The Pink Noise Is Going Commercial

Is the next step for "the most nihilistic band in Montreal" scoring Sprite ads? (Probably not.)

Jul 23 2012, 8:30pm

While he’s not quite the Mark E. Smith of Canada, Mark Sauner has been the sole consistent member of The Pink Noise since its inception as an avant-garbage, modern-day Messthetics solo project. Subsequent years have seen the band shuffle through several different lineups alongside a stack of releases/reissues from labels like Bennifer Editions, Campaign For Infinity, Sacred Bones, Night People, Inyrdisk, Kill Shaman, Almost Ready, and Pleasence. Next month, the latest power-charged permutation of the weird punx are returning to their breeding ground of Toronto to record a new album, so I got the skinny from Sauner.

I read an old interview you did with Terminal Boredom where you said comedy was your all-time favorite genre because you’d rather have a laugh than anything else. Is that also the goal with your music?
Music is a different facet of my personality. I find it’s usually darker and serves a different purpose. I enjoy television, movies, and laughing with my friends, but The Pink Noise has never been "haha funny." My music and comedy don’t meet very often, except for some of the lyrics. If you’re trying to be clever, you’re trying to be funny in some way, but it’s not a B-52’s kind of thing.

A song like “Shy Guy Beach” will always make me laugh, though.
[Laughs] Yeah, I could see that.

On the flip side, I’ve heard you described as the most nihilistic band in Montreal…as a compliment! Is that a badge you would wear proudly?
I’m totally fine with that tag. I’ve heard people say that about The Pink Noise and myself before, but I’d have to disagree, because if you’re putting out art, that’s a very productive and positive thing. The definition of nihilism or people who are nihilists would be those that are too self-conscious or negative to do anything. If you’re producing the work, that’s not nihilistic at all. Doing nothing is nihilistic, and that’s what a lot of people do these days.

Let’s go back in time a bit. Can you tell me about the original Toronto era of the project when you played with Kevin Hainey?
I wanted to make a transition from recording project to live show, and Kevin Hainey had been—and still is—one of my best friends. He really liked the music, and he has really good taste and can play a bunch of different instruments, so I just had to think how I would make that transition. Using a drum machine and cassette tapes, I would play guitar and sing, and Kevin would play bass and sometimes drums. That lasted about two years.

You seem to have a knack for getting people who run record labels as a member of your band. Besides Kevin from Inyrdisk, there was Brett from Campaign For Infinity and now Graeme from Psychic Handshake and Matt from Electric Voice. Why do you think that is?
I think the fact that they run record labels is incidental to what I’m looking for in a musician. A lot of musicians play in more than one project, run some sort of record label, or have different places in different art forms. No one is exclusively a musician on one instrument to get by. In the current market, you gotta diversify.

Here’s the video for “Wild Love” (directed by Emily Pelstring):

Do you feel it’s important to keep mixing it up and play with different people to keep the project fresh?
It definitely is an important thing for a band to change its sound. I’ve been doing this since 2007ish and I’ve lived in a couple different cities. When you’re starting out, different circumstances, different relationships, not having any money, feeling like you’re not getting anywhere or not having the right chemistry within the band are all factors. It originally started out with myself playing all the instruments, but with the current line-up I’m not playing anything. I’d rather just sing and write lyrics. I have nothing to do with the music anymore, which I think is a good thing and also a strength of who I have playing in the band right now.

I understand you’re coming back to Toronto to record a new album at Polyphasic Studios. Are you planning to try anything different this time?
Definitely. No more four-track, and I’m going to do a few instrumental touches on the record, but it’s mostly going to be Matt, Tara, and Graeme playing their parts. I wanted to record as a full band, have a high fidelity, and better pop structure in the songs, but how the Pink Noise views the sound as part of it also. I think it’ll be the best record so far, and only slightly more commercial sounding. I’ve been working with this latest line-up—especially Graeme and Tara—for over a year now, and it’s time to record. Hopefully, we can do a little bit of touring when the record comes out too.

I like the idea of a “commercial” Pink Noise. It’s like Project Mersh by the Minutemen.
I use that word loosely, and actually have no idea what the end product is going to be like. But according to how the songs sound now, and with a high fidelity and a professional producer, it’s going to be at least a bit more commercial.

So we can expect to hear you in a Sprite ad by this time next year?
[Laughs] Depends how broke we are.

Last question: Do you think “lo-fi” has become a tarnished term?
Back when I had a MySpace and there were bands doing “weird punk,” most of it was recorded on a four-track. That sound of a drum machine, four-track, and reverb on the vocals is kind of tired now, but I personally don’t really care about the difference between lo-fi and hi-fi. Recordings that I really like—say, early Velvet Underground or the Electric Eels—don’t sound hi-fi at all, but it does keep in line with a classic rock ‘n’ roll sound. But adding a high fidelity or seeing some of these bands that had four-track recordings live can lose a lot of the charm, because you don’t have the same sound on guitar or drums. I can still enjoy four-track recordings, for sure, unless it sounds like everything else that’s been coming out for the last six years. Good music is good music; it doesn’t matter if it’s lo-fi or hi-fi.