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If you think Buck 65 has been taking it easy for the last couple years, you just haven’t been looking close enough. In fact, he’s never been busier.
The genre-bending hip-hop cipher has several pots on the fire and a new LP in the can. And he’s in the midst of writing a novel—mashing his love of music, baseball and the history of his hometown of Mount Uniacke, Nova Scotia.
While it’s been a couple years since his last major release, he’s been working away at his home in Toronto, adding to his already huge catalogue.
“It’s the one feather in my cap,” says Buck 65, real name Richard Terfry. “I never sold tons of records, I never became super famous, I can’t claim all the usual measures of success that a successful musicians would have.
“The one thing I do have is a fairly large body of work coupled with longevity.”
Over the last 20 years Buck 65 has rapped over tracks ranging from scratch-heavy hip-hop to banjo-driven country, to dark ambience and simmering drum & bass. And while he maintains a sound that’s distinctively Buck 65, what that means exactly depends on which record you’re listening to.
“It drives some people crazy, but it’s the only way I can work. It’s almost ironic that comes across as schizophrenic. I just can’t make every song I make be a disco jam, or any other kind of jam,” he says.
It’s a testament to his restless work ethic, that he lives and breathes his music. Writing about any and every feeling and experience that inspires him, he doesn’t want his palette to be limited—and staying loyal to one sound is dangerous to his work.
“I try to express myself as fully and as richly as I can, as a human being going through their day. And that’s complicated, as it is for everybody alive,” he says. “Nobody is a one-dimensional thing, I would even dare say gangster rappers, even though we get only one side of them on most cases, have their moments of tenderness.
“When their sister has a baby and they smell its forehead. Nobody is immune to that.”
Buck 65 has had a major label deal for over 10 years, releasing a number of LPs under Warner Music, as well as re-releasing earlier work such as 2001’s dark, experimental Man Overboard.
But far from keeping to the simple model of a new full-length release every couple years, he’s been building up his catalogue with unofficial records and side projects. His last Warner release, 20 Odd Years, first came out as a series of EPs, and since 2008 he’s released three free hour-long mixtapes titled Dirtbike —holding some of his best work to date.
“I, along with everybody else, am trying to make sense of how this business is moving,” he says. “I’m always thinking about how my approach to this career needs to evolve.”
His most recent endeavour to alternate releases is SASS, an acronym for Short Attention Spans. It’s a 14-song record that clocks in at under five minutes —each song no longer than 30 seconds.
“If I’m listening to music in my travels, I’ll often listen to it on shuffle. I’ve noticed even if I really love a song that comes on, no song is as good as the excitement of hitting that button to the next thing, knowing you have something new coming next,” he says.
“I’m skipping through songs at this unbelievable rate of speed, and I thought how can you make an album that is going to withstand that test?”
It’s that idea, that we expect everything to be digestible in smaller and smaller bites, that inspired SASS. He’s been kicking around the concept for a while, and has already posted a second track on Soundcloud produced bylongtime collaborator Jorun Bombay.
“If you mention a song to somebody, like ‘Hungry like the Wolf’ by Duran Duran, you would sing the one part you remember,” he says. “When a song gets in your head, it’s never the three-and-a-half minutes of the song, it’s one part that will cycle through your head over and over again.
“So I thought, why not make a song just that? Is everything else just filler anyway?”
The Major Label Game
Despite regularly posting music online, it’s all been fairly low-profile since his most recent Warner record 20 Odd Years came out in 2011. But the next Warner LP has been done for months. The finished product, complete with name and album artwork, was sent to the label in November.
Despite it being done since last year, it may not see the light of day until early 2014.
“I don’t know and I’ll admit that’s utterly agonizing,” he says of the album’s mystery release date. “I was dying for people to hear that stuff the day those songs were mixed in November. They’re waiting until the best time, strategically, to put it out.”
His records are released internationally, meaning the pushers and movers at labels in 18 different countries need to sign off on the release date. And if the stars don’t align—if domestic releases clash with his prospective release date—then it sits at Warner.
One of the tracks, the hot, hook-heavy contemporary hip-hop of “Fairy Tales,” has been hosted on Buck 65’s Soundcloud. But in the meantime, the rest of the record, and its title, wait for the label’s official announcement.
