controller.controller Have Reunited And It Feels So Good
What's more difficult: reuniting after nine years, or dealing with the messy symmetry of people spelling it "Controller.Controller"?
This week Coachella announced the line-up for its 2015 festival. Known for its ability to influence (read: pay) artists to reunite, or at least launch a reunion at the festival, the festival unveiled a bill that only featured one out of its 150 or so many acts: Ride. As exciting as it will be for shoegazers to see their heroes first play at Coachella (barring any warm-up gigs), the Oxford band previously announced their reformation back in November. So where was the surprise?
Meanwhile, on the same day up north in Toronto, another festival as established but much smaller, announced the line-up for its 15th annual event. I won’t kid you: Wavelength is hardly on par with Coachella. It has a tiny fraction of the budget, centres only on Canadian acts, and most likely does not attract paparazzi. But it was impossible not to be impressed with not only the artists it booked for the small-scale event (Lowell, Last Ex, Mozart’s Sister and original punk dude Art Bergmann), but three, count ’em, three reunions: Ottawa indie-folk dreamers the Acorn, Guelph/Toronto noise rockers Brides, and most exciting of all, Toronto dance-punks controller.controller.
Although they were only around for four years, controller.controller made a significant splash on the Canadian music scene with their powerfully ominous “death disco.” On the strength of their History EP and album, X-Amounts (both released via Paper Bag Records), they headlined tours across the UK and North America, opened tours with bigger name acts like the Cult, Death From Above 1979 and OK Go, covered magazines, and garnered rave reviews across the board, even causing Pitchfork to write, “it's not just something to sweat to, it's something to sing along to, and something to come back to.”
And then in 2006, exactly a year after the release of X-Amounts, vocalist Nirmala Basnayake announced she was leaving the band to pursue other interests, thus forcing the others to part ways. As one of Canada’s hottest bands, the split was completely out of the blue and considered a great loss, especially at a time when Canada was considered by many the hottest exporter of music in the world. Not long after, bassist Ronnie Morris and drummer Jeff Scheven resurfaced as Lioness, while guitarist Scott Kaija formed Medallions, but much like their dissolution, news of controller.controller’s return after a near nine-year break is quite unexpected. Thankfully Ronnie Morris filled us in on why exactly controller.controller have reunited, what plans they have for the future, and why they chose Wavelength to make their grand entrance.
Noisey: First things first: In the year 2015, is it Controller.Controller or controller.controller? How true are you to the use of lower case?
Ronnie Morris: It doesn’t really matter, but I like it in lower case. Capital letters mess with the symmetry. I know it’s pretentious.
So when exactly did the idea of reforming first come up? Did any one person pitch the others?
Reforming wasn’t really the intention at first. I started talking with Scott about six months ago about making music together again, just for fun, and Nirmala got in touch saying she’d like to be a part of it. At the time, we thought we were starting a new project, but inevitably, when we actually got together, we started playing around with old riffs, to see if we could still play them. It reminded us about how much fun those songs were to play, so decided to go with it, and reached out to the other guys too.
Nirmala leaving the band is what ended things. How hard was it to get everyone back together?
Nirmala leaving made it official, but we were all pretty burnt out when we called it quits back in 2006. We probably weren’t very good at touring, really, even if we did a fair amount of it—we were butting heads with each other far too much towards the end, which took the fun out of it for everyone. We’ve all done a lot in the interim, including starting families, or building careers outside of the music industry, and these things still make a lot of demands on our time. But I think we all really missed it, and missed each other - you get pretty close when you spend that much time in the back of a van together. More than anything else, this has been an opportunity for us all to repair our friendships and hang out with each other again.
How has it felt playing together again?
Surprisingly natural. Like riding a bike. A five-person tandem bike. The good thing about the decline of the music industry is that we can be pretty sure now we’re never going to make any money doing this, so a lot of the pressure is off. We can be happy just making a racket, the way we were when we first started back in 2002. It’s been good.
How much of a reunion have you planned? One-off? Some gigs? Writing and recording?
We haven’t done much planning, to be honest. We thought we’d start with a show or two, but we’re finding we’re pretty happy to be a band again, so there will probably be more. Once we get the kinks worked out, we’ll see about making some new music. We’re pretty excited about the possibilities, though.
The band wasn't around very long, yet became so hyped and established very quickly. Are there any particular moments or memories that you hold close to the heart?
The hype probably has something to do with why we weren’t around that long, but it helped us to get out and see some of the world, and to meet a lot of amazing people. We made a lot of good friends on the road, especially in the bands we toured with over and over, like Death From Above 1979, You Say Party, Uncut, and Magneta Lane. The camaraderie of shared trauma, I guess.
How true to the band's sound do you expect to stay? Are your tastes still aligned to what you were doing eight years ago or do you see some creative changes coming?
It’s funny—there are a few riffs that have been kicking around in our heads for at least the last decade that never quite got turned into songs, and some of them have been revived in the rehearsal space recently. They sound just like you’d think they would, for better or worse. Our tastes have probably evolved a lot since then - listening to the records, there’s a lot I’m sure we would do differently if we were recording them now - but it’s been comforting to see that we’re still very much us. We were always kind of a sum of very different parts, and that hasn’t changed. Somehow, it all still fits together.
What is it about Wavelength that made you decide to choose it to reunite?
We all went to Wavelength pretty regularly to check out new music, even before we formed a band and played there ourselves back in June of 2003. I always thought we were incredibly lucky to have a music forum like it in Toronto—during our first couple of years it was a hub for a really supportive local music community, and we probably wouldn’t have gotten as far as we did if we hadn’t had the chance to be a part of it. That’s why we kept playing Wavelength events when we could - we played again in 2003 at a fundraiser for the zine, and the next year at a show celebrating their fourth anniversary. That’s also why it makes sense to us to play it now. Back to the start, as it were.
You and Jeff also have Lioness going. What does controller.controller coming back do to the members' other projects?Some things may have been pushed onto the back burner lately, but there’s still more music to come from Lioness and some of our other projects. Stay tuned?
Cam Lindsay was Rae Sremmurd on Twitter before Rae Sremmurd - @yasdnilmac