Uncharted is Chart Attack's showcase of independent Canadian artists we think you should hear. This week, Montreal fuzz-punk band Solids talk the lack of a Francophone DIY circuit, noise complaints, the unnaturalness of a bar show and the non-existent "duo" genre.
Solids aren’t what you would call an ambitious band. When Xavier Germain-Poitras and Louis Guillemette started the duo as a stripped-down side project for their heavy post-hardcore outfit Expectorated Sequence, they had one simple goal in mind: “We just wanted to have a band that could play kitchens.”
Lucky (or unlucky) for them, the Montreal guitar/bass duo barely got the chance to live out that dream. A combination of rising buzz and DIY-stifling Montreal noise by-laws quickly snatched them out of quasi-legal lofts and basements and onto the unnaturally pedestalled stages of more rock bars and clubs, where their pushed-to-the-max cacophony suddenly had to contend with the rules and regulations they initially sought to avoid.
And when a pair of heavy-hitting labels came knocking (Fat Possum in the States and Dine Alone in Canada), they were forced to take their previously self-released debut LP, Blame Confusion, off Bandcamp without immediately explaining why, like when an uninjured basketball player shows up to a game in a suit and answers interview with a winking “no comment.”
It’s no surprise Solids are getting this kind of attention. Blame Confusion is a fuzzy distillation of lo-fi punk energy, ‘90s college rock hooks, warm pop songcraft and piles and piles of riffs with wider appeal than their modest stage setup seems to attest.
Still, it’s a bit of a strange spot for Germain-Poitras and Guillemette. When I meet them at a west end Toronto bar, they’re in the midst of a packed press day, a bemusing proposition for a pair of econo-minded dudes who had spent the previous night sleeping at Soy Bomb, a DIY house venue whose stage is a half-pipe. On the eve of their record’s label-backed re-release, they had just quit their day jobs and were about to jump into the first leg of their longest tour yet (by far). Last week, they played their homecoming show in Montreal, but now they’re back on the road, playing a string of Canadian dates before flying to Europe for more.
So what happens when you snatch a band from the corner of the house party and throw them onto the world stage? Read on.
Chart Attack: It’s interesting that everything’s blowing up now, when your original ambition was just to play house parties. Were you expecting to grow it into a full-time thing, or did the offers just start coming?
Xavier Germain-Poitras: We played a few basement shows but we went to the bars pretty quickly. In Montreal it’s hard to get cool DIY venues because they always get shut down. It’s always just a few months kind of thing.
It’s funny to hear you say that because that’s so much of Montreal’s reputation right now, built from Grimes and the weird pop explosion, where people are playing loft parties.
Louis Guillemette: There’s a couple of cool venues, jam spaces, but there’s always rumours of them shutting down. You never know if it’s actually shut down or not, but you end up knowing there’s a show going on. There’s this place in St-Henri, Montreal, called Loft Fattal. That’s a good one.
“We just wanted to have a band that could play kitchens...Now we have this huge van and we’re doing a fucking North American tour. ”
Louis: Yeah, people who move downtown and think they’re going to sleep well…
Xavier: …just stay in the suburbs.
We have some of that in Toronto, too.
Louis: It’s probably the same thing around the fucking world.
But the way we tend to romanticize Montreal is that it's this decadent oasis of late-night parties, a culture that doesn't exist in the same way here.
Louis: Yeah yeah yeah. If you move far enough from the residential areas it’s still happening, but you have to really look for it. But it’s just more fun in DIY spaces.
Louis: It’s free, no one bothers you for nothing, there’s no noise regulations, there’s no one saying “oh, you guys shouldn't play that one.”
Xavier: Sometimes there are really good bar shows, but usually there’s this kind of reverent aspect of playing on a stage. Like, okay, it’s a rock show, you’re coming to see us. Now we’re going to play for you. It’s not as inclusive as DIY shows. We’re trying to keep it really inclusive, anyway. We try to have people on stage and be really surrounded, so it’s not just two guys on a stage. We like to do that, but some bars don’t really want people on stage.
Louis: Like in Ottawa.
I’ve heard some grumbling that the French underground music scene is kind of separate in Montreal, and that it doesn’t get the same kind of attention. You guys are Francophones, but you sing in English. Have you had much experience with that?
