In the Spotlight: Nap Eyes, Little Scream, Featurette
Story by Alex Laurence | August 16, 2016
Don’t let the name fool you. Judging on how prolific this group of friends have been in the last few years, you might think they never sleep. Founded in Halifax, Nap Eyes have been putting out plenty of their unique brand of enjoyable, soulful indie rock.
Drawing on the styles of their songwriting heroes, like Lou Reed and Jonathan Richman, as well as the reckless, earnest fun and flavor of their roots, the four-piece (Nigel Chapman, Seamus Dalton, Josh Salter, Brad “Bronson” Loughead) have been steadily gaining ground since their debut in 2014.
All four are active members of the Halifax music scene – a couple of them also play in fellow Halifax indie-rockers Monomyth and Each Other. Their latest album, 2016’s Thought Rock Fish Scale, has earned them glowing praise, both at home and internationally, from tastemakers like Pitchfork, MOJO, SPIN and The Fader, and landed the album on the longlist for the 2016 Polaris Prize.
Never ones to rest, they’ve been steadily touring through the summer and into the fall, making appearances at festivals and shows across North America before heading to Europe in the winter. “The last few months have been pretty busy,” says singer Nigel Chapman. “But we’re looking forward to getting out on the road again.” Don’t sleep on Nap Eyes.
Born in Iowa, but now a resident of Montreal, Little Scream (Laurel Sprengelmeyer) has been making waves in pop. Her latest album, Cult Following, was released this year on Dine Alone Records (Merge Records in the U.S.).
One glance at the album credits reads like a “who’s who” of some of today’s most appreciated musicians and songwriters. Guests like Mary Margaret O’Hara, Sufjan Stevens, Sharon Van Etten, Aaron and Bryce Dessner from the National, Owen Pallett, and Kyp Malone all make appearances. Make no mistake though, the “cult following” is there for her. Little Scream’s voice and songs hit front and centre, backed by a lush palette of sound crafted by herself and creative partner Richard Reed Parry (of Arcade Fire).
And the world is catching on. This year saw her touring North America with the likes of Arcade Fire, Operators and Land of Talk; playing a well-received set at the WayHome Festival and earning praise and respect from Pitchfork, Exclaim, NOW, and The Globe and Mail, among others. “The highlight has been the sheer variety of shows,” says Little Scream. “…From opening for Arcade Fire in Barcelona, to singing at the U.S. embassy in London, to playing small club shows in the U.K. – every night has been unique, and made all of the touring a total adventure.” Catch her on the road around North America this fall.
Featurette is a synth-pop duo comprised of singer Lexie Jay and drummer Jon Fedorsen. Based in Toronto, the duo describes their sound as “Phantogram meets Tove Lo, backed by Deadmau5.”
Thanks to a successful FACTOR grant, the duo dropped their debut two-part EP, CRAVE, in the fall of 2015. Produced by Josh Sadlier-Brown and Marc Koecher (Jully Black, John Legend, Gogol Bordello) its catchy Euro-style electropop captured the ears of radio station Edge 102.1 in Toronto, with Alan Cross featuring them on his “Songs You Must Hear”. Since then, they’ve received praise from blogs and publications around Canada, like Bullett Media, Noise Porn, Audio Fuzz, Silent Shout, Exclaim and more.
At press time, they were off to Los Angeles for some writing sessions. You’ll be hearing more from Featurette soon, once they finish touring around North America this fall.
Photo by Lisa MacIntosh Photography
Art Bergmann: The Apostate Arises
Story by Lenny Stoute | August 18, 2016
Airdrie, Alberta, is a small city of about 43,000 in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. On its outskirts lives Art Bergmann, who enjoys a spectacular view of the Rockies, and the sweeping vistas of the Prairie. Fitting real estate for an enduring outsider, who for 40 years has taken a rebel stance and held to it.
Long lauded as one of the original punk influences of the ‘70s, and an equally mark-making figure in alternative rock in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, Bergmann’s current album The Apostate draws from all that and more, in crafting his best-yet collection of songs – and first full-length recording in 18 years. It says a lot about an artist’s persistence and integrity when his prime work is done at age 63; Bergmann is happy about that, as are critics, and the Polaris Music Prize large jury, who long-listed The Apostate in 2016.
It’s not just the incisive commentary on subjects such as rape culture, the abuse of indigenous peoples, environmental issues, and the oppressive nature of religion, which gives The Apostate its clout. The music wrapped around the message is very eclectic, and miles away from Bergmann’s punk bête noire roots. “I started writing these songs as I was finishing up Songs for the Underclass,” says Bergmann. “I was on a tear, coming up with concepts, melodies. I wanted to write an album [where] you couldn’t tell what era songs were from, or what genre, something that would last.”
The Apostate is that album. Lyrically, it holds some of Bergmann’s most searing lyrics and dystopic observations, but also some of his most tender and shocking. The cages he rattles are being shaken by a man with insights gleaned from an immersion in the fields of history, anthropology and paleontology, that started when he first moved to Airdrie.
