Do Make Say Think Explain the Relationships — to Time, Environment and Technology — That Inform 'Stubborn Persistent Illusions'

Do Make Say Think Explain the Relationships — to Time, Environment and Technology — That Inform 'Stubborn Persistent Illusions'
Photo: Amit Dahan
Post-rock demands patience and careful collaboration. No one knows this better than Toronto's Do Make Say Think, who have been playing lush, radiant instrumental music for over two decades. The varied ideas and emotions that inform their new LP, Stubborn Persistent Illusions (out now on Constellation) have been germinating since they returned to the stage a few years after the release of 2009's Other Truths. Exclaim! spoke to multi-instrumentalist Justin Small about the importance of visual art, why the band went to Iceland to record and learning to play their own songs.
DMST + Environment
Do Make Say Think have typically favoured unconventional musical settings. They hosted their early practices in the CIUT basement at U of T and recorded their sophomore album, Goodbye Enemy Airship in a barn. Small describes flying to Iceland in mid-February to record songs for Stubborn Persistent Illusions at Sigur Rós's Sundlaugin studio: "[It] likely wasn't the best time to go to that country, but I guess we felt like we needed sort of a bootcamp thing. I think we forced ourselves to go to a really harsh environment in the winter, but it ended up being a really beautiful experience."
DMST + Time
"The nature of our band is such that, organically, we move at glacial paces," Small says of the lengthy gap between their last two albums. This has its advantages, as it gave various members time to work through and reconcile their personal experiences. "We were on a schedule to have this record out last year, and it didn't happen that way. It ended up taking on a more emotional tone and I'm happy for that extra year that we put into it, because it was a year of great change for people in the band that ended up really informing the final stages of these compositions."
DMST + Literature
Although the hour of music comprising Stubborn Persistent Illusions is entirely instrumental, the band took inspiration from a Buddhist poem for the conceptual basis of the record. "Charlie [Spearin] approached us with this poem and the idea of these [songs] all being individual things, no matter how hard we try to pin them down. We just latched on to the idea of a 'wild mind' and these songs being thoughts that, once they leave your head, can do almost anything within themselves but eventually must return. Do Make Say Think like to hide secret messages in our songs," Small points out.
DMST + Art
For the record's vinyl release, Do Make Say Think commissioned Nova Scotian artist Marianne Collins, who produced the gorgeous paintings on the inner and outer sleeves. This is the first time the band has reached outside of its own ranks for cover art: "Everybody just sort of rallied around her and supported her. Instead of becoming critical clients who needed everything to be a certain way, we ended up becoming cheerleaders."
Small, who has contributed paintings for the covers of two other DMST records, still feels a personal connection to Collins' work: "The image of the young girl [on the inner sleeve], that's my daughter. The idea of the crow flying out of her head represents the thoughts leaving." In keeping with the overarching theme of the record, Collins completed the idea with the rendering of an elderly woman on the opposite sleeve that illustrates the girl's thoughts returning to her after a lifetime of experience.
DMST + Technology
Despite the seamless transitions and intricate arrangements that characterize the band's compositions, the writing process is anything but linear: "We just sort of come up with these ideas and then we sort of do a weird Jenga thing with them — we will stack them all on top of each other and see which ones fit together." Small speaks of using the studio as an instrument in itself, remixing and rearranging different recordings into proper songs that the band rehearses for live shows: "We're the best Do Make Say Think cover band of all time."