Fragile Feet Keep It Simple

The Montreal trio on minimalism, working with The Villa and their new album.

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May 21 2014, 3:20pm

Photo courtesy of Shoghi Shams

Fragile Feet write songs that are inexplicably epic as hell and quiet as a whisper at the same time. The trio got started when its two founding members, Samuel Haythornthwaite and Jessica Slipp, worked together in a restaurant and realized they had overlapping musical interests. Many living room jam sessions later, and after adding guitarist Tom Di Tota, they've turned into one of Montreal's best emerging acts.

The trio create a warm, organic sound by overlapping guitars and organs with drums and synths. Their minimal compositions disguise the fact that they're unleashing big hooks, as on the slow-burning "We Deserve Each Other," which gets into your head like a hymn. At their best, they recall the early work of Broken Social Scene, when they were a duo creating wildly catchy tunes that blew apart all the rules of pop music.

They work with the Montreal artist collective and label, The Villa, which is home to a handful of similar organic/electronic crossover artists like Cyrus, Toboggan, and Munno. Some of these artists found their way onto Fragile Feet's new remix EP, which sees their songs take a more downtempo hip-hop turn.

We spoke with the band recently about their interest in minimalism, their work with The Villa, and their forthcoming album, All I Can Bear.

Noisey: Your songs have a nice, organic, kind of wispy sound to them. How do you guys go about writing songs? Is there any jamming involved?
Fragile Feet: When we first started, usually it was Sam making beats and patterns that would then be collaborated with Jess on keyboards and vocals. We worked both autonomously and collaboratively back then, but now, with the addition of Tom Di Totta on guitar, we now work more in a jam space environment to help our song writing process. One of the biggest changes in the way we write songs has been the influence of performing a live set. Before, we would write and record almost simultaneously, but now we write songs with more of a performance mindset – giving it time to change and develop.

Do you have any major influences or bands who inspire you to make music?
Individually, we all have so many reasons for why we make music it’s hard to list them all. Yo La Tengo is a huge influence and something that bonded us as friends when we first met. The Magnetic Fields have also been a huge influence in the way that they make minimal, yet catchy and engaging songs. Over the last decade, a lot of electronic music has become an increasingly influential sound for us, and something that has shaped our aesthetic for pop music.

That's one of the things I find so interesting about your music. You create big hooks, but when you think about what's happening, it's all very stripped down. Is that on purpose? What do you like about minimalism?
We don’t always plan on minimalism, we just really like giving ideas room to breathe. A lot of our songs started with very definite concepts that we never wanted to lose sight of throughout the completion of the track. Often times the song title and concept was actually created long before any lyrics or hooks were written and we then worked to shape the song around that idea.

That's a cool songwriting process. How do you move from the "concept" for a song to the song itself?
A few years back Jess spent a year studying in Gothenburg, Sweden. Sam would send her music tracks and attach titles to them, which she would then try to write the melody and lyrics around while she was there. When working in closer proximity we would have conversations about an idea and then boil that down to a short phrase. Then we'd write a song with that title in mind. In our song books we have pages of songs titles that haven’t been written yet. We’ll get to them eventually.

Do you find yourself reducing the elements of your songs, or eliminating things, to keep them simple and minimal?
We do throw a lot of material away as we write but we don’t really do this to keep the tracks simple. We often get bored of initial ideas and replace them with new ones. Our songs tend to completely change from their original draft to the completed mix by us throwing away and re arranging. We don’t really aim for minimal or simple we just try to avoid redundancy in our arrangements.

When did you get started on the new remix EP? Was there any reason for the artists you chose to remix your songs?
We sent out the idea about 6 months ago to some of our fellow artists on (or affiliated with) The Villa, as well as other musicians we knew in the Montreal music scene. Having been influenced a lot by electronic music, we thought it would be a neat idea to get our friends to make remixes of our own songs. The artists we asked to contribute to the EP were chosen because we really like they do as musicians and wanted to have the opportunity to work with them.

I'm interested in knowing more about The Villa. It's both a label and an artist collective?
The Villa is a collective of like-minded musicians and friends, most of who are from Montreal. We self-release PWYC music under a shared banner. We wouldn’t go so far as to call it a ‘label’ since there are no physical pressings, but we are still very proud of the work that has come out of it.

Do you guys collaborate frequently? In what ways?
We have collaborated in the past on compilation LPs (which are available for free at wearethevilla.com) and we often remix each other’s work as we have with this new EP. Most other collaboration within the Villa comes from sharing works in process with each other and asking for thoughts and suggestions.

What's next? Any recording or touring plans?
We are currently focusing on our follow-up EP titled, All I Can Bear, which we’re recording and mixing over the summer. We recently did a live studio performance for the indie music show BRBR in Toronto, which features one of our newest tracks, which will be on TV and the internet soon. We are also planning on playing shows in and around Montreal throughout the summer to test out our new material.

What are you doing on the new album, especially with the addition of an extra guitar? Is anything different in your sound or writing process?
The new release we are working on will be another 6 song EP. We really like working with that particular number of songs. It is long enough for the EP to have weight without it losing cohesion. Our process and tool kit has remained mostly the same except this time we are writing songs with more of a performance mindset rather than a purely studio based approach.

Greg Bouchard is a writer living in Toronto. He's on Twitter.

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