Ottawa indie-electronica duo, Paragon Cause, dropped their second album What We Started last week. The band worked once again with the renowned producer/songwriter Sune Rose Wagner—a Danish pop music legend, best known for his band The Raveonettes. The release of What We Started was supposed to be celebrated mid-April with a show at Cinqhole, however due to COVID-19 the show has been cancelled. While it is very unfortunate that the band won’t be able to share their creation in person with folks, Showbox, Cinqhole and Paragon Cause are teaming up for a virtual album release show. The band will be streaming live on our social platforms Saturday, May 2nd to ensure they can still connect with fans and share the album the have worked so hard on, hope to see you all there.
In the meantime we caught up with guitarist/songwriter Jay Bonaparte and Sune to discuss how their collaboration began, the new album, preparing for an online show and more. Check it out the interview and stream the album below and don’t forget to tune in to Paragon Cause’s virtual album release show Saturday May 2nd.
How does a Danish rocker and producer end up working with an Ottawa duo?
Jay: We are big fans of The Raveonettes and I’ve always loved Sune’s approach to song writing and production. He has his own sound, a raw energy that is hard to capture. You mix that with his ability to create unique and catchy melodies and you have The Raveonettes. Sune really is brilliant, its incredible to watch him work and his creativity. Michelle and I know our weaknesses and we thought that Sune could challenge and guide us, so we just reached out, the worst thing he could say is no. We wrote him on Twitter, he listened to our music and before we knew it, his manager was in contact with us. Two months later, he was at our door.
What made you want to work with each other?
Jay: We are big fans of the Raveonettes and I’ve always loved Sune’s approach to song writing and production. He has his own sound, a raw energy that is hard to capture. You mix that with his ability to create unique and catchy melodies and you have The Raveonettes. Michelle and I know our weaknesses and we thought that Sune could challenge and guide us, so we just reached out, the worst thing he could say is no.
Sune: I listened to the music and really loved it. I liked the fact that they were two people writing and recording together. Sometimes it’s “easier” to work with fewer people. I thought I could bring something to the music that we would all love.
Has all your work together been in Ottawa in Jamie’s studio? Can you tell me a little bit about the experience?
Jay: It has been amazing to be honest. Everything was done in my home studio. I spent a few years collecting some gear, enough to produce a professional album, but not over the top. I like it this way as there is no pressure to go fast like you do in a studio. Also, we can be free, say what we want, try what we want and do what we want. It’s wonderful.
Sune: Yes, we’ve only worked at Jamie’s studio. When I mix the songs at my place in Venice, CA, I’ll add some guitar, synth or vocals or whatever, if I feel the song needs it. I love working at Jamie’s place cause they both feel very comfortable there and we’re all very creative when we’re together in that place.
Sune, what attracts you to production? Are there certain things you look for in a band/project before taking it on?
Sune: First and foremost the quality of the songs. I like overseeing how a song takes shape in the production realm and all the endless possibilities there are and countless decisions and roads you can take. A song can turn out in so many directions, makes it super interesting and challenging. Not an easy job in any way!
How would you describe the evolution/progression of your collaboration?
Jay: It started off as Sune being our producer and giving us advice. Quickly, it turned to co-writing and just crafting songs together. He also then played all the drums and bass as well as some synth by the time we met for the second sessions. The first 3 songs we ever recorded together were 100% Paragon Cause but since then they have been 33/33/33 between the three of us. On the new music we just recorded, Sune is singing on tracks and playing guitar. Basically, he is a member of the band now to be honest. It’s a three-piece, but we play live as a two-piece. Hopefully we can convince him to come up and do a show with us some time.
Sune: We’ve obviously become better friends and feel more comfortable working together and take criticism better as well. We can say anything to each other an whoever has the best idea wins and we all support it.
How would you describe What We Started? How does it differ from the first time you worked together?
Jay: The first time we worked with Sune, we had songs ready to go with full demos. But we quickly realized that we are at our best together when we are spontaneous. We write very quickly and record even quicker. Michelle usually sings her vocal parts and about 10-15 harmony parts all in 1-2 takes. So we move pretty fast, which is very very different that most of our prior experiences. The first session, we really got to know each other and we quickly developed a style of working together. When he came back 2 weeks later, the three of us were on a roll, we just wrote songs as we went and experimented. Usually I come up with a song structure, play it for Michelle, she writes words and a melody in her head, we show Sune and he comes up with a drum beat and we record a rough version. Then, we sit and cut/paste/critique the song and make a rough version of all the parts, then we just play it live. Things really come to life when you are spontaneous.
