Five Noteworthy Facts You May Not Know About Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Illustration by Glenn Harvey

BY Vish KhannaPublished Apr 23, 2015

Within a collective dispatch, Godspeed You! Black Emperor once made mention of a possible band mandate: "no singer, no leader, no interviews, no press photos." Twenty years on, very little is really known about GY!BE beyond the fact that they are one of Montreal's most cherished and powerful instrumental bands with a virtually flawless and majestic discography, including their latest album, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress (out now via Constellation).

This month's Timeline feature on Godspeed was partially vetted by the band, making it a rare, comprehensive overview of where they came from and how they got here. You can read it all in the latest issue of Exclaim!, which is now making its way across Canada. Until then, here are five notable facts you might not have known about the Montreal collective.

Five Noteworthy Facts You May Not Know About Godspeed You! Black Emperor​:

1. Director Danny Boyle says they influenced 28 Days Later.

British filmmaker Danny Boyle states that Godspeed's 1997 debut, F#A#∞, was a source of inspiration for him while making his 2002 box office hit, 28 Days Later. "I always try to have a soundtrack in my mind [when creating a film]," he tells the Guardian. "Like when we did Trainspotting, it was Underworld. For me, the soundtrack to 28 Days Later was Godspeed. The whole film was cut to Godspeed in my head."

2. Godspeed members profoundly impacted Montreal's scene, establishing recording studio Hotel2Tango, venues Casa Del Popolo and La Sala Rossa, and festival Suoni Per il Popolo.

In January 2000, Godspeed/Silver Mt. Zion members Efrim Menuck and Thierry Amar decide to pool their resources with engineer Howard Bilerman and make their Hotel2Tango recording studio a going concern as a proper, affordable studio (and not a practice space/venue/silkscreen workshop). Many Montreal and Constellation artists utilize the Hotel, as well as external clients like Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, Land of Talk, Basia Bulat, Owen Pallett, Howe Gelb, Barr Brothers, Mary Margaret O'Hara and hundreds more. Leonard Cohen shows up one day after emailing and befriending Bilerman and, unbeknownst to the band until they stop playing, he ends up casually observing a Silver Mt. Zion recording session.

Partly motivated by the fact that so many artists are bypassing Montreal on their tour routing, Godspeed's Mauro Pezzente and his wife Kiva Stimac take over a closing venue called Artishow and decide they'll turn it into a vegetarian café called Casa del Popolo. With only a 100-person capacity, Casa is limited so Pezzente and Stimac look to a Spanish social club venue across the street called Sala Rosa. Thanks to his status as a member of GYBE!, Pezzente and Stimac book bigger shows at Sala Rossa starting in 2001 along with more intimate performances at Casa. The couple also starts a month-long music festival called Suoni per il Popolo, which continues to take place annually in June.

3. They were once suspected of being terrorists and were detained by the FBI.

On tour in March 2003, the band pulled into an Oklahoma gas station in their two passenger vans and a white panel truck transporting their equipment in the town of Ardmore, OK. The station attendant working that day believed the group of Canadians to be terrorists. She allegedly passed a note to another customer to call the police. When the local police appeared, the group was held at gunpoint until the FBI could question them. Although the police were suspicious of the band's anti-government documents and some photos they had (of things like oil rigs), they found no incriminating evidence. After background checks were run, the ensemble was released from custody and continued on their way to their next show in Columbia, MO.

Menuck later spoke to the crowd about what happened to them during their appearance in Missouri and speculated that their origin was a motive for being released quickly. "I just feel very lucky that we weren't Pakistani or Korean," Menuck purportedly tells Ryan Schreiber of
Pitchfork at the band's Chicago performance. "They detained 1,000 people in California, no one knows what happened to them. We're just lucky we're nice white kids from Canada. That's what I feel lucky about." Menuck claims he never actually said this, instead yelling at Schreiber because he didn't wish to speak with him. Menuck says Schreiber gathered a handful of what was yelled at him and paraphrased it as though it was an actual quote. Nonetheless, in his 2003 book, Dude, Where's My Country?, filmmaker Michael Moore mentions the incident (ascribing the quote to Seattle Weekly) in a chapter called "The United States of BOO!" 

4.  "Weird Al" Yankovic had no idea why they asked him to play All Tomorrow's Parties in 2010.

On April 9, 2010, the All Tomorrow's Parties Festival announces that GY!BE will curate and play December's Nightmare Before Christmas festival, as part of 10th anniversary celebrations for ATP. Godspeed's amazing handpicked ATP lineup features Neurosis, Deerhoof, Nomeansno, the Sadies, Mike Watt, Josephine Foster, Scout Niblett, Tim Hecker, Oneida, the Ex and many others. Among the most fascinatingly odd additions is "Weird Al" Yankovic.

"I was very surprised myself," Yankovic tells Exclaim! while discussing the invite in 2011. "I was completely honoured and flattered and I'm glad they allowed me to do that because it was singularly because of Godspeed that I did my first European tour. We'd been trying to make that happen since I started and, for whatever reason, we'd never been able to book enough dates to justify a whole European tour. But with that as a confirmed anchor date, we were actually able to put a few around that and play Europe for the first time. And playing ATP itself was a huge honour for me. It's one of the hippest festivals you can play. I don't know if it was meant to be ironic? Even if it was, that's fine; irony is very hip."

Though he sees their ATP set, Yankovic never has the chance to interact directly with members of the band, so he's unclear why he was invited. Menuck responds to an email inquiry about it, writing, "Nope, it wasn't ironic. Though it sounds strange maybe, the reason we asked him is complicated and personal. It was the request of one person in the band for a really beautiful and private reason."  

When emailed Menuck's explanation, Yankovic replies, "Well, that's even cooler. I really appreciate that; it's nice to hear. Thanks so much for passing that along."

5. GY!BE never actually declined the Polaris Music Prize in their infamous morning-after statement.

Menuck reminds everyone that Godspeed's reaction to their 2013 Polaris Music Prize victory wasn't entirely negative. "We said what we had to say and tried to say it as graciously as we could, and I feel like some people got that and other people chose not to acknowledge that there was some attempt at graciousness there. It's not like we wrote a letter like, 'Fuck you man! Stupid squares!' We tried to acknowledge, y'know?"

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