Sheer Agony is kind of like Chris Elliot’s character in Cabin Boy. Stick with me here. While other bands in Montreal set sail on the choppy seas of punk, garage rock, and harsh noise, these elegant fellows toss on their powdered wigs and dip from an entirely different pool. Zipping out off-kilter pop songs in the tradition of The Soft Boys, dB’s, and Homosexuals, their music strips away the scuzz and aims straight for the sweet spot. This week sees the release of Sheer Agony’s debut 7” from Fixture Records, so on top of an interview with frontman Jackson MacIntosh, the band decided to include the premiere of their music video and a specially compiled mix.
Sheer Agony - "She's An Artist"
Sheer Agony - "Everybody Knows"
The music you make has always stood out to me because it’s unashamedly poppy, polished, and in no way tough. Did you ever feel like you were swimming against the tide in Montreal with so many bands that just want to bum people out?
It was never really conscious, but I’ve always written songs like that and was just waiting for a platform to play them. Within the band, there’s been more joking about that than anything obvious from the outside. At one of our first practices, our bassist Markus described us as the opposite of AIDS Wolf. I’ve never personally thought of us in those terms, though.
Did you ever go through a punk or metal phase growing up, or were you always a big softy?
I was definitely always more of a softy, to the point where I got made fun of by my punk friends in high school. For a long time, I decided I hated punk rock. There were always things like the Buzzcocks that were undeniable, but I definitely never identified as a punk rocker or a metalhead. I just thought The Who were the best band of all time.
You grew up in Cape Breton and Sydney, Nova Scotia, right? How did you get into power pop, mod, glam rock and all that stuff?
My dad has a pretty good record collection—like 300 or 400 LPs—and I decided to go through it and listen to every record sequentially. He has it grouped by era and by geography: all of his British records in one crate, American records from the ’60s in one crate, American records from the ’70s in another crate, and anything that could be considered New Wave in another crate. I went through all of them, and really got into The Who, Elvis Costello’s first few records, and, of course, The Beatles. That was just kind of the starting point, and it was also pre-Internet—for me, at least. We didn’t have a computer in the house, and high-speed was unheard of in Cape Breton. Pretty soon I started mail-ordering records, and that’s how I got into stuff like The dB’s and The Soft Boys.
Sheer Agony – “Good Cats Go To Heaven” (Director: Mark Fragua)
Tell me about the making of the music video. Was that just a drunken night on the town with Mark and his dad’s video camera?
That was our friend Jackie’s video camera. She was wielding a flashlight the entire time because we didn’t have any proper lights. Mark had some ideas for things he wanted to shoot, but he didn’t tell me what they were beforehand. Instead, he just got me really, really drunk on rum. There’s a deleted scene of me puking in the bushes. [Laughs] He kind of wanted to call off the rest of the shoot after that, but we soldiered on. Essentially he just called me and said we had to do it then because it was raining. So out I went in my tie-dye fancy-pants.
I was going to say—what’s up with those?
They’re homemade. Mark’s main thing was that he wanted to get me really drunk, dress up in funny clothes, and go talk to the guy at Nouveau Systeme, who’s a bit of a character. We were sparring a bit, but he won the day on that one. I wasn’t at my sharpest. He made me some Pogos and out we went into the night to get absolutely soaked. I was sick for days after that.
On a similar topic, can you tell me about the infamous butt photo?
Oh yeah! That was shot by Francesca Tallone. We showed up to take a photo without really knowing what we wanted to do, so I asked her, “Can you put us in my butt?” [Laughs] She had mentioned that she could do double exposures, and that was the first thing that came to mind. We spent a few hours fruitlessly trying to get a more normal band photo, but then the sun set and there was no way to get daylight shots. We climbed onto the roof of a building and made the magic happen. Nobody thought that was going to be the real photo, but even the trial run looked amazing. We spent an hour trying to capture the perfect butt shot, making sure the moon was in the frame.
The full moon! I love that there’s a behind the scenes shot as well.
That’s my Facebook profile picture. I’m pretty unemployed, and sometimes wonder if it’d be better not to have a picture of my butt while I gaze longingly at the camera.
I also love that Paul McCartney mix you made last year. Do you still find yourself defending his solo albums from the ‘70s, or has the tide started to turn?
The tide has turned! Around the time that mix came out, I think it was just a broader zeitgeist thing of people accepting the ’70s Paul McCartney solo output and the highly polished pop jam. He’s just one of the greatest writers of melodies to ever play the game, and the funkier end of his solo output is super interesting as well. It’s only in the past little while that you can hear songs like “Monkberry Moon Delight” being played out.
