The DIY group from Montreal has made some big leaps since singing in bookstores during a part-time gig.
Photo via Nicholas Hyatt
I brought Future States, the DIY indie pop band from Montreal, to a boxy bookstore in downtown Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood for our interview in November. The neighbourhood was lit with premature Christmas decorations, excess truly everywhere; a deep contrast to the band that brought us there in their faithful (albeit rundown) van named Wolfie. Future States’ bassist, Dave Lacalamita, and I have a history with the chain bookstore. Dave and I first met over a decade ago while we were both in high school working at the same shitty bookstore in Kitchener, Ontario. If you asked our friends at the time, this was by and large the better part-time job to have, although we would both vehemently disagree: it was a place where you’d assume (surrounded around critical works) that analytical thinking would be nurtured, but was absolutely deterred and punished. By the time I had finished up at the store (read: was fired for insubordination and vandalism), I had tenured about five years. Dave appeared somewhere in the middle of that, gently singing Tenacious D songs to us on the PA during our night shifts. He was in a band called Mad Transit back then and I’ll never forget it.
Dave is not at all now like whom he was then, and Future States isn’t anything like what he played in his previous bands either. The same can be said for the other members who have been rotating through the Montreal scene for a handful of years now. Upon listening to their second self-released EP, Cassiopeia, I was gripped with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, particularly for the music that came out of when I first met Dave in the mid-2000s. Future States released their first self-titled EP in October 2014. Though it has a similar musical consistency, their second EP is slightly more polished and feels deeper in emotional scope. They have cited The War on Drugs, The National, and other similar indie rock outfits as influences; leaning toward anything exciting or experimental but with emotional profundity. Theirs is a sound similar to that kind of other layered, soft experimental indie rock that is driven by a specific feeling.
“Get Some Rest” it could be a Shins song, but not at all whiny, which is what makes it expressly good. The quiet and temperate guitar intro of “Troubled Minds,” the last song on the EP, cultivates such wistfulness; gentle whoops and hollers emerge in the background before any lyric and steady melody. That effect was accidental, says guitarist Brodie Conley, with both him and keyboardist Nick Hyatt jumping into a cold lake while on a break from recording and their yells ended up on a take drummer Daniel Gélinas was mixing at the time. Those yells are like a familiar ghost, though; another version of yourself yelping at you from the past.
Noisey: Can you take me through the process of making your second EP?
Chuck Bronson: It was super fun. It coincided with our contract we had with a company called Huck [based] in Germany. They were hired by tourism in the U.K., who were hired by tourism Canada for promo videos of Canada for German tourism. They heard about us through someone who lives in Portland and wrote a review on our first EP and really liked our music. Through him we got put in contact with Huck and were contracted to do the soundtrack. We sent them our first EP but also the stuff we were working on. It coincided well. Halfway through the process it was just going to be instrumental and actually record vocals and just release it.
Nick Hyatt: A really big difference with this EP is that we recorded it live. Like, all the instrumental parts, which we hadn’t on the first one. It was almost like working with a deadline. Sitting around at Dave’s cottage worked out super well: putting things in different rooms and getting sounds out of it. We made it in a shorter period of time and almost everything you hear is from one take, which took a lot of work to get to. It meant a lot of rehearsal.
You’re not on a label, right? There’s hardly any limits with that, only the limits you put on yourselves, of what you want to do and such. But do those benefits outweigh the challenges of not being signed to a label?
Bronson: Some things are really nice (about a label) but I like the rate in which we’ve been able to pump out music. And we’re not limited in any other way. If someone wanted to help us promote it and release it, [that] would be amazing.
Brodie Conley: Flip side of that is there is a lot of administrating, time we spend for this band, too. [Bands on labels] have people do that for them.
Hyatt: We do everything ourselves.
Conley: You work at your job all day and then you come home and have to, like, for me I do program administration, when I come home, it feels like very similar work: emailing radio stations, emailing for shows, just a lot of administration work; budgets, planning tours, booking things. So on a label that changes a little bit.
Hyatt: It’s really great to be able to make music and have someone else do the other stuff. There are the little things like going out and taking photos. We’ve never had to negotiate recording. It’s always going to be exactly what we want to do as a band.
Do you want to talk a little bit about how you all met?
Conley: Chuck and I were childhood friends and played music all through university. He went to [the University of] Waterloo and I went to [the University of] Guelph. And then Chuck moved to Montreal and I went away to some more school and when I came back to Ottawa, we decided to get back together. And he met Nick through an audio tech program. Nick was doing composition. Nick introduced him to Dave as well. I came back to Ottawa and decided to do more music, he was like, I met these people in Montreal who are all great at music! So we decided to start jamming. Dave works at a café in the Mile End called The Dep Café and Dan plays there with his solo project, You Yourself and I, weekly.
So, you all have really rich musical backgrounds?
Conley: There are varying musical backgrounds in the band. Dave and Nick both did undergrads in music; Dan did a jazz drumming undergrad at McGill; Nick did composition; Chuck did audio tech masters at McGill; I didn’t do anything [laughs.] I played trombone in high school. We all come from varied backgrounds and I guess that’s brought in a little into the music in the sense that there’s more experimentation. Because we don’t just listen to rock music, I guess. Someone of us listen to more rock music that others and when that gets mixed it sounds like what we sound like.
Do you bring your backgrounds and training in musical theory into your process?
Dave Lacalamita: Everyone has a different vocabulary for talking about the same things. So, like, a lot of pop musicians talk about sounds or feels or grooves. They use a different language to describe things than classical musicians and sometimes those are more accurate than talking about specific theoretical ideas. But it is helpful to use theory to make sure we’re all on the same page. And that works because we all have some musical training. It’s just kind of like the medium with which we communicate to make it all happen.
Hyatt: Chuck was asking how you do counterpoint and voice leading. At the end of the conversation we said, “Chuck, you’re really good at voice leading!” He doesn’t know the theoretical concept of it but when he plays guitar and it’s, like, really intricate and really well voiced. Just to notice we were talking about it differently. We were thinking of it contrapuntally because we’ve been listening to that kind of music and talking about it that way. But here’s Chuck who was innately good at it but hasn’t talked about it before.
I’m wondering about your musical maturation. Do you go back to some of the stuff you listened to in high school or when you were kids? Or five years ago, maybe? What does your musical development look like to you?
Conley: I think we all listen to different music and we’re all learning from each other’s tastes. That lets us do things we maybe wouldn’t have even thought of—I’m thinking of a time when we're kind of jamming on a new song or new idea and then Nick and I did this thing together and I probably would have thrown this out and someone said it was awesome, and it became fundamental to a song. But my sort of musical bias from like background or whatever was like “oh that’s not something I would imagine in a song” but I love it now.
We do a lot of writing and rewriting and rearranging songs over and over again. It’s really sort of beneficial, even in in the way of recording, with Dan taking the helm and us going to an inspiring space to record. It kind of gives us like to room to breathe and listen back and talk about things. I think that’s really beneficial for us. Dan undersells himself a little bit as a recorder but he also knows how to get the best performances out of us in the context of that space, which leads us to a strong product.
Nostalgia is a huge component of music. Do you think these songs you’ve made mean something special to you independently from the fact to you’ve created them? Or does that always have to be intrinsically linked?
Daniel Gélinas: I don’t usually listen back much after we’ve recorded them. They have a strong flavour. If you listen to something all the time the flavour gets spread out. But if you only listen to it one time and years later listen to it again, it brings you right back. So I think things that we record — for me — that’s what it does.
Sarah MacDonald is a writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter.