Tearjerker Think Going on Tour Is Played Out
Toronto's Tearjerker think they can still garner fans without needing to tour.
Unless you live in Toronto or the surrounding areas, you probably won't get the chance to hear Tearjerker live. Micah Bonte (vocals/guitars) just became a father, and each of the members has a full time job they need to work in conjunction with chasing their music dream. But the reason you won’t get to see Tearjerker live is because the band has adopted a unique outlook on touring: it’s not crucial. At least, it’s not as crucial as it once was to building a fan base. Instead the members of Tearjerker focus their energy on creating engaging music, and providing listeners with carefully crafted and various versions of that music. By coalescing elements of shoegaze, sampling, pop, and lo-fi, they’ve created a sound that accesses the deepest caches of nostalgia. Built on melodies and rhythms that are simultaneously robust and warm, Tearjerker’s songs live rather than linger with you. When I ask Bonte if they’ve circumvented the need to play live, he mulls it over for a second before responding. “I’ve never seen most of my favourite bands or artists live, and probably never will, but that doesn’t mean I won’t listen to them all the time and look forward to hearing what they put out next.”
Though the band signed to a label for the distribution of their latest EP Hiding, they maintain a DIY approach toward making music. Taylor Shute (guitars/bass/keys) is a senior designer for a magazine and has created the band's album art, Bandcamp layout and graphics; while Trevor Hawkins (drums/samples) has been responsible for all of the recording and mixing. Scrolling through their blog, you'll find numerous gifs of the band punching their own buttons and pressing the paint on their own hand-numbered album covers. By doing everything themselves, they’re able to give fans thoughtful, hand-crafted limited editions of their releases without the exorbitant costs that are sometimes attached to such bundles. “I think about what I would want to give my money for when I’m buying music,” says Hawkins. “When we posted those videos of us making the packaging and the bundles for Rare by hand, we immediately noticed that more people started buying the physical copy of the album. They valued the care we put into the tangible part of the music we were sharing with them.”
Still, the majority of people find and listen to music online. Most artists using Bandcamp simply add EPs and full lengths, but Tearjerker want to make sure that there is plenty of music to dig through for returning fans and new listeners. They treat their digital singles like 7” releases, complete with album art and b-sides. Sometimes those b-sides are new tracks, and sometimes they are alternate versions of songs from their catalog. During a lull before the release of their second album, they even went back and completely reworked their first album resulting in Strangers Remade, which they unveiled on their blog one song at a time, each with unique artwork. This past December, in the midst of recording a new album that will be out this spring, the band released a limited edition cassette called Hiding With Friends. It’s all part of how Tearjerker have chosen to connect with listeners, without touring as part of the equation.
Noisey: Since you've started releasing music on your bandcamp there's been a pretty steady stream of singles, b-sides, re-works and albums. This is the longest the band has gone without putting material out. Do you think that since you're used to putting songs out so frequently, that you're getting to a point where you run the risk of overworking the songs?
Micah Bonte: That's a good question, but now that I think about it, no I don't think so.
Trevor Hawkins: I think that's always there a little bit. The way we write is we build up and then strip it down, and I don't think we've gone too far with that. These guys are good at just saying if something is too loud, or if there's too much added in a certain place.
Taylor Shute: And this time too, some of the songs are really new and some of the songs are really old.
Is this the first time you'd gone into the process of putting an album together with so much material?
Bonte: Yeah it is. We went in with a lot of demos, and there are some that are fully recorded that we're hanging on to for some plans in the future. There's a song on the record called "Parking Lot" that was actually written like, fifteen years ago. But it's cool because we took that and now Taylor's played some new instruments on it, so it's kind of new again.
Hawkins: This is the first time we’ve gone back to songs we’ve had hanging around for a long time. It wasn't planned either. It was just that, with "Parking Lot" for example, Taylor would always want to play it when we were jamming or whatever, and we'd kind of just shoot it down because it was old. But even back when Strangers came out, I think we played it a few times at shows because it is a fun song to play. So when we were getting ready for this album, Taylor did this really fresh, new take on it and when he brought that to us we knew there was no way it couldn't be on the album.
You all moved to Toronto over the past ten years or so. Is it good to be a band in Toronto?
Hawkins: Yes...yes and no.
Bonte: It doesn't matter for us really. We try to use technology as much as possible. We record our parts at home then send them to each other. We can do those pieces then jam it out whenever we can get together.
Do you think you lose anything in that?
Bonte: I would like to play more together, but when we jam nothing is lost.
Hawkins: Yeah, I actually kind of like it. When we get into a jam space the song is a different version of the pieces we all wrote. So the song takes on many different views before it's finished. And because we're looping and doing samples, we don't want to be onstage with laptops, so when we jam these songs out we sometimes get to a point where we think “how would we ever do this live?”
So there’s no plans to tour, but you’ll do local shows every now and then. Will not being able to play live as some other bands do hold you back?
Bonte: I don't think it will. We would probably be more popular if we did though.
Hawkins: We aren’t part of a scene because we don't play live. I don't think it matters though. I don't need to see an artist live to know I like their music. Maybe it even benefits us in a way. I remember talking to someone about it and they thought it kind of creates a mystery, which can be good.
What if some massive deal followed the new album, but a stipulation was an extensive tour. Would Tearjerker tour then? Or do you believe that we're at a point where bands don't need to tour, and that if you give listeners a healthy supply of good music and material that they can hold, that's enough?
