Named after the frontman’s initials and a tongue-in-cheek nod from friends, PS I Love You are bringing blistering rock back into Canadian music. With shredding solos in searing anthems, Paul Saulnier modestly forges his way through his garage-inspired tunes. Benjamin Nelson – a former bandmate of Saulnier’s from Magic Jordan – joined as the drummer in 2008, and the two have been tearing through live sets together since.
Locals and university students of Kingston, ON may remember Paul Saulnier from the Sleepless Goat, a local favourite café, also a worker’s co-operative and overall cool joint. Saulnier is no longer a member of the co-op, owing to a busy schedule: the duo are embarking on their first cross-Canada tour in support of their upcoming debut LP, Meet Me at the Muster Station, set for release by Paperbag Records on October 5.
Ca Va Cool sat down with Sarnier in front of the Horseshoe Tavern before an electrifying show with The Mystery Jets, to discuss gear, glam rock, and gun-wielding bank robbers.
Sabrina: Everything kicked into high gear since the 7″ with Diamond Rings. How did you start working with him?
Paul Saulnier: I met John O’Regan when he was playing with The D’Urbervilles. We opened for them at a show at the Grad Club once. We became friends instantly, and wanted to put out some material together.
Sabrina: Then Pitchfork picked up on it a little while later.
Paul: Yeah, they picked up on his video right away. It took them a few months to flip the record, then they reviewed us. It worked out really well.
Sabrina: They gave you a pretty glowing review. It’s funny the time that lapsed between flipping the record, though.
Paul: It worked out, though. Because then we were never really overshadowing each other.
Sabrina: It gave you some time to build momentum as well.
Paul: Yeah, it came out in August of 2009. The EP was first released locally in 2008 just in Kingston with homemade CD-R copies. Then we released it this summer worldwide in digital format.
Sabrina: : Now your new album – Meet Me at the Muster Station – that’s out in October. The name of this album, is this a reference to your East Coast heritage with boating safety?
Paul: It is a reference to boating, but it’s specifically about the Wolfe Island Ferry in Kingston. Its where everyone goes to get on the lifeboats when the boat is sinking. The station on the ferry is right at the front of the boat, and there are some steps you can go up and chill. It’s a really good spot.
Sabrina: Have you played the Wolfe Island Festival before?
Paul: Yes, we’ve played it twice as PS I Love You, and Benjamin and I played once as our old band, Magic Jordan. I’ve played it with the Nick Worby band too.
Sabrina: Now, I was reading somewhere about you and Benjamin and your relationship was described as “frenemies”, but without an explanation.
Paul: Oh yeah, I think that’s just a reference to how it took us a while to become friends. We knew who each other were before we actually knew each other. Small town dynamics, it took time for us to actually talk to each other. There was some mutual standoffishness, we were a bit aloof. The term “frenemies”, I’m not entirely sure where that came from.
Sabrina: Probably a blog.
Paul: (Laughs) Yeah, probably! I don’t remember saying that. It was in the Eye Weekly interview.
Sabrina: I read your section on mixtapes and I’m also a big fan of music organizing. What is the best mix you’ve ever made?
Paul: It all depends on the situation. I have an unreleased PS I Love You mixtape which is really good. Probably the best one I ever made, though it was for a friend a few months ago. It was all over the place, with some old old rock and roll, and some weird punk rock, and some metal, some rap. But it all went together really nicely. And I made it with two turntables and had a mixer out to a tapedeck recording it. Then I threw in some detuned radio static between some of the songs.
Sabrina: Very professional. I have another question about you and Benjamin. When PS I Love You started, it was a solo project, correct?
Paul: I’ve been playing solo shows casually for about 4-5 years. And Ben joined me in early 2008.
Sabrina: Was it difficult to go from having the music directly under your control to adding a drummer?
Paul: Oh, it was super easy. Benjamin as a musician is really relaxed, and as a drummer he has a kind of constancy. He plays a beat and he can keep playing it without changing. The momentum is better than what I was doing solo with the Casio and a bunch of guitar pedals, which I always had a bunch of technical problems with.
Sabrina: Probably a lot with a live set too.
