The Bicycles Oh No, It's Love

The Bicycles Oh No, It's Love
Indie pop foursome the Bicycles are still youthful and guiltless enough to get away with keeping things simple and short. With 19 songs in only 38 minutes, Oh No, It’s Love explores every facet of devotion with the same punch-drunk exuberance and follow-the-leader melodies that have made their live show a must-see. Their second LP features songs à la Power Point, ripping through focused ideas and far-reaching inspiration along with a variety of source material. Songs like "Won’t She Be Surprised” and "What a Fool” typically burst with clashing thuds and intoxicated bellows. But most of the LP, especially songs like "Green Light” and "Sweet Petite,” presents the Bicycles tucking their slingshots away into their back pockets and offering an arithmetic approach to songwriting that works amazingly well within their pop paradigm. The Bicycles brilliantly replace the departed Randy Lee’s violin with horn sections, pedal steel and even more gusto. Featuring a slew of guest musicians, including Basia Bulat, Laura Barrett, Bob Egan of Blue Rodeo and members of Woodhands and Caribou’s band, the Toronto merrymakers give the indie rock world a quality and quantity approach that is truly appreciated in these bloated times.

Can you tell me a bit about the new LP?
Singer/guitarist Matt Beckett: We recorded it with Jose Contreras (By Divine Right, the Meligrove Band), who actually mixed our first album. Basically, we went to a buddy’s house and recorded all of the bed tracks with the whole band playing together and then we did some overdubs on our own and some with Jose. And over the course of a year we put it all together.

How different was the experience from the writing of the first album?
Other people wrote songs on the album. The first album was just Drew [Smith] and I, and on this album Andrew [Scott] and Dana [Snell] have their own songs as well. So there’s this new vibe to it. Also with a lot of our guests on the album, we gave them the tracks and they went off and did stuff on their own. Usually when a guest did stuff, like synths or pedal steel, they did that on their own with no direction. Then afterwards we put it in place and took what worked best.

When bassist/violinist Randy Lee left the band, the four members of the Bicycles played bass on the LP. Did this force the band to approach the songs differently?
The songwriting didn’t change because we still wrote it and a lot of the bass lines we collaborated on anyway. It did make us think about bass a little more. But with Randy gone, there isn’t as much violin on the album, so we tried to pick it up by having arranged horns. A friend of the band arranged the horns because we can’t write music.

Do instruments like horns or violin get added to a song after the basic track is written?
Occasionally you’d already have a plan in your mind, but almost always it was way after that you’d start adding things. There wasn’t much of a master plan; a lot of the overdubs were things that we didn’t plan at the beginning.

Do ever write with your live show in mind?
The first song on our album ["Won’t She Be Surprised”] is sort of like a chant and when you’re writing something like that you know it’s going to be fun to play live because it has that vibe. But really, we just write songs with no idea what we’re going to do with it from that moment on. I guess most bands do that. That way, there’s a challenge of trying to play that song live.

I know you guys switch instruments when playing live. Is there a certain plan to who plays what live?
It’s usually based on whatever people are comfortable with. It revolves around who has to play bass; it’s usually "pass the bass around.” We have a tough time singing and playing at the same time, so usually whoever is singing plays bass.

Why don’t you just get someone to play bass full time?
Well, we had people play with us. We had Andy [Lloyd] but then he started playing with Caribou and toured with him for a couple years straight and then we had Ed Orso from Revival Dear but then they became busier, so he went with them. It got to the point where we just decided to play as a four-piece. "We can do it!”

You’re on tour quite a bit. Does your relationship with your songs change between the time they are written and the end of your tour?
It really changes. Some songs you play right away and it’s great and some songs you just can’t get a handle on and then magically, five months later, you can do it. And then another song that’s strong, one day you just can’t do it. It’s funny that way.

For a band that switch instruments and employ so many guests on the LP, your songs sound very organic.
I think we’re lucky that the people that play on the album are such good friends. Also, no one in the band is a hot dog. They’re all great musicians but no one has come on the album with the need to play a ripping solo. With all of us and the people we hang out with, there’s an importance of song first.

There seems to be a theme of love and losing it on the new album.
Oh, yes. We all write about our lives and our relationships. To us, these are the most important things. For whatever reasons, we are really into our relationships and that sort of drama. When we write, we only write about our lives — there’s no type of fiction or exercises in our songs. It’s sort of like a "dear diary” sort of thing. In the last three years, when these songs were being written, all of us were going though this search.

Can you tell me a bit about the guest musicians who played on this album?
Well, a lot of them were really good friends. Like, right now when you called we were practicing with Laura Barrett for our CD release party. She’s a really close friend and we wanted her kalimba on there, and Dan Werb from Woodhands is another really good friend. But Bob Egan from Blue Rodeo, we’d never met him before. We still haven’t met him. But we wanted pedal steel on the record and he was the guy that everyone said to go to.

How do all of your band’s songs end up around two minutes in length?
I think it’s because we all like that type of pop music. I remember a quote from an interview with Elliott Smith and he said something like, "my songs are only two-and-a-half or three minutes because there are only so many lines you can have in there.” So you just kind of boil everything down, keep it really short, make it rhyme and that’s it. I think that’s good song writing. I know the songs that I wrote got shorter on this album and so did Drew’s.

You should try to write a 12-minute song to see if something different comes out.
The longest song on our album ["Sweet Petite”] is actually a suite of three songs stuck together that’s exactly three minutes in length. The song is actually a bunch of jingles. Every once in a while someone asks us to write a jingle for a commercial and they’re never picked. The first part of that is meant for a beer commercial.

Your debut LP, The Good The Bad and The Cuddly, hit number one on !Earshot’s National Campus And Community Radio Charts. Can you talk about your band’s reaction when you heard the news?
Well, we had zero expectations as far as audience, so it felt really good. Also, we didn’t have any ads or promotions or heavy-hitters behind it, so it was just people choosing the songs.

Do you have any idea why it became so popular with college and community radio?
I think that the strength of the first album is that it had many really good songs. Instead of one hit single, everyone had to find a favourite. And maybe because the songs were so short they were easy to get into. We also toured for five years before the first album came out.

Now that the album is out what are your plans?
Right now we’ve been going crazy practicing for our CD release party, called "The Last Schmaltz II.” We did it for the first album too, we have 18 guests and we play their songs. We just had Laura Barrett over and we were learning one of her songs and in a few minutes Matt Murphy is coming over and we’re going to practice a Superfriendz song and then after that Jay Ferguson is coming and we’ll practice a Sloan song. It’s like a three-hour show. Sandro Perri, the Old Soul, Hooded Fang and Sebastien Grainger will also be there.

Life must be good for the Bicycles right now.
Part of the fun is just making new friends, like I’ve never met Matt Murphy before so I’m looking forward to that. Everyone seems honoured to do things like this with us; it just makes me feel really good. (Fuzzy Logic)