Feb. 02, 2011 - Issue #798 : Communion
Uncovering Modern Myths
Michael Petkau Falk discusses Les Jupes' indie-rock debut
The genesis of Les Jupes' dark and gloomy indie-rock gem Modern Myths was in bandleader Michael Petkau Falk's 2005 move to Montréal, where he wrote the first songs that would become part of the recently released album, though the road from there to the finished record was also marked by some time away from the stage, changes in bandmembers and a move back to Winnipeg where Petkau Falk took the reins of the West End Cultural Centre as its artistic director, as well as shepherding along the creation of new music with the Record of the Week Club. Petkau Falk spoke with Vue Weekly recently about the creation of Modern Myths.
VUE WEEKLY: How long did it take to make Modern Myths, from the initial songwriting through to the end of the recording?
MICHAEL PETKAU FALK: Recording started in February 2009. Most of the songs were written in the year preceding, but "This Place Owes Us" and "How Do You Keep This All In Line?" were written back in 2005.
VW: When you were writing the songs, did you come at them in a particular way? Lyrics first? Music first?
MPF: Most songs usually start with a chord progression or guitar part and a rough vocal melody. It can take them a few minutes or a few months to sort themselves out and become fully realized. Lyrics usually come last. I'll hum nonsensical syllables until the emotional/thematic core of the song reveals itself. The lyrics usually come pretty quickly after that. Ultimately, I feel that the songs write themselves—or at least the good ones do. The songs you have to work the hardest for somehow also seem to get abandoned the quickest.
VW: Did you take the songs to your recording band fully formed, or were they sketches that were then filled out as a group?
MPF: Each song was different. For example, the keyboard solos in "Myth #3 (The Mountain)" and "How Do You Keep This All In Line?" were part of the songwriting process and are non-negotiable, whereas some of the arrangements were definitely created by band members, especially drums and bass—Ian and Jeff had a big hand in shaping the rhythm of the record.
VW: What were the recording sessions like for this album? Did you record as a band live off the floor or did you piece it together one track at a time?
MPF: I wanted a record with a lot of energy in it, one that felt natural but still big and tight and tightly arranged. We did the rhythm section live off the floor with no click. I think the only song we did with a metronome was "A Caveman Returns Home to Find the Fire Has Gone Out" because of the multiple tempo changes. There's something subtle about how using a click track changes the skew of a song—you can't always put your finger on it, but if you can get the band tight enough to just nail it, then you're almost always going to have a final track that feels that little bit more alive.
And I think that's really important right these days: so much music is neutered by this quest for perfection, but music isn't about fitting into a grid, it's about how it impacts the listener. In so many studio situations you spend more time looking at a screen than listening.
Once we had solid bed tracks, then the rest of the record was multi-tracked. Some by me alone in the studio, some with the help of some friends, some more with Marcus (Paquin, co-producer) just before mixing. And then, to top it off, while mixing we decided to re-record a few parts. The lead vocals to "Myth #7 (Honour)" and "How Do You Keep This All In Line?" were recorded downstairs while Marcus was mixing the song upstairs and then flown in. It was hilarious that after a year and a half, we were cutting lead vocals with no time to spare and getting better results. Sometimes I work best with my back against the wall.
VW: Were there any other songs written that were left off the album?
MPF: Yeah, there were another five or six songs that the band had worked on that didn't make the cut. We did beds for a couple and then abandoned them, the others were left out earlier.
VW: Did you have an idea of what you wanted Modern Myths to be when you started, or did the finished shape emerge as the writing and recording went along?
MPF: I'm a firm believer in having recording be an open-ended evolutionary process. I didn't have a final picture in mind, but I did have a final mood in mind, and that guided the production choices and arrangements. I'm not interested in trying to make a song sound exactly like you hear it in your head. I want to leave room for improvisation and those accidental "a-ha!" moments, and allow a song to evolve. Who says I have all the answers on how a song should be? Only the song knows what it wants to be. I'm just the middle-man.
VW: You co-produced this album with Marcus Paquin. What did he bring to the recording process?
MPF: Marcus brought exceptional musical ability, a complementary vision and the rare ability to make the heavy technical parts of recording invisible. But most importantly, he has high standards. His primary focus is always the performance and the ability to intuitively assess if it makes the song communicate better or communicate worse. It was an incredibly comfortable and creative recording process with him.
VW: The current lineup of Les Jupes is not the same one as on the record, with the players all being relatively recent additions and Kelly Beaton being the only one to perform on the recording. Have the songs changed at all with the new lineup?
MPF: Some have changed a little, some are faithful to the album. The main limitations are that we don't have a Moog anymore and we don't have a second guitarist, so we arrange the most necessary parts with the four people we have.
VW: If you were to trace the musical map that led you to Modern Myths, what would it look like?
MPF: Modern Myths started when I moved to Montréal in 2005. That's when the first two songs came and that's when Marcus and I first really started hanging out. I took a couple years away from playing shows during that time. Les Jupes started playing the odd show around town in 2007/'08 and then started getting serious about making the record. Musically, the album evolved as I evolved through producing albums for people and then the Record of the Week Club. V
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