“Labels like to announce it themselves, it seems that’s a thing now,” he says.
In the meantime he continues to work. He’s halfway through the next Bike for Three! album, his collaboration with Belgian producer Joëlle Phuong Minh Lê. The fourth Dirtbike is in the works, too.
The upcoming Bike For Three! record has been negotiated with Warner to be released outside the label, but some of Buck 65’s other work, like SASS and the Dirtbike series, is in a legal grey area.
“Technically it would be seen as a violation of my contract. It’s basically illegal what I’m doing, and if my label was a little more iron-fisted they could probably kick my ass for this sort of thing,” he says.
He works in parallel universes simultaneously—signed to a major label while putting out free music on the side. It’s a pretty rare scenario in the business these days, but Buck 65 isn’t like most major label artists.
“I had a way of doing things that was pretty grassroots, or underground or whatever you want to call it,” he says. His deal with Warner was struck after being independent for 10 years.
“The label doesn’t meddle in the recording process at all.”
And as such there’s something of a paradox in Buck 65’s catalogue. His success has allowed him to have his records distributed around the world—but on Warner’s time. So he balances that waiting game with what he puts on Soundcloud, what his fans can hear five minutes after he finishes the track.
He went outside the label for a recent vinyl reissue of Vertex, a “lo-fi left field artifact” from 1997, home to one of his earliest hits, “The Centaur.”
But word inevitably gets out, and demand came from all over—even though it was a Canada-only release.
“I’m selling it in Canada for $15, and then trying to get it in Japan would cost $50 without distribution—and I don’t want to charge $50 for anything,” he says.
“When the worldwide release does come out, a kid in Japan can go to their local record store and pay $15.”
We’re in this subterranean black box at the MAC, sitting on our coats in front of a stage that’s elevated just above ground level.
The ancient, monstrous bass saxophone sits obediently on its perch, beside its dwarfed alto counterpart. Light streams down on the stage as if from a skylight in an old Roman church. This is a venue for high art, a descriptor those familiar with Colin Stetson’s solo work will find all too fitting.
As Stetson humbly walks on in a simple white t-shirt, the stage is now set. After all, his body is as much the instrument as his horns are.
He’s all wired up, from his throat to the thickly bound cords hanging off his sax, snaking into their inputs. As he begins with his alto, it becomes clear how fitting this underground stage in Montreal’s contemporary art museum really is. The sound is immaculate; every subtlety and climax consumes the space. The room falls silent as he fights through each movement. For a moment I fear he’ll rip apart the little instrument pouring forth his music.
His leads quiver like a string section; the clicks of the sax keys punctuate his heavy inhaling. Stetson utilises a technique called circular breathing—huffing constantly into his instrument to create an unbroken drone, while inhaling sharply through his nose.
Above it all his throat singing bursts forth like some beast emerging amid the cacophony. He’s a charging rhino in the extended version of “Judges,” a great ship rocking against tall waves for “In Love and in Justice.”
We’re tricked into hearing a story he’s told many times before, what Stetson calls the saddest thing he’s ever heard—the 52 Hertz Whale. It sings in a frequency that no other whale can hear, forever lonely but still crying out. It’s this tragic sentiment that inspired one of Stetson’s new pieces, “High Above a Grey Green Sea.”
But it’s “To See More Light,” the title track off of the forthcoming final installment of Stetson’s New History Warfare trilogy, that steals the show—encapsulating all the power of this virtuoso’s style. The trilogy has seen Stetson push his playing further than perhaps even he thought possible, and the cult following has been growing. For someone who’s day job is playing with the likes of Arcade Fire and Bon Iver—and even the great Tom Waits—the love he’s received for his passion project must come at some surprise. After all, it’s like nothing we’ve ever heard before.
Suuns make the kind of music that will burrow inside your head, nesting in your subconscious only to emerge when you least expect it.
They toe the line between drone and dance, often falling into one or the other. Their dark, at times alienating, synthy, slippery sound comes more from a feeling than a theme, one that drummer Liam O’Neill worried they wouldn’t be able to recreate for their sophomore effort.
