Who are Library Voices? They are a seven-piece pop group from Saskatchewan whose new album Summer of Lust should be popping up on a number of Best of 2011 lists. They are fun-loving literary types who will probably kick your ass at shot chess. They write with one foot in the 1960s and the other in the not-too-distant future. In short, they’re a bit like Vampire Weekend, except that they’re Canadian and don’t give you a mild urge to punch them in the face.
As they endeavour to spread their name (memorably misremembered by a friend-of-a-friend as “The Shushing Librarians”), the live act should help. Library Voices bring serious weapons-grade energy to every show. Eoin Hickey-Cameron (above: top centre), for example, isn’t a bassist out of Central Casting lurking in the corner in a hoodie. He’ll jump up on a monitor or kick drum, get soaked with sweat by the end of the third song, trade stupid faces with the sax player, flop his hair back and forth like a really gross shampoo commercial—and there are seven of these guys. The notoriously dance-averse Horseshoe crowd at their recent Toronto show even showed moments of bopping and swaying, if not, you know, actual dancing.
I sat down with 28.6% of the band, namely songwriter/synth player Mike Dawson and guitarist Brennan Ross (above: far right and far left, respectively), to talk about audiobooks and how to get kicked out of one’s apartment.
Josh: How’s the tour been so far?
Brennan Ross: It’s great. It’s hard to really tell when it started—it’s been sort of perpetually going on. We went out to Victoria and Halifax and back, we’re starting to go into the States.
Josh: How do you find it touring in the States as a Canadian band?
Mike Dawson: It’s sort of like starting over. We’ve been feeling really well accepted when we meet people down there, when they discover our band, but people aren’t aware. In Canada people are a little spoiled because having access to bands from the States is second nature. They might as well be from down the road. It’s not the case the other way round—because there are so many incredible bands in the States, they’re not always so aware of what’s going on in Canada. So in that capacity it sort of feels like a first tour sometimes, building crowds and meeting people, sleeping on the floor at the sound guy’s house. With his six roommates. But it’s awesome. It helps you keep yourself in check.
Brennan: Mike’s right. You get spoiled up here, and then you play for, what, 25 people in some places?
Josh: The people in the front row don’t know the lyrics anymore.
Brennan: Right. We might get a little bummed if there aren’t a whole bunch of people there, but we also might get to do something we wouldn’t regularly get to do, because there’s no expectations. We’ll drag out the middle of one song for five minutes just to try it out. You get to sort of experiment and, you know, be back in that place again. It’s nice.
Mike: We’ve been really enjoying it. Some of our funnest shows have been on this tour and we’ve met some amazing people. That’s just the first little bit of it. We’re headed back down again next week and we’ll do some more stuff in the new year. So it’s not something to complain about. Keeps yourself in line.
Josh: Your new album, Summer of Lust. Where does that name come from?
Mike: I have… no idea. Well, I kind of do, in the back of my head. When we first started the band, we looked toward a lot of ’60s pop as an influence, how they were so loose with instrumentation. We grew up with this rigid and naïve and kind of embarrassing mindset where you’ve got two guitars, bass, and drums, and adding anything else is totally left field. But you get a little older and revisit those records and you realize there’s any instrument you could imagine in there, and your ears just kind of washed over it when you were a kid. I’ve always had this ’60s pop thing in the back of my head, and in the new record we pursued more Motown things as well in terms of what we were listening to.
So that’s one part of it. I also was hoping to make a record that felt on the cusp of being… embarrassingly modern, I guess? Something that will feel dated eventually, but in a way that down the road we’ll look at it half in jest and half with nostalgia. So there you go. It’s a modern play on the summer of love.
Brennan: And it sounds good.
Mike: Yes. It sounds good. It’s catchy.
Josh: Your lead singer Carl mentioned on stage that the video for ‘Generation Handclap’ had gotten him kicked out of his apartment.
Mike: Yeah. Well, I think it was a handful of things.
