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Photo by Victoria Davis used with permission from Constellation Records

Arboretum Interviews: Branching out into Ought

By Alessandro Marcon on August 21, 2014

Montreal-based Ought roll into Ottawa on Thursday for the Arboretum music festival, joining the likes of Fresh Snow, Blue Angel, and Freelove Fenner to crush out spirited and engaging tunes at House of Targ. Their album More Than Any Other Day is a rebel-rousing maelstrom at once caustic and emotive, flickering with paradox and tension. It simply howls out of the computer. Amidst a whirlwind of touring, we caught up with the band to chat about the album, their sound, and their new home on Constellation Records.

Sandro Marcon: If I were to walk into a restaurant and order an “Ought” , what would the waiter bring me?

Tim Beeler: Probably some kind of viscous soup. “Ought” could never be a salad… would have to be like borscht or something.

S: On Constellation’s website your band is labelled as ‘post-punk’. What does ‘post-punk’ mean to you? How comfortable are you with this or any genre classifications?

T: We’re pretty staunch about not being a “genre band”. We’re just a band, we sound as we do, but generally have no problem referring to the music we currently have recorded as something akin to post-punk/new wave/etc.

S: When describing your band, numerous sources and commentators make note of the similarities between your band and acts such as ‘The Talking Heads’, ‘Slint’, ‘Pavement’ etc. Are these comments frustrating, inevitable, complimentary, or something else ?

T: The comparisons seem to be to bands that people really care about. That is, in itself, flattering and that’s about as far as I can run with that question.

S: On this note, do you feel that you have arrived at your sound or that it is still in a process of being fleshed out?

T: The “sound” of the band is where the four of us meet in the middle, creatively. It’s totally possible that it will shift or change as time goes on. But yes, we’re all excited to be playing the type of music that we are.

S: Your album, “More Than Any Other Day” really drew me in; I had quite a visceral reaction to it. To me, lyrically, sonically and thematically, it feels somewhat like a storm erupting. On one hand, there’s a force trying to unify, to tighten, and yet this force is co-existing, and paradoxically so, with a force seeking to fray, scatter and unwind. Is the album is making some commentary on the inevitability of splintering in any synthesis. How consciously have the themes on the album been constructed? Can you reflect a bit on how the sound of the album and band has come to be what it is?

T: The “themes” on the album are really only a product of the fact that they were written over the course of a year in which we were all steeping in and mulling over a lot of the same ideas, day-to-day anxieties, and thoughts. We didn’t set out to make this particular record, everything just fell into place and felt right when it came together the way it did.

On the note of coming together/falling apart: I think that’s definitely a pretty appropriate way of thinking about where we were at. We’ve described it before as being in a period of lost-ness, coming out of the ‘bubble’ and structure of the education system and trying to grapple with things that are wrong or unjust around us, our own privilege and position in that mess, as well as personal problems, fears and general disquiet in our own lives.

One thing we all really took from the strike was the powerful feeling of overcoming a lot of this by recognizing that other people are feeling similarly. As in: we don’t know where to go but we’re recognizing that we don’t want to be here anymore, and we’re recognizing that we’re not alone in feeling that way, and there is strength in that.

S: The mix on the record is fantastic. Great tones, especially with the bass and drums. I really dig the variety, the way that different instruments/sounds fill different spaces on the tracks. I also think that rhythmically the record is quite complex; the drums and bass really lock it down and even the keys and guitar seem to be working as primarily on adding layers of rhythm. How collaborative was the writing process? Did it involve a lot of contemplation and analysis? (I’d love to hear the bass player’s thoughts on some of those jittery, meandering basslines if possible)

T: I’m answering these from the airport in London while the rhythm section takes transit in to pick up a forgotten kick pedal, but I’ll try to answer for them. Actually, I’ll take it as a rare opportunity to compliment them. Tim K is an amazingly creative drummer (I think because he has played so many different instruments and, like a few us, really started learning drums seriously for this band), and same with Ben, who is equally as influenced by Wham! as he is by Django Reinhardt. I think their relationship as people also works its way out into their playing, which is a major part of the magik.

S: It seems as though the catchier, hookier songs were at the beginning of the album. By ending with “Clarity!” and “Gemini” the album leaves a sterner, more sinister taste in the mouth. How much were you guys thinking of the album as a conceptual whole?

T: The order really just fell together. The interesting thing we’ve found after touring extensively on these songs is how they can really affect one another. Having “Pleasant Heart” in a set seems to colour “The Weather Song” and adding “Around Again” seems to take it a whole other direction. We generally play the songs with a bit more groove and umph live, which is really just a product of us having a good time while we play. “The Album” definitely didn’t factor into our songwriting at all.

S: If I’m not mistaken, the band consists of three Americans and an Aussie. In what way does Montreal differ most from wherever you initially came from? Tell us a bit about Ought’s Montreal, and the role the city plays in your creative endeavours.

T: Well there’s obviously the language difference. Matt, Ben, and Tim grew up in or near cities, so I think I’m the odd-est one out in that respect. I know we’ve all found a lot of wonderful + supportive people in Montreal, and it is really is a wonderful place to be creating. In my experience, people seem very open to different types of expression which I think results in a lot of really original and inspiring stuff coming out.

S: Seeing as you’re now with Constellation, can we expect to see any Constellation collaborations in the future? Is there any one there you’d really like to work with?

T: Well, we love working with Radwan Ghazi Moumneh from Jerusalem In My Heart. He recorded our record and TM’d our last Europe tour. He is such a sweetheart and a really incredible incredible artist. Beyond that we don’t really have any collaborations in the pipe.

S: Thanks a lot, guys. Ottawa welcomes you.

T: For sure! We’re looking forward to it.