As a band, they had more at stake in their new Images du Futur LP. And far more people were listening, too.
“At first I thought we wouldn’t be able to do it again, or that it would sound completely different,” says O’Neill. “But it seems the more we work together the more we sound like us.
“We’re a live band, so the development of this record is just about to start.”
O’Neill is at work at a café in the McGill ghetto during our interview, as the band prepares for the first leg of theirImages du Futur tour—a few dates in small Quebec cities before showcase spots at the South by Southwest and Canadian Music Week music festivals.
The album will have been out for a month before the Montreal release show at Sala Rossa.
But that gap is good for the band, allowing for the industry stuff to be done first so they can begin to flesh out the murky ideas of Images du Futur before starting their own tour across North America and Europe.
“They’re necessary chores; you get on and nobody really gives a shit, but you’ve got to do it,” he says of the showcase gigs. “But it’s also good to hone your skills as a performer under pressure, and I think our band thrives on that.”
Images du Futur
The follow-up to 2010’s Zeroes QC has been mastered since last November and was recorded this past
summer at Breakglass Studios in Villeray, also the birthplace of the debut LP.
But while the environment was the same, their approach to the new record was anything but. Zeroes QC was something of a dumping ground for songs they’d played live for three years; Images du Futur was carefully curated—and its tracks written in a much smaller timeframe.
They were also more accustomed to the style of producer Jayce Lasek of The Besnard Lakes, who knew what sound the band was going for this time around.
“It’s hard to tell what the aesthetic trajectory is when you’re just recording drums and bass,” says O’Neill. “We’re just a lot more mature. Now we know what’s worthwhile to pursue, what will lead us down the rabbit hole.”
That trip becomes all the more apparent on the second half of the record, where the club haunt of “Bambi” and the syncopated minimalism of “Edie’s Dream” begin to take hold, pulling you into the kind of fully-formed songs that barely existed on their debut LP. It’s a product of all four members gelling together earlier on in the songwriting process, although the “nucleus” of the song usually comes from singer/guitarist Ben Shemie.
Doing it Live
“I like the sound of an electronic base, with loose percussion around it. For me it saves its direction from becoming Ableton music,” says O’Neill of his drum style, referring to the popular music production computer program. “I like that loose feeling you inevitably get with the human element.”
It’s that human element which sets Suuns apart from their more electronic contemporaries. Three of the four bandmates studied jazz at McGill, something that O’Neill says has allowed him to execute whatever pops into his head.
“We were all trained as performers first, playing acoustic instruments,” he says. “These days there are a lot of bands that weren’t musicians when they were young, that grew up reading magazines or music blogs and then decided they wanted to play music.”
The strongest parts of Images du Futur are the tracks that the band allowed to rise from primordial jams—tracks like “Sunspot,” where the bass line would feel at home under today’s Radiohead, or “Edie’s Dream,” which emerged as-is from months of improvising during sound checks.
“As soon as I started playing it on the drum kit, which is growing to be a less and less fashionable sound these days, the song was much more natural feeling; it gave our ideas room to grow,” says O’Neill.
They keep the electronic aesthetic but still execute nearly everything live—a testament to their training as performers.
“There’s a certain alchemy that happens after you play a song for that long. You start communicating better, a pheromonal connection,” he says. “They become more gamey, more fragrant somehow.”
Their latest work is an exercise of restraint—nowhere on Images du Futur will you find the explosive moments like in the Zeroes QC standout track “Armed for Peace.”
The new record ebbs and flows, slipping into climactic moments at a much more gradual pace.
“A lot of people say our first record was all over the place, which in some ways I agree with,” he says.
“But also that’s why I love this band, I feel like we can do anything and still be us. We try and bring our presence towards whatever we’re working on.”
And so far that ethos seems to hold true, even when collaborating with performers such as Arabic Psych artist Radwan Moumneh, who plays under the name Jerusalem in My Heart.
“We tracked a record with him in January, and it doesn’t feel to me like musical tourism or some strange academic experiment. It still sounds like our band in that scenario,” said O’Neill.
We’re adorned in feathers and beads, at our own indoor Woodstock in Metropolis.
