‘I don’t really understand what makes something retro, or makes something modern,” Michael Rault admits. “It seems like a lot of modern things are borrowed from a slightly less-far-back era; I’m borrowing from the ’60s and ’70s, and someone else is borrowing from the ’80s, and they get called modern.”
It’s a fair point: aren’t most trends in sound and style simply old things made new, plucked from the past and given a modern context? Be it the wholesale pillaging of both melody and lyric (looking at you, Pitbull), or even just equipment and ideas, past and future sounds share a certain cycle of repetition, borrowing and reintroduction.
Musicians often look back to move ahead. For Rault’s part, the Edmonton expat has spent much of his decade of songwriting exploring the nuances of vintage rock and psychedelia: Rault songs find Beatles-y harmonies floating over rock ‘n’ roll tracks that firmly emphasize grooves in their instrumentation. That latter point might be the root cause, Rault notes, of what keeps him pegged with the ‘R’ word.
“The only thing that I think seems retro, and makes my recordings seem retro, is that in modern, mainstream recording there’s much less of a focus on playing instruments,” he says. “There’s much more about getting sounds going, and building up the groove, the way they do it with drum machines and programming.
“If you want a sort-of retro vibe, but you want it to be modernized, I think a lot of times it comes down to simplifying the parts, and making it less of a focus on an instrumental showcase,” he continues. “That’s one thing that I always end up doing; I like to have all the parts that I’m playing—or other people are playing on the record—have some cool showcasing of each instrument on the record.”
And in focusing on organic instrumentals, Rault’s songwriting has proven anything but a flat circle of repetition. With his latest full-length, Living Daylight, the songwriter’s cut an album of sounds that spiral outward, hitting older touchstones while expanding into new territories as it goes.
That said, the album began after a period where Rault found himself retreading some of the same turf.
“I was feeling a bit bored when I first started it; I toured my previous full-length, Ma-Me-O, for a long time,” Rault notes. “And then I made the Whirlpool EP, trying to continue on in the same vein—though slightly going off in a different direction. And when I sat down to write this record, I just didn’t feel like writing the same sort of style stuff that i’d been writing for the last long while, at that point in time.
“I ended up deciding that I was just going to not worry about it being a continuation of any old record,” he adds. “Just make exactly the record I wanted to make at that time.”
What that record ended up being: a collection of hazy-summer guitar lines, coasting over blissed-out band vibes with a warmth and an ease to its eight-song progression, though not without its shadows. Lyrics of love and longing—song titles include “Too Bad So Sad”, “Hiding From a Heartbreak”, “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes”—add a shiver to the sunny hues of the instrumental.
“There are still some up-tempo tunes,” he says. “but it was a little bit more of a bedroom record.”
At least that’s where it began: Rault tinkering on sounds and ideas in his Toronto home. What had originally been intended to be a homemade recording, too, grew into a full-on studio session when some funding fell into place. Rault brought his cousin Renny Wilson on board to co-produce, and flew back to Edmonton to work with him in Riverdale Recorders.
To Rault, splitting his time between a pro studio and home recording lets him harness the perks of each approach, without being limited.
“In general, I feel like when you’re recording at home, you’re not counting the time at all, and you’re not worried about the money,” he says. “So you can actually just let things happen really organically, without having to … I don’t know, sometimes when you’re in the studio, you have to have the entire idea mapped out in your mind and you just go though and systematically knock off getting all the tracks done. Whereas when you’re at home, or in somebody’s home studio, and you’re not on the clock, you can just try stuff out. And it could end up turning out terribly. Or you can end up finding that there’s some crazy thing that you never would’ve done, and you’ve never done on a recording before, that actually sounds awesome, and makes it a much more unique recording.”
The pair budgeted two weeks at Riverdale to flesh out and finish Rault’s ideas, just the two of them. But after a fortnight, there were still some tweaks to be made: Rault ended up sticking around for one more week to add a few finishing touches to Living Daylight.
“Me and Renny have worked on recordings in each other’s bedrooms since we were probably 16,” he says. “That [final week] was kind of back to the basics, hangin’ out in Renny’s bedroom. And for some reason, it was the final strokes—there were certain songs we thought were finished already that we started putting various synth lines on, and extra guitar solos. There’s a couple guitar solos that were just gonna be empty space with the groove, but then Renny convinced me to rip some self-indulgent fuzzed-out guitar solos on them. So that last week was a lot of fun.
“I ended up having to cancel a show in Toronto,” he adds. “Which was good that I did; I think a lot of the best parts happened in the last week.”
Sun, Jul 13 (7:30 pm)
With Motorbike James
The Artery, $10