Published Nov 05, 2007Already everything a fan of rapturous live rocknroll could pray for, Montreals 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 Webbers 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 didnt 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, itd be cool to play these songs live a couple times before I go away and so I figured Id form a band to do a couple shows, just for the fun of it. Remy was a guitar player in Malajube and hed 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 theyd play the instruments and I just couldnt 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 its 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 its like me in the middle of the winter and Ive got a sword and wings on like a fairy, and Im sword fighting with pirates and ogres and a ninja, its actually really cool. Its really old, but my friend who made it said hed 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 didnt 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 Id 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 Id ever seen. I was really embarrassed, I didnt 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 thats how it started. We didnt 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. Thats 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 Ive been trying to work really hard at the rock band so Ill end up in Europe for different reasons. It was kind of a stupid move, but now its 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. Shed 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 shed 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, "Ive been pregnant five times, and I can tell you she wont be able to hit the cymbals, so wont 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. Itll be a concept album. Ill time it and everything. I really want it like that. I dont think its fair, how much attention you give a song after the fact. Like its a really big important work, and when youre writing it [makes scribbling sound] its like, one riff, okay, next riff, alright, fuck. Oh Ive got five riffs in a row, its a rock opera. And all the songs were like that.
Then we were working with Jonathan Cummings, who produced the album. Wed 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 wasnt sure if we were ready. So he said, "Lets just make a fucking rock record. Id never made one before, and he was like, "Were doing it now, and even if you dont have the money, were 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 couldnt 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 dont want to have typical commercial rock arrangements. I thought it was a sell-out thing, but its totally not, its just a good idea. Like if the riff is good, people want to hear it a fucking second time. Its not a huge compromise. Now Im 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 its cool. I have this knowledge. Ive been put in my place and its 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. Its so easy to focus on your stupid fucking ex-boyfriends. Its stupid cause the dude in Now Magazine - I read that interview - he was like, "shes probably talking about her ex. I didnt 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? Thats not what the music is about. Anyway, whatever man. I was trying to step out of that and talk about heartache thats caused by sources other than love. I feel like when youre reading lyrics you always think theyre talking about an ex when maybe theyre talking about their mother, some old friend, or fuck, I dont 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 dont think Im talking about my stupid exes, cause I wasnt trying to do that at all. Weve got enough of those, man.
I was trying to be real pagan, I was trying to stay true to like, thats my religion. I take witchiness very seriously, its 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. Its 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? Its crazy what can happen around this time of year when everything is perfectly balanced. Its very magical. Theres no one power stronger than the other. Thats when you really feel like you can accomplish something, like thats when youre at your greatest strength. So its a challenge to find a balance in anything youre doing and the one thing I think we succeeded in was doing that. I wasnt obsessed with it, but when we cut two songs from the album and made it ten songs, I felt that now its equal, everything is at its right spot. It felt like an equinox. I know it sounds flaky, but Im a total fucking witch.
Depends who youre talking to.