Everyone’s smiling, soaking the music into our skin. The lights aren’t quite dimmed yet as Dan Deacon plays master of ceremonies, raving about forests of hair with a drummer on either side of him. He acoustically loops and layers percussion with the help of his ensemble, and shit-talks the laptop member of his band. He caresses the stage monitors, propelling good wishes through the crowd amid his hippie club music.
Deacon tells us to keep up the protests, that they’re good for us, before leaving the stage to our headliner’s sound techs. It’s not until then that I realize Animal Collective has lined the top and bottom of the stage with giant teeth.
Unceremoniously taking the stage, they lull us in with “New Town Burnout” before exploding into “Moonjock,” both off their latest Centipede Hz, a handbook to new-school psychedelia with Deakin back in the mix. Panda Bear behind a full drum kit and Avey Tare wielding a guitar, everything’s much more live here than the Merriweather Post Pavillion setup. They stay away from anything on their biggest record, until “Brother Sport” makes a welcomed appearance in their second set.
An early high point is “Today’s Supernatural,” the crowd erupting as the bouncing trip disintegrates into distortion halfway through the song. We’re all dancing together, hands snaking in the air like 21st-century flower children.
The first set is all about Centepede Hz, but they start turning back time after returning to the stage, first by channeling The Grateful Dead in cut time 7/4 “What Do I Want? Sky.” We sink deeper as each interlude hints at the next song, dropping into dancing and ecstasy at the perfect moment as they do so often. The crowd laps up older favourites like “Did You See the Words” and “Purple Bottle,” we all scream along with Avey Tare as he jumps around during “Peacebone.”
It all ends without a word; with barely a moment of silence during their nearly two-hour set, the contrast is jarring. We’re left with an infectious high, willing the night to continue and for an encore at least to hear “For Reverend Green.” But no such luck, although we’re better off than Toronto—the band cancelled their Saturday show due to illness.
The show reveals only one side of Animal Collective, of the always-weird, always evolving band’s huge repertoire. This Centipede Hz tour shows them as old pros with a light show that swallows you whole, retreated from their ultra-accessible Merriweather / Fall Be Kind phase. They’ve come out the other end with yet another sound, more psychedelic than ever. Where they go next is anyone’s guess.
Before his set at Casa Del Popolo, Patrick Krief played an acoustic version of “Lost in Japan” for us in his Côte Saint-Luc home. It’s a song about his time in that country, where he felt the strongest sense of Lost in Translation-esque culture shock.
Recorded over several months in a “shitty apartment in Côte-des-Neiges,” The Dears guitarist will have his solo record Hundered Thousand Pieces released in the United States next month, coinciding with a US tour that includes a stop in Austin for South by Southwest.
It’s a dark, guitar-driven indie record that rarely keeps to the same arrangement from song to song.
Once working under the name Black Diamond Bay, Krief now plays with his own name on the marquee.
“I was a bit reluctant, but people were threatening to leave the band if I didn’t change the name,” Krief said of the change to Black Diamond Bay. “And it didn’t sound like a solo project, so I did. But then they quit on me.
“So I thought, there’s only going to be one constant, and that’s me.”
That became even more true after recording Hundred Thousand Pieces, where he played nearly everything himself.
“I was being romantic about it, the first guy who showed up I was going to give him the job,” Krief said, about the process of finding a band to fill out that sound live. “But two months in, the band was sounding like shit.
“I had to be that guy who said ‘you’re not good enough.‘”
It’s a role he’s familiar with, having directed bands from a young age.
“I started putting bands together when I was 12 or 13, and I was always the leader. I took myself so seriously even as a 12-year-old. I have letters I wrote to other band members, that were really angry shit,” he laughs.
He’s put together a band of like-minded musicians now, performing under the name Krief.
“It’s not forced, it’s like the director being comfortable enough with the actor to let him reinterpret the script,” he says. “That’s what we have in The Dears. It doesn’t matter who writes the song, it’s like ‘I know what you’re going for.’ Like, if we’re going for that Motown thing, I got it.”
Krief took a songwriting role in the last The Dears record, 2011’s Degeneration Street, a first since joining the band in 2003. Before that, singer Murray Lightburn had always been the main songwriter.
