Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Other Truths: An Interview with James Payment of Do Make Say Think

AURAL BUFFET: A lot has been made of the band's preference for recording in non-traditional environments like barns and derelict buildings. What was the genesis of this idea? How does recording in these atypical spaces affect the music?

JAMES PAYMENT: This idea first started on goodbye enemy airship when we decided to record in former member Jason Mackenzie's grandparents' barn in north Ontario. Recording in rural locations provides us with an escape from distractions in the city that may interfere with the recording process. It forces us to focus on nothing else other than the songs that we are working on for however many days. Acoustically it provides unique tones and reverbs to our recordings, like the crickets that can be heard in the background of just about every enemy airship tune. It can be magical when that type of thing just falls into place.

AB: Your band's songs are all very intricate and layered. I'm curious as to how the band composes songs. Does one member come in with a basic riff or is the songwriting process collaborative from the start?

JP: The song writing process always starts with the core 5 members of dmst: Justin, Charles, Ohad, Dave and myself. We don’t actually get together that often anymore with everyone's commitments to other projects and just life in general, unless to get ready for a tour or to song write for an album. So basically the songwriting process usually starts with us dusting off the cobwebs. Someone will throw out a riff or a beat that they like and see if anyone bites. From there parts will be added and finessed until we end up with a basic skeleton of a song. You might think that after almost 15 years of writing music together that things will have become contrived and formulaic but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It is because we have been together for that long that we are always pushing ourselves to make better music, sometimes over complicating the process but all angles need to be explored. Once the basic skeletons of new songs are created, they are ready to be recorded and will be finessed further in the studio. Often it’s not until something is recorded that you can decide whether or not something is working. This is mostly relevant when dealing with double drummers. If we’re not locked in, the whole thing can sound like shoes in a dryer, and we don’t want that. Once the skeletons are recorded, everything goes back to Ohad's studio ‘th’ schvitz’ where overdubs will be added and, much later in the process, final mixing.

AB: Is there a story behind your bandname or was it more of a purely aesthetic choice?

JP: The band name came from a grade school class room. In the early days Justin, Charles and myself were living in an apartment in Toronto and we were doing a lot of recordings there. We had booked a show at Lee’s Palace across the street to showcase some of our recordings to our friends but we didn’t have a name for our project. At the time Justin and Charles were working with a theatre group that traveled around to local grade schools. Once while rehearsing in a class room Charles noticed four essential verbs posted around the walls of the classroom. DO MAKE SAY & THINK. So, that was our project's name for the show and it just kinda stuck I guess. It’s still better than the alternate EAT SLEEP SHIT FUCK.

AB: There's a lot more of a vocal element on "The Other Truths." Do you believe the use of vocals will increase on future DMST releases?

JP: Yeah, we’ve been exploring that more and more. We’re far from making a four minute pop hit with vocals but the tonality of vocals really helps take certain songs to different places.

AB: Your band has released many exquisite albums, but goodbye enemy airship is widely regarded as your magnum opus. Do you think this assessment is accurate at all? Is there any album in particular that holds a special place in your heart?

JP: I don’t know if I really agree with that statement. Don’t get me wrong, I love enemy airship but in the end it really is a subjective view point to the listener. I feel that our music has progressed steadily from album to album. The songs are certainly more challenging and cerebral and if we felt that we weren’t evolving as a band, we would probably just pack it in and scuttle the ship.

AB: Who would you list as your primary musical influences? Also, do you find other artists influencing your work - visual artists, film directors, etc.?

JP: I can’t speak for everyone but I’m into metal and jazz. I’m into the complex drumming that both of those genres offer. Not to say that I don’t listen to Neil Young or the Beatles whenever the mood strikes. Everyone in the band has a pretty extensive record collection so it’s difficult to list a handful of artists that directly influence dmst. Everyone in the band brings something unique to the table, that’s how we do what we do.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Loss by Matt Finney

On this somber October evening, I will temporarily shift my focus from Do Make Say Think to a book of poetry by Matt Finney, part namesake of the ambient group Finneyerkes. If you’re not familiar with Finneyerkes, they create dense and nuanced soundscapes punctuated by terse and, oftentimes, bleak spoken word. Matt Finney is responsible for the spoken word on the albums and so it should come as no surprise to fans of the band that Finney’s first published book of poetry (the aptly titled Loss), is a solid and impressive work. Over the course of its forty poems, Finney invites the reader into his dystopian and solipsistic universe. The book begins with “Stuck” - a meditation on the tortured life of the writer. All the poems are composed using free verse, allowing the words to breathe. Finney allows his poems to pace themselves. He is economical in his word choice and, as a result, the words never come across as contrived. The artwork included in the book is exquisite and a perfect compliment to the narrative. The interactive format lends much to the enjoyment of the work. Loss is a very introspective work and the faint of heart will doubtless find some of its passages difficult to stomach. Finney is meticulous in detailing the topography of his inner world. Finney's facility with words is unique. His voice is insistent and unmistakable. It’s apparent that Finney feels very deeply. But unlike many contemporary poets who tend towards melancholia, Finney never panders to the readers’ expectations. His efforts to chronicle his experiences are tireless. His pain is real and when Finney says that “the truth is that everything I’ve ever told you is true,” I believe him.

