Tyson McShane knew his father as an even-handed guy, an eighth-grade history and English teacher whose nature was well-suited to the profession. But he also remembers being shown a collection of photos his father had taken, which seemed to complicate that unassertive image.
“He’d occasionally bring out this box of slides, of photos,” McShane recalls. “And I remember there being some really compelling images of riots.”
In recent years, his memory of the photos was jogged by a growing sense of political unrest in this country. McShane asked to see them again, and he found himself greeted with frames of rebellion, property damage and passionate unrest—and another side of his father.
“I was kind of shocked—the last time I saw them I was probably 15,” he says. “I knew they seemed compelling, but just imagining my mild-mannered dad crouching down and taking a photo as police were charging over a mound of bricks and shooting tear gas at students, was kind of wild.”
The situations those photos captured—the civil unrest of Paris, 1968—form the thematic bedrock of Slow Down Molasses’ third album, Burnt Black Cars. The Saskatchewan band’s always felt more like a collective, making use of many occasional members to add layers and layers to its sound, but here its scope been focused: the album’s nine songs of ambitious, shoegaze-y rock ‘n’ roll still offers a sturdy sonic wall, just one built out of a less-eclectic spread of instrumentation.
“Instead of strings and horns, we have a few more delay pedals and synths onstage,” McShane notes. “[We] turn up our amps a little more, and create nice walls of angelic feedback, instead of nice walls of angelic violins.”
Drawing on his father’s years in Paris for inspiration doesn’t mean his lyrics are aiming at direct interpretation, McShane notes. Rather than get pinned down by the details of the era, he’s trying to capture the charged-up sentiment of the time and place, an abstracted type of storytelling McShane was already drawing himself towards.
“It fit thematically well with the direction I was going [in] with some of the newer songs, of trying to write not necessarily about that [event], but imagining scenes from that, and capturing some of that tense energy,” McShane explains. “That this major thing is happening in a city, but people are still having to go about their lives and the regular, everyday things people write about in songs, like heartbreak and hope and love.
“I’m not a narrative songwriter that can present to somebody that this is the story I’m telling, and it starts here and goes to here,” he continues. “The stuff I respond to, and the stuff I like writing, is a lot more impressionistic, of scenes [and] ephemeral moments—trying to capture them, and describe them.”
Burnt Black Cars was crafted with a smaller roster of musicians than Slow Down Molasses’ previous efforts. After years of a being a band known for huge scope—its last album, Walk Into the Sea, had some 14 musicians play on it, and subsequent tours could swell to eight or nine members on the road together, depending on availability—Molasses settled into a more rigid lineup of McShane, Jeanette Stewart, Chrix Morin, Levi Soulodre and Aaron Scholz.
A minimized lineup isn’t quite a hard and fast rule—the band’s already added a sixth member this past tour, McShane notes, but one that’s emerged fairly organically: the band’s tours have been creeping longer and longer, and Europe’s proven a fruitful place for Slow Down Molasses, meaning a smaller lineup’s been more effective and available for longer, more distant outings.
“It became a little more focused that way: even our first UK tour, I think there were eight of us on that tour,” he says. “We ended up playing a little more aggressively and came back from that tour wanting to really refine the sound, and how we were playing with each other. Also, it lined up with a couple people just not being as available anymore.”
The album’s political leanings are written about a different time and place, but McShane sees a relevance to them in this country, too: as the rumblings of desire for change are starting to visibly emerge around him—most recently visible in a certain provincial election—projecting that sort of sentiment, even one based in the past, seems an ideal fit.
“I like a lot of political music, but it’s so hard to do well, and in a situation like this, I think I’d be an ass if I tried to give a detailed analysis of the events of 1968 in Paris,” he says. “But I feel like I can describe feelings of that, or scenes of that.”
Sat, May 30 (9 pm)
Slow Down Molasses
With Diamond Mind, Sparkle Blood