Hot Springs

Hot Springs
Already everything a fan of rapturous live rock’n’roll could pray for, Montreal’s Hot Springs have conquered another medium with their spectacular debut full-length, Volcano. Its tender yet muscular hooks refuse to be dislodged from the mind after even one listen, often courtesy of front-woman Giselle Webber’s endearing warbling coo, which occupies a territory between Björk and Feist. Scott Gray had a chance to sit down with Webber during Pop Montreal to discuss the band's humble beginnings, the wide-ranging themes of Volcano and her proud "witchy" ways.

How did the band come to be?
It started off with me, myself and Julien Mineau from Malajube, who was playing the drums. But I made this recording where I was playing all the instruments myself and called it Hot Springs because I didn’t want it to be "Giselle Webber and Her…” I wanted it to sound like a band, but it was just me. I took that recording and I kinda felt like… I was accepted to go to school in Switzerland, I was in university then, and I thought, "You know what, it’d be cool to play these songs live a couple times before I go away” and so I figured I’d form a band to do a couple shows, just for the fun of it. Remy was a guitar player in Malajube and he’d just left the band. I got him onboard, but I wanted it to be an all-girl band and shit. I wanted to write the songs and they’d play the instruments and I just couldn’t find enough girls. I was trying to teach this violin player I knew, Marlene, to play the bass, I was thinking violin, you totally should be able to… But it’s totally not the same fucking thing man! The strings are super thick!
For that fake band, called Hot Springs, my friend Joel did this video for a song called "Maudits Contes de Fee” (it means "Damn Fairy Tales” in English) and the guy who was playing the ogre… Okay it’s like me in the middle of the winter and I’ve got a sword and wings on like a fairy, and I’m sword fighting with pirates and ogres and a ninja, it’s actually really cool. It’s really old, but my friend who made it said he’d put it on YouTube, so by the time this comes out you can make a link to it. But, the ogre, Fred, is a bass player, and he was like "one time when you were wasted you asked me to play bass in this band,” and I had forgotten. We didn’t know each other very well, but he was the best guy I knew around to be an ogre in the video, and I was like, "You know what, you play bass, and he was like, ‘cool.’” Then Karine, our original drummer, was this chick I’d seen play in punk bands and she was so cool, with this broken tooth and these sleeve tattoos, short, very tough and very opinionated. I thought she was the fucking coolest drummer I’d ever seen. I was really embarrassed, I didn’t know her; so I gave her the CD, but I get it to Remy to give to her, and I wrote a note, almost like primary cool, like "I like you, if you like me… yes or no?” - a little note like that. She called me saying she totally liked the music and I was super embarrassed. Anyway that’s how it started. We didn’t really know each other, except Remy and I used to play in a band together called Eksniilo, which was this hardcore band with him and the members of Malajube. That’s how I learned to speak French.
Then we wrote our first song together as a band. We were wasted and just jammed it out. It was our first improv with a song and because of that song I decided not to go to Switzerland. I wanted to stay here and be in a rock band. I made a lot of people very disappointed by that decision, and ever since I’ve been trying to work really hard at the rock band so I’ll end up in Europe for different reasons. It was kind of a stupid move, but now it’s worth it.

