Published May 23, 2012Brasstronaut's previous album, 2010's Mount Chimaera, earned the band the ECHO Songwriting Prize and a nomination for the Polaris Music Prize, plus a host of followers across the country (who forked out over $15,000 as part of a successful Indiegogo campaign to fund the release of the follow-up). Rather than attempt to recreate their successful debut, the Vancouver, BC six-piece shift gears on Mean Sun, forgoing jazzy piano and dense percussion in favour of pillow-y synths and expansively layered ambience. The risky move pays off with their best material to date. If Brasstronaut's fans are willing to go along for the ride, Mean Sun will reward the patient.
Mean Sun sounds pretty different from Mount Chimaera. What inspired the new direction?
Clarinettist Sam Davidson: Just general group cohesion; it was really the first time we collectively, as a six-piece, put together all the tunes. Our previous records were not recorded in that fashion. It was a big meditation that we all did and that's what came out.
Vocalist/pianist Edo Van Breeman: It was very fluid. The process of making this record was the most easy, organic activity I've ever taken part in. This was the music that we were making over the summer as we were touring, and what we were listening to probably had a good influence on it too. We're all equal members in this band. Financially, we all have the same stake in this band; we've divided it evenly, six ways. It's a very collaborative team effort.
Did you feel any pressure to live up to the success of Mount Chimaera?
Van Breeman: Not really, no. I think, with this band, if we're challenging ourselves and we're enjoying the music that we're playing and people are coming to the shows and buying our record then we'll keep doing it. But it's not the easiest thing to work around in your life. If you're touring four months out of the year, you're not really generating income for yourself while you're out on the road. There are some really rewarding aspects of playing in a band and there are some really shitty ones. But I feel like the thing that keeps us going is that we really enjoy playing these songs live, we like being in the studio and people keep coming to the shows.
What are the shitty things you refer to?
Van Breeman: What are the shitty things? Well, they're not that bad.
Davidson: Those things happen on a more personal level. You're leaving town four months of the year and that's going to put strain on keeping some sort of equilibrium in your home city, because you obviously have obligations to people. Whether it's lovers, maybe employers or kids.
Where did the title Mean Sun come from?
Van Breeman: The song is about a suicidal fisherman and it has an environmental theme about the Grand Banks being depleted of fish. This guy's becoming an alcoholic on the sea and not seeing his family, so he just takes a leap off the bough in the middle of the night. I feel like the record has a burnt sound to it. There are a few references to the sun throughout the album, so I felt like it would be a good title for a record coming out in the spring.
The music is quite peaceful.
Van Breeman: I think that comes from how much touring we've been doing. In Eastern Europe, we've had some beautiful summer drives as the sun is going down over these rolling hills in Hungary and Slovakia. We did two consecutive European tours and it was recorded in between and after those. I feel very calm when I'm traveling in a van in a completely unknown land. It's the same kind of feeling as when I listen to a Tim Hecker record or some soundtrack stuff like Alexandre Desplat. I think that's where the impetus to layer things heavily comes from: trying to transform the imagery of moving landscapes and elated experiences into sound. It's trying to get the listener into that world. If there's a point of the music, it's to try and take the listener to that place.
What is the story behind the EWI [electronic wind instrument]?
Davidson: Probably the best comment I've had on it is when some drunk guy at a New Year's show was like, "Hey, dude, I just love that electric guitar you were playing." It's a weird instrument. Often I think it's difficult for people to pick out the sound in a show, because it does sound like it could be a keyboard or a guitar, at times. But it's just a MIDI controller, a synthesizer. You can do a lot of things with it, and this band help me to slowly work out those possibilities.
You blow into it as if it were a horn?
Davidson: Yup; it's breath controlled. It's much more sensitive, in that sense, than your general keyboard synthesizer. The parameters are much more intense. It's an incredibly versatile instrument; it's just a little hard. It's got a difficult learning curve. It's still kind of on the outskirts of things, even though it's at least 30 years old. The technology has not really improved at all since the '80s.
Brasstronaut don't seem concerned with fitting in with the indie rock definition of "cool."
Van Breeman: We're not into posturing. I read an article about the Junior Boys in Exclaim! where they were talking about how, these days, it seems like the story is more important than the music in trying to sell in such an oversaturated, distracted indie market. Everything is about flash-in-the-pan trends that come and go. If it's not Austra this month, it's Grimes next month. I think all of that music is great, and there's a lot of good music coming to the surface, but for a band like us that's not trendy, it makes a lot more sense for us to be loyal to our audience and to make as good of a product as we can.
Read a review of Mean Sun here.