Let’s call it metamorphosis. Or breeding. Birds and the bees, say, with emphasis on the birds, more specifically those pale-hued squawkers. What started with solo flights down on the beach now soars with five, dipping and diving in hypnotic rhythms, looting the landscapes for morsels of melodies. The most recent updraft has this five-piece of gulls soaring to Zaphod’s, where, alongside Trees, they’ll open for The Darcys. We lured them in with a package of soda-crackers, and Those Gulls, Andrew Grosvenor (AG), Peter Zachar (PZ), Pierce McKennirey (PM), and Kate Schroder (KS), stuck around for a chat. No one got pooped on.
Apt 613: If I were to come across the animal Those Gulls in the wild, what would it look like? What would it be doing? Would I be able to approach it?
AG: I started calling my band (even when it was just me solo) Those Gulls because I grew up near the Ottawa River and used to take an old guitar down there to practice – so my first audience really was a bunch of birds (ducks and geese too). Does that mean our band’s ‘power animal’ is a seagull… well we can play pretty loudly and gulls do squawk loudly to communicate with each other. And just like the real thing, if you have some snacks with you we’ll practically be your best friend.
PM: A BEAR! Definitely a bear. Powerful and industrious.
The Those Gulls sound has a bit of crunch, and a splash of melody. It’s partly charging yet in a somewhat melancholy way. How has the sound of the band come to be what it is?
PZ: I think we’ve ended up with that mix of elements in large part, and probably unsurprisingly, as a result of our diverse range of influences. Each member brings their own musical preferences and experiences to practices, and they inevitably come out when we play. Andy grew up on Sonic Youth, Kate’s preferences skew more towards electronic and pop, Pierce used to play in a metal band, Jake cut his teeth on Weezer covers, and I’ve been on a two-year-long Slayer binge. Add to that the obvious overlaps in bands we all love, and I guess you end up with the crunchy, melodic, sometimes melancholy sound you described.
AG: Last summer, on a ride up to a cottage, a friend and I were listening to The National’s new album and he said something like “Maybe it’s just me, but I really like depressing music.” And I agree. Upbeat pop music is perfect for loads of occasions, but often I connect best with the moodiness of minor chords, slow instrumental builds, and darker lyrics. So, yeah, I understand the ‘melancholy’ angle and I think it’s just a matter of keeping that in the undercurrent and adding on layers from all of our other influences.
PM: I think that the addition of Kate and Jake in early 2013 really positively impacted the emphasis on melody. While previously we may have been content to churn out brooding rockers, we now incorporate a bit more flair, or melody, or whatever you want to call it, due to their contributions.
We see that guitarist Andrew Grosvenor toured around China with a post-punk band called The Deep Green Sea, and we’re wondering about the role of place in the creation of music? Does the city of Ottawa play a role in your sound? Is there anything that might be called an Ottawa sound?
AG: I think a lot of our music is inspired by where we have lived and travelled. Spending nearly three years in the city of Chongqing, China (home to some 15 million people) was a profound influence, but coming back to Ottawa also had a big impact on song writing – both for the contrasts between the cities and countries and for the sense of leaving behind a very different life in a very fantastic place to come home to something so familiar and comforting. I think it’s also really easy to be inspired when travelling and in particular when exploring new places – your mind is free to roam along with your senses – you inevitably return home with thoughts and ideas that make their way into the music.
PZ: I think talking about an “Ottawa sound” would mean short-changing a lot of great bands. There are a ton of great punk and hardcore acts, but there are also some amazing hip-hop groups. There’s jaw-dropping post-rock, and there’s equally amazing pop-punk. Not to mention every awesome eclectic band in between. When you’re in a band, or a scene, plugging and carving away at your niche, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. I guess if the Ottawa music scene should be known for anything, it’s the diversity of its sound.
What’s your favorite venue in Ottawa, and what was the best show you saw in the city last year?
PZ: We’ve had so many great experiences at so many different venues, and each one has its own charms. We’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of Cafe Dekcuf lately and it’s always a blast playing there… but I think my favorite experience so far was at Gabba Hey! Admittedly, that could have something to do with PUP blowing the roof off the place. The show that stuck with me the most from last year was probably KEN mode with Full Of Hell. Talk about a wall of sound.
