Music by VICE

Siskiyou's 'Nervous' Reflects What a Musician Feels When They Can't Hear

That ringing in your ears is annoying for most people, but what happens when it can derail your professional career?

by Aaron Morris
Feb 23 2015, 6:14pm

“I think I’m more of an introvert,” says 39-year old Colin Huebert. Calling from a studio near the outskirts of Vancouver, Huebert is describing his initial reasoning for becoming a drummer. Long before the birth of his band Siskiyou, Huebert got his first taste of performing at the age of 16. Having grown up listening to hair metal bands such as Mötley Crüe and Quiet Riot, Huebert eventually gravitated towards the sounds of Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., and The Smiths. It was around this time that friends of his wanted to start a band, and realizing they needed a drummer, Huebert saw it as the perfect fit. “As a drummer you get to hang back and not worry about being up in the front as much. That’s more of a natural position for me, at least at the time,” says Huebert. As his inclination for drumming flourished, so did his desire to be a performer. In the early 2000s, Huebert joined the Great Lake Swimmers, where his role as a drummer continued. During his time playing with Great Lake Swimmers, Huebert realized he needed a change of scenery and decided to move out west. Now situated in his new surroundings, Huebert was ready to step out from behind the drum kit and take centre stage. So along with fellow Great Lake Swimmers band mate Erik Arnesen, Huebert formed Siskiyou in 2008.

With the addition of Shaunn Watt and Peter Carruthers, Siskiyou released their self-titled debut album in 2010. This record was quickly followed by the 2011 release of Keep Away the Dead. As Siskiyou geared up to work on their third album, Huebert became stricken with hyperacusis; a health condition that gravely effects one’s hearing. Huebert was forced to resort to alternative methods in order to record the band’s latest album Nervous. An album three years in the making, Nervous is Siskiyou’s darkest work yet. Reflecting Huebert’s struggles with both anxiety and the issues with his ears, Nervous is a gothic, cinematic look into the mind of a man who feels utterly frustrated. While Huebert maintains there’s no specific message to take away from the album, he does hope listeners will enjoy it. “I think I just want people to take from it what they will. There’s no overarching directive. I hope people like it, and I hope they feel somewhat inspired and moved by it, but there’s no message.” For all its gloominess, Nervous does provide listeners with a sense of hope. While at times you may feel like you’re sinking into an abyss, Huebert ultimately provides a hand to pull you free.

Noisey: Your band’s third album was just released. Why did you decide to name it Nervous?
Colin Huebert
: There’s a strain that runs through the record that has to do with anxiety, and I suppose overall nervousness. It seemed like a good title. I felt like it threaded the whole thing together.

In 2012 you began to experience intense chronic ear ringing. How did that affect the recording process of the album?
It affected it quite a bit I think. Initially, the idea was to sit down with the band before the songs were completely written, and work it out in rehearsals. But because of the problems I was having with my ears, that didn’t really work. I ended up doing a lot of demo recordings at home and really fleshing out the songs on my own. There was a lot of rehearsals, but they were quieter than what you would normally expect. We recorded it in a very isolated way so that I didn’t have to be sitting in front of a drum set the whole time. I would say it ended up with me writing the songs more than I’d wanted it to be.

How do you go about coping with these problems?
Various ways. Meditating, white noise, sometimes different medications. I wouldn’t say it’s particularly easy. I feel like you end up with a number of different things to cope, and then you use whatever tool you need at the time to get through it.

Which tool do you find the most successful?
Depends on what day you’re talking about. If it’s more like you’re having a lot of anxiety, then maybe some kind of medication. If it’s just the physical sensation then maybe some white noise to help you sleep.

I found the album artwork to be quite intriguing. Where did the idea for it come from?
An acquaintance of mine, who’s an artist in town, came up with this group of paintings for the record. I commissioned him to respond to the music. He came out with a bunch, and I selected one that I liked.

Why do you think you chose that particular image to be the face of the album?
That one just spoke to me. It had a lot of levels to it, and I feel you could see it in a number of different ways. There was some depth to it.

Owen Pallett provides strings throughout the album. What was working with him like?
I sent him the tracks, he recorded them on his end, and then sent them back to me. And that was that. We didn’t actually get together in the same room or anything.

Is that how you prefer to do things, or would you rather have someone in the studio with you?
I think ultimately it’s easier if you’re in the same room as the person, because then there’s less back and forth. You can get it done right there and then without having to have someone else record it. You say “change this part, fix that part. This part’s great.” Then they have to re-fix it and send it over, and it’s just a lot more time consuming. It’s easier if you’re in the same room as the person for sure.

What do you look for in a collaborator?
Someone that’s actually a songwriter, as well as a really talented musician. I think it helps to have both of those things in the same person you’re collaborating with.

The opening track on the album is called “Deserter.” Who’s the one doing the deserting?
Maybe me at the time. I felt a little tagged out of life, a little hyper-reclusive.

For “Jesus In The 70s” you shot a Super 8 movie and chose to shoot it in the parking lot of a supermarket. Why that particular location?
I go to this enormous superstore to buy diapers only. They sell them in large quantities and [that way] I don’t have to get diapers so much. I was driving around one dreary day, listening to a rough mix of that song trying to find a parking spot, and I just looked up and realized how much of a cinematic quality driving around took with that music as the backdrop. I thought it would make for a pretty decent, low-budget music video, and so I came back about a year later and shot it with my Super 8 camera.

The sixth song on the album is called “Oval Window.” Could you elaborate on the subject matter of that song?
I went through a period of time where because of my ears I was dizzy for a couple weeks, and I found that pretty hard to deal with. That song speaks a little bit to that unfortunate, uncomfortable time. That dizziness is hard to deal with, because it messes up the way you walk, if you even can walk. I wasn’t sure if that was gonna stop, and that was a frightening composition. That’s where that song emerged from.

Does this dizziness still continue?
No. It kind of just went away, for no reason.

Did you ever discover the cause for it?
No, but I presume it has something to do with everything else that has transpired.

“Violent Motion Pictures” is one of the more cinematic tracks on the album. I was wondering if you could explain the inspiration behind it?
I thought I was losing my mind for awhile. That track goes through that time. Without going into too much detail, it kind of documents what I felt like. I know that this all sounds kind of crazy, the dizziness and then this, but when all this started and I had all these problems that nobody could tell me what was wrong with me, I started to wonder if I was just going crazy. That song somewhat elaborates on that.

Where did you end up finding solace from these issues?
I don’t know if I really have. I’ve learned how to cope and see the bright side of things, but I wouldn’t say that I’ve completely come to an end point of comfort and acceptance. I think I’m still searching through it.

Aaron Morris is a writer living in Toronto - @aarmor12