Oct. 31, 2012 - Issue #889-Human Trafficking Problem
For two previous records Rah Rah has peddled in swirls of low-fi pop and swoops of hooky rock: there's been some punch, sure, but the band's been seemingly more drawn to barroom sing-alongs than to stadium-sized anthems, targeting the back of the bar, not the upper bowl.
So the first big, crunchy chorus that hits on "Art & A Wife," the first track of The Poet's Dead, stands as an indication of just how much more muscular the Regina six-piece sounds on album number three.
"Our previous two records, they were obviously a little more lo-fi," begins drummer/bassist/vocalist Erin Passmore, on the phone from New York a few weeks back, there to play the CMJ Musical Marathon. "And [our manager] wanted us to experiment with bigger sounds. He'd been listening to the Priestess records and stuff, and was just like, 'How do we get to that volume?'"
To do so, Rah Rah let Gus Van Go and Werner F, known for helming records by the likes of Ottawa rockers Hollerado and Montréal's the Stills, produce the album. Working with the duo involved an elaborate amount of pre-production, Passmore notes, a sort of figure-it-out-first approach that all but eliminated the need for much tinkering afterwards.
"I didn't really know that that's what we were getting into, but the way that they work as far as finding a sound before you press record, fine-tuning the drums ... there's no real post-production involved," she says. "That obviously helps your performance, and that style of recording really jived with us, just 'cause we've obviously never really done that. It was nice. It was nice having that option where things could go."
Van Go and Werner also mixed the album—"they're scientists when it comes to that sort of thing," Passmore recalls—but in the downtime after recording the album last fall, Rah Rah took the winter off, scattering across the country to pursue individual projects. Passmore put out a solo EP, Downtown, that, at eight songs, seems closer to an album than an extended play.
"I call it an EP because there's no clear thematic element binding each song together," she explains.
But if Downtown is a series of disconnected songs presented by a single songwriter, Passmore praises the cohesiveness of The Poet's Dead, split as it is between the band's three main songwriters, each taking their own approach, but all exploring the consequences of making art today.
"For the songs that Marshall [Burns] sings, he deals with a lot of themes like art and what motivates a person to pursue that in a serious way, and what happens as an art form surpasses an artist: after an artist dies their art lives on," Passmore says, pointing out the title track as an example. "For me personally, a lot of the songs were just about what happens when you deal with that disconnect when you're away from home, and what happens to your relationships and your own identity, and how to be the person that you want to be when you don't have the immediate tools or the immediate comfort zones to explore that. Then Christina deals with a lot of issues of 'Is this an OK thing for me to be doing, since my family worked so hard for me to be able to do this?'—I'm not sure if it's a familial guilt, but I totally get that. Obviously all our parents are very supportive of what we do. We're all like these traveling waifs that don't have a steady income ... is this really what should be doing?"
Still, having a rotating sense of songwriting's only proven itself a good thing for the band, Passmore notes.
"I think that spending so much time together, we sort of converge in the collective writing that we do, and we're all really comfortable around each other. I think that's what you need to write a record in general: to trust everyone that you're working with and just feel really safe."
Sun, Nov 4 (8 pm)
With Plants and Animals
Starlite Room, $16
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