Montreal band discusses the importance of earnestness and resistance
Photo by Hera Chan
I’m no longer afraid to die / Cos’ that is all that I have left / Yes! Yes! / And I’m no longer afraid to dance tonight / Cos’ that is all that I have left / Yes! Yes! – Ought, “Beautiful Blue Sky”
Ought is a band from Montreal, Canada that always puts their heart on the line. We don’t place the same emotional demands on them that we place on female artists like Beyonce or Adele, yet they nevertheless succeed at deeply expressing feelings of failure, hope, and longing. They say “Yes!” instead of “yea,” and do it over a new and exciting sound.
Ought’s noisy harmonies and engaging vocals make them a band worth listening to. Their lyrics, critical internet presence, and thoughtful interview answers that analyze who they are in the world, make them a band worth really trying to figure out. Their artistic presence is bold. They do not have room for whimsical bro-dom. Fans should appreciate them for more than their dynamic post-punk sound, and know how important their role is in identifying the power and privilege in their music’s cultural context. Ought doesn’t want a pat on the back for their public politics; they want a continual conversation.
In the song “Blue Beautiful Sky” they name the parallel realities of the tools of war and our complacency: “War plane, condo, new development, oil freighter, I feel alright…” Their dissent is made more powerful by their constant critique of what beauty can look like. This coming from a group of White rock musicians in 2016 is a big deal.
While discussing their most recent album, Sun Coming Down, released on Constellation Records, Ought makes it clear that there is no monolithic idea of a “political musician.” Open hands, holding hands, and closed fists in the air are all important.
VICTORIA RUIZ: “Sun Coming Down” is an exciting album. I love the vinyl sleeve that says, “All My Cities Gonna Fall Away?” What were you all getting at with that?
TIM KEEN: Well, it’s a lyric from “On the Line.” Not being the lyricist I’m doing a little creative interpretation here, but I think the decay/decline of cities and a sort of embrace of nature seems to pop up a few times on the record. Whether that’s talking about a kind of personal respite from modernity or a more literal collapse of society is kind of up to interpretation, but I think that’s part of where the interest in the lyric lies. For my part, at least, it’s definitely not about a straightforward anarcho-primitivism, because there are all sorts of serious problems with that ideology.
Your vocals and vocal melodies are so interesting. What is your music writing process?
For the most part, up until this point, we’ve written the music through pretty long, meandering jams, which get aggressively edited until we find a few good segments or ideas. There’s then a process of trying to glue the interesting moments together into something cohesive. On the first record Tim [Darcy] essentially improvised a lot of the lyrics as we were writing the songs, and made a few edits before we played them. On the new record the bulk of the lyrics were written after the fact, which was an interesting change. We’re all pretty excited about finding ways to change up our current writing process; I think there are certain limitations to that kind of collective-based writing that we might be hitting up against. You get used to tropes of each other’s playing and it becomes harder to be inventive. So, the next record may see us using a totally different strategy, I don’t know!
You all are from Montreal, which has been in the news so much. I remember the red square, the student movement there a few years back, indigenous rights movements in Democracy Now. What is your all’s take on the power of the people “climate” there so to speak?
A large portion of the BDS movement apparently stems from Montreal too, which is something I just found out recently! I think historically Montreal has been central to a lot of Canadian radical politics; Quebec universities have gone on strike quite a few times in the past. There’s a strong tradition of radical politics in the various university. It’s important to remember that I (and we) can only really speak from experience about our tiny little (predominantly Anglophone) corner of Montreal politics. However, the past few movements that I’ve been here for—the student strike in particular—have definitely radicalized a lot people, despite those movements generally not getting their stated goals. I’m hearing more people outside of radical communities talk about Montreal police violence, which is something, at least.
I think that this radicalism feeds into our music communities in less explicit ways: while there aren’t many bands here that tackle broader political ideas explicitly, I think it’s somewhat mandatory to engage with queer and radical politics to have access to (certain) music scenes here. They feel very intertwined, which I think is a good thing.
I really appreciate your retweets on gun violence, police unions, and also the recent retweet on the article about what it means to both Black and Muslim in the critical moment we find ourselves in. Totally fine if they aren’t, but are these themes in your music at all? Do you try and use Ought as a platform for talking about this stuff?
I think these themes show up in the music in a more general, affective, way—more about being a subject in a world where these things happen than about the things themselves. I think different ways of expressing discomfort, or outrage, or alienation—from thinking about the most personal feeling to explicitly naming and discussing oppressive structures—are all part of a diversity of tactics. In the case of this band, though, I think most of the lyrical themes come from subjective experiences. it’s really nice to have social media platforms to talk about specific things or to point out work that people are doing that we think is really cool/good/special.
I think different ways of expressing discomfort, or outrage, or alienation—from thinking about the most personal feeling to explicitly naming and discussing oppressive structures—are all part of a diversity of tactics.
Why do you think it’s important to tour? What inspires you all to want to tour?
I mean, we’ve always been predominantly a live band, so touring kind of allows us to play people the songs as they were envisaged. I also love meeting and playing with other bands I care about and respect. It’s a really nice way to discover new music. Getting to create some sort of solidarity with other bands, who are all doing what’s ultimately a kind of isolating thing, is really gratifying. There’s also a financial aspect to it: touring is where bands make the most money. I think that probably explains the volume of touring, but definitely not why I’m interested in it in the first place.
Where does the album title “Sun Coming Down” come from?
it’s a lyric from the track “sun’s coming down”, which was initially a poem . I think there’s an element of personal/universal apocalypse to it, in the same vein as “all my cities gonna fall away.”