Interview: Ought

Left to Right: Tim Beeler, Ben Stidworthy,Tim Keen, Matt May

Just like Eminem’s character Stan out of, well, ‘Stan’, I’ve just realised that I’m “supposed to send this shit out”…

It’s been a fair while since I interviewed Ought and watched them play a show at the Brudenell (where else?) in Leeds. In the meantime there’s been essays, dissertation work, a trip to France, and a christmas holiday. Oh an plenty of job applications (eurggghh don’t talk to me about the future). But luckily for me the combination of a truly memorable show and a voice recording of the interview have come to my rescue…

But first a brief introduction. Ought are a band formed in Montreal and have gained a lot of attention recently for their debut release “More Than Any Other Day”. They’ve been compared to a whole host of other artists, from Talking Heads to the Violent Femmes (although the band informed me that this was entirely coincidental), and for me are one of the most exciting break-out acts 2014 has had to offer.

…anyway…

My first interview, questions written in a Pukka Pad on the train there, answers recorded on my brother’s phone…

A quick anecdote about the phone: my phone can’t record sound unless I take a video, so I borrowed my brother’s. When the time came for the interview I was guided backstage by a tall North American guy (their manager?), whilst my brother was left underage on his own in the bar. Backstage was a pretty unglamorous room with a few chairs, a box of Yorkshire Tea and a Kettle. My first question to the band: “Do you mind if I go back to the bar to find my brother?, his phone has gone onto the lock screen and I don’t know the pin”…

After an embarrassing shuffle back into the room I poured myself a hot drink (which remained untouched for the duration of the interview, more of a prop I guess…). The band were friendly, I was quite grateful that they didn’t shit all over my probably very shitty questions, and it was, to be honest, an honour to be able to exchange words with a band whom I admire. They’re a new band, ‘More Than Any Other Day’ being their debut LP, and I can see a bright future for them. Maybe they’ll make it big (probably more a ‘Pavement” than a ‘Beatles’) and it’ll be one to tell the grandkids… anyway the interview:

Me: I just want to check something, whether this is right, ok, so I’ve got your Wikipedia page up here. Did you know you have one?

Tim Keen: We found that out kind of recently

Me: I just want to test, so Tim Beeler guitars and vocals *Tim puts his hand up*, Matt May Keyboards *”yes”*, Ben Stidwokrthy Bass *”absent”*, and Tim Keen Drums and Violin *nods*

So It’s right, that’s one thing.

It’s like a thousand typewriters and a thousand monkeys type of thing

…So the first thing I want to ask you is about the sound. The first time I heard the album it was the sound that attracted me to the music. It’s sort of this, I know you’re from Montreal, but it’s this sort of dirty New York seventies feeling sound. Is that something you were going for? Or is it just accident?

Matt May: Not deliberately, definitely

TK: I don’t think we’ve ever really gone for anything with any real level of precision

Tim Beeler: We didn’t know what we were doing. I think you’re giving us too much credit

Me: I’ve seen everywhere comparisons to Talking Heads etc., I think it’s mostly the vocal delivery that causes this

TK: I think it’s like a thousand typewriters and a thousand monkeys type of thing, you know

Me: So its not something you went for at all?

TK: No

Me: I also like the fact that the songs aren’t necessarily straightforward rock songs, there’s a lot of distortion and a lot of other things in there, was that intentional? Are you not a fan of the conventional rock song?

MM: Again, not deliberately. I think we just wanted to play off each other and a lot of that is just us challenging ourselves to do that…but it wasn’t like antagonistic, just straightforward, at all, that’s just what happens when four of us get into a room, that’s like the mean point of what we’re going for

I definitely can’t read sheet music, that was a joke…I’m sorry.

Me: the Vocals are quite odd as well, (to Tim Beeler) do you write them yourself?

TB: The Lyrics

MM: But I write the vocal melodies

TB: Matt composes them and I come in and read them as sheet music

Me (unaware that this was a joke…): so you can play, you can read sheet music…

TB: I definitely can’t read sheet music, that was a joke…I’m sorry

TK: I take the sheet music, read the sheet music, translate it to tabs

Me: So how did you get into music?, did you have lessons?

