Toronto is a city of contrast and contradictions. It teems with life, yet one can feel lonely. It hails itself as a “music city” yet is hostile to newer and smaller artists. It prides itself on diversity yet fails to support the communities that make it so colourful. By far the biggest contrast is between the often sanitized and monotone mainstream and the multifaceted and intrepid underground music scenes.
Self-described “post-everything” band Respire reach into that chaotic underground sea to bring back a glimpse of the ingenuity that rests just beneath the surface with their song new “Bound” off their upcoming album Dénouement. The seven-minute epic sees the band merging the abrasiveness of late 90s screamo with the beautiful and wistful qualities of post-rock to create a potent cocktail of raw emotion. Screamed vocals and sharply melodic guitars capture the attention before the gentle sound of brass instruments ushers the song into a moment of rest that slowly builds into a cascade of soul-soothing group vocals that climaxes in a crescendo that brings tears to the eyes.
Noisey caught up with the band to ask them some questions about the song and underground music. Listen to "Bound" below, obviously.
Noisey: What is "Bound" about?
Respire: On November 15th, 2017, a member of our [musical] family checked into an in-patient treatment facility for substance abuse. The following month in rehab set the stage for where the majority of the lyrics in Dénouement were written. "Bound," the opening of Dénouement, functions almost as a thematic abstract for the record. The song is a reflection from the final moments of active addiction, that first desperate yearning for something better, something different. It deals with honest introspection and its painful consequences—the opening of the floodgates to the traumas that led us down this self-destructive path, and the subsequent fallout. Through all this, the song is about wanting to be more than the sum of our scars.
How did the band start?
Respire started in 2013. Many of us had been playing in different bands together for years (Foxmoulder, Tell-Tale Hearts, Quone, Araby, etc.), and grew to become friends, bandmates, and even roommates. We started writing the first songs in the basement of defunct punk house Skramden Yards, and quickly found a shared commitment to making music that is cathartic, honest, vulnerable, while also creatively and conceptually ambitious. We’ve spent the last five years pushing ourselves to new ground, crafting our process, developing our sound, and maturing our songwriting. We always joke that we’re doing too much or are going too over the top, but our producer (and honorary member) Paul Mack keeps indulging us, so we roll with it.
What do you see the Toronto underground scene as?
DIY has meant everything to us—it’s the reason we are who we are. But having been part of Toronto’s DIY community for the better part of the last decade brings with it all sorts of ups and downs. We’ve watched the venues we’ve called home (Siesta Nouveaux, Skramden Yards, Soybomb, D-Beatstro) fall to everything from rising rent prices to alt-right agitators targeting these spaces, because the inclusiveness and subversion these spaces fosters challenges their bigoted worldview. We’ve watched people leave, crowd sizes change, new faces come into the fold, all of it.
In the past couple of years, we’ve been driven to cement the bonds we have and take matters into our hands. Two members of our family, Egin and Rohan, currently run New Friends DIY with our good friends from local hardcore band Digest, Vanessa and Nicolas, in an effort to grow our little scene, bridge gaps with DIY communities around the world, and flourish an environment that can be seen as an alternative to the state of arts/culture in Toronto - something communal and shared, co-owned and co-operated - something worth fighting for.
How important do you feel diversity is to the Toronto DIY scene?
Diversity in music is always a contentious topic, and it continues to be so in Toronto. We have the same problem here that scenes everywhere are plagued by—an overabundance of white cis men and lack of representation by women, POC, and LGBTQ voices. And yet, we believe in our city. We believe in our community. LGBTQ issues are at the forefront here, led by a long line of queer punks who’ve paved the way for open discourse on gender and sexuality. POC representation has been steadily growing, with a fest popping up (by the very writer of this article) celebrating black and brown voices. There’s more work to be done surely, but it’s work that’s needed and work that’s good for our community at large. Respire falls at an interesting cross-section of these topics - our large family has members that are non-binary, queer, gay, POC, female, and first-generation immigrants. We are a convergence of different identities, experiences, backgrounds, and dreams.
What is it like fitting so many musicians on stage?
Not always easy! But always intimate. Respire functions as a collective in essence and in practice, with an open door policy for our extended family. That means that some shows have 6 members on stage, others have upwards of ten. It gets tricky. Considering we play lots of non-traditional venues, it becomes an interesting game of human/gear Tetris rather quickly. To quote a Reddit comment we found about our very first show in a long-defunct Toronto punk house, “And we’re like crammed into this living room in the middle of winter. Pressed up against each other and standing in puddles and stuff. They are taking forever to set up. They are taking up half the room.They have some big ass xylophone with them or some obnoxious shit. And then they started playing and I was like holy shit.”
Skramz and classical music seem like such an unlikely pair on paper. What drew you to such a fusion?
Our music is primarily an attempt at some authentic form of catharsis, both for ourselves, and hopefully for our audience. We’re looking to move people, and what’s more moving than Wagner or Penderecki or Shostakovich? Though we started playing together in the DIY hardcore scene, we all come from different places. Egin grew up in the vibrant Toronto indie rock scene of the mid-aughts, looking to local bands like Broken Social Scene and Do Make Say Think for inspiration. Eslin and Emmett both studied music at the University of Toronto, and bring their own respective classical backgrounds into the fold. We bring together all of these varying intersections in indie, hardcore, classical, ambient, black-metal and screamo to make our music.
Daniel G. Wilson is a writer and musician based in Mississauga. He's on Twitter.