The Weirdness of Sunset Rubdown

The Weirdness of <b>Sunset Rubdown</b>
To say Spencer Krug is busy would be an understatement. A look into his day-timer would show enough tours dates, studio sessions and rehearsal slots to do most musicians’ heads in. But when it takes a whole hand to count the number of bands you’re in, this is the reality.

In three quick years, the BC expat turned Montreal resident has been an on-again off-again member of Victoria’s Frog Eyes, released a one-off as Fifths of Seven and made up a third of Swan Lake (an ongoing project with Destroyer’s Dan Bejar and Carey Mercer of Frog Eyes). Krug is also one of the brains behind the wildly successful Wolf Parade, who are in the midst of recording their follow-up to 2005’s Apologies to the Queen Mary, set for a tentative spring release. And while Wolf Parade may be Krug’s best-known outfit, it’s his final project, Sunset Rubdown, which garners most of his attention.

"Sunset Rubdown just feels more relaxed and free, and I can indulge in weird tendencies a little bit more,” Krug says from Montreal. "I mean, if I want to try something that’s a little more out there, I’ll try it with Sunset Rubdown… So I guess that’s why I end up putting more energy into that band.”

And by the sound of the group’s third full-length, Random Spirit Lover, Krug and his band-mates have indeed tried something that’s "a little more out there.” On the album, the four-piece pulls, twists and remodels traditional pop-like structures into a complex array of movements, variations and strategically placed hooks. Songs shift from A to B to a distant C as each track bleeds into the next, making the LCD essential for listener orientation. For 60 minutes, there’s drama, glamour and dense layers of progged out exercises. Ultimately, the album is a creative, as well as sonic, leap forward from last year’s Shut Up I Am Dreaming.

"I don’t know about lyrically, but musically, this one is a little more elaborate — structurally, harmonically and all that stuff,” the songwriter says. "It definitely has to grow on you more than the last one; it’s not as instantly gratifying. And I think that those sorts of records, in the end, might be more rewarding in a long-term kind of a way.”

Krug may be right. While Shut Up I Am Dreaming showed him finding his footing as a songwriter, Krug admits that album was more of a "hodgepodge” of songs than a fully realised album — something that Random Spirit Lover undoubtedly is. In fact, even before the band stepped into Montreal’s Breakglass Studios with Jace Lasek (the Besnard Lakes), the record’s track list had already been decided. The group even recorded the album in that order, refusing to work on the next track until the previous one was finished.

"I wanted to make it much more cohesive, more to the point — no filler, you know,” Krug says. "I was sort of aiming for this dry, up-front in-your-face kind of sound without tons of cacophonous moments. But the problem is that those kinds of moments come out of me kind of naturally. I can’t really help it. So as much as I was trying to simplify things a bit, it didn’t really work. But yeah, we were trying more consciously to make a single work of art — not that I would actually say that’s it’s a work of art.”

Another quality that sets Random Spirit Lover apart from its predecessors is it’s the first Sunset Rubdown album to sound like a bona fide band effort. While it’s true that the same three players — Jordan Robson Cramer, Michael Doerksen and Camilla Wynne Ingr — backed Krug on the last record, its stripped-down, straight-ahead nature allowed them little room for musical muscle flexing. This time around, however, Random Spirit Lover’s complex, full-blown structures demand group participation, which comes out in the forms of backing vocals, duelling guitar patterns and more complex, up-front rhythms.

"It’s collaborative up to a point. I’m writing the songs, basically — lyrically and structurally,” says Krug, who plans to record a less rock-orientated Sunset Rubdown record on his own this winter. "I’ll usually have pretty definite ideas of what I’d like the other guys to try. But they also almost always come up with their own ideas, and they have their own style. And if I were recording these songs by myself, they would sound a lot different. It’s not all just coming out of my brain, basically. Yeah, it is a collaborative effort, but I am kind of a dictator at times.”

Later, Krug adds: "The band in Sunset Rubdown has the ability to be quieter than Wolf Parade and be more patient. And in the songwriting, and with the way the band plays, I’m writing songs with that in mind, so it kind of feeds itself. I know that Sunset Rubdown can be more dynamic. We can play more sorts of twisty song structures and let it prog out a bit more without losing patience… And Wolf Parade just blows things out. Even when I write a quiet song on the guitar and take it to them, a month later I’m banging it out on the piano as hard as I can. And that’s what Wolf Parade does well, so you might as well just go with it, right?”

While it takes persistence to get to the bottom of Random Spirit Lover, the answer to why Krug keeps his eggs in so many baskets isn’t so slippery. Whether its Swan Lake’s fuzzed-out chaos, Wolf Parade’s hook-heavy rock or Sunset Rubdown’s twisted pop, each project is distinct enough to provide him with different gains. "The bands are all therapeutic in their own way,” he explains. "Wolf Parade is therapeutic in the same way you take a sledgehammer to a brick wall. Sunset Rubdown is more rewarding in the way that I can get shit off my chest and try to do things regardless of if they are going to sell or if people are going to swallow it.”

But no matter what moniker Krug puts his songs under, they all stem from the same motivation — something that’s always been a constant for the musician. "I don’t ever to have to try to make music. It’s the one thing in my life that I naturally want to do… And I just want to keep doing it until that impulse is gone, I guess, or until no one wants to hear it anymore — which will probably happen first.”