Such material suggests a match with the explosive sounds of Bergmann’s punk past, but he ups the emotional ante by juxtaposing rejectionist lyrics and inclusive music, coaxing many levels of meaning from the material. The musical resonances include desert and prairie sounds: Tuareg blues from North Africa, percussion references from Pakistan and India, the swirling patterns of Dervish music, and haunted, wind-whipped Americana landscapes.
“I wanted to expand my subject matter to more universal themes than I was concerned with in my early years in Vancouver and Toronto,” says Bergmann. “I wanted this music to get a wide hearing, so I toned down the abrasion and made it more soothing. ‘Cassandra’ is a good example; I put that out as a single, at the insistence of my wife and sister. Coming at a time when the vanished indigenous women was an issue, we felt it was the right time to put it out. That it also coincided with the verdict in the Ghomeshi case was definitely not planned. I’d written ‘Cassandra’ three years before,” he says of his re-working of the classic Greek myth of Cassandra, who was sexually abused by Apollo in order to discredit her.
“In terms of songwriting technique, for me, it starts out with, ‘What will it take to get to where I want it to be?’”
Bergmann is adamant that while the songs on The Apostate may share themes and attitudes, each is a stand-alone, layered with meaning and suggestion. “The songs start out as pages and pages of notes to be honed down, cutting away at the obvious, paring it down to where I know I’ve got it,” he says. “In terms of songwriting technique, for me, it starts out with, ‘What will it take to get to where I want it to be?’”
The collection’s tear-jerker is “The Legend of Bobby Bird,” a wrenching tale of a young Indigenous boy who preferred to take his chances alone in the wild rather than live in a residential school, and ended up freezing to death. His remains sat unidentified for 30 years, but were finally discovered in 2009. “There were so many kids who disappeared and were never seen again, who chose nature over staying in those prisons,” says Bergmann. “I spent time with Bobby Bird’s family, asking their permission, because I know about pain and with his family, the pain is still fresh.”
Bergmann does indeed know about pain; in recent years, he’s been stricken with severe osteoarthritis, and had to undergo surgery four years ago to put titanium around his spine to prevent him from becoming a paraplegic. Still, he’s not going gently into that good night, continuing to rail against injustice and false belief.
Given the album’s title, one wonders what social, political or religious beliefs Bergmann-the-apostate is rejecting. He chuckles, and says, “I’m a complete traitor to all the beliefs, I reject just about everything,” as suggested in the lyrics to his song “Atheist Prayer”: “What will it take/ to crush your belief/ in your mistake/ you’re the God you create…”
Bergmann would love to take his message on the road with a band, but might not be able to manage it. “I wish I were touring, but it’s too expensive for me,” he says. “I can do the songs acoustically, but I really miss the band format, the explosiveness, the power. I’ve got a good little label, Weewerk, and I’ve got a social media presence, but it seems like it comes down to touring. I’d like to have another kick at the can before I give up the ghost. We’ll see.”
Meanwhile, Bergmann’s working on new material, with three or four songs in the pipeline and a bunch of ideas on the back burner. He promises that it’ll be quite different from The Apostate. With his ongoing creative flow, could he ever foresee a time when he isn’t driven to write songs? “The songwriting comes and goes,” he says. “How and why is a mystery. I’ve had dry periods when it does cross your mind, but I’ve always come out of them and [started] writing again. The last time I had one, the fact [that] people were interested in me again, in hearing the old songs again, that got me back to writing new songs.”
Photo by Lepigeon
Essaie Pas : Night Owls
Story by Olivier Boisvert-Magnen | August 16, 2016
Signed to James Murphy’s legendary New York imprint DFA, Montréal’s electro duo Essaie Pas exacerbates its demons and nocturnal obsessions on Demain est une autre nuit. We recently caught up with them.
The air in Montréal is heavy with a heat wave. Based on their public image, Pierre Guerineau and Marie Davidson will no doubt be wearing black today, which isn’t exactly refreshing during a heat wave.
Yet, at the exit of the Laurier metro station, the pair is almost unrecognizable: Marie is wearing a carefree smile instead of smokey eyes, and Pierre is wearing a blue T-shirt in lieu of his usual tailored suit.
Light years from their press photos, in other words.
“It’s true that people have a lot of preconceived ideas about us,” admits singer and keyboardist Davidson. “People see us as this really serious group, but it’s not a calculated image. Offstage, we’re really fun-loving people who like to joke and party. People know that in a party, you won’t find Marie sulking by the bar, but jumping up and down on the dancefloor.”
“I think it’s the album that projects that kind of lugubrious image,” says bandmate Guerineau, who also sings and plays keyboards. “Next time around, we’ll dispel any doubts: I’ll be bare-chested on the album cover, surrounded by balloons!” he jokes.
