The G-Man Interview : w/ Elliott Brood

Welcome to the G-Man Interview! This interview is the second in a series of interviews with various artists and, after the delight that was Betty Steeles in the very first interview, I am thrilled to say that Elliott Brood are the first band to contribute to the blog.

Since the release of their debut E.P. Tin Type, the band have since released two albums : Ambassador in 2005 and, more recently, Mountain Meadows in 2008 the band currently find themselves on the shortlist for Canada's prestigious Polaris Music Prize previously won by Caribou (2008), Patrick Watson (2007) and Final Fantasy aka Owen Pallett (2006).

Casey Laforet
, the bands guitarist/vocalist/bass pedallist, very kindly took time out from preparing for the upcoming tour to answer a couple of questions....

Canada really seems to be a goldmine for quality artists (Arcade Fire, Great Lake Swimmers, The Acorn to name but a few) in recent years. Of course Canada has a history of gifting the world with talented musicians such as Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell but do ye have any idea/theory why the spotlight has been firmly focused on your homeland for the last 5/10 years?

Well we've always had superstars like Bryan Adams and Sarah Mclaughlin, Shania Twain, etc, but I think Broken Social Scene probably broke it open for the rest of us. It probably has a lot to do with the digital age and the immediate availability and sharing of music being possible. Canada has a strong tradition of storytelling and that's apparent from Neil Young and The Band all the way up to John K Samson of The Weakerthans and other contemporaries. I think there's a great diversity of quality music coming from here. You can find the best bands in any category of music coming from here. Most of the music we listen to comes from here.

You must be very proud to see bands of such quality coming to the fore on such a regular basis. The artistic competition means it really is a survival of the fittest scenario for new acts trying to mark their own patch but can only be a win-win situation for the listener and the standard of recordings with each band being pushed to go that one step further. The most dramatic example I can think of is Bob Dylan striving to better The Beatles (apparently he told them Sgt Pepper was shit on first listening to the regular “Best Album of All-Time” winning LP) while they looked on in awe at him. Would you agree that this can only be a good thing?

The more music the better in my mind. We're really fortunate to have the CBC here in Canada and they strongly support Canadian Indie music. We've personally always tried to create a performance that will be memorable. We do want to do this for life and the only way to do that is to continue writing good music and performing it well. We're really proud to say that we're a part of this Canadian music community. Even at The Polaris awards where 10 bands* were competing for top prize, it still felt like just being a part of it was the important part.

What albums are currently on the Elliott Brood playlist? Who impressed you most in 2009?

Blitzen Trapper, Avett Brothers, Midlake I think would be the top three, but I should include The Wooden Sky from right here in TO. They are friends, but simply an amazing band.

The question/argument that shows no sign of resolution is the one of illegal downloading. Personally I cannot bring myself to do it (I swear) as I still to this day absolutely love owning a physical copy of an album. On top of this I love the ritual of browsing the shelves, choosing 3 new albums, having to put 2 back as I can only afford one, getting home, ripping the plastic off and sticking the newly “found” disc on the stereo. An amazing little independent record store near my home in Cork closed its doors recently forcing home the reality that people with a similar state of mind to myself are not winning the battle. What do ye think?

Strangely enough, I think we owe a lot of our success to illegal downloading and file sharing. When you don't have a large marketing machine behind you, the best thing that can happen is people hearing your music. We make our living from touring, and 20 years ago, it would have been next to impossible for as many people to discover us. The true music lovers will always buy the "Hard Copy", and we sell most of that at our live shows and from our website. Listeners can now have a direct relationship with the bands they love through MySpace, Facebook, etc. File sharing has allowed small bands to exist and even thrive.

I think the Album Lovers will always be there. Another by-product of the downloading revolution is the return of vinyl as a popular medium. No one really wants Cds anymore. You can now press vinyl and include a digital download card so you get the artwork, and the music directly to your MP3 player. I don't think there was ever a chance of fighting the change, and that's why large labels suffered. We came in after it started, so there was no choice but to roll with it, and even take advantage of it.

