it was a really really cold thursday evening, roger and i sat at miami bar (st-laurent) to drink a beer and warm our mind a little. i often say that the only danger for me in going to the miami is if i were to get hit by a car while crossing the street, which would be very unlucky since i live (well... used to at that time) right across the street.
so after getting there safely once again, efrim, dave and thierry, from montreal's own mystic collective band godspeed you black emperor!, joined us around the table. we recorded the conversation. - marie-douce
marie-douce: since you guys all seem different, i'd be curious to know how you
efrim: there were three of us at first. we met a friend who is a horn player who
isn't playing with us anymore. i'd already played with dave. dave started
playing with the three of us and i knew thierry so thierry started playing with
us. dave knew our cellist so she started playing. it was like if anyone knew
anybody who played an instrument and seemed like an okay person, they would sort
of join up. last year around this time, we got up to 15 people or something and
that was horrible and so we went back down to nine and have sort of been around
nine ever since then.
m: so the idea was really a collective project?
e: no at first it wasn't 'cause it was a smaller group.
m: i mean after when people started to add on?
e: yeah. now it's more of a collective for sure.
r: but it just kind of happened like that, it wasn't something that you
e: no no no. the plan was always to get more people involved and then the band
was always changing. that was always something we wanted. lately it has become a
lot more solid than it ever was. we used to change line-ups at every show. there
would be two or three different people...
dave: playing different instruments...
r: that must be hard for rehearsals?
e: at that point, we were only practising a week before the show. it was always
a big nightmare.
r: rehearsing just for the show?
e: yeah and writing just for the show.
r: how do you write, you're such a large group?
d: yeah it's a really hard thing to try and break down.
r: you kind of improvise?
d: oh yeah, of course. someone has a really skeletal little riff and someone
might start playing and then people start building on it and there is probably
too much saturation and too much noise and it just sounds like mud and crap. you
go home and think about it and come back and less people play and people are
more subtle and it just turns into something, you know.
r: all of this is recorded i guess, when you rehearse at the beginning?
d: no, we just remember it; we recorded it once or twice but it's rare and it's
a really smart thing to do. we've done that in the past but chances are we've
recorded just times we've played and then never played those things again. it's
funny because you go back and listen to some of those tapes and they're really
good. at the time you think, ah this is crap, you know. then you go back and
listen to it and you can't remember how to play it.
r: you need to be objective towards what you've done.
e: yeah. but i mean, the stuff that's on the record and the bulk of what were
playing now, it's taken us a year to write, like over a year, maybe 14 months of
going through the process of like...
r: ...constantly changing...
e: yeah. now it's at the point where most of it's done and that's why we're
tired of it now 'cause its more locked in now. at the beginning all we had were
the changes and the basic riffs and maybe a couple things that someone always
did, and then we got more things like that and they became parts and then...
maybe last spring i think, we were all really into it and reached this perfect
level of like being chaotic but together, and then after going on tour
especially and playing the same thing every night, it became what we didn't want
it to be... it never used to be that, people would go: "you're supposed to do
this on this part right" and then "i was listening for your thing", you know we
never had that problem before and lately that's been a problem. that's why we're
taking a break for a couple a months just to clear our heads and come back to do
it again and start the whole process again.
d: i don't think we ever intended to put out a record and we certainly never
intended to put out a record that people actually listen to and we never
intended to be a band that would play all the time. it was never supposed to be
any of those things and the trap when you start playing all the time, you end up
not listening to what other people are playing. you just focus more and more on
what you're playing, what your defined parts are and you play those parts but
you don't listen anymore. that's a real problem. once we were on tour and
playing all the time we ended up basically playing the same parts most of the
time and listening less to what other people would play.
e: it's hard because last year we weren't really talking about that. i remember
saying that we figured it out right 'cause we all come from bands that were
playing straight songs and getting sick of playing the same shit every night you
know and we'd start reaching a point where we were like: "we beat it! we've
beaten the equation! we'll never get bored!" and four months later we're like:
"ah fuck! it's awful man" so we have to go back and figure out again how to keep
things interesting and opened but with a bit of a structure.
r: what band where you in before? i know someone's been in bliss? you were
d: yeah but that's a totally different thing.
r: i know, completely. well, the sound of the music...
d: ah, everything about it, it's just us.
m: what about you (thierry)? were you in any other bands?
t: i was in and out of little rock-pop trios - nothing incredibly consequential.
short, very short relationships.
it's what unfortunately often happens with Montreal bands.
d: it's hard to play with people. it is, i mean, i think this is a real rarity
for me where this is the first time in my entire life i'm playing in a band that
i've actually liked the people that i've played with, and actually felt a
connection to them, you know, and i think it's really hard to actually connect
to people not on musical but also personality, to sort of sustain a relationship
over a long period of time especially doing things where, like, when you're
creating something and kinda putting it out and then people are gonna say
something about it and i don't know, it's hard to say... you just feel really
exposed all the time.
r: it's really personal to do that.
e: there's also just a lot of bullshit all the time.
r: with people?
e: not in the band, i mean like outside of the band.
t: that, like, inevitably take a toll on the band. like external forces that you
have no control over that are doing things to you. not even you know
premeditated things or anything but it takes a toll for sure, you know...
r: on your album, there are pieces recorded from '93 to '97, right?
e: yeah most of it was recorded last spring ('97) but a lot of the tape loop
stuff and four-track stuff was from the last five years.
r: like the ambient parts?
e: yeah, with some of it, it's obvious that it's not the whole band, it's
r: these are parts that you played before the show also?
e: yeah some of the material is tape loop stuff that we use for the shows.
r: and the voice-over at the beginning of the f#a# lp, is that the same person
that was speaking at the show you did with the silver apples (which is at the
beginning of the third track on the f#a# cd)?
d: no completely different. the spoken text piece from the record efrim wrote.
it's a friend of his and the thing we played at the silver apples was just this
guy that we met in providence when we were on tour. we're all pretty into just
taking a tape cassette thing and recording sounds. just people talking to people
and recording stuff. we're all pretty compulsive archivists here so that's it,
we met him in providence, and efrim and I just talked to him on the street.
r: so the guy just improvised?
e: we were just asking him questions and he was just answering.
r: so its kind of a montage?
e: no it's the whole interview thing, whatever ten minutes of us sitting on a
sidewalk asking questions and him answering so we cut little pieces out but for
the most part, it's a real-time interview. i think we took three minutes out of
d: it's something we've been trying to write music to; that's sort of what we
were trying to do with that show; that's just something we kind of came up with
on the fly. we were really tired of playing everything we'd been playing and we
were writing some music to that piece of spoken text.
r: and you didn't use that piece of spoken text at isart? (new year's eve)
d: no (laugh)
r: 'cause you did the same song...
d: we were going to but efrim had a bit of an accident, he fell down the stairs
with some tape decks so they weren't working that night.
r: so the tape is lost now?
e: no the tape is fine but the tape decks are not fine.