The age we live in today, and the age we’ll wake up in tomorrow, is an age marked by many things. Silicon, glass, concrete, smoke; ringtones and dreams; flashing lights and power failures. But for all these changes we do not have more creators than we did, one hundred years ago. We do not have more artists, more orators, more makers; not really. We send signals underground, carry transmitters in our pockets, and the sky is full of satellites – a million mirrors and relays. But for all our new technologies, we’ve not yet taught a machine to sing. To give something new and whole into the world. Ours isn’t a world of givers; it’s a place of unlimited receivers.
Montreal’s not a shrine to the high-tech – we’re a city of old walk-ups and dilapidated depanneurs. But it’s here that a band called Receivers find their genesis, and their inspiration. Our blinking skyline is as good as any other, as much a foreshadowing of the future as Receivers’ own dark, psychedelic pop.
They were formed several years ago from the cinders of a group called Marlowe, then too led by guitarist Joseph Donovan, a veteran Montreal studio-runner and producer (The Dears, Sam Roberts). Today Donovan is joined by Nicolas Cote, Howard Martin, Emilie Marzinotto and Tyson Schallmann. It’s a music that oscillates from lazy, black matte beauty to abrupt and glittering violence; chimes of synth and electric guitar alongside Marzinotto’s nightingale voice.
“Matinee” and “The Numbers” are both taken from Receivers’ upcoming debut, Consider the Ravens. It’s been a long-gestating record: subject to all the patience, care and – admittedly – perfectionism that a band-led-by-a-studio-owner can enjoy. Their live performances, once rare, are now becoming more common as the group becomes more confident in translating their studio sound into something spontaneous and fierce.
“Matinee” moves with a misleading swing, the play of the vocals undercut by guitar that’s decidedly less friendly, more wolf than red riding hood. We see this again in the predatory bassline of “The Numbers”, where stray feedback and echo lends a constant gravity to the piece – a feeling of grim inevitability as Marzinotto sings of “where winter is waiting”. At its climax the song strains skyward, beautifully, finding for a moment some beauty amid the spires and satellites. And then, of course, it ends.
I asked Donovan and Marzinotto some questions by email:
Tell me about the members of your band.
Joseph Donovan: Nico [Cote, keyboards, etc.] is quite tall, skinny and nerdy. He’s our Science and Technology Department. Howard [Martin, bass] is a rather large man… very mysterious and secretive… Lately, he’s taken to wearing black turtlenecks with a leather trench coat and army fatigues. Emilie is very punctual and most living things like her. Tyson [Schallmann, drums] is bald and German and gets pretty scary if you don’t recycle. I am, essentially, a bully.
Emilie Marzinotto: Nico usually brings cookies to practice, whatever is on sale at the Pharmaprix by his work. I always hope for maple cookies. He gives good hugs. Howard Martin is a superhero and a gentleman. Tyson Schallman is a fisherman/bear videographer. And Joseph Donovan is my big brother. [Ed: Joseph Donovan is not actually her big brother.]
Tell me about the new record.
JD: The album is entitled Consider the Ravens. It is finished. 11 tracks. Roughly 45 minutes. My band mates forced me to send it off to NYC for mastering despite the fact that, at present, we have neither a label nor a release date. This was a not particularly subtle ruse on their part to get me to stop tinkering with the mixes… The record itself was mostly recorded at my old studio, Stockmarket (in Old Montreal), and partly at the new studio: Mountain City.
EM: Joseph owns and runs the studio where we recorded it, which is very lucky. Well, let me temper that. It’s lucky for me, because Joseph takes very good care of me while recording. He knows me very very well, and so he can get the best out of me, without making me cry! It’s sometimes not always so lucky for Joseph though because it means that he can tweak and tweak and pick at the songs and the mixes until the wee hours of dawn.
But now the album is mastered and shiny. It has songs about Montreal, about waiting, about loneliness, isolation, broken women, broken hearts, narwhals, unicorns, cowboys… You know — something for everyone.
Should people listen to your music with eyes open or closed?
JD: Isn’t that kind of like taking a mid-kiss peek?
What’s the difference between playing a show in front of people and making a racket for each other in a practice space?
EM: I think the level of risk and danger that comes with stepping onto a stage really changes the songs for me. All of a sudden they’re real again and oh crap I have to sing them really well for all these strangers. Songs get played and played and played and practiced and recorded and dissected, but when we’re playing them live, I can sort of hear them for the first time again. Their purpose or original intent is renewed, and they end up sounding truer than they do when we practice. The fear and joy combo works really well on stage (and also in life, now that I think of it). There is also less cookies and more blushing at our live shows.
In what ways does your sometimes dreamlike music feel connected to the real, physical world? If you could play a show anywhere in the city – not just show venues, – where would you choose?
EM: In each of my grandparents’ backyards, in St-Leonard and Baie D’Urfe respectively. By the cross on the mountain, when it was purple of course. In an old little church by the water in Montreal-North. In the old Loew’s Theatre before it became Club Med and whatever it is now. The piano bar at Hotel de la Montagne. The planetarium.
JD: Dow Planetarium, or the Penguin Room at the Biodome.
JD: The attraction, for me, in the heritage of ambient/psychedelic/minimalist/shoegaze or just spooky pop music, is in the sense of transcendence. The physical world is full of piss and blood and noise, yes… but in the rare moments when you can catch a glimpse, those universal themes of Love and Faith and Hope or whatever, these are visceral experiences. It’s not just existential theory…
EM: When I come to Joseph with lyrics for songs I’ve written, he wants to know exactly what the song is about. He needs to know why. My lyrics tend to be less concrete; more like a series of little descriptions, thoughts or observations. Joseph steps in and connects me to the real world again, not drifting too far from the ground.
Is your music best served quiet or loud?
JD: Some of what we do is pretty quiet/mellow. But I don’t really believe in background music. That’s just irritating. Active listening required. Please use headphones.
EM: If you must listen to it quietly, get really close to the music, put your ear right up to the speakers… But loud is always better, isn’t it?
La Sala Rosa
4848 boul. St-Laurent Montreal, QC
Wednesday, November 7th
9PM with Sea Wolf and Sarah Cocheran
Receivers on MySpace
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