Hawkins: It's funny, because I think if old school guys read about us on paper they'd be like “fuck these guys, get on the road and tour, get your hands dirty and play shows. Go to studios and record!” I think that guys with that mentality are part of the reason why the industry is crashing, but that's what people do, they see the negatives. I think of it as, let's not see it as crashing but a chance to re-invent it and try new things.
A lot of people go to live shows to hear bands rework songs and shape them differently. Your fans aren't going to get that from a live experience, so you give it back in a different way.
Hawkins: That's it man. Like with “So Dead” as a single, Taylor just came in one day and had "Version 2" and we knew instantly we had to put that out somehow. Those alternate versions and remixes are perfect for “b-sides”. I love making beats, and I don’t want a big lull between albums.
Bonte: That's where all of the samples and beats come from in Tearjerker. It's all Trevor. He was doing all of that before we were making music. That's his thing, almost even more than drums, and coming up with a good sample is really hard. It would be hard to add another member because everything is split so perfectly between all of us
What's your favourite album right now?
Hawkins: I think Alex G’s last one was a really good record. I think what happens though is when we're recording we don't listen to much. Like I loved the Alvvays record, but I'm not listening to it right now because I think if you listen to too much indie rock or hip hop while you're recording you'll end up sounding like that. I think that's something I'm most proud of is that we don't sound like the bands we love. I love Mount Eerie and Phil Elverum, but we don't sound anything like Elverum's stuff.
Bonte: I really liked the last Ratking album. It's kind of safe for us to listen to rap and hip hop when we're recording though because we aren't going to sound like that. I can’t listen to a lot of new stuff when we’re writing, I just can’t. I'm looking forward to finishing with these songs so I can listen to some new stuff.
I think elements of hip hop and rap do make their way into your sound. One of Tearjerker's biggest strengths is your understanding and use of beat, tempo and rhythm.
Hawkins: Yeah, and the fact that we also like such different music. Micah and I love hip hop, but thank god Taylor likes folk or else we'd be making a rap album.
The songs on Hiding are the longest you've written. Did you purposely give yourselves a bit more room to explore on those songs?
Shute: I think we did. One of the things I wanted to focus on specifically was having more dynamic in the songs. I wanted to just add another way to open up more ideas, and the songs on the new record breathe even more. We weren't afraid to let them open up a bit.
Bonte: That's really important to us. When we send each other parts, we aren't afraid to say no to something that we know isn't right, but we also know when we're on to something good. That kind of ties back to what we were talking about earlier -- we still have songs hanging around from five years ago that we knew just weren't right back then, but we also know that they can become something so we don't just get rid of them. They're just not right yet.
Hawkins: I think space, and how you fill it, is one of the most important things in music. I think Grizzly Bear are a good example, how they fit the click of a drum stick against the kit in with strums and then everything comes together and it works in that space. I still don't think we've reached the point where I feel like I have enough space in our songs yet, but we're working on it. The songs on Hiding were definitely our most spatial.
Your lyrics are simple but impactful, because you don't try to say more than what needs to be said. I think “You Can” is probably your most abstract song lyrically, but also the most universal.
Bonte: I usually like to say less if I can. If you look at a Why? record his lyrics are like a document, line after line, but I don't write that way.
Hawkins: Not many people can write a song that describes every moment with so much detail and make it connect. I like it when it's a bit more vague, because a vague song lyric let's people have their own interpretation of it.
Hiding is a very complete experience, which is impressive considering it’s an EP. It flows incredibly well and gives a good idea of the band’s range of style. Were you ever worried that a four song EP wouldn’t connect as much as an LP?
Hawkins: The idea was that Hiding would be an introduction to us, and some of those songs were spillover from Rare that didn’t fit on that album. But we kept them because we knew they were a progressed sound. Even now I think they are better than what was on Rare.
There was less of a DIY feel to it also, even though the band still took care of the entire process other than distributing the vinyl. How far can the DIY approach go if you find yourself in a position where there’s a demand for 10,000 records instead of 500?Shute: I think we can always do a special edition here and there. It’s important for us to give people something to interact with.
Hawkins: There’s a charm to it. It isn’t a time when people are buying physical music as much, but bands cry about people not buying music, so go make something that people will want to buy. Something people can see value in.
Bonte: When everything is so digital, I think people respect something that’s been put together by hand. At the end of the day we’ve made music and we’ve made something that you can hold with your hands. We made it.
What's your expectation of the new album? What's your metric of success?
Hawkins: Each album has been bigger than the last as far as reach and people following what we're doing. The feedback has always been positive and more so with every release. I want this to take things to the next level.
What's the next level for Tearjerker?
Hawkins: That's hard to say. You could talk about how many people are following you but what does that really mean?
Do you think it would be just to see an increase in the interactivity with fans? For a band that isn't well known, you have a healthy amount of fans sharing your music and videos and posting it.
Bonte: See and sometimes we don't realize how it's spreading, but I think you're right. And that's way more important than how many records get sold or how many shows we play. If we can keep seeing a growth in fans loving the music, sharing it and sending messages about how it has affected them than that's most important. It's just as good, if not better, than getting features about the music and reading positive write ups on sites and zines and that kind of thing. Getting back to the expectation though, we just need to get the album out. We're ready for people to listen to it.
Luke Cummins is a writer living in Hamilton - @xtrmnnchlnc