Paul: Yeah, and I used to have a lot of looping pedals and keyboards too. I’ve dropped all of that in favour of a simpler approach. Instead of looping now, I just play the guitar really loud. And I play a bass organ by foot.
Sabrina: The guitar in ‘Get Over’ really struck me, it’s a driving, crunchy feel – almost sounds like a metal video game. Do you find that because you have a large range of noises that you’re making out of the guitar that you have to play with the sounds a lot or is it fairly natural?
Paul: Well, I’ve been playing the electric guitar for a long time and I pretty much know exactly what I want to do at certain points. The sound that you’re talking about is because I was using a specific effects pedal, its called an Optic Multiplexer, to get really nerdy. And I turn my amp up really loud so that it overdrives in a certain way, so that it sounds nasty but driving at the same time.
Sabrina: What piece of musical equipment would you be lost without?
Paul: I think the most important thing would be my pedal bass. It’s basically an analogue synthesizer but it only has two octaves and its in the bass register, and it’s like a keyboard. It’s kinda like the third member of the band. Our live show would lose a lot of its depth and low-end sound.
Sabrina: Did you pick it up a long time ago?
Paul: I bought it around ten years ago. A friend of mine in Kingston owns a vintage guitar store, and he has a knack for finding weirdo gear. He sold it to me for about $50. That one has since died, but after a lot of eBay searching, I found a new one. I guess my guitar is pretty special too, but I could always get another guitar. The bass is a lot more difficult to track down.
Sabrina: I read somewhere that you write your songs around the guitar shredding. Do you tend to start from the solos and work from there? Or do you have solos in mind and fit them into songs?
Paul: Solos kinda happen over time. Sometimes when I play live it’s different every night. Whatever happens, happens. Even when I record, I don’t exactly know what it’s going to be. Most songs start with a melody on the guitar, and then I play chords with the melody fitting underneath.
Sabrina: You’ve played a variety of other music, would you ever see yourself going into something different again? Like a mellow folk group or something?
Paul: I’m more comfortable in a louder, electric scenario. I can’t see myself ever going folky. If I was going to do something mellow, it would be a loud drone band.
Sabrina: The other song that I was really intrigued with off the new album is ‘Breadends’. I interpreted it as a scolding of a crime figure. Was there a real-life influence for the song or is it fictional?
Paul: It’s based on a guy that I know in Kingston. He’s much older than me, I met him at work. He’s a crazy funny guy, and we became casual friends, then I found out he used to be a serial bank robber. It just blew my mind. You think you know somebody! And I still know him, and I think he’s a good guy, but it’s bizarre to find out about someone’s serious past. When I would see this guy at the cafe, he would say hi to me and be all nice and funny, and I would try to imagine what it would be like if he came in with a gun and robbed us. The song doesn’t go too much into detail about his backstory, because I didn’t necessarily want to tell the story. I just picked some random sentiments and sentences about it and strung it together.
Sabrina: I’ve never seen you perform as PS I Love You, but I’ve heard about the mask that you wear.
Paul: I used to switch it up all the time. Lately I haven’t been doing it at all.
Sabrina: Why did you do it in the first place?
Paul: I wanted to put on the most entertaining show possible. That harkens back to when it was only me on stage. I wanted to stand out and impress people.
Sabrina: Were you referencing anything specific?
Paul: Well, I basically wanted to be an over-the-top, sad, glam rock clown. I drew a stormcloud where my brain is, and lightning bolts coming down from my eyes. I would often wear this design in face paint, which would melt into my eyes. So then I made a mask out of pop bottles and tin foil, but it always got tangled up in the microphone. The whole thing ended up distracting me from the actual execution of music playing. So I’ve put it on hold for now and have gotten comfortable with not worrying about it.
Sabrina: It’s probably quite a bit different now that you’re touring and not just playing in Kingston, where you have a smaller group of dedicated concertgoers. Is this the first, big tour for the group?
Paul: Yes, it’s exciting. I might bust out the mask again at some point, we’ll see.
Catch PS I Love You at their next Toronto show: October 26 at the Garrison.
Tags: PS I Love You