“I believe our music and lyrics share a common universe. That’s probably why language was never an issue for DFA.” – Pierre Guerineau of Essaie Pas
Launched last February, Demain est une autre nuit is the duo’s :”first real album,” according to Guerineau, but their “fourth public release”, in Davidson’s words. Demain is replete with the torments, obsessions and demons of both musicians, and explores the confines of techno, darkwave and synth-pop without setting any limits.
“We went through very difficult moments during the making of the album,” Guerineau confides voluntarily, but vaguely. “Obviously, our music reflected this, but I do believe things will change and evolve. It’s always been the case, as a matter of fact.”
From an “illegal and self-managed” studio to DFA
Borderline-obsessive music lovers, Davidson and Guerineau met at the now-defunct Montréal studio, La Brique. Its hallowed halls were home to many a pivotal artist of Montréal’s underground scene from the turn of the decade: Dirty Beaches, Grimes, Sean Nicholas Savage and TOPS, to name but a few.
“I’d go there almost every day for seven years,” reminisces the still-nostalgic Davidson. “It was a mythical, self-managed place, part venue, part rehearsal space.”
Pierre Guerineau arrived in Montréal from France in 2006 and set foot into said studio very shortly thereafter. “For awhile, it was the only stable thing in our lives,” he remembers. “We’d change apartments and relationships very often, but we’d always go back to La Brique.”
Through a common friend, singer and producer Xarah Dion, the pair got to know each other. They started out as an experimental rock trio, alongside Simon Delage, after which Essaie pas dabbled in electro-blues on Nuit de noce, their third EP, released in 2013 on the Brussels-by-way-of-Paris label Teenage Menopause.
The self-launched mini-album, released on Bandcamp, got the attention of Kris Peterson, one of the heads of DFA Records, the New York City-based label founded by LCD Sounsystem’s James Murphy. “Kris was looking for a local band to open for Factory Floor at the Belmont,” says Guerineau. “That night, we didn’t have time to talk with him, but he purchased a copy of Nuit de noce.”
“He wrote to us shortly thereafter to tell us he really liked it,” Davidson continues. “He asked us to send him our new songs when they were ready. We were flattered, but we didn’t think it was serious.”
“It’s mostly that we were doubtful… Our new material was totally different from what he’d heard,” Guerineau adds. “But we went ahead and sent it to him, and he liked it. Everything was made official very quickly.”
Being signed on such a label is almost historical for a Québec-based band, especially since the duo mostly sings in French. “Kris never mentioned the language. He even wrote: ‘I don’t care!’,” says Davidson laughing.
“I believe our music and lyrics share a common universe,” says Guerineau. “That’s probably why it was never an issue for DFA. People don’t need to understand the words to get the atmosphere, the feeling.”
Night Owl Music
The duo’s lyrics are delivered in a cold, detached manner that perfectly reflects the saturnine music upon which they rest. Far from depressing, the overall atmosphere of Demain est une autre nuit is nonetheless more dark than light. “It’s got a nocturnal, strange and sensuous vibe. It takes on a whole new dimension when you listen to it at night,” explains Davidson.
“But in concert, it becomes very danceable,” adds Guerineau. “We love to make people dance, and speak directly to them. We seek to touch every individual in a crowd.”
The lyrics are about being obsessed by nightlife, partying and love (and the typical addictions of that scene), and they had a therapeutic, almost cathartic effect on the two artists. “I write about stuff that was part of my life at a certain point,” says Gurenieau, who’s 34 today. “When all that was going on in my life, I had a very hard time talking about it…”
“It’s about our life, quite simply,” adds 28-year-old Davidson. “They’re themes we’ve covered before, notably in a more humorous song like ‘Danse sociale.’ We talk about our DIY scene, parties that get busted by the cops, illegal pop-up bars, people who do drugs and fuck in the bathrooms.”
Their willingness to sing about “people who forget themselves in the solitude of partying” has brought the duo a bona fide media frenzy throughout the world, thanks in part to excellent reviews in esteemed publications such as The Guardian and Pitchfork.
And their recent tour has confirmed that it wasn’t just smoke and mirrors. “There were a lot more people waiting for us to get on stage than usual,” says Davidson. “For such a niche band like ours, it’s quite something to sell out small venues in Europe and the U.S.”
Featured on the Polaris Prize long list, Essaie pas is seeking international exposure much more than local success. “To this day, I’m still convinced that not a single Montréal label would risk signing us,” says Davidson. “Our music had a lot more chances to grab the attention of label from abroad.”
“That being said, we have to be honest and say that we never sent our music to anyone who didn’t ask,” adds Guerineau. “It’s not that we wanted to sabotage our career by keeping our music to ourselves, but let’s just say we’re not willing to compromise.”
In other words, Essaie pas is the spearhead of Montréal’s little-known but effervescent electro scene, whose other key players include Bataille solaire, Xarah Dion, Police des mœurs, Jesse Osborne-Lanthier and many others. Like all of them, Eassaie pas are aiming for the top regardless of trends and other musical boundaries.
“Even though we all make different kinds of music, we’re all united by our desire to break the rules and push the limits,” says Guerineau. “In other words, we like to step out of our comfort zone.”