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Interviews

Viet Cong's Matt Flegel Finds Humour in Nihilism For Their Debut Album

Calgary's very own Viet Cong discuss finding humour in nihilism and their upcoming 'Self-Titled' album.

“It’s nice to hear a Canadian accent,” says Matt Flegel. It’s a late weekday afternoon, and the lead singer and bassist of Calgary post-punk band Viet Cong has been doing phone interviews ahead of the group’s upcoming self-titled debut album. One by one, he lists the countries of the publications that he’s spoken to today: Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, one from the U.K. that he can’t remember. The group recently returned from a brief European tour, primarily for press purposes, which the singer describes as “hectic”. The band’s 2014 EP Cassettea former tour-only release reissued by Mexican Summer—found its way onto plenty of year-end lists due to the album's ability to draw from influences including British post-punk, droning kraut-rock, and 60s psych-pop. For Flegel, this amount of media attention is not a new phenomenon, though not always for the most harmonious reasons. His former group Calgary art-rock band Women, which he was in with his brother Patrick, put out two critically well-received albums. In October 2010, the brothers brawled onstage during a show in Victoria, B.C., and the band went on an indefinite hiatus shortly after. Two years later, Women guitarist Christopher Reimer passed away in his sleep. In 2013, Flegel decided to form a new band with guitarist Scott “Monty” Munro, and recruited guitarist Danny Christiansen and ex-Women drummer Mike Wallace.

Annoncering

For their debut album (out January 20 via Jagjaguwar/Flemish Eye), Viet Cong relocated to a barn in southern Ontario to work with Holy Fuck’s Graham Walsh, resulting in seven songs that streamlines the band’s labyrinthine noise and sees Flegel growing more confidant in his songwriting abilities. Lead single “Continental Shelf”, which received a spooky The Night of the Hunter-influenced music video, creeps with tension and includes the lyric “Ice on the horizon, the skyline folding in” (the album also features a sprawling 11-minute-long song simply titled “Death”). It’s music that could only be a byproduct of living in a city that experiences the harshest winters.The cover depicts a boxer’s hand being wrapped, recreated from a photo the singer found in an English textbook from the 50s, which could easily be seen as a metaphor for the group’s resilience. “It’s winter here eight months a year, so we get pretty secluded, sometimes we don’t leave the house for days and I think that informs the process,” says Flegel, before telling me he’s currently packing to move to Vancouver Island in a few days. “I’m going to get some crab traps,” he jokes. “It’s getting crazy and I’m getting tired of cities.”

Noisey: There’s a certain nihilistic quality to your lyrics. Does that accurately reflect the headspace you were in when you were recording?
For me, I guess it’s generally where I’m at. I don’t know about “nihilist”, but I think just ridiculous is my point-of-view on things. I like looking at the bleak things and finding humour in it. A lot of the lyrics have come out of these very serious, sweeping statements, but I think when I wrote them, I kind of meant for them to be funny.

Annoncering

How did your songwriting process change during the making of the new album?
There were definitely moments where I struggled with the words, it’s something that I’m kind of new at, I’ve been been the main lyric writer in a band before. I helped out now and again with Women but it was mostly my brother. I feel like I’m starting to get more confidence, it used to be more of a chore, and now I’m starting to enjoy it. I’m carrying a notebook around with me at all times to write down anything I see or anything funny somebody says and just try to be better at documenting it.

Did you read any of the reviews of Cassette?
I don’t really pay attention. Someone sent me an NME review that was really ridiculously good, which was funny, because it was basically a throwaway batch of songs in my mind. Which leads me to believe that this new record is going to get terrible reviews because its songs that I actually like. I like reading live reviews because you can kind of learn from it. Music criticism is very fake, it’s like food criticism, it’s very subjective.

In the past few years, there’s been a more progressive attitude in Calgary politics, have you seen that mirrored in the city’s arts scene?
Matt Flegel: I think culturally it’s getting better as it grows, which I think will happen with any city, people moving in from different countries. We have a huge African community now and all of a sudden there’s African restaurants that you can go to. I feel like that’s always a good thing and how this country was built. There’s a lot of conservatives here who are very against immigrants, so I don’t like that attitude, but I feel like that’s one of the positives about the growth.

Annoncering

Do you keep up with new Calgary artists?
I’m pretty removed. These days I only see bands if I’m playing a show with them. As it’s getting a little bit bigger, we’re getting a few more touring bands coming through it feels like, because there’s more of a market and more money than there used to be. I try to keep my eyes open if anybody I love comes through town and I try to check it out. As far as the local scene goes, I really have no idea. Monty would be the guy to talk to, he records half the bands.

You share a Canadian label, Flemish Eye, with Chad VanGaalen. Has he ever offered you any advice?
Inadvertently yeah, because me and Monty were playing in his band, and decided we were sick of it and wanted to do our own thing. So he definitely had something to do with us forming this band. No, I mean Chad’s awesome. I just talked to him an hour and a half ago, it’s his daughter’s seventh birthday today. I remember recording the first Women record in his basement in his old house just after she was born and putting these hunting earphones on her. We’re close and he’s an influence as far as not giving a fuck.

I read an interview from earlier this year where you said you work part-time installing floors. Is that still the case?
I haven’t been for the past three months, but I’ve been scraping, literally scraping by. We’ll see how long that can keep up. I basically need to stay alive until the next tour we go on.

What about the rest of the band?
Danny has a full-time job, he works as an architectural technician, which means he sits in front of a computer and does draft stuff. Monty delivers cupcakes, and Mike, I’m not sure what he does these days. He runs a painting company, but it’s mostly a summer thing and then in the winter, the jobs become a little bit more sparse.

Max Mertens is a writer living in Toronto. He’s on Twitter: @Max_Mertens