TK: I read a lot of sheet music, I went to music school, I was a classical violinist

MM: I took piano lessons when I was younger, and I really liked that, it was like a very informal thing

Me: You’re based in Montreal right? but I saw somewhere that none of you are actually from Canada

TB: Matt, Ben and I are from the States

TK: And I’m Australian

Me: So how did you end up in Montreal?

TK: We just went to school there

For the ‘Pleasant Heart’ video we were listening to it and we were like ‘wooah that’s a little different than we planned it out’

Me: So when you recorded the album were there some tracks that you knew straight away that you were more proud of?

TB: Well we’ve been playing them for a long time, we played a lot of live shows before we recorded the album and we actually recorded most of them before this in another studio and Tim mixed it and did a fabulous job. And then when we were approached by Constellation we were given the option to try re-recording them

Me: But are there certain songs on the album, certain tracks that you’re more proud of?

MM: I think it fluctuates, obviously, I mean I haven’t actually sat down and listened to it in a while

TK: I don’t think I could listen it

MM: It’s just funny because every once in a while we will put a song on or like when we have a video of something, like for the ‘Pleasant Heart’ video (seen here: http://vimeo.com/107832781), we were listening to it and we were like ‘wooah that’s a little different than we planned it out’. For me it comes out when we’re writing the setlist, I think about the songs as they are on the record as much, as much as like ‘what do I feel like playing today?’, ‘like today I really want to do this one’

Me: So the videos then, how much input do you have on them?

MM: Well I guess its mostly just been like people who’ve approached us and say like ‘we want to make a video’ and we’re like ‘sweet’. That being said the ‘Pleasant Heart’ video Tim did like a lot of work to put it together

TK: I mean I made one of the videos

MM: We made “The Weather Song” one, yeah

TK: with help from the ckut people, like they filmed it and cut it together. It’s basically been close friends and people who’ve approached us and had like an insight into the song or like they’ve particularly wanted to work with a particular median or like in a particular way, which has been pretty cool. It hasn’t just been like us contacting some random people

We like to do the thing that we do without fear… It’s not the case that you get a good review and suddenly you’re like ‘private jets, big screen rooms, loads of people at all of your shows’, like you still have to do a shit-ton of work each week.

Me: Obviously ‘More Than Any Other Day’ got Pitchfork Best New Music, so you notice any sort of popularity bump after that?

TB: What’s Pitchfork? (This time I can tell it’s a joke)

MM: I feel like it definitely helped, it seems like it’s brought more people out to our music

Me: But like do you listen to that at all?, is it just about playing things that you want?

TK: Well what difference could it make?, it’s not like we saw that and we were like ‘shit we’ve got to make a different record now’, it’s like we made that music and it’s great that someone likes it, like ‘tick, that’s good’, but we like to do the thing that we do without fear. It helps and it doesn’t help. It’s not the case that you get a good review and suddenly you’re like ‘private jets, big screen rooms, loads of people at all of your shows’, like you still have to do a shit-ton of work each week. It’s definitely nice that people like it, but it doesn’t pave the road with gold or anything

The record is just like a snapshot of us playing the songs at a particular point in time

Me: Ok, so let’s talk live shows, Have you ever toured Europe before?

MM: We did in August for about two and a half weeks

Me: was that all around Europe?

TB: It was just festivals

Me: where’s like your favourite place you’ve played in Europe?

TB: It could be tonight, we’ll see our reception

MM: It’s funny because we tend not to see very much of places we play. The Vienna show was really crazy though, that one for me was like totally unexpected. I arrived and I was like ‘this is a sweet room’ but I didn’t expect that many people to come, it was packed and it had super good energy

Me: And what do you make of the Brudenell?

TB: Yeah it’s great, it seems really cool, it seems like a great way for a lot of people ot see the stage without a huge tiered room

Me: And the drinks are cheap…So when you play the songs live is there anything you add?

TK: Sure the songs sound a bit different, there are things we stretch out a little differently. The record is just like a snapshot of us playing the songs at a particular point in time and they’ve definitely changed a little bit since we did the record…so yeah there’s some stuff we change

[For Constellation Records] doing really high quality vinyl has been their game, something they’ve really cared about from the beginning

Me: OK, so a random question now. I bought your record on vinyl, are you aware of the current resurgence in the popularity of vinyl , is it something you try to push for from your end?