(Loss is available for free download at Dot Contemporary, which you can access here)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Do Make Say Think: Goodbye Enemy Airship the Landlord is Dead (2000)

As I search for words to express my feelings about DMST’s third release, Goodbye Enemy Airship the Landlord is Dead, I cannot help but be reminded of the analogy wherein our human understanding of truth is compared to the attempts of three blind men to describe an elephant to the best of their ability. Since the men are blind, their descriptions are based wholly on tactile data, which isn’t an altogether insurmountable disadvantage. It makes sense to assert that one could come to a reasonably accurate description of an elephant exclusively through the sense of touch. But here’s the rub of the entire thought experiment: each man is essentially assigned to one part of the beast. Therefore, they are forced to make judgments of the whole based on interaction with only one of the parts. You can guess where this is going. The man who feels the elephant’s tail states unequivocally that an elephant is slender and stringlike. The man who feels the elephant’s ears claims that elephants are like massive fronds. The man who feels the elephant’s trunk asserts that elephants are hollow and cylindrical. The upshot of the analogy is that all of the men’s observations are accurate insofar as they do, in point of fact, provide information about the elephant. The crucial mistake is that they assume knowledge of the particular can be extrapolated to the whole. Which leads to the matter at hand. Goodbye is such a rich and multi-faceted work that many are bound to view it in terms of singular characteristics in order to make it more manageable. Some are bound to view Goodbye as the pièce de résistance of the post-rock genre. Others, listening to the exact same record, will herald the album as an indictment against the bloated pretension of the post-rock ethos, citing its mischievous character and lightheartedness as proof that it represents the antithesis to the "woe is me" mentality that informs much of the genre's finer works. Such conjecture, while gratifying to some extent, fails to account for the album’s brilliance dans l’ensemble. The album is rife with the experimentalism and superior musicianship that one would expect from listening to the prior two releases, but it also exhibits that inexplicable quality that is shared by all musical works of consequence. There is something primordial, something universal, about the tones and textures the band employs. I revisit the album often and it never ceases to impress me. Goodbye is the rare album that retains its relevance even as one’s tastes and perceptions change. Goodbye must surely be ranked among the handful of impeccable records produced in the last decade.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Do Make Say Think: Besides E.P. (1999)

In contrast to the numinous atmospherics and washed out drone of DMST’s self-titled release, the Besides EP showcases the band’s ability to create striking and intense rock melodies. Perhaps the most salient feature of the record is how the band is able to imbue the tracks with such breadth and texture, considering that the songs are all anchored by relatively simple melodic phrasing. “Bobby Zincone” affirms without any reservation that the band can produce tightly spun epic movements with the best of their label mates. As with the ST release, there is plenty about the Besides EP that will surprise you. One of DMST’s most impressive features is their ability to concentrate myriad influences into a cohesive whole and not have the end result sound muddled and ostentatious. A dedicated synthesis of precision and abandon, the Besides EP is an album that generously rewards the listener.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Do Make Say Think: ST (1998)

The first Do Make Say Think album I ever heard was the breathtaking goodbye enemy airship the landlord is dead. I remember the whole experience as if it occurred yesterday. I was listening to Yanqui U.X.O. by Godspeed You Black Emperor at the time and I was flipping through the Constellation Records order form that came tucked safely between the album artwork and liner notes. Of all the bands listed, I chose to invest my last bit of money for the month into Do Make Say Think. I always do my best to start with a band's first album so I can get a sense of the natural and inevitable sense of progression that occurs between each release. But for some reason that remains inexplicable to this day, I broke my time honored tradition and began my foray into the world of DMST with goodbye. After quickly becoming obsessed with goodbye, it was only natural to search for the band's other releases. It was with a bit of trepidation that I approached the band's debut, eponymous release. After all, it only makes sense that a band's first offering be somewhat muddled and not fully realized. Imagine my surprise when I learned that none of these shortcomings applied to DMST. Their debut was exciting and unwieldy, full of surprise and endless variation. As a teenager, trying seriously to establish lifelong musical preferences, DMST's eponymous release was a godsend. Its fuzzed out, jazz-inflected, psychedelic glory was the perfect antidote for my growing disillusionment with the state of music. It made me realize the incredible power a band could possess when they play music that is true to each of the member's creative impulses. This is not to suggest that the album is not challenging. I've listened to it in the neighborhood of three dozen times and I still feel somewhat ill-equipped to chart its features. At times, abrasive, at others, mesmerizing. At times, dissonant, at others, genuinely melodic. At times, as frightening and awe-inspiring as one's first glimpse of the ocean, at others, as soothing and familiar as the house where you were raised. The album is both an energetic and brilliant pronouncement and an enticing sample of things to come.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Uttering Silence: An Interview with Matt Finney of Finneyerkes

