Anyone who says guitar-based indie rock is dead needs to shut up and listen to CTZNSHP. The Montreal five-piece produce tight, loud, cathartic songs that could be the soundtrack for the greatest, longest night of your life. They're like a young, restless version of The National that actually has the balls to crank up their amps and get dirty, or Interpol if they let themselves feel any emotion. That's the real appeal of CTZNSHP - they pour so much sincerity into their music, and the love behind it is easy to hear.
For their forthcoming album, All Things to the Sea, they enlisted the help of legendary producer Jace Lasek, whose credits include Wolf Parade, Suuns, The Besnard Lakes, Young Galaxy, and approximately 95% of all other breakthrough artists to come out of Montreal. Lasek's knack for finding beauty in loud, psychedelic guitar tones and pulling catchy melodies out of the sludge worked perfectly with CTZNSHP's sound. The new recordings combine pop precision with big, reverb-soaked guitars and soaring lead lines.
This is the band's third effort and by far the one they're most proud of. After producing three killer songs for their Swan Dive EP, one of the most promising first releases by any Montreal band ever, and struggling over when and how to release their followup Doom Love LP, things just came together for All Things to the Sea. Even though the previous recordings kicked ass, All Things to the Sea brings a new level of refinement, and will undoubtedly get the attention of listeners and label execs well outside of their home city.
Take an exclusive first listen to the album track "Low Lives" and read our conversation with lead singer Jesse LeGallais about making the album, writing honest lyrics, the power of indie rock, and working with Jace Lasek.
Noisey: It seems like this album happened really quickly, compared to Doom Love and Swan Dive. Did you feel like you had to get those albums off your chest before moving on?
Jesse LeGallais: Doom Love is kind of painful for us, because we really like it but it's a representation of a couple years ago. We thought we'd shop it around, and we had some exciting people interested, so we did some shows and touring but none of that came through. We used the singles and put them out there in different ways to get attention. So we had this record that we liked, but we knew it wasn't going to get put out on the places where we wanted to put it out, and the singles already circulated, so we were like "Shit, we just kind of shot ourselves in the foot on this one." We never got reviews on that one. it never got he proper release, which makes me sad.
It must be refreshing to have that leap forward.
Yeah, we really like this one. We're not apologizing for this one, saying like, "The fucking studio did this or that," or anything. We just really like it.
How long have you been working on All Things to the Sea?
I'd say that the first idea came around last summer but we pretty much holed up this winter. For the first recording session we weren't sure if we were going to do a record, we just did three days with Jace and it went awesome so we thought "Yeah, we're gonna do it," and booked more time with him.
How was working with Jace Lasek as a producer?
It was amazing. And you know, we were really hesitant. We didn't want to go into a studio where we had someone who was just getting paid, and didn't care about the music, and you could just hear that clock ticking. With Jace, we were all going to have to go into debt for it. It was nerve racking, but we got in there, and it was just fantastic. Jace likes what we do, and it's really up his alley, and it was the best recording process we ever had.
He's the kind of producer that has a specific sound. Was he really involved, beyond setting up mics and turning knobs? Did he have any artistic input?
In a way, but it's like a soft touch. We had a lot of stuff written, and Scott had a lot of ideas for what he wanted to do with the guitar, and what we wanted to do with the synths, and Jace just kind of sits there and says "Why don't you do this, or why don't you play the guitar a little closer." Then it becomes a working process. So he gets involved, but he doesn't make decisions like "Cut this, keep this."
You also decided to add bass and synth players to the band recently. What was that about?
We got lumped in a lot with haze rock and post rock, and we're a three piece, so we were kind of adhering to the three piece band thing. LIke at first, on Doom Love, we didn't expand too far outside of the three piece thing. But we're all really heavily influenced by artists like Phoenix, by Bowie, by M83, Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, The National, Arcade Fire. So we never intended just to be a post-punk noisy rock band. We were always huge into pop, and i'm into songwriting, so we didn't want to get stuck being something else.
So you're just singing now?
Yeah, I just sing now. Want I want to do is focus on the lyrics and focus on the vocal melody. When I play bass, I know I'm fucking up. I wanted the songs to be bigger. The lyrics are really, for me, the most important thing.
On this album, do you find yourself writing about new themes than you did on Doom Love?
It's an extension. It hasn't changed. It's a little more personal now and, I think, a little more focused. It's less of a group album, of saying "Hey, me and my friends, we're all having problems and here are songs for all of us." And it's more of the journalistic sphere, like my perspective of being a thirty year old who's now married, and how 20 year olds can get fucked up and do whatever they want, and I… not as much. It's kind of a hard thing to do when you're married, so it's me wrestling with, "What is any of this?" and these kinds of choices you make. It's questions like what are we doing, how do you survive, and how do relationships survive, when there's a not a lot of money and there's this flow of bad world news constantly.
It's good that you keep things honest as your life changes.
I think at the very root of the whole thing is me trying to be a good partner or a good husband and wondering, how do you do that? We'd been through a breakup that was a catastrophe, and we had our hearts ripped out, and then we ended up coming back together and just going for it hardcore and getting married. It's kind of like that with the band, just like, "Hey guys, we're gonna do this for real now." I was unafraid to care about things.
Do you ever feel like you're on your own as a rock band in Montreal, which has such a big electro scene?
I feel like we're a natural extension of indie rock, going back through Joy Division and all that 80s stuff, going up through R.E.M., and then Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, The National, Arcade Fire. You're either in a rock band and you're lame as shit and you're posturing, or you're just rejecting that completely and you're trying to do something completely new, which now has become super saturated, so we always felt lame, to be perfectly honest. And still to a certain extent I wonder if we are lame, but it's just what we love so much, and I think there's a place for big-ass anthemic rock music that is actually honest and isn't posturing and legitimately has a going-off-the-rails vibe. It's like a cathartic thing, and I think there's always room for that in music.
Do you think people make too big a deal out of the line between guitar and electronic music? Or is it just about the songs?
That's all it is, good songs. And if you have good songs you can dress them up any way you like and you'll have good songs. And if you have bad songs, well, you're just going to suck at whatever you do.
CTZNSHP play Parc de la Petite Italie on September 19th and and Quai Des Brumes on September 20th as part of Pop Montreal.
Greg Bouchard now goes only by GRGBCHRD - @gregorybouchard