TB: It’s something that Constellation has just stayed the steady course with. I know that like doing really high quality vinyl has been their game, something they’ve really cared about from the beginning and I feel like the demand for vinyl fell off and then came back and met them. But it’s great that they stood the course, producing 180 gram, which is great because it’ll last like forever

Me: And do you get any say on how the album’s released? like the cover art and the packaging

MM: Yeah like the cover art’s our covert art and the packaging, like all the pictures on the inside, is us too

The price of a show is the price to get us physically on a plane to here

Me: And then how much say do you tend to get on the price of merchandise, the price of albums, the price of shows?

TK: It’s kind of dictated by the cost of making the thing. I think for someone to have a say in that sort of thing would require much higher margins that what we have. Everything is sort of operating on barely a shoe string, the price is the price that’s required to make the vinyl and bring it to you, or the price of a show is the price to get us physically on a plane to here

Me: So what’s been big this year for you in terms of music you’ve listened to, music that you’ve seen live?

TB: We’ve only really seen the bands that we’ve played with, but yeah we’ve played with some great people

MM: I feel like a lot of music that I’ve been listening to is a lot of Montreal bands, a lot of our friends and like that sort of stuff is really great and really inspiring and nice to listen to when you’re away. The label Double Double Whammy has put out some really awesome stuff, Exploding in Sound another one

Me: And when you playing festival do you get much chance to see other acts there, or is it like ‘arrive, play it, leave the next day’?

MM: Mostly not. Pitchfork Paris we got kinda lucky because we were the first band, so we pretty much got to see anyone we would’ve wanted to that first day. But usually you just go in and you miss everything

A rest stop where you can get more than just a cheese sandwich is great

Me: What’s the best thing about England that you’ve noticed?

TK: The tea is noticeably better

*The owner/manager of the Brudenell who’s also backstage takes this as an opportunity to lift up the box of Yorkshire Tea with pride*

I bought marmite flavoured cashews the other day, that was good.

MM: Pretty good food on stops, on rest stops

Me: Food?! (I say to my surprise)

TB: A couple of us are vegetarian so a rest stop where you can get more than just a cheese sandwich is great, but this is also the full extent of our universe, so doesn’t really expand to England as a whole

TK: If it just happened that at every rest stop our food was brought to us by a horrible racist dictatorial person, we’d be having another opinion…

Me: Alright, OK, so is there a sort of level you’ve got in sight that you want to reach in terms of popularity?, or is it sort of never having to have a real job? is that an aim?

TB: No, I mean, definitely not. In the same way that we didn’t go into knowing what our band was going to sound like with any preconceptions, we’re not really going into this with any preconceptions, and I don’t want to speak for everybody, but as long as people seem to be digging what we’re putting out and people keep wanting to see us play, we’re not going to stop playing music anytime soon.

Interview done. Lets get food before the show. Boss Burgers was a couple of minutes walk away, in a back-to-back terrace with a huge graffitied cow on the wall on the inside. I know this is a music review, but it was the best burger I’ve ever had and I feel the need to share that with the readers of the Bubble music section (so just my mum, essentially…)

Back to the Brudenell and time to watch the band I just interviewed.

I guess the most stand out feature to anyone present would be the lead singer, Tim Beeler, and his wide eyes,weird leg movements and (even if unintentional) his kooky David Byrne-esque vocal delivery style. The band around him are tight, meticulous, but fun.

They sound even better live, but I’m not quite why, perhaps the oddness is allowed that little bit extra freedom. “Habit” is without doubt the highlight of the evening, the relentless, never-ending “Beautiful Blue Skies” prompts one man to shout out repeatedly “we are not worthy!” perhaps a bit too far…but it is pretty good.

On leaving a venue I hear two lads discuss
he show. “He’s a bit like an Ian Curtis, or maybe an Iggy Pop” one of them says. I guess the comparisons to others won’t stop anytime soon, but then again these are all intended as high end compliments. Talking heads, the Stooges, Joy Division, Violent Femmes… you’re not going too wrong…

Ought at Pitchfork Paris

Leave a Reply