The first EP we released was a bit more structured and a bit less free. The new material, we took more liberty in our creativity. We used a lot of hip-hop techniques such as sampling, using loops and tried to mix it with a bit of 50’s pop writing. We would sit and be like, “Let’s use some DJ Premier Tricks in this song” or “Lets get a nice Wu Tang Snare drum sound” or “Get some Large Professor type lo-fi sampling in here.” We think the results are pretty cool. Michelle also wrote the first single off the album, “Lost Cause,” one morning as Sune and I were out grabbing a coffee, we walked into the house and heard her singing and playing piano and it was incredible. Sune said, “PLAY THAT AGAIN NOW!” and she did and we just recorded it. It is an incredible song that should be an anthem for all women (Or anyone for that matter) who have dealt with domestic violence in today’s society. It is very very powerful. The whole song is Michelle, that’s 100% her with some motivation and suggestions by Sune and I.
How has the response been to the first single and how did the pre-sales go?
Jay: So far, the new single “Lost Cause” has been going great, our best yet. Its gotten a lot of attention and almost every day, we get a radio station or international music magazine write us asking about it. It’s pretty amazing. We weren’t sure how people would respond to it as it really is an angry and intense song. As for the album, sales have been great. We tend to sell more in the US and Europe oddly enough, hopefully more local Ottawa music fans pick up a copy. The COVID situation has altered things however. I think people are worried about their disposable income, so it’s really hard to spend money on things like music, sadly. We are trying to help by offering some small discounts via bandcamp.
I saw that you also released a graphic novel that accompanies the album, what’s the story with that?
Jay: When Michelle and I wrote the songs for the album, we knew we had a general theme in mind. Michelle had a very specific idea as to what she wanted to get across. There is a lot of abstractism within the music and lyrics as well as a touch of surrealism. We didn’t want to do a traditional concept album, so I wrote a story about the album that kind of, melds the themes of the album into a series of words and images. The story was actually going to be a video for a song, but it was far too complicated to do it. I actually have a 40-page screenplay of the story. In the end, we just thought it was a unique idea. We got in touch with an artist from Turkey and worked together on it. We are really excited about it.
What can you tell us about the third album you have already worked on? How is it to work on one album before the previous one is released?
Jay: As I mentioned, the three of us work very fast, we can write/record 2 new songs in 24 hours. So, really, we just want to develop a whole collection of songs and when they are ready to be released they are ready. I think we have 22 songs we did together plus a few we haven’t finished. We have only released 6 of them, so lots to come. Each time we meet up, the vibe is a bit different and we just go with it. This release was recorded in Jan 2019 and is a mix of very dark and very happy songs, it’s a really unique mix. I think the three of us were in that mood. It was also the time when things like the Jian [Ghomeshi] got off, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, all that stuff. At first it felt like people were getting away with horrible things, but then it all changed and since then, women have been gaining more power, but…it’s not enough. A lot of the songs are about that, it’s not all optimistic, but a glimmer of hope.
The songs we have been working on in 2020 are also very different than the last songs. Sune really challenged us to become better song writers, focusing on the craft of song writing. I think for this new album, he really wanted us to strive for catchy choruses and to keep things simple in terms of writing. Michelle and I like to get weird and write in weird modes and odd chord changes, but we need to take a step back and just write songs we are proud of. Once in a while, the weirdness fits, but we don’t like being weird just for the sake of being weird.
Sune also likes to give us homework which can be either to write a type of song, improv a verse, come up with a new guitar/synth part or simply listen to music. This time, we spent nights listening to Richie Valens, The Everly Brothers, Bananarama, Bruce Springsteen, Jesus and Mary Chain and a bunch of other music. You can learn a lot by listening to the experts. Their songs are unforgettable for a reason. It can be very inspiring and trigger very interesting ideas.
Sune: To me it’s all about songs and the quality of songs and we all agree on what we wanna focus on and what songs are not quite finished yet. As Jamie mentioned, we work really fast and they always have tons of ideas and cool riffs. We’re always surprised when we listen back after a day’s work, we always surprise ourselves I think with the quality we’re putting out. I don’t care so much about releases, I’m a songwriter so that’s what comes first for me.
How have you been preparing for a virtual album release show? And what should people expect?
Jay: We have so far completed five ‘test’ shows to try to get a handle on the technology of streaming live music. It’s been a challenge to say the least. We really pride ourselves on good, high quality sound and so, we are really working on getting that. We have been using some specially designed software for this purpose and although the learning curve is steep, we are now able to get CD quality sound. The only caveat, you need a really good, high-end audio interface to do it well. When people check out the show, we expect that they’ll be treated to some great sound, good songs and hopefully good conversation. It’s hard to really get into the live performance without an audience. I don’t know if you ever saw the YouTube video where people remove John Williams score from the end of Star Wars (A New Hope). Well, live shows with no audience can feel like that if you are not careful! We want our show to be interactive, talk to people, chat in real time. We love that. Ask us anything!
Anything else either of you would like to add?
Jay: Honestly for Ottawa musicians, don’t be afraid to ask for help and strive to improve. I think we can all agree that sometimes us musicians forget that we all have weaknesses and the only way to get better is to practice and learn from those who came before us. Reach out to those who inspire you, it worked for us.
Stream What We Started below and don’t forget to tune in to Paragon Cause’s virtual album release show Saturday May 2nd.