interview in amazeine, august 1998

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 met?

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 planned...

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 (dave)?

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 four-track stuff.

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 it.

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.

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