Photo Courtesy of BIG|BRAVE
Montreal’s genre-defying post-rock combo BIG|BRAVE could very well be the most noteworthy recent heavy curiosity to come out of the city in recent years. A loud, ugly and down-tempo baseless trio whose recent signing to Greg Anderson’s seminal black metal/doom label Southern Lord Recordings proved sufficient to convince even the most cynical observers that seriously unsafe bands still have something to strive for.
Let’s put it this way: a group with next to no credentials among Native American war bonnet-bearers or the popular entertainment establishment now has the press typing up storms about their ungodly drones. In less than three years, BIG|BRAVE have almost single-handedly managed to get booked at all the major festivals across the country and play with Low, Kim Gordon’s Body/Head and Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra. Above all, they became the first band from Quebec to sign to an established label like Southern Lord.
After a self-released first album entitled Feral Verdure (2014), their new sophomore full-length, Au De La—recorded at Hotel2Tango by Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Efrim Menuck—is set to hit the shelves September 18th. Menuck, who also co-owns RITZ P.D.B, a venue where two of the band members work, did not steer the musicians in a new direction. Instead, he focussed on capturing their sound with unconventional techniques such as sticking a microphone in a grand piano and putting the drum kit next to it.
We caught up with the band to talk about the new project and their recent performance at Sled Island, where they opened for Godspeed You! Black Emperor, in front of 800 people.
Noisey: You guys are the first band from Montreal to sign to Southern Lord, a record label synonymous with doom and black metal. You don’t seem to fit any of those genres. How did it happen?
Louis-Alexandre Beauregard: We had a few labels in mind and we ended up sending the album to Greg and he got back to us. It was basically ready to be released. The mastering was done and everything.
During your live shows, there’s never really a sense that all three of you are filling in one single position like a regular rock band does. Where did you pick that up?
Ball: Sometimes we’ll simply step back and Louis’s drum becomes the central element of a song. Sometimes Robin will just play one chord or one sound and we’ll expand on that. I think the question we ask ourselves is: what can we do with much less. We don’t really play chords, so we move and play with the feedback we create.
Robin Wattie: We play chords but there’s never any chord progression or patterns...We try to push ourselves and see what we can do. What kinds of sounds we can create, how we can structure a piece of music that does not fit the verse-chorus-verse pattern.
You’ve escaped certain musical patterns but you are tied to the performance of your gear.
Ball: Yes, and in some ways it’s stressful… we need feedback to play. There’d be very little fun in hearing us strum one sound on an acoustic guitar.
Wattie: And it’s funny, we’re not even a “gear-oriented” band.
Ball: The effects we use are basic. It’s just reverb and overdrive. They’re necessary, but basic. We work a lot more with the sound itself.
Your songs are based on a lot of repetition and reverberation. How do you deal with the physicality of the venues where you play?
Beauregard: Our live shows are always loosely planned out, but I’d say that apart from the room itself, we sometimes use the crowd.
Ball: We work a lot with silence. We’ll let room for Louis and sometimes, he’ll become the main instrument and then we’ll pause and see what’s going on. And that’s actually what is kind of hard to do when you play at punk houses and venues where people are there to party.
That’s what’s great about playing with noise outfits and drone bands. Nobody’s there to party or dance; people listen to what’s going on. I mean – and this is perhaps where we differ from some bands – we do not really see ourselves as members of a band, as much as three individuals playing music at the same time in the same project.
You recently opened for Kim Gordon’s Body/Head and Godspeed You! Black Emperor at Sled Island. How did the crowd respond?
Beauregard: The Body/Head concert was a good one. The Godspeed show was by far the best. Wattie: There were something like 800 people packed in a church. You could literally hear them breathing between songs. It was frightening. But looking back at it, if we’d been told “this is your last performance ever, as a musician,” I don’t think we could hope for a better show.
Has your record deal with Southern Lord affected people’s response?
Ball: People now reply to our emails. I mean, people who did not want to take the time to do so now think they have a valid reason to do it… someone in a certain position has put his “seal of approval” on the band, so it’s OK to give us some attention… which is a pretty sad thing to do. Beauregard: On the other hand, we’ve been offered shows in Europe and elsewhere. People have manifested themselves. We work with a booking agency now. We’re leaving in October for a few shows [with Goatsnake] and we’ll be touring Europe in November.
Ralph Elawani is a writer living in Montreal. Follow him on Twitter.