About a week ago, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Matt Finney, from the band Finneyerkes. Over the course of our conversation, he provided many insights into the inner workings of the band and how it came to be. He was modest and gracious throughout, his voice soft and unassuming. It is with great pleasure, I submit for your perusal, my interview with the wonderful Matt Finney.

AURAL BUFFET: What sorts of bands, writers, film directors, etc. have influenced your work?

MATT FINNEY: We’re really into Mogwai, they’re probably what really got us into post rock and instrumental stuff and we’re big Godspeed fans and [fans of] God is an Astronaut. I’m more into the classical stuff than Randy is, stuff like Mozart and Arvo Part. Our friends Cylon and Yawning, they’re pretty big influences on us. We work with them all the time, so it kind of rubs off on you.

AB: Are there any real distinctions between Randy and yourself, in terms of musicians that have influenced you?

MF: [Chuckles] Randy is really into death metal. I’m not a metal fan at all really. He loves speed metal. I’m more calm, like indie kind of music. We really click musically, I guess metal is the only thing we don’t click on.

AB: Do you find yourself influenced by other media (films, etc.)

MF: Film is a huge influence on us. We’re big Coen brother fans. We love everything they do. The Big Lebowski is probably our favorite movie. No Country For Old Men. Randy’s really into Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the Michel Gondry film. I’m influenced a lot by art, abstract art and surrealism. [Artists] like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Their lives are just fascinating.

AB: Could you take me through the songwriting process the two of you employ? How do you write songs?

MF: All the spoken word that we have recorded was written about a year ago. Without End was kind of current, it was written a few months ago. I usually just write poems and I send them to Randy. I’ll record the vocals and send them to him and he’ll get a vibe off of them. We’re big mood fans. We just go off our moods. Sometimes he’ll send me something and I’ll just try to go off of it, that’s how it’s gone lately. He lives in Virginia now. We’re kind of like the post rock version of The Postal Service, that’s a really bad comparison, but we just send stuff back and forth. He used to live here, that’s how we met. In high school, we were pretty good friends. We’ve just been friends ever since. We talk through AIM and e-mail and piece our albums together.

AB: Was there ever a point where you guys were physically in each others’ presence putting together music?

MF: When he lived here, he was in a band with his brother called Franklin and the Neatos and I went to their basement show and they were a hardcore punk band. I wasn’t really that into it, but he was a friend of mine and I wanted to go check it out. I can barely play anything at all. I’m surprised he wants to record with me. I’m just a fan of his guitar playing. He knew I was a writer and I can talk [laughs] so we just put that together. We’ve never actually recorded in person together.

AB: What is your mindset when you’re writing poems and do you personally see an overarching theme in your work?

MF: Yeah, definitely. I don’t really walk in with a theme in mind. I usually write about twenty poems in a week. They all usually have the same feeling and vibe to them. I never noticed, until we started recording them that they all have the same sort of thing going on. I’m usually depressed out of my mind when I’m writing and I usually feel a lot better when it’s over. It’s pretty cathartic for me. It’s just me trying to make sense of what’s going on around me.

AB: Listening to your newest release, Bastard, I definitely got the sense that there was a certain lightness to it. Could you tell me the mindset behind that . . .

MF: How Bastard came to be?

AB: In some senses, it does seem like a departure, not in terms of instrumentation, but just the pervasive sense of lightness.