Xavier: We get that question a lot and we always have a hard time answering. There’s no hate. It’s just weird. There’s a really good French scene, but it’s not the one you hear on the TV. It’s the more Quebecois songwriting that you hear about it, but that’s not what we can relate more to.
Louis: If you’re doing the French circuit, you’re usually just doing Quebec, Quebec, Quebec. You get in that French touring mode and thinking you cannot go out of it.
Xavier: And at best you can go to France at some point.
So you mention there’s a lot of cool French bands that we don’t hear about. What should we be listening to?
Xavier: Yeah! Ponctuation from Quebec City. It’s another two-piece, really garage-y and really good. Good friends of ours
Xavier: Dudes like Jimmy Hunt, I really wish that guy would go all over the world, or like to New York or Los Angeles. Language is not a barrier, I mean not for us.
Louis: It worked for Malajube. They did the whole US circuit and everyone was into them but it’s weird it doesn’t happen more often. There’s a lot of good French bands. In Quebec right now, they don’t know what to do. The industry in Quebec, if you want to go out, the DIY touring circuit is not as developed as it is in the US or in Canada. You have a good scene in Quebec City and a good scene in Montreal, and there’s people trying to do stuff in smaller towns, but it’s really hard to get something going.
You often play in the dark, with two bare lightbulbs swinging above your heads. Do you do that at all your shows?
Xavier: Yeah, we try. When we play Montreal and it’s all our friends, the light is swinging all over the place and most of the time the light bulbs just shatter. We end up not having any light bulbs anymore. Some people end up taking out their phones and using that to light.
Louis: Yeah, the light really brings out something in people.
Where did that come from? Did you just think it looked cool?
Louis: I guess the swinging part of the lamp pretty much came by accident. It adds some movement on stage because there’s all the shades that are moving. We don’t like the standard bar light show that’s always red and blue.
Xavier? What was the first time we did that?
Louis: It was this bar called L’Absinthe in Montreal.
We like bands, not “duos.” You never hear anyone say “They really nailed that four-piece sound.”
You don't hear as much about heavier rock bands from Montreal right now. Does that make it harder to fit in?
Louis: We fit in with everyone. We normally end up playing really mixed up shows: with a hardcore band, metal band, punk band, even really poppy bands. We play with hip-hop acts.
Xavier: Yeah, we play really loud for a pop band, so all my hardcore friends are like “Yeah, this is loud, this is good!” And then it’s got this little pop touch.
It seems like it’d be a shift coming out of hardcore, but I read you say that you’re basically playing the same chords, just slower and more melodic.
Xavier: Yeah, at first, that’s why I ended up playing in this really low tuning, because it was the tuning I had in [Expectorated Sequence]. I didn’t want to always change my tuning for the jams so I ended up keeping that one. Drop C.
Xavier: [laughs] Yeah, I guess it’s pretty much a lot of people's progression. We still enjoy harder stuff but I guess I don’t know at some point we just wanted to write more pop songs. We’ve been interested in the pop structure of a song. It’s fun when you really nail a good chorus/verse/transition. It’s simple but it works really well.
In every review I’ve read of your band, people like to compare you to other bands, like you're just METZ From Above 1979.
Xavier: In every single one! It’s like, okay, it’s music!
Louis: The thing that really bugs me is being pinpointed as a duo. People are really focusing on the duo thing. It’s not about that.
Well yeah, “duo” isn’t a genre.
Louis: Exactly! We got asked to do a top five for CBC, like “what are your top five favourite duos?” Ugh, I don’t know!
Xavier: We like bands, not “duos.” You never hear anyone say “They really nailed that four-piece sound.” The fact that it’s two dudes, we just try to keep things simple. We didn’t want to be a duo, it wasn’t meant to be a duo at first. It was about being able to drive in a minivan, not having that much stuff to carry around. Now we have this huge van and we’re doing a fucking North American tour. But we like to be a bit more free.
Do the comparisons bug you?
Louis: We had this really really good review in DIY magazine and most of the interview she was talking about Japandroids and how we nailed “the Brian and Dave sound.” We don’t even listen to them! We don’t even know about those guys!
Xavier: “We couldn’t sound more like Japandroids even if we tried.” Oh, really?
Louis: I can’t wait to meet those guys, though.