Can we expect some more mixes from unfairly overlooked ’70s artists, like Todd Rundgren, for example?
I actually tried to make one similar to the Paul McCartney mix, but as much as I adore Todd Rundgren, it can’t be done. Once you step away from Something/Anything and theTodd double LP, that’s the real cut-off. If you can include all the early stuff, it’s no problem, but I wanted to have the late-career, dark meat Todd Rundgren mix. With Paul, I was really just picking out songs I thought people would like because they didn’t feel like wading all the way through London Town. And rightfully so, because that record, as a whole, sucks. But when a Todd record is bad, it tends to be all the way bad. Like Nearly Human… there is not a good song to be heard on that record. There might be a case to be made if I can include the Utopia stuff, too. Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe it is possible.
Download “Rundgrenaissance” here.
Jackson’s note: I think this is more divisive than the post-Beatles McCartney mix; Todd's partly so appealing because he's so mercurial and over-the-top. As the man himself once said, “if anything's worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.” Hear hear!
You seem like you’re constantly recording, but your output trickles out at a slower rate than most bands. Do you feel like you’re a sonic perfectionist?
The songs on the 7” got mixed many, many times over. Each one was probably a week of work on its own, just adding and subtracting. We would typically get half-drunk and then obsess over a kick-drum sound or a bass sound for four hours. You learn a lot from doing that, but it can take a while sometimes.
Your lyrics seem similarly obsessed and self-referential. Where does that come from?
It just comes from me trying to be clever. There’s no real process behind it; I just find that kind of thing funny. I guess Robert Wyatt was prone to do that sort of thing with The Soft Machine, and obviously, Dan Bejar from Destroyer does it a lot. These are lyricists I admire and in some way try to emulate, but I’m too much of a goof to go all the way with it. Most of my songs are kind of like trying to imagine myself if I was a huge, whiny baby, and written from that perspective.
Is it still the dream to release a double LP?
That is the dream, but the dream can only come true if there’s a label foolhardy enough to release a double LP gatefold.
Is the gatefold going to be the butt photo, with two cheeks spread across and the crack in the middle?
That’s actually a really good idea. Kind of like the gatefold in Thriller with Michael Jackson lounging with a baby tiger. That’s the dream!
Ace of Base's Secret Nazi Past
Before he founded Ace of Base, Ulf Ekberg was a member of Commit Suiside, a Nazi punk band.
Parquet Courts - "Light Up Gold Road Trip" (Full Documentary)
In this new documentary, Noisey follows rising indie rockers Parquet Courts from Mexico to Texas and London as they tour to support their debut LP, 'Light Up Gold.'
Yung Lean Doer Is the Weirdest 16-Year-Old White Swedish Rapper You'll Hear This Week
Yung Lean raps over pillow-fluffy beats and raps about glory holes and Arizona Iced Tea. Who the fuck is this kid? And why is he like this?
Adam Ant - The British Masters, Chapter 6
Noisey's John Doran talks with the great post-punk pop star Adam Ant about tribal body mods and layering tape.
Photos: Taking Acid at Coachella
When Paley sent these photos in, she included a nice little caveat over email that we've decided to reprint here in full, not only because it's too good to edit, but because her photographs of her and her weird buddies riding the snake are some of the best
R.I.P. Storm Thorgerson (1944-2013)
On Thursday, the hyper-talented graphic designer, artist, and famed album cover creator Storm Thorgerson passed away after a battle with cancer. He was 69 years old.
The Internet Is Scary
As of six months ago, my Facebook fanpage is like a dojo where hormonal teenagers hone their technique. Here is a heartfelt poem from some kid who wants to rape, kill, and marry me.
I Accidentally Touched Little Richard's Butt One Time
It was in the Detroit airport. After it happened Little Richard said, "He graze my derriere."
Listen to St. Lucia's Remix of The Colourist's "Little Games"
Last month, Cali quartet the Colourist released "Little Games," and St. Lucia just pulled a warm Balearic blanket over the whole thing, sanding away its rough edges with bright synths and lightly gated percussion.
Aaron Montaigne, Godfather of Screamo, is More Interesting Than You Can Ever Hope to Be - Part Two
On surviving combat in Iraq and Afghanistan with the help of magic, 'Bladerunner,' and everything in between.