MF: Yeah, leaving the vocals behind, the darkness? Bastard, we had that album done before Without End was through. I think the first song that we had done was “Mountain Lion,” it’s track two on that album. I couldn’t write anything for it. I love the song and I told Randy, “we can’t throw away the songs we have.” So he went back and reworked some of the guitar, stuff like “Lins” and “Chicago.” I didn’t want to throw those away. We had a remix by Cylon, “Dismix.” We also had a song with Yawning and we didn’t know what to do with them. We were supposed to have an E.P. with Ian from Heat Death, but it’s been postponed so many times I don’t know if it’s ever gonna be released. We just decided to get in touch with Cylon because he runs an internet label called Dot Contemporary. We asked him “do you want to put [Bastard] out? Just have a listen and see if you like it,” and he loved it. They were all demo songs and we just went back and touched some things up. But the lightness of it, I think we were just trying to do something different. The first two albums are so dark and bleak. We didn’t want to run that into the ground.

AB: If you had to tell someone to listen to one song that you think is most indicative of the band as a whole and your musical message, what song would you pick?

MF: Oh God, I think probably “Honeymoon at the Holocaust Museum.” That’s a favorite of both of ours. It’s probably our favorite song that we’ve done together because it came together so random. The song was done in like a day. It still holds up I think. Most people like it. We’ve gotten complaints about the annoying intro, but usually people like it.

AB: When I was first listening to the albums, my favorite, out of the gate, was Gather & Sing. Could you tell me a little about what went into the making of that album?

MF: That album came about very rapidly. A couple of the songs are on Randy’s solo album Glada under his alias Moosejaw. We released it through TSS. There wasn’t really a theme going with the record. I just picked some random poems I thought would sound cool with music to them. I think we were just trying to sound cool, I don’t know [laughs]. It was a debut album, we didn’t want to sound lame. We still like it. I think my vocals could be a lot better. My vocals are a lot better on Without End I think. I’m not a big fan of my vocals at all. But Randy digs ‘em, so . . .

AB: I have to ask, what was the impetus behind the Gather & Sing artwork?

MF: I have no idea [laughs]. Randy did the artwork for Gather & Sing and Without End and he does most of the artwork now. The cover for Bastard is actually a picture of my brother that I drew on a shipping package. I think we just wanted something weird. A striking image.

AB: If you could open for any band, who would you pick?

MF: Probably Mogwai. [laughs] They just seem like really cool dudes. They just seem like really down to earth people. Either that or the Pixies. Though they’d probably blow us out of the water. Nobody would pay any attention to us.

AB: Are there any projects that the two of you are working on presently?

MF: Yeah, we’re actually getting ready to record a split with Cylon. We’re pretty excited about it. We’re gonna mess around with more electronic stuff. Some of the harsher electronic stuff that was on Without End. Randy’s actually gonna try some singing on this one. And I guess after that, we’re going to record another album.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Up to this point, I have been arguing the thesis that Finneyerkes’ three albums, Gather & Sing, Without End, and Bastard, are best taken as a cohesive whole as opposed to three distinct albums. For the purposes of this present post, “up to this point” will be the operative phrase. I say this because, on the surface, the album Bastard seems to be an hour-long refutation of my theory. From the droning chimes that herald the start of “Cobain,” the album’s opener, to the supple atmospherics that saturate the last track, "Honeymoon at the Holocaust Museum," Bastard definitely explores musical textures not present on the prior releases. Don't misunderstand me, Bastard does not represent a sea change for the band, but it does place the burden of proof on this reviewer's shoulders. To that end, I offer the humble assertion that the albums are cohesive, not because they are similar in some readily apparent way, but because they all explore the same central motifs, but each in its own manner. Bastard finds the band shifting farther toward the ambient end of the spectrum. The mixing this time around seems to be more austere, the lone guitar tracks evoking images of desolate railroads and forgotten warehouses. However, one of the most salient features of Bastard is the absence of Matt Finney's voice. Initially, I found the dearth of Finney's warm and familiar intonations to be disheartening, but on repeated listens it seems evident that the integrity of the album was at the forefront of Finney's mind. The tracks on Bastard are very effective as instrumental pieces and it requires a great deal of artistic devotion to put the quality of the album above one's own ego. Make no mistake, Finneyerkes is no one-trick pony. Bastard proves unequivocally that the band possesses a vast musical palette, the beauty of which will only blossom further with future releases. Even so, it is with a bit of sadness that I make my closing remarks regarding this album, knowing that there are presently no more Finneyerkes albums for me to discover. But I am comforted by the fact that a very reliable source stated that there are new songs in the works. In the meantime, you can be certain that I will be revisiting these three albums often. Like the faces of childhood friends, they have seared themselves, indelibly, into my consciousness.

(Bastard is not currently available for download from the band's MySpace page, but you can download the album here. Stay tuned, this Friday (10/2/09), I will be posting my interview with Matt Finney. You don't want to miss it.)