KS: Very hard to pick a favourite venue, but I think I have to side with Petey Zee and say that Gabba Hey! was the most fun to play at. Very unique. It’s also hard to pick a best show from last year, but I’m gonna go with Fire and Neon, The Love Machine, and Zoo Legacy at Ritual. Such a great time, and all Ottawa music.
PM: Best show in the city I saw all year? And So I Watch You From Afar at Mavericks. There are a ton of great spots to play in Ottawa, and I typically enjoy the acts that Mavericks has playing week-in and week-out.
Did any members of the band take in some of Ottawa’s summer festivals (Arboretum, Bluesfest, Folkfest, Jazzfest) etc? What are these festivals doing right? What could be improved?
PZ: There seems to be a wave of new festivals that have come up in the past couple of years. Doldrums and Arboretum were great last year and we’re looking forward to them again. The beauty of these smaller, more locally-focused festivals is that they really give people in Ottawa a chance to see a variety of acts all at once: greater exposure for the bands and inexpensive, live entertainment for the community.
AG: Bluesfest 2013 was, as always, reliably awesome. The lineup just keeps getting more interesting and diverse each year – that might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think they’ve been smart to reach out to new genres while still keeping blues and rock at the core of the event. Can’t beat the location either!
PM: Not on your list, but something I experienced for the first time last year was Beau’s Oktoberfest in Vankleek Hill. It was obviously more than a music festival, but having an event after the summer has come and gone is a really great idea – people need music, great beer and food to survive the looming threat of winter.
KS: This is a more general answer, but I just want to add that I love the variety of festivals Ottawa has. From massive names to local favorites, from blues and rock, to folk, to weird as hell (but great) experimental electro. It’s lovely.
Is the song-writing that goes on in the band collaborative or more of an individual process? How does the band resolve disagreements/ conflicting views about song arrangements?
PZ: To be honest, I’ve been asked this a few times by people not in the band, and I don’t really know how it happens. A lot of times, Andy will come in and be like “Hey, check out this riff!” Then it’s like we all black out, and when we wake up there’s a song. Before Kate joined, we were definitely more inclined to self-indulgence. I remember she came in to one of our first jams together, and we played her one of the new song ideas at the time. She was like “So, I have some ideas for the verse, but which part is the chorus?” Andy and I just kind of looked at each other like “Yup, those… are… definitely some words we’re aware of.” So in that respect, I think we feel a lot of Kate’s influence in the song structure. There are never many conflicts that last beyond the initial bouncing of ideas. It’s never like “I’m playing this drum fill, or I QUIT!” We all try to make sure the sum is better than the parts.
KS: We’re very, very lucky that ‘conflict’ seems like a strong word to describe anything that goes on for us during songwriting. It’s not easy to find a group of people with such good musical ideas but that are also incredibly reasonable and easy-going. It was such a nice surprise to discover those qualities about each of my bandmates when I joined the band. (And the same went for Jake when he joined last year!)
How involved is the band on the production end of things? Are you currently working on a new album?
PZ: In a word: Very. Since the beginning we’ve recorded and mixed everything ourselves. With that come the ups and downs of the learning process, but we’ve come to rely on the freedom that low-pressure, private recording affords. As for the new album, we’re almost wrapped up on the recording front and mixing will start soon. This will be the first record to feature the five-member Those Gulls and we’re excited to borrow some of the last album’s rough and ready energy with and combine it with a much bigger and more ambitious sound.
PM: I think Peter deserves a ton of credit in this regard, while all of us have our opinions and input on the way we want the record to sound, he is the one who makes it happen. Without him behind the mixing board and in front of the computer (for which seem like eternity, I don’t know how he does it), we probably would never finish the recording process on our own.
AG: Peter and I had been friends for years before we started the band, but I think the recording process is what has really deepened the camaraderie in Those Gulls. We usually record in the winter months when there’s not as much going on and we get to take our time. We set things up, crack a few beers and start going. It’s a lot like just hanging out.
KS: Go go gadget Peter!
What can people expect from your show on Wednesday night?
AG: Well, at least one new song that no one has heard yet! And an awesome set from Toronto’s The Darcys, whom we are very honoured to be opening for again.
PM: Dreams turned reality.
Watch the official video of Friday Night, by Those Gulls:
Those Gulls will be playing Zaphod’s (27 York Street) on February 5. Doors open at 8:30. Tickets are $12.