By Sean Moeller
The need and the willingness to get all hyperbolic about Canadian indie rock music is not superficial. It's an impulse that's about a year and a half old -- a little dated -- but still happening and not losing much steam. What started as a way to gush about the roaring new brand of hyper, chamber music that Arcade Fire unfurled into our laps with the ceaselessly gorgeous "Funeral" - the first Arctic front we've gratefully welcomed across our border in years (sorry Barenaked Ladies) - turned into a classic Nor'easter, knocking us silly and blanketing us. We were blinded by the promise of there being more where that came from. Then we got The Unicorns, Broken Social Scene starting getting written and talked about with regularity, Tegan & Sara were opening tour dates for The Killers and Wolf Parade released Sub Pop's best record since The Postal Service's first and likely last album came out in 2003.
Spencer Krug, one of the principal songwriters of Wolf Parade - a group that appears visibly motley and cavalier and does nothing to desecrate that thought with its excitable songs from "Apologies to the Queen Mary," was at the center of the first wave of the cyclone and he's done whipped us into a frenzy again with his brand new project Sunset Rubdown's first real full-length album, "Shut Up I Am Dreaming." The reason we're becoming so enamored with our neighbors to the far north is not universally applied. Obviously, there are groups that pass across our border that we refuse to allow any success. They just haven't got what it takes. There are a lot of terrible C anadian bands too, but the ones that have reached us have single-handedly forced us to reassess what our very own art is supposed to achieve. With both Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade, we got to experience passion again. We were able to retrieve a deeper meaning from a set of chords and spirited singing. We weren't stuck holding onto a form letter about a misunderstanding between a dumb girl and a dumb boy. It wasn't about money, nor was it music that was easily attained. The payouts would come when we'd invested in the songs. Win Butler meant business when he sang about an older brother named Alexander scratching their names out of all his letters. He was right when he sang, "I guess we'll just have to adjust."
The urgency and the desperate yearning that seem to affect each of Krug's keyboard-laden tunes about snakes with legs (guitarist Jordan Robson Cramer drew one of these creatures - with arms to serve -- on a foldable Frisbee while killing time here during the band's Daytrotter session), boys without eyes and ears and the faultiness of dreams and paddles is contagious and it's invigorating. He works with a different canvas and a different set of colors than do a lot of writers. There is so much ambiguousness to the words that they become specialties - pristine glimpses of a heart and mind's turmoil. It makes no difference that the material is predominantly allegorical because somehow it does still bear the recognizable, gold leaf markings of what the insides of men and women dream. It's more real than singing about money all the time, these songs about the head's strife with the often inexhaustible burning of the world around it.
Krug takes his cigarettes so unlike the way he takes his songs. He sveltely explores his smokes, often vacantly peering off as if there's a horizon ahead of him with a dozen sunsets falling across the glassy waters of a dozen different lakes, letting the plumes of white ribbon escape gently. He pulls the smoke in serenely and is a man being visited by his thoughts. When it comes to his songs, Krug is no longer pensive. Suddenly, he becomes exhilarated and makes you feel the same way you would if you were pushed into an unheated pool in May. The way he does the Jeff Mangum vocal thing, turns the glockenspiel up to 11, finds unbelievable accomplices in Robson Cramer, drummer Michael Doerksen and keyboardist/vocalist Camilla Wynne Ingr and taps mystery for the special ingredient has helped turn what he considered to be solo recordings that are "kind of milky" into a full band album that is arguably one of the finer pieces of work done this year.
"Sunset Rubdown was, for a long time, just a solo recording thing for me, an outlet for extra ideas and styles that I wanted to try fooling around with. I was never intending for it to be a real band. But after some recordings were released and some of the newer stuff started to grow on me, I wanted to play the songs live," Krug said. "I could have tried a really stripped-down solo set, and still might one day, but I asked those kids to play with me so that we could play the songs live without sacrificing too many of the parts/layers. Once all four of us were in place it went pretty well, and I started naturally writing with the rest of them in mind. Then once you have a sound developing the natural instinct is to want to record it -- so then all of a sudden you have a record. Then all of a sudden you need a label. Then you need to tour the record. Boom. Another band. Oops."
