By Jeff Kingsbury
Winnipeg’s art-rock stalwarts Yes We Mystic have had an incredibly busy last couple of years. After the release of their first full length album Forgiver, the band have been to Germany, the UK, SXSW in Austin, Texas, and on several trips across Canada.
Their current road trip includes a month-long residency at Toronto’s Rivoli and a stop at the 25th anniversary of the Halifax Pop Explosion. The tour also coincides with a fantastic music video released earlier this year for the track “Ceilings” off of Forgiver. Apt613 spoke with Adam Fuhr, the band’s lead vocalist/guitarist, ahead of their Ottawa show on October 11 at House of TARG.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: The “Ceilings” video depicts each band member in a scene. Is there any significance to the concept of each scene? Something specific to the members involved? Or are they more tied to the overall treatment of the video?
Adam Fuhr: The “Ceilings” video is a bizarre romp through a bunch of different scenes and emotions that are bound together by the song. A bunch of oiled up dudes taking selfies or a woman sitting in the bathtub with a fish aren’t things that one would assume would make you feel a dull, anxious sadness. But in this case they do, thanks to the direction of Milos Mitrovic and Fabian Velasco.
The characters in the video are just that, characters. We’ve always known that we would never appear in a music video as ourselves. We wanted to play parts. And so the video is built around characters and scenes for each of us, and an additional scene featuring a man and a horse and two of the characters from our last video, for our song “No Harm”.
I’ve read that the making of the video has a few very interesting stories behind it, involving some very interesting people including legendary Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin, an internet-famous dog, and a gun used by none other than Renée Zellweger. Can you fill in the blanks on that?
Totally. First off, the dog. Gabe the Dog is a dog that you might not recognize by name, but there’s a good chance you’ll recognize by image. This is a meme dog. His videos have been viewed over a hundred million times online, people remix his ‘bork’ into songs and stuff. And it just so happens a buddy of mine owned this dog. So I asked him if the dog could be in our next video, and he said yes.
A couple weeks later I’m telling some people that the dog is going to be in our video, and am explaining that the dog doesn’t actually have to act or anything, just be held by me while I sing in an empty theatre—I say “all this dog has to do is just stay alive for another three weeks and we are golden.” I said this simply to illustrate that we weren’t expecting too much out of the dog’s performance, not because there was something wrong with him. It was an innocent joke. But the next morning I wake up and it’s all over Facebook—Gabe the Dog is dead. A very sad, very creepy coincidence. This dog wasn’t just a joke on the internet, he was also the pride and joy of a family, it was very sad. My mom called me in tears that morning to tell me what I already knew—that Gabe died—and all I could think about was “Jesus, I hope I didn’t curse this dog to death.” And thus the tone of the filming of this video was set.
The part of the “Golden Boy” was written for Winnipeg’s Guy Maddin. It was a lark, we never fully expected to get him to play the part, but we asked and he politely declined, as he is currently teaching at Harvard. He did, however, agree to lend us one of the horse heads from his masterwork My Winnipeg, which appears for a brief second in the video and was it’s last stop before going to a museum.
Keegan’s character wields a shotgun which the gun wrangler on set told us hadn’t been used since Renée Zellweger used it in the wholly lacklustre 2009 film New in Town. No one involved in the production of the “Ceilings” video has ever seen said film, apart from, I assume, the gun wrangler.
How does the man with the horse and hot dogs fit into the mix?
Overall the video is a fucked up parable that gives you no real answers? It’s about the soul-crushing search for personal purpose; it’s about the different ways in which masculinity can be toxic; it’s about the spirals we find ourselves in while making art; it’s about none of these and all of these and whatever else you want it to be. The horse/hotdog man (we call him the “Golden Boy”) ties into all of those narratives.
Your music has a unique sound to it; it sounds like it’s made by a group of musicians with their finger on the pulse of the Canadian indie music scene without sounding derivative or contrived. Did you set out to achieve this aesthetic either individually or as a group? Or did you just sort of happen upon it as a product of working with each other?
For Forgiver, our main objectives were to a) find a freshness, triangulated from things we enjoy and the twisting of their tropes and b) attempt to push forward a genre whose trajectory is thought of as dead. I always try to be attuned to where my influences come from and where music is headed. We pitched the last record as a “blend of indie rock, folk, hip hop, and r&b.” That seems a bit twee to me now. We’re currently calling it art rock. I honestly don’t know what to call it. I’d just call it indie rock where we are trying to fuck with your head a bit, experiment, and mess with conventions.
We’re currently calling it art rock. I honestly don’t know what to call it. I’d just call it indie rock where we are trying to fuck with your head a bit, experiment, and mess with conventions.
I just really want to try to advance something, advance a specific trajectory of music that people think isn’t being advanced any more. Maybe people have moved past the anthemic, and rightly so, it had it’s day. But I want to fuck up the anthemic so bad that you’re not even sure if it’s anthemic anymore. You’re not even sure where it’s coming from. Forgiver was the first step in this. We’re trying to push this farther on the next record.
That’s why this quote from Laura Stanley at Exclaim! felt like a real victory:
“On paper, the band sound like they’re another middle-of-the-road indie band getting by on anthemic and uplifting songs with no real substance, but in practice, Yes We Mystic’s arrangements are darker than other cinematic bands, their lyrics richer, more poetic and shrouded in mystery. It’s all enough to make Forgiver sound fresh and urgent.”
Reading that felt like we had succeeded in Step 1 of our master plan.
I generally write most of the music and Keegan [Steele] writes most of the lyrics, but of course the songs are influenced by what everyone brings to the table and the choices they make to shape their parts. Writing and recording music is a thousand little choices. I make the first choices, the chords and the melody. Keegan chooses the words. But everything else we choose together.
What new music have you been listening to lately?
It seems like all the big indie bands have come out with music lately—Arcade Fire, The National, Broken Social Scene, Feist, Wolf Parade is coming out with one soon. And most of them were really good, with the exception of Arcade Fire who seems like they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing any more.
There’s a band called Farao on Arts and Crafts and I think they’ve put out one of the best records of the past couple years, and I only found it a few months ago. I still haven’t gotten over the Anohni record from last year. I’ve heard the new Holy Hum record out of Vancouver that is being released really soon and is really incredible. Slow Spirit out of Winnipeg just put out a record that has some moments of sheer brilliance.
Can we expect any new recorded music from the band in the near future? Any plans to head back into the studio?
We like to keep our cards pretty close to our chest. But yeah, I can say we were just in the studio earlier this week recording a couple of new songs. We also have most of our next record written and demoed but that won’t come out for a couple years probably.
Yes We Mystic play at House of TARG on Wednesday, October 11 with Twist and Trees. Tickets cost $10 online.