It’s said that Montreal-based band, Ought–composed of New Hampshire native Tim Darcy (guitarist and vocalist), New Jersey keyboard player Matt May, Aussie Tim Keen (drums, violin) and Portland, Oregon native Ben Stidworthy (bass)–were brought together from all parts of the world “by sense-sharpening Canadian winters and university tuition that doesn’t cost $40k a year.” Having been lured by Montreal’s thriving independent music scene, the quartet were in for a big surprise, as they were quickly and simultaneously immersed, not only in the local DIY scene, but in Quebec’s tumultuous politics.
Strongly affected by the 2012 Quebec student protests, the band set out to record their debut album, releasing two EPs prior to More Than Any Other Day in 2014. Widespread acclaim followed, and between the endless periods of touring, the Montreal outfit somehow found time to record their sophomore release, Sun Coming Down. I caught up with Tim Keen to talk about how the band came to be, their musical style and their upcoming album, out on September 18th.
Let’s talk about the beginnings of Ought. Can you tell us a bit about the band’s formation?
Tim Keen: Tim D and I had previously played together in another project, and we met Matt and Ben through mutual friends. We used to be able to practice in the house we lived in, an old apartment block on Mont-Royal, and we would play all the time. We recorded our first EP there, too.
You went from recording your debut album, to non-stop touring, to quickly jumping into the studio to record your Once More With Feeling… EP, only to jump back on the touring circuit. I can only imagine that any band would be exhausted following this. How was the success and did the hectic year take a toll on you or the band members?
TK: I mean, we didn’t (and still haven’t, really) have much time to reflect on things—we were kind of just faced with making decisions and doing things as they happened. It was certainly tiring: I spent the few months we were at home manically tending house and not going out very much. I think we’ve cultivated an ability to get through it now, though — long drives are starting to feel like nothing. I look at photos of us from the start of touring and we look like babies!
You had a little downtime in the first few months of 2015. Did this allow for the success of last year to really sink in, or had there been a period during the tour where this happened?
TK: My healthy (read: not healthy) self-criticism tendency ensures that “success” never really sinks in. The album’s reception was certainly surprising, and we played a bunch of shows that I’ve been quite proud of, but our best work is ahead of us, I think.
Your debut album, More Than Any Other Day, was characterized by feelings of disaffection and disarray brought on by the chaos you witnessed in the streets of Montreal during the Quebec student strike in 2012. Was there anything that played a major part in shaping Sun Coming Down, either sonically or lyrically?
TK: I think a lot of the same themes show up on this record. But in general, a lot of our interactions have been a lot more interpersonal in the last year (we’ve basically been in a van that whole time). I, personally, have found that my politics have become a lot more related to individuals, and I think that that shows up in the record. Sonically, I find that this record pushes tones a little further, and there’s a bit more use of the studio as a recording tool. But it’s still a very live record.
How did you approach this Sun Coming Down and can you tell me a little about the recording and songwriting process for it?
TK: We had three months off the road from January through March, and we wrote and recorded the record then. It was, on reflection, an incredibly short amount of time to write a record in, and that was a particular challenge that led to some interesting outcomes. The songs are probably rougher around the edges than they would’ve been had they steeped for another year, which I think is probably a good thing. We recorded at hotel2tango, again, with Radwan, again.
How did you first develop your sound when Ought formed and how would you say it has evolved on the forthcoming release?
TK: Honestly, there’s very little forethought put into the “Ought” sound—I think the four of us just play the kind of music that we want to play, and somewhere in the middle we meet with a mutually agreeable whole. It’s a very diplomatic process. On Sun Coming Down, we have a year of playing with each other every night under our belt, so we have gotten quite good at reading each others little cues and ticks. I think we play off each other’s subtleties more on this record, which for me is very musically exciting.
Your sound has often been described as post-punk, math rock, art-punk, indie rock….what would you say you identify with the most?
TK: I mean, I don’t *really* love any of these names….post-punk is fine, I guess, but it makes me want to make a record that has no post-punk tropes. Again, I don’t think any of us really identify with any of these genres, it’s just some sort of coincidence that we sound like these bands. That is exciting to me because it means that we might not sound like them in the future!
You mentioned that you were initially attracted to Montreal because of its “sense-sharpening Canadian winters and university tuition that doesn’t cost $40k a year”. Now, being here for some odd years, what are a few of your favourite things about Montreal, and the music scene here?
TK: At least in the part of the scene that I’m a part of, my friends take their work very seriously, are very good, make great sacrifices for their art, and only really care about appealing to their immediate peers.
Finally, what can fans expect from your show as part of POP Montreal in September?
TK: We’re going to try and play the whole new record—I’m deliberately writing this here so that we feel compelled to do it. We also have two great acts playing with us, which should be announced very soon!