by Darcy Penner
This Saturday, October 13th, 2012, Winnipeg post-rock five-piece Departures will be celebrating the release of their debut full length, Still and Moving Lines (released October 9th on Borana Records). Recorded by Howard Bilerman between Private Ear in Winnipeg and Hotel2Tango in Montréal and mastered by Bob Weston, the album is already turning heads. Graeme Wolfe, Nick Liang, and Rob Gardiner (the band is rounded out by Alannah Walker and Steve Kesselman) sat down with Stylus to answer a few questions ahead of the show. The following is an edited transcript.
Check out the full album stream here. The show is at Ace Art Inc.(290 McDermot Ave.), with Slow Dancers opening. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door, and available at Into the Music, Music Trader, and through the band members. Doors at 9:30 PM.
Stylus: The album’s creation story, the fact that it spanned over a year being finished—
Nick Liang: Longer than that, yeah.
Stylus: Can you explain the creation story a little bit?
Rob Gardiner: We started in February of 2011. We flew in Howard Bilerman to engineer the album. He came in from Montréal. We had some trouble the first couple days because the tape machine didn’t work.
Stylus: This was at Private Ear?
RG: This was at Private Ear, yeah. The tape machine didn’t work, so we had like two and a half days to record. So, I don’t know if we even finished the album—how many songs did we actually record there?
NL: We were a little bit rushed at that point. We were just sitting on our hands waiting for the tape machine to be fixed, which, very nice of Private Ear, they really did work twenty four seven to get it up and running. Technically we recorded the entire album, but not up to our standards really. So we ended up—
RG: Touring. And finishing each others’ sentences. We ended touring east that summer, and had about two days in Montréal where we almost re-recorded half to two-thirds of the album. Then mixing was done via correspondence with Nick over emails.
NL: We recorded to tape, so [mixing] was a very painful process. Howard would have to do a mix, and then send it to us. I’d sit down and listen to it critically, and then send it back to him. Minute, very small things that are easy in person, like, move this fade slightly, EQ, panning, you know, takes a few days. And then he was doing it in the off time of the studio, so it’s not like he could just leave the board set up the way it was at the time, because he had other stuff to do.
Graeme Wolfe: He had to recall all the mixes.
NL: So he is very patient and great on that account. You want to record an album? Record it with Howard Bilerman. He is great.
We mixed the songs, and then after we finished mixing, which was fall of 2011, we wanted them mastered by Bob Weston, but Bob wasn’t available for about a month and a half. He was on tour with Mission to Burma or something like that. So we waited for him to be ready and we mastered it. It got mastered by the beginning of summer this year. That’s the brief history.
Stylus: What about Howard Bilerman? What was the reason you flew him out here initially?
NL: Well, I knew that Howard would be sympathetic to the kind of music we are making. That’s my canned answer.
GW: Were there any specific records by him that made you decide on him?
NL: Nope. That influences me very little. I knew that bands get to make their own decisions. I knew that he’d be good to work on the album. He would be sympathetic to what we are doing, which is the most important part of who you work that. We corresponded for a while and then he came here.
Most of the first recording session was glorified hanging out. Like, we didn’t actually record that much. We pretty much sat in a nice studio with Howard, hanging out.
RG: Expensive hanging out is what it was.
NL: The reason that I record to tape, or made that decision, is not because of some sort of lofty appreciation for the quality versus digital recording. It’s the process. The process is what pulled me in more than the [the sound]; there’s no discernible difference between that and digital.
So yeah, the tape cost is prohibitive, you have to do all the parts and be decisive on all the takes you want to keep, unless you have lots of money to buy lots of reels, which we didn’t have. And you have to be able to perform. We didn’t do a single tape editor on our entire album. We had to overdub obviously, but everything is straight from the floor.
So, again, all those things will inform the end result much more than recording with shitty microphones or whatever. Howard is very intuitive and understanding of the entire process, and tape is his medium, that’s the best way he works.
Stylus: And Bob Weston?
NL: The reason I picked Bob Weston is because he does lacquer masters, so he actually uses a lathe, where as, there’s maybe two other places, I think, In North America that have that—Sterling Sound in New York and maybe Golden has that. Maybe some really expensive places do too.
So yeah, the cutting lathe and he’s put a lot of work and effort into his studio and his mastering company (Chicago Mastering Service). And again, with a mastering engineer, you want to try to find someone who is sympathetic to the kind of music you are making so that they understand the intent of the idea to translate it properly. It’s important for them to have a frame of reference. The guy who masters Katy Perry probably won’t know much about capturing us. That’s why I went with him.
Stylus: What was it like recording in Montréal as compared to Winnipeg?
RG: Well it was the summer, so it was warmer. That’s about all. [Laughter] It felt much more like a vacation. Most of us were in school when we recorded in Winnipeg. Me and Alannah (Walker) would come from school with our homework, and we would be doing homework in between takes. Whereas Montréal we could relax—we cooked!
NL: We had a very fortunate set up, because Steve (Kesselman), his sister lives in Montréal, goes to school there, and has an apartment with roommates, but they don’t live there during the summer. They pay rent—they don’t want to lose their apartment. So we have an empty apartment for the summer to go to Montréal. That’s pretty great.
In terms of the studio, Private Ear is a nice sounding room, like a really nice sound room. Probably the takes that we kept from Private Ear were the louder songs. All the more nuanced stuff, we did at Hotel2Tango.
RG: We were a tighter band. We were a better band going to Montréal, which I think is one of the biggest reasons we recorded so many of the songs over again. We kind of worked through the struggles while we were on the road before hand.
Stylus: You’ve gone through a handful of lineup changes over the past two years. How did this affect your writing process?
NL: It stayed pretty static. Yeah, the writing stayed static.
GW: Nick has a pretty good sense of arrangements for the songs. He starts them himself and typically has parts almost lined up in his head, and then its just matter of getting those to come out—to explain them to us to make them happen.
NL: Yeah. The most important part about being in a band is the personality and character that is being injected into the parts that are being played. You can be playing dissonant noise and it will be played with the intent and attitude of your personality, and it will be interesting. The best part of playing with each other is that everyone gets different results. No one sounds like Rob playing drums. No one sounds like Graeme playing the bass. Like Steve, really, it would be really hard to try to translate those things to other people to play.
Stylus: It is out on Borana records. I am completely unfamiliar with Borana.
RG: So is everyone else.
NL: Really, it’s just us releasing ourselves. I think that’s engendered in the band’s mind—doing things ourselves. Not being subordinate to anything. I think we’ve made some strides so far.
Stylus: What are your plans for the next year?
GW: Well, we’re going on tour, doing some Canadian dates in about a week and a half. Going as far east as Montréal, then we come back west and do three dates west of Winnipeg—Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton.
NL: Touring, touring, touring. We like touring. It’s a lot of fun. And yeah, recording maybe?
Stylus: Can you tell me some records, not obvious ones, that people should check out if they’re into your band?
RG: I think people should check out The Ex’s 30th Anniversary Collection.
NL: Slow Dancers. They are going to come out with a record next year, probably. Come see them play [on Saturday]. They’re fantastic. They’re like nothing else in Winnipeg, or in general.
GW: There are probably elements of a lot of ambient, less rock oriented bands in the record. Maybe something by Brian Eno?
NL: Another Green World by Brian Eno. That’s a great album. There’s a lot. I’ve been listening to William Basinski, The Disintegration Loops. This Heat is pretty big for us. Deceit by This Heat or Health and Efficiency is a great EP.