How did Anne [drummer] get involved?
Karine got knocked up and played drums with us until she was seven months pregnant. Not last year but the year before, she played South by Southwest. She’d never taken a plane before in her life; everyone in the band had never left Quebec before being in the band, hardcore regional Quebec people. So she’d never been in a plane and had to go get fucking knocked up. She played better when she was pregnant actually. My mom was like, "I’ve been pregnant five times, and I can tell you she won’t be able to hit the cymbals, so won’t reach them.” She reached them.
But after that, we got Anne in the band and in three months we recorded. I wrote all those songs really in a rush, ’cause when Anne joined the band it really changed everything. I could play any style. It was a lot easier for songwriting. So I was writing like mad, trying to make enough songs for the record. She was all over that shit. We worked really hard. The songs were written in haste, but we took a year to fuckin’ record it. Odd. More time recording than writing seems to always be the way, but not next time! My goal is to spend exactly the same amount of time writing a song as we spend on recording and mixing it. It’ll be a concept album. I’ll time it and everything. I really want it like that. I don’t think it’s fair, how much attention you give a song after the fact. Like it’s a really big important work, and when you’re writing it [makes scribbling sound] it’s like, one riff, okay, next riff, alright, fuck. Oh I’ve got five riffs in a row, it’s a rock opera. And all the songs were like that.
Then we were working with Jonathan Cummings, who produced the album. We’d played at the Silver Dollar with the Besnard Lakes and Jace [Lasek] had seen that show and wanted to record us, but it was like we had to record then or never because he was about to go on tour with the Besnard Lakes and I wasn’t sure if we were ready. So he said, "Let’s just make a fucking rock record.” I’d never made one before, and he was like, "We’re doing it now, and even if you don’t have the money, we’re doing it.” They were all really nice about not having to be paid right away. We have like a $20,000 IOU to every single engineer and studio in Montreal. Yeah, so with the arrangements, it was like rock operas, and Jonathan, in the two weeks before we recorded, was trying to find where the choruses were and shit and said that I couldn’t do shit like that anymore and that I had to do AB-AC, and I thought that was like a sell-out thing, like, "Oh fuck, I don’t want to have typical commercial rock arrangements.” I thought it was a sell-out thing, but it’s totally not, it’s just a good idea. Like if the riff is good, people want to hear it a fucking second time. It’s not a huge compromise. Now I’m not going to write songs like that anymore, but I had to have this 40 year-old rock dude, who I really respect, put me in my place and tell me how to arrange a song. So now it’s cool. I have this knowledge. I’ve been put in my place and it’s going to help me out writing songs in the future.

One of the songs that really stands out to me, especially lyrically is "Tiny Islands”…
Yeah, I was trying not to write too many love songs. It’s so easy to focus on your stupid fucking ex-boyfriends. It’s stupid ’cause the dude in Now Magazine - I read that interview - he was like, "she’s probably talking about her ex.” I didn’t even write the lyrics to the song he was talking about. That was the one song I asked my friend Laura to write the lyrics for. And I was thinking, "Why are you mentioning my ex-boyfriend in an interview? That’s not what the music is about.” Anyway, whatever man. I was trying to step out of that and talk about heartache that’s caused by sources other than love. I feel like when you’re reading lyrics you always think they’re talking about an ex when maybe they’re talking about their mother, some old friend, or fuck, I don’t know, their dog. I really wanted it to be clear that I was trying to deal with all the multi-faceted dimensions of heartache. Hopefully that came across. Hopefully people don’t think I’m talking about my stupid exes, ’cause I wasn’t trying to do that at all. We’ve got enough of those, man.
I was trying to be real pagan, I was trying to stay true to… like, that’s my religion. I take witchiness very seriously, it’s a huge part of who I am, and I really like that there are a lot of witchy things, everything from the A-Z is very pagan and I like that it came across. It’s a sincere attempt at making a kind of a pagan record. All the equal balance of light and dark. Right now we just finished the autumn equinox which is where the day and the night is like cool light, just like in the spring, right? It’s crazy what can happen around this time of year when everything is perfectly balanced. It’s very magical. There’s no one power stronger than the other. That’s when you really feel like you can accomplish something, like that’s when you’re at your greatest strength. So it’s a challenge to find a balance in anything you’re doing and the one thing I think we succeeded in was doing that. I wasn’t obsessed with it, but when we cut two songs from the album and made it ten songs, I felt that now it’s equal, everything is at its right spot. It felt like an equinox. I know it sounds flaky, but I’m a total fucking witch.

Depends who you’re talking to.
[Cackles gleefully.]