harsh breaks between songs and the changes of pace becomes a noticeable pattern throughout the album. The experimental pieces that appear every couple songs gives the impression of an alter-ego creeping out of everyone once and while, taking some risks and pushing the limits of his thoughts and sound. It really keeps listeners on their toes, and I am very intrigued to see how this plays out live.
A song that really stuck out after a couple of listens, through, was “How Many More Times” with its acoustic-grunge feel to the chord progressions and the sound of fingers sliding between chords. The first slide gave me chills. The song also really flows well into the next instrumental, which is heavier and a little more rocking but still grunge-laden in sound. You really don’t hear enough instrumentals in that style.
Worn Robot 3 was definitely influenced by grunge but there is also those aforementioned industrial elements and even some modern hardcore that breaks through. I encourage you to carve out some time in your busy schedule and actually sit down and take in this album from start to finish. This album is an experience, not just ambiance.
We’ve been chomping at the bits to share Shadowhand‘s debut LP Through the Fog with the world, and that day is finally here. The Ottawa band is releasing the album through Record Centre Records, and it will be available in vinyl format and online. We’re also very excited to present the album release party this Saturday, March 10th, at St. Alban’s Church along with The Heavy Medicine Band and Merganzer.
Through the Fog is a nine-track effort, rolling through the peaceful lulls and buoyant peaks throughout. It is, more than anything, a warm album, and full of rich and robust tones. The allure of Brandon Allan Walsh’s bass lines is undeniable, as they sink deep into the listener and carry the songs from start to finish. Jamieson Mackay and Matthew Corbiere have a chemistry on guitar that elevates their clean, reverb-laden tones. Sean Tansey’s subtle and rolling drums stay in the background for much of the album, but occasionally the barrage of percussion crashes forth like waves breaking against a shore.
Their dreamy and unhurried approach gently takes us for a journey through the unknown. Even in the eight-and-a-half minute long “Light of Afternoon” the band begins at a languid pace and builds up the energy that climaxes around the 5 minute and 30 second mark, and then pulls back with an ambient and daydream-like conclusion. Jamieson’s soft, raspy voice melds seamlessly with the instrumentals, and fans of Destroyer and The War on Drugs will undoubtedly fall into his vocal style with ease.
Shadowhand recorded Through The Fog at a home near Ladysmith, Quebec in two sessions in fall 2016 and winter 2017. It was largely recorded live off-the-floor, and engineered by artist and producer Arturo Portocarrero, with some sporadic overdub sessions in Ottawa. Mixing was done by band member Brandon Allan Walsh and mastered by Philip Shaw Bova, with beautiful album art done by Haley Wolk.
Listen to the album below, and be sure to come out to see them at the album release party at St. Alban’s Church this Saturday, March 1oth. Doors at 7:30 pm. Physical tickets available at Compact Music, The Record Centre, and Irene’s Pub, and online tickets can be purchased here.
Valois have released their new album We’re All In This Together But You, which is their follow up to 2015’s Love Dies But You Won’t. Valois is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and producer Charles Hoppner, and has been ongoing since 2012.
We’re All In This Together But You builds off of Valois’ recognizable stripped-down synth-pop sound, and is informed by influences like Prince and Of Montreal. Their sound is rounded out with the addition of full live band containing singer Shannon Murray and drummer Don Rankin since 2015. While the key aspects of Valois’ dark, experimental minimalism still provide the skeletal framework for the album, there is a distinct movement towards brighter and more upbeat compositions. The arrangements contain melodic flourishes and layered instrumentation that transport us back to and era when VHS and The Sony Walkman ruled all.
“The synthesizer’s an amazing instrument,” explains Hoppner. “You can design the actual sound, and generally a lot of my favourite music—David Bowie’s Low, Kanye West’s albums from Graduation onwards, Prince, Of Montreal—is pretty synth-heavy but always with a more human edge. I listened to a lot of industrial and post punk when I was younger and also hung out at Soybomb in Toronto a lot where I’d be exposed to different hardcore and post-hardcore bands every night. That might have a less obvious effect musically but the attitude, political engagement and musical power have stuck with me.”
“I think that more recently, hearing Thanya Iyer and Fet.Nat and Bowie’s Blackstar really take jazz into new spaces really pushed my songwriting into a space that had a more rounded, jazzy feel in parts. At the same time I’ve always loved really aggressive, abstract guitar playing – Adrian Belew, Neil Young, etc. – and I think the humanity of a really emotional solo on an instrument that you can bend and slur the tone at will really creates an awesome contrast with synth-heavy music – and that’s the appeal of a lot of post-punk to me like Wire and PIL – there’s synths but it’s not synth-pop.”
Hoppner’s unrefined and raw vocals are half the charm of this band, as he seeks to build narratives and weave stories with his lyricism rather than trying to perfect his pitch. There are echoes of Morrissey in his songwriting, and the lyrical literalism he employs is simultaneously melancholy, subversive, poetic, and refreshing. This is exemplified many times throughout, but you don’t need to look further than the first line of the opening track “Easy To Love” to get a sense of what I’m talking about: “I’m easy to love, but hard to keep loving / You’re in my heart, but my head is too troubling”
“Lately, I really enjoy approaching music from a standpoint of writing upbeat, catchy pop tunes that have a much darker more subversive edge once you start peeling back the layers,” Hoppner explain. “That’s why I love glam—it’s like literally applying makeup to songs to hide and smooth over aspects of the truth in a way that makes the whole truth come into sharper, more dramatic relief. I was really determined to write about the world around me more—like how Heartsparkle is about the barriers a lot of women I know face in the art world—but these circumstances kept forcing the songs to become more insular and I think that is better.
“Glitter started as a pretty generic pro-genderqueer song inspired by the weekend I saw and met PWR BTTM (and basically had a minor breakdown from feeling inferior) but when Ben was outed as an abuser it became much more of a personal and oppositional thing—about identity, self acceptance, with just a passing nod to how much I regretted spending any emotional energy on that band. A lot of the songs evolved in that way and became more personal while still referencing what’s going on in the world—I don’t think it’s possible to separate the personal and political in 2018. It was a very cathartic record to make and I let myself take creative risks I wouldn’t have let myself do five years ago.”
The incorporation of female vocal parts and harmonies on the album add another dimension to it. Shannon Murray’s part in “Heartsparkle” is short but potent: “Here I go every move is on display / Just undress me weigh my sins / Here I go I’m the object for your gaze / Judge my everything but I don’t fear you.” Felicity DeCarle of Sparklesaurus also makes an appearance on the album, helping Hoppner to work on melodies and lyrics on “The River.”
“Sparklesaurus is my favourite Ottawa band and Felicity is a songwriter who I really, really admire,” says Hoppner. “She’s the rare type of composer who never leaves any loose ends in her music—every Sparklesaurus song is fully formed and perfectly structured for emotional impact. And she is a really fantastic lyricist.”
Music lovers who listen closely to lyrics and dissect them will appreciate this album just as much as someone who wants to let loose and have a dance party. There is a lot to this album, even in only eight tracks. We’re All In This Together But You is worthy of some deep exploration, and is an album that should be set on “repeat.”
Valois is set to release We’re All In This Together But You at LIVE! on Elgin February 25th, and the event will also incorporate comedy and burlesque in addition to the music. Advanced tickets are available for $8 here, and there will be some for sale at the door. Be sure to stream the album below.