One of the musicians that Krug draws upon for guidance and inspiration is his old roommate Carey Mercer, the lead singer of equally phenomenal C anadian/Absolutely Kosher band Frog Eyes. They share that need for poignancy and hidden meanings that is as enticing as a massage. They both go above and beyond when it comes to throwing themselves into the mixer and channeling the providence that they have for the written word and its application into a spine-bending live performance that you leave thinking you've been missing out all this time.
"We were friends before playing together," Krug said of Mercer. "When he and Mel (Mercer's wife and Frog Eyes' drummer) and I were living together -- six years ago? -- Frog Eyes was started. At that point I'd say that he was somewhat of a mentor in the sense that I liked his innovation, and his willingness to fully put his heart into things that he knows many people will hate, but musically I think we've always had a mutual respect and share a sense of humility. I've always liked his writing and only left Frog Eyes because I was moving to Montreal. Since then we've worked together whenever possible, and in the last year or so those opportunities have become more frequent. It's good because we're close enough friends to tell each other when stuff sounds like shit."
They can't have much to talk about.
Miscellaneous Spencer Krug bits:
How do you think about the year that Wolf Parade had last year? What are the other WP guys doing when you're doing Sunset Rubdown stuff? What stands out from all the things you did last year?
Nothing really stands out, save the birth of the Sunset Rubdown live band, but as far as WP goes it was all just really busy. A blur of touring both before and after the release of the record. We traveled a lot, I did some touring with Destroyer overseas as well. It was a big, busy year but it was a lot of fun also. Everyone in Wolf Parade has a lot in their lives besides that band -- other bands, other interests, studios, academic careers, lovers, and so forth. They all have plenty to do when I am busy with Sunset Rubdown and are thankful for the time I'm sure.
What kinds of weight or images do you feel the words "winged," "dreams" and "swimming" carry in your writing?
They pop into lyrics fairly frequently. I don't know, really. I think words need context and don't mean all that much on their own so it's hard to say what meaning they carry as lone objects. That said, I think I usually write in tiny metaphors with meanings left open - like, I guess if I say "swimming," what I really mean is "trying not to drown."
When you were here, I thought I saw you with some kind of journal. Do you chronicle a lot of things -- thoughts, ideas, life?
I was just writing down Swan Lake (a super group featuring Krug, Mercer and Dan Bejar of Destroyer with a scheduled album to be released this fall) lyrics for Carey to give to Jagjaguar. I write down ideas, sure, and lists of shit to do, but I'm not a diary/journal writer of any kind.
What are the future plans for Sunset Rubdown and then for Wolf Parade? Do you have certain timeframes to fit everything in for both bands?
Yep. We have to plan things in advance, but it's not complicated at all to make time for everybody's projects. Wolf Parade will begin recording this summer in Montreal, and I'll probably do another Sunset Rubdown EP around the same time. Sunset Rubdown will do a couple one-off shows in and around July. Wolf Parade and Frog Eyes tour in August. Sun Rub tour in Sept. And so on.
Did you almost need Sunset Rubdown, some outlet for all these other songs?
It wasn't a matter of "all these other songs," but more a matter of wanting to hear some ideas get developed differently than others. Sunset Rubdown provides a different palate of sounds and styles to work with than Wolf Parade does. It's just nice to have options.
Have people been making too much of the Cana dian invasion or is it justifiable?
Not sure. Perhaps the hype about Canada started by the Arcade Fire just made people start to take notice of what was already going on here, or perhaps the hype is an initiative for small C anadian bands to start taking themselves seriously, and getting themselves out there. But probably, it's just a media construct feeding itself.
Do you get asked about your lyrics a lot? Do you lie about them to keep people guessing about meanings?
I don't often get asked about lyrics. And when I do I don't lie about them, I just sort of shirk the question by saying a few other barely related things, like I'm doing right now.
What do you think of the blogging community? Do you check any blogs regularly?
I don't have any blogs that I check regularly. I barely look at blogs, but I think that the community, despite its ruthless nature, and the fact that the criticisms of a blogger are somehow made more credible simply because they've started a blog, is actually really helpful to new bands. They start a lot of dialogue about new things out there seemingly before any of the major music publications catch on. Any avenue of exposure and discussion for small bands that will help them get out of their hometown is probably a good thing, I think.