Sunset Rubdown Gets Up

Sunset Rubdown Gets Up
Sunset Rubdown’s Spencer Krug is a hard man to pin down. After two weeks of phone tag, he finally completes this interview via email, a mere ten minutes before one of his other bands, Montreal’s 2005 success story Wolf Parade, take the stage for one of two shows at New York City’s Webster Hall. Normally such last-minute behaviour is a result of either arrogance or sheer incompetence, but with Krug it’s entirely forgivable. Not just because the new album Shut Up I Am Dreaming is an immensely rewarding and unique song cycle that defies comparison or categorisation, but because Krug has no less than five projects on his mind.

Wolf Parade are obviously the busiest, but he has also rejoined Victoria’s Frog Eyes as their touring keyboardist. Krug just finished a one-off album with former roommates Carey Mercer of Frog Eyes and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar; it’s credited to Swan Lake, and will be out in late ‘06. Last year saw the release of Fifths of Seven, an acoustic instrumental trio with Silver Mt. Zion cellist Becky Foon and mandolin player Rachel Levine. It’s the one project that has fallen victim to Krug’s schedule.

Despite the success of Wolf Parade, Krug remains one of the most modest musicians you’re likely to meet. When it comes to his solo project Sunset Rubdown, there isn’t a criticism of the project that he hasn’t thought of first. He knows that the first proper Rubdown, 2005’s Snake’s Got a Leg, was too scattered, too lo-fi and inconsistent. He knows that Sunset Rubdown runs the risk of being pretentious and cerebral and hard to grasp. He knows that people will wonder why he doesn’t just use these songs in Wolf Parade.

That band’s success has allowed him "a certain freedom that I don’t take for granted,” he says. "There is obviously more time to think about projects and writing, but the catch is that you can’t write on tour. Your brain goes numb. I usually gush out a bunch of built up ideas between tours and get them into the practice space or on tape as fast as possible before we go out again.”

Shut Up sounds anything but rushed. In fact, compared to the occasionally bludgeoning rock of Wolf Parade, these songs are given plenty of room to breathe and flower. "Sometimes I write songs that I want to hear in a way other than what Wolf Parade would do to them,” says Krug. "That band are like a giant five-man amplifier. With certain components in place at all times, there is a sound that is unavoidable no matter what the original idea might have been. Sunset Rubdown allow for different instrumentation, are consciously more dynamic, spacious and slower than Wolf Parade. I enjoy both bands and what they do, but they are different enough to justify their co-existence.”

Sunset Rubdown were originally simply an outlet for Krug’s keyboard noodlings, whether they be songs or sonic experiments. Snake’s Got a Leg gathered various recordings dating back to 2000; since then they’ve blossomed into a real band. And he’s been writing more songs on guitar — though that doesn’t mean he’s writing simple three-chord songs or abandoning his wonderfully obtuse approach to melody and structure.

"I don’t think that guitarists think any differently than keyboardists,” he says, "but I think the instruments themselves — the physical layout — demand or lend themselves to different results. For me lately I’ve been really interested in doing most of my writing on guitar, but I almost always take that and rewrite it on the piano, or vice versa. Every time I make that translation I come up with something that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s really interesting for me to play with that difference in ideas that a specific instrument gives birth to, both in structure and in voicings of chords and harmonies. But I’m not a very good guitar player. I would be curious to see what a song like ‘Swimming’ sounds like on guitar, but these stubby piano fingers just aren’t fast enough for that yet.”

Born and raised in Penticton BC, Krug spent time in Victoria and Vancouver before moving to Montreal and starting Wolf Parade with other Victoria ex-pats. It’s entirely coincidental that Sunset Rubdown now also feature two Victorians, along with Pony Up’s Camilla Wynne Ingr. He first coined the band name eight years ago, and contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t have any seedy back-story.

"It originated on a beach,” he explains. "A friend and I were watching the sunset and ended up petting a stray dog, describing it at the time as a ‘sunset rubdown.’ The origin is actually kind of wholesome and innocent, yet somehow the phrase hints at sexuality or even perversion of some sort. I like this vagueness and contradiction. I’ve had people tell me that it’s gross or that it sounds like the name for music that you snort coke to.”