“Sometimes I’d have an idea that I knew was good, but I didn’t know where to go with it. I’d call up Murray and say, ‘do you think this is shit?‘” said Krief.
And if Lightburn was feeling it, the song would end up in The Dears’ repertoire.
“I don’t care about that world when I’m doing this,” says Krief about his more famous project. “This is for whoever wants it, I’m not going after the path that The Dears took, this has its own trajectory. It doesn’t matter if it’s smaller or if it’s bigger.”
The trees outside Mile End’s Salon Sweet William shuddered in a frigid wind, but inside Maerin Hunting warmed the room with an intimate performance of “I’ll Tell Ya,” a song telling a story from the perspective of a former crush, detailing her anticipation before anything happened.
“I wrote this song after we finally started dating, and this was my way of explaining my angst, waiting for him to tell me that he liked me,” said Maerin.
Maerin grew up in Montreal, the daughter of a dancer and art history major who met in Concordia’s Drawing 101. Now in the final stretch of her undergrad in jazz voice, it was her great-aunt that first inspired Maerin to study music—giving a piano to her family home.
“I remember playing all kinds of old jazz standards with her around Christmas,” Maerin said. “When I was at Vanier [College] I started studying pop voice, but I quickly switched into jazz voice, not knowing [these were] songs I had been singing with my grandparents. I knew a whole repertoire already.”
She now does most of her songwriting on guitar, something she credits to hearing the likes of pop songwriters John Mayer and Jack Johnson as a kid. The heartthrob factor didn’t hurt, either.
“The same reason boys start to play guitar, to get girls,” jokes bassist Patrick Latreille about Maerin’s choice of instrument.
She’s been playing her original material live now for over a year, an experience of baring personal experience textured by a full band moving softly around her. It’s a feeling she’s becoming more comfortable with as time goes on.
“You can be onstage and let people know things about you that you wouldn’t necessarily tell them in conversation,” said Maerin. “It’s a very personal and vulnerable space.”
The band, under the name Maerin, is in pre-production for their debut full-length record, and are hoping to be playing festivals come summer time.
“My favourite after-show comment was this one individual who said, ‘Maerin, it felt like you held my hand through issues I’ve yet to go through,’” she said.
“I think that’s a pretty good example of what I strive to do.”
The music industry needs bands like Japandroids to make it big.
They’ve steered away from overproduced music but still make it incredibly catchy. They shine a light on Vancouver’s often-ignored music scene, a city seemingly caught in an identity crisis between posh condos and old punk breeding ground. And after all the Pitchfork et al. hype for 2009’s Post Nothing, this year’s Celebration Rock did nothing if not top it.
Sure, you could call it goofy when Brian King sings “We yell like hell to the heavens,” but it’s also pretty goddamn triumphant. With the borderline-AC/DC intro to the album, and that unmistakably Marshall-feedback building over everything in “Adrenaline Nightshift,” they’ve churned out another eight-song record without one ounce of filler—their garage rock sound huge enough for arenas. And while Japandroids are still leaps and bounds away from that stature, it’s a conceivable future if the band’s just hitting their stride.
Considering one of the best songs had already been released, Celebration Rock goes down like a big EP— and it can’t seem to get out of my record rotation since its release at the beginning of the summer. Maybe I’m a sucker for the cheesy stuff, but this record speaks to me. It’s a shining light in a pile of irony and sincerity. I can rely on this record for its earnestness, for its unpretentious alcohol, fire and sex—for its passion.
Celebration Rock unabashedly pulls me back into the mindset of my carefree high school self, with those oh yeahs on “Evil’s Sway” carrying me into the centre of the pit. And when that pure-adrenaline passion comes in, there’s no way it’s simply nostalgia. Japandroids are simply carrying the torch, feeding the younger us for our own good, and with this record they may do it all the way to the mainstream.
At the end of 2012, what do we have to be celebrating? Still being able to feel this way, that youthful exuberance doesn’t fade out like old band t-shirts. We’re still here, and still kicking. And there’s power in that, regardless that it’s held together by gang vocals and a huge six-string sound.