Sunset Rubdown lend insatiable tune

There’s something mumbling around in my head. It’s a tune of epic measure, a thrilling escape from the voice that usually resides there. It comes off coy at first, inching its way to the forefront until I can’t ignore it. It’s tune and it’s verse and for the last number of days I’ve tried feverishly to accommodate it. I’ve taken it on long walks around the city street and through parks that house trees changed for fall. We’ve attended concerts together and drank libation. I thought all of this activity would banish the lyric composed to sound. However, it still remains and people look at me with crossed eyes when I sing it to myself on Chicago’s fine public transport system.

The devilish music I speak of comes from a band called Sunset Rubdown. Its title can be found amongst a list, six tracks down the line, on their latest release Dragonslayer. It’s not simply catchy; the lyricism on the album is unlike any I’ve heard this year. Such delicate measure seems to be taken in the music making process and that’s what attached this particular verbiage to my memory. These songs would bode well with emaciated eardrums, they nourish and sustain. Supplemental deities they are not.

Sunset Rubdown hails from Montreal, transplants to the scene. The band began as a side project for its members but has encompassed much more since inception. Ring leader, Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade), hones in on the lyrics as his band mates put them to music. All spectacular at their craft, they piece each line together with brilliant effort.

I was lucky enough to chat with Michael Doerksen about this project, his goals and vinyl vs. digital media. Excerpts from the interview reside below.

Your music is described as “art-rock.” I’m not too keen on titles but I suppose that sums it up closely. How do you feel about the “art-rock” label?

Um, yeah. “Art” is a very big word, so I probably wouldn’t use that word. I understand what you mean, that it might be apt but it’s like saying, “music, music”, “art music.” I can think of some more useful terms grounded in musical history like the psychedelic movement, Prague, and baroque rock and roll like queen. Psychedelic rock is the term I’ve always tended to use.

You recorded your forth album, Dragonslayer, here in Chicago, how was that experience?

Fantastic, it was done in seven days and we were right outside Wrigley Field and there were some games going on. Recording the record was really fun. We stayed at a nice hostel kind of place. There was a nice attic that we stayed in with a very Peter Pan feel, almost like a daycare.

You also took part in the Daytrotter sessions. Awesome concept, did you enjoy it?

It was a really great experience. To be mid- tour, playing well together, and go in and capture that energy right off the floor. That ranks as one of my best memories.

Your band performs of the most compelling lyrics I’ve heard in recent years. Is the songwriting process exhausting?

Maybe for Spencer, I think he enjoys it. I don’t know if it’s exhausting. Sometimes when we’re writing, the lyrics aren’t finished. There is a lot of, knowing where the vocalisms need to be. It’s part of the process, it seems to come together at the very last moment of recording. Spencer spends a lot of time on those lyrics, I agree. I believe they’re compelling and I enjoy them as well. It was important to me as a musician, if I was going to work with a project that was going to have lyrics, for them to be interesting.

Speaking to your live shows, what makes for the perfect crowd?

I don’t know if we have such a great stage presence, maybe for some. That’s something we’ve been called out on as well. We don’t have costumes; we don’t jump out into the crowd. I feel we’re very boring to watch, we’re all quite focused on the music

I can tell you what I don’t like: people who get violent. That happened at one of our shows. It was a little crazy. There were some “fag” remarks from the audience. It was our first time in this town and this happens. Turns out this person was beat up by his friend, there was blood in the bathroom that was covered up. Sometimes you get people at shows that aren’t there to see the bands.

Everyone enjoys music in their own way, it’s demonstrated in the crowd from the people in the front row to the people in the back. Certain things happen in certain parts of the room that you don’t like. Photographs are taken; it can get very distracting, breaking your concentration. When the crowd talks to you directly, it’s interesting. We’ve had a lot of fun crowds. Attentive crowds are good.

What hobbies do you enjoy outside of music’s realm?

That’s a very good question for me. I’m actually… I’m going to art school at the moment. I’m doing my masters at a university here in Montreal, they’ve been very great and let me tour. I’m in the sculpture program; I’ve been making sculpture for ten years. I did my BFA here in Montreal. I did performance based art collective activities as well as residencies with these art collectives in other countries.

Are there other bands you’re listening to now?

Just like anybody, I would say I’m a little more interested in the music of the past. There are a few new bands I’m keen on. This week I was introduced to Girls. I think what they’re doing is very interesting, getting a garage band thing with girl group songs of the past and signing from a girls perspective. Kurt Vile and the Violators is another person I like right now. I like the two EP’s he’s put out, sort of sludgy rock, I really like what he’s doing. I like a lot of variety, from early industrial to psych rock to pop music. Deerhoof is another fantastic current band, I think they’re the best young, good band. They’re doing what Led Zeppelin was doing in the 70’s. They’re taking guitar rock to a whole other place and with the Japanese influence. There’s some interesting guitar playing coming out of Deerhoof.

Your other band,Deep Sleepover, also has a very distinct sound. Is there one band you’re more attached to?

That is the plight of everyone in our community here. Jordan has his project, Spencer has Wolf Parade. Things just rotate. No one wants to tour with one band all the time. Touring is really difficult anyway. We’re good at doing a month and taking a break. Just creatively to switch it up and keep it fresh, it’s nice. It’s manageable I think.

Is the Montreal music scene a close-knit group? It seems like a town that breeds talent.

Montreal and Chicago are very similar, both multi-cultural, multi-lingual. Musicians here are based off of friendships. We knew a few other bands, we came out here to Montreal together over a couple of years. Slowly everyone moved here. We came from Victoria’s punk rock scene and migrated. We came to Montreal and met Godspeed and Constellation; they were pretty formative, giving an example of how to work towards the same goal. No one’s getting rich doing what we’re doing. We’re all staking out our meager existences and making art music together. It’s very community based.

Why are records so nifty and cassettes so obsolete?

LPs are the best way to store music. Unless you break it, it’s never going to go bad. CD’s decay, digital medium…if you lose your computer you lose your music. It’s great to see the way vinyl thrives in the hands of different artists. DJs have kept it alive all these years and the kids are coming around to the value and practicality of the medium. Now you have artists challenging the 45 minute
LP time wondering, “Why does it have to be that way?” It’s interesting.

The interview is over and yet the song still pounds through my brain at least thrice daily.

-Holly Jones, Editor, On Tour Magazine