Mark (Sasso) designs beautiful artwork for our records, and that is very important to a lot of people, ourselves included, but anyone who just wants to "take" the music will do it. You just have to hope they'll come to see you live. Then it's our job to get them to rave about it and bring more friends the next time. You HAVE to be a great live band now, or you're in trouble, and I think that's a good thing.

Many friends of mine say that they now attend far more gigs/shows than they ever did when they purchased cds/records and that most of the shows they never would have attended if they had not heard the band/artist first via an illegally downloaded album and also that it is in gigging/touring that bands make the most money. Would you prefer more people attending your shows if it meant that less people paid for your albums or is a balance necessary?

I guess some of that was answered in the previous question. We would much rather have people come to shows. We enjoy making records, but it doesn't even compare to a live environment. That need for the energy is why people sacrifice and leave home to do it. Music should be experienced live anyways, so I like that trend!

Your last album, “Mountain Meadows”, was released back in 2008 which seems like a long time ago now but ye have kept yourselves busy with touring that album and, of course (I had to get to it eventually), scoring the soundtrack for “Grown Up Movie Star” which will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Some of the tracks have
been taken from your albums but others were written specifically for the movie. How different was the writing/recording process compared to composing a piece of music solely for an Elliott Brood album?

It was really nice to do that kind of work. Once we saw the film, we were all really excited to create music for it. We used some stuff that was previously unreleased, but the fun part was watching the film and trying to write to the scenes. We also got to do some sound effect work which was interesting. It's something we'd definitely love to do again. If you've ever seen the film "Deadman" by Jim Jarmusch, which is a must see in my opinion, there is a video of Neil Young scoring the film. He's just watching the pictures and playing guitar to the visuals. That's the way to do it.

How comfortable were ye writing music to enhance/accompany another artists vision (director and writer Adriana Maggs)? Was it a daunting/stressful experience or would ye do it again? Who among ye most embraced the “project” with open arms so to speak?

We all loved it, and I'm sure it would have been harder if it was a paid job that our hearts weren't into. We are really proud of the work she's done. The characters in the film are so real and it's shot beautifully. We really couldn't say no. Once we agreed to give her the songs she requested, we were excited to write more for it. It would be a horrible experience to write for something you don't like I'm sure, but that wasn't the case with this film.

Checking on your myspace the tour schedule is beginning to grow. At the moment the majority of shows are booked for Canada but there is one date in the middle of September for an amazing little festival in the UK (End of the Road). Are there more shows planned for Europe this Summer and, most importantly, will there be the possibility of an Irish show in 2010?

There will definitely be more European dates, and we can hope and pray we can come back to Ireland. We played there in Kilkenny (for the Rhythm and Roots Festival) about 5 years ago and it was one of the greatest experiences of our lives. The shows there were intimate but sold out every night and the festival gave us a huge confidence boost. The UK and European tour is being put together right now, so dates will be up as we get them. I'm part Irish, so I'd love to see Dublin one driving there is a ton of fun.

The road can be both a lonely and claustrophobic place to be when you have to tour together in a bus (big or small) with the same faces (no matter how lovely!) present at all times. Camaraderie is important for a band to survive these times but bonds with support bands/co-headling acts etc. can also make the experience far more enjoyable and endurable. Are there any bands/artists, not necessarily Canadian, that ye particularly enjoy touring with? Any great stories?

The first band we ever toured with in Europe are called The Hackensaw Boys from the US. They taught us a lot about the road and they'll always be one of our favourites. We just finished a tour across North America with a band called The Wooden Sky. We just all clicked well together. Probably the most fun we've ever had on tour. It's also really great to tour with a band that challenges you and that you want to see at an after-party! There are a ton of stories but I can't tell them without approval from the people they involve. We're all still alive. We all get along surprisingly well in this band which helps a great deal.

Elliott Brood play the End of the Road festival in Dorset, U.K. in September.

Check out their website and their myspace.

*Elliot Brood, Fucked Up, Great Lake Swimmers, Hey Rosetta!, K'NAAN, Malajube, Metric, Joel Plaskett, Chad Van Gaalen & Patrick Watson