Michael Le Riche would rather not talk about The Darcys anymore, thank you very much. The guitarist left the band last year and while he says he started writing the songs on Fake Palms debut full-length in 2011, the results are a startling difference from the art-rockers. Le Riche, who has cut all ties to the band, sounds relaxed as we speak on a sunny afternoon on a patio in Toronto. “This is a new thing and a new idea,” he says of Fake Palms. “But I understand the need for back story.” “If someone says ‘This is the new record from the guy from the Darcys,’ you have a point of reference sonically,” he continues. “This is the opposite.” His terse description of Fake Palms is on the money. Fake Palms is a study in contrasts: building pop hooks chewed up and spit out by a four-piece that utilizes charging, angular riffs and boatloads of fuzz and distortion to get their point across. It would be easy to draw parallels to post-punkers Viet Cong, though Le Riche says the songs in question were written before Viet Cong’s recent two records were released.
The biggest similarity between bands like Viet Cong and Women and Le Riche’s Fake Palms is the volume at which they’re best appreciated: loud. Even while he began writing songs alone in his bedroom, Le Riche believed this would be a loud band. Regardless, Le Riche didn’t have the initial confidence to show off the demos. “I was never the main songwriter in the Darcys,” he says. Eventually, he let Toronto drummer Simone TB (Slim Twig, The Highest Order) in on the songs and she provided him the necessary push to turn those compositions into a full band. The muscle he added with Simone TB on drums, Lane Halley on guitar (Hooded Fang) and Patrick Marshall on bass (Burning Love) gave Fake Palms the volume and the depth needed to bring these songs to life. Though conceived by one man, Fake Palms take strange turns on a whim and can move seamlessly from crunchy verses into static choruses, blending strange and meandering guitars into a thick rhythm section.
From initial conception, Le Riche was intent on messing with conventional approach to writing a pop song. The result is a strangely comforting dichotomy: pop songs wanting to break free of their post-punk stranglehold. Even within the band, Le Riche identifies two distinct camps. How the songs initially sounded are quite different from what ended up on the record. “Pat on bass and Simone on drums add the punk elements in the band,” Le Riche says. “Before them the demos were way poppier. The way they use their instruments and attack their tools made everything way heavier.” The actual recording process came after the band practiced just a handful of times. Le Riche embraces the live-off-the-floor sound; in doing so, he’s captured the underlying sense of tension that is present throughout all nine tracks. The record will be released this autumn on Buzz Records with a full tour to follow afterward. Marshall believes that the palpable tension on the record could be a result of the contrasting musical interests and influences in the band. “It’s almost as if there’s two bands playing together,” he says.
But Le Riche insists there’s more to it. Fake Palms is less about a former member of one band stepping out on his own and more about one man turning a conventional approach to song-writing on its head. He notes that while he was nervous stepping out on his own after The Darcys, there was a level of trust that he shared with the band he’d formed and with the band as a whole to get behind Le Riche’s vision. “I’m not a songwriter,” he says pointedly. “The reason the songs are so fragmented and turn gears so often is because I don’t know the standard way you write a song. I’m not interested in that. It’s more interesting to take left turns. If I’m going to have a really poppy hook I’m going to make it weird by putting it in a weird time signature or doing something to flip it on its head. And that was interesting to us all as a band.”
Noisey: So you’re writing these songs on your own, a lot of them contain very distinct, poppy elements and undertones, was it a matter of experimentation and deciding to just add as many layers as you could until you were happy?
Le Riche: We recorded live off the floor. There was one guitar on the right and one the left and that’s about it. It sounds minimal simply because of the way we recorded it. You get the weird scraping of guitar strings. In terms of the thought process behind writing it, it was walking a fine line: I wanted to be in a heavy band but I didn’t want it to sound too machismo. For lack of a better word, I’m in a punk band in ethos but I didn’t want to be smash-y and loud all the time.
Did you have to exercise lots of restraint then? I have to imagine it was difficult at times to just say, ‘I’m done, that’s it, that’s the song.’
Not really only because my attention drifts pretty quickly. I’m not the type of person who can work on something over and over, maybe to my detriment. I’ll get 80 percent of the way through and just say ‘Oh, that’s 100% done.’ Obviously I thought I worked very hard on them but I knew from the get-go what I wanted to do because it was totally reactionary to the last band I was in. There were no rules in that band because there was just layer upon layer. Everything ran the gamut. This was the opposite because I didn’t want to worry about having a thousand pedals onstage or a sampler onstage or doing everything like that. We have one guitar sound that me and Lane, the other guitar player, subscribe to and that’s it. It’s just trying to do the most you can with the instrument in your hand.
The mix of tense, nervous energy and pop music is palpable throughout the record. “Estates” is a track that contains elements of both. These two types of tracks usually come from very contrasting places and elicit contrasting emotions. Did this record come from a happy or a nervous place?
Like anything, it’s coming from both. You go through days when you’re happy and you go through days when you’re upset. But you find a balance. I’m sure most of the record came from being nervous and tense and going through a pretty transitional time in my life. I had been in my previous band through most of my twenties. It’s shaped by fear, but also anticipation of what’s to come. I’m looking forward to that.
What about your first show back in February at Johnny Jackson’s? You’d only played together a handful of times, were you nervous about stepping onstage for first time?
We weren’t nervous because we couldn’t be. All of our gear was stored at Paul’s Boutique, my work. Pat was coming from school so Simone and I were in charge of getting the gear there. It’s a guitar store so there’s millions of guitars there. So we grabbed everything, threw it in the truck and then got over there. Ten minutes before we were set to go onstage Pat goes to grab his bass and it’s a guitar: a short-scale guitar. And he just looks at everyone and says ‘Guys, where’s my bass?’ So Pat and I ran back to my work in a cab, grabbed the bass, rushed back to the venue and literally went onstage right away.
Joshua Kloke is a writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter — @joshuakloke