Brennan: It was a lot of things.
Mike: Never got a clear-cut explanation. [Laughs] The video was probably the final straw. We shot it ourselves at his house, the landlord saw it eventually down the road, and… that was that.
Josh: That video does make Regina seem like a lot of fun.
Brennan: It can be, yeah.
Josh: What can you say about it as a town to grow up in, to develop in as a band?
Mike: Well, about five of us grew up in Estevan, which is two hours south and quite a bit smaller—just over ten thousand people. Growing up there was the same as anywhere, you know? You discover a culture of people who are drawn to the same things and you learn to share music. We all sort of traveled around and ended up in Regina.
Brennan: We also happened to grow up in Estevan at a time when there were a whole bunch of kids into music, and they all sort of migrated to bigger centres.
Josh: And ended up in your band.
Brennan: Yeah, a lot of them did! I’m not sure if that exists in Estavan still. Maybe?
Mike: We’re so far removed at this point that I’m not even sure what genre they’re pursuing there now. Maybe there’s a big hip-hop scene. No idea.
Brennan: But being from Estevan is…
Mike: …it’s not really a liberal culture.
Brennan: Right. You should get a job out on the rigs, mostly. That’s success there.
Mike: There is a great music community in Regina, though, and I think it’s starting to get more recognition now. I’m not sure what took so long.
Josh: You have songs like ‘The Prime Minister’s Daughter’ that are political and very specific. Do you set out to write a political song, or a literary one, or does it come up out of the songwriting?
Mike: Yeah, no, there was no schema of what I wanted to get across with that one. When we finished—well, not even finished—when we set out to write this record, Carl [Johnson] was like, “Hey, what’s the new record going to be about?” I hadn’t really thought about it. When you write enough stuff in a lump, it’s inevitable that one song is going to carry through to fill out the next one. It’s hard to not care about the arts or even care about social policy in any capacity and not feel affected by those decisions. There are all sorts of things that are pertinent to our lives, but I don’t set out to write a political song per se.
Josh: What was your last album Denim on Denim about, then?
Mike: Well, there’s a lot of reference to the concept of the end of the world and just how preposterous that is, and the acts of recognizing and celebrating life. Sometimes it feels like a really negative record listening back to it, but that was sort of the theme with it. Partly it was that and partly the pursuit of love and running away from it when you find it. This cat and mouse game that runs through our lives. That kind of thing.
Josh: So ‘Generation Handclap’. It’s a party song that kind of makes fun of party people, calling them “generation drunk-text.” Do you mean it to be particularly contradictory like that, or maybe just cynical?
Mike: I didn’t mean it to be. The first reviews that came out did comment on this juxtaposition of cheerful music with really negative lyrics. I have a fairly dry sense of humour and I sometimes forget that out of context it can sound so negative. They’re just observations. I think anyone who’s engaged in that lifestyle—you know, late 20s-early 30s, digging music—sort of gets where it’s coming from. The generation of immediacy. Right now, I mean, my phone keeps resetting and it’s driving me crazy.
Josh: Like, rebooting on its own?
Mike: Yeah. In the scheme of life, it’s pretty much one degree away from teleporting me, and I’m wound up because it shuts off sometimes?
Josh: First world problems.
Brennan: That’s right. With a hashtag. #firstworldproblems.
Josh: One more thing. What’s up with the intro and outro?
Brennan: In the van we have Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything on audiobook, read by Simon Vance. We’d be doing late drives, and we’d be listening to it, and it was just the most soothing yet dry and witty British sort of voice. I think it was Paul who had the idea, “Hey, we should get that guy to talk on our record.” And then Mike, being the guy that makes things happen, made it happen.
Mike: And going back to Generation Handclap—the way that he reads that book, and how it’s this combination of stone-cold fact with hints of humour? I think his dry, satirical voice sets a great tone for the record.
Brennan: [British accent] “Imagine, if you can… but of course you can’t.”
Tags: Library Voices