“We’re only 25, 26 years old but that’s old in band years. We have to get shit going. There’s no time to waste,” says Atsuko Chiba member Karim Lakhdar, beer in hand as Foreigner’s ‘Hot-Blooded’ blasts through the speakers of le Bar de Courcelle. Bandmates Eric Shafhauser and David Palumbo nod sombrely in agreement, knowing full well that neither of them consider this project to be ‘just some band’ that will eventually break up after a few years, but rather, their shared passion; their baby; what they hope to make their livelihood in the near future.
While the Montreal-based experimental band has only been active since about 2011, they have already produced three impressive EPs – their latest effort Jinn having been released independently last year. Inherently experimental, Jinn blends the genres of post-rock, punk, and psychedelic rock to make something unique – each song blending seamlessly from one to the next. With no lead singer or singular frontman, Atsuko Chiba functions as one unit, all five members (the other two being Anthony Piazza and Kevin McDonald) functioning together to create a moody, almost transcendental atmosphere.
Formed almost entirely of alumni from Concordia’s electroacoustics program, the band have their sights set on a common goal: not to play Madison Square Garden or sell a million albums (although both might be nice), but to hone their craft and make some stellar music along the way. While there have been a few bumps in their career so far – namely the death of their first touring van, affectionately named Bertha – Atsuko Chiba are a band that know what they want.
It’s about taming your ego – making sure that the end result is better than what you’re doing alone. Because by itself, [the music] doesn’t stand.
The Main: If you could sum up the overarching concept of Jinn in one word, what would it be?
Dave: [laughs] It would probably be the word ‘Jinn.’ What it means, very loosely, is the concept of free will, and how these little beings – or forces – guide your every move by influencing your existence. Basically it puts free will and thought into question, and if you’re actually doing things because you want to, or because the forces around you are making you do it. We don’t use the concept specifically in terms of lyrics, since our lyrics are very few and far apart, but it was more instilled to create that we were going for.
The Main: Have you ever toyed with the idea of incorporating a singer into the group?
Dave: To be honest, we’re five people in the band at this point, and I feel like five is the perfect amount. It would be a whole other crazy headache to have another person incorporated into the madness. A lot of the time a sound for a synth or something will take the place of vocals anyways.
Eric: I don’t think we’d say no if some person would come along and blow our minds though.
Karim: Like a singer who can play a mean trumpet solo at the same time or something would be amazing. Love the fucking trumpet.
Dave: Yeah, or a good sax solo now and again would be fucking sweet.
The Main: Your songs don’t seem to end on a single note, but rather trail on into the next. Do you find it difficult to market your music in the ‘iTunes’ era, where singles are more valued than complete albums to the general public?
Eric: Yeah of course.
Karim: Yeah, but we like the concept of nothing being separate – that everything generally comes from the same place. We like the idea of weaving everything together. So yes, we could break it down into different songs, but we try not to think about that too much…but if we happen to write a two-minute pop song, that’s fine too [laughs].
Dave: I think that the bands that we all generally tend to like are ‘album bands,’ like Mars Volta, and Pink Floyd, and other bands that write these types of albums.
Eric: Really it just boils down to how we feel in the moment. We write whatever we really want to write.
The Main: Does having a background in electroacoustic studies give you a leg up on the competition?
Karim: Not necessarily. As a musician you just need to be aware of sound as ‘music’ and not just ‘sound.’
Eric: What helped us a lot was that we ended up recording our album at Concordia, using their studios and their facilities, and ended up engineering our sessions by ourselves pretty much – along with the sixth unofficial member of our band who helped us a lot.
Dave: We’re doing everything ourselves pretty much, so we’re learning everything from the ground up.
Karim: Exactly, it’s just technical. Through the program I can describe sound in very specific terms, but you can be creative with sound whether you know about the technical or not. People who experimented with sound usually weren’t even composers or anything – just people who had a creative drive.
The Main: When do you know that a song is finished?
Dave: You don’t know that you finish it until the day you press the ‘bounce’ button. Actually, you know what, the song is only ever finished when the band breaks up and they never play it again.
Karim: Unless we do something like ‘The Wall’ tour and revive it [laughs]. There are different stages of ‘done.’ A song could be ‘done’ for the next album, or ‘done’ for the next few shows, but overall everything will keep multiplying and changing so it’s never really truly ‘done.’
Dave: Overall a song will always keep evolving, and hopefully in five years or so we’ll be able to play these songs better than we do now. As long as we’re moving forward.
The Main: What is Room 11?
Eric: That’s our jam space – the complex is called the Mothership actually. Room 11 was in our old pad, but kind of stayed as the concept of our writing process. Coincidently, when we moved into the Mothership we found out there were a lot more rooms.
Karim: Like 30 rooms?
Eric: Something like that.
Dave: But we moved into room ‘K’ which was the 11th room. It’s kind of the unofficial name of our jam space.
The Main: Where is it?
Eric: It’s in the St-Michel, Villeray area.
Karim: It’s a pretty sketch area [laughs].
Dave: Not the space though.
Karim: No, it’s probably the best jam space you’ll find in Montreal. The owners are awesome, it’s well-priced, and has a good community vibe.
Eric: No one’s there to fuck around.
The Main: So no musty smell or styrofoam bits falling from the ceiling?
Karim: Well sometimes when you don’t turn on the fan for a few months, then yeah [laughs].
Karim: We work very well together. We all have a similar goal for what we want out of the music – everyone’s in the same headspace.
Eric: We’ve trained ourselves to be a bit less stubborn in that sense.
Dave: Simplicity is key in the studio.
Karim: But simplicity entails complexity as well. It’s about taming your ego – making sure that the end result is better than what you’re doing alone. Because by itself [the music] doesn’t stand.
The Main: What are your side jobs aside from the band?
Dave: Well Anthony and I work at Apple, in the back, as inventory guys basically. It’s pretty chill, we don’t have to deal with any crazy clients – except when we step out for a bit and they all kind of…attack.
Eric: I’m a sales and service on the road for hardware companies.
Karim: Yeah if you need this guy to install a faucet, this is your guy!
Dave: It’s all about Delta appliances, man.
Karim: I work for The Bank of Montreal…I mostly teach old people how to do online banking. Our other bandmate Kev installs industrial-sized batteries.
Eric: Yeah no AA Duracell shit.
Karim: You could power a nuclear warhead with those batteries.
The Main: So in 10 years we’ll have another conversation, maybe at the Ritz – babes in the hot tub next to us – joking about how you used to install faucets and batteries for a living.
Dave: [Laughs] hopefully that happens.
Karim: Maybe Brian Eno will be there.
Eric: Not in the hottub.
Karim: Yeah I don’t want to share it with him. He’s a great artist, but —
Eric: I’d probably go in the sauna with him.
Karim: I didn’t even know you liked those things!
Dave: We’d probably smoke a cigar, have a whiskey or something instead.