Ought Interview: “Our Headspace Was A Little Different This Time Around”

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ought interview

New Album Sun Coming Down  Out Sept 18th Via Constellation Records.

Is is an exciting one. Montreal art punks Ought were one of Overblown’s very favourite artists of 2014 with their exquisite debut album More Than Any Other Day, which was a wonderful experience, economical and yet exploratory. Including highlights like the obsessive ‘Habit’, the unhinged ‘Gemini’, and the contemplative title track, the album has been on repeat over here since its release just 18 months ago.

Seeing as Ought are generous chaps, they recently announced the follow up to their awesome debut. Titled Sun Coming Down, the album will be out in September via Constellation Records. So far we’ve heard two tracks from the record, the Sonic Youth-esque ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’, and the propulsive ‘Men For Miles’, and we’ve been pretty much bowled over. Seriously. If you haven’t listened to the songs yet, do so. Like, now.

Anyway, Matt May, keyboardist with Ought, has been generous enough with his time answer some questions for us. We had a pretty all encompassing chat about gentrification, American journalist Nicholas Kristof and global truths, and Matt’s favourite cities to play gigs in.

Overblown: Thanks for taking the time to talk to Overblown! It has been only a little over a year since the release of your debut album More Than Any Other Day. What inspired you guys to follow up that album so quickly? With the acclaim your debut gleaned, you could have toured on its merits for another year at least.

Matt May: When we got back from touring at the end of last year we were sort of bristling with energy, and as soon as we got in a room together we just wrote and wrote and wrote. We ended up, probably for the first time in our very short existence, writing more than we ended up using. That felt good, like we could choose the material we were most proud of at the moment.

O: Did your approach to your new album Sun Coming Down differ in any way from your approach to More Than Any Other Day in either writing or recording?

M: It was essentially pretty similar, though in some ways a bit different, I guess. For the first record, we had played everything live a bunch before we recorded. For this record, we had only played most songs two or three times live – some less, and ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’ at most shows last year – before we recorded. We had more time to record this time around, but it was still with Radwan (Ghazi Moumneh) at Hotel2Tango, same as last time around. Our headspace was a little different this time around, but that’s mostly a matter of time passing.

O: Your new song ‘Beautiful Blue Sky’ features numerous every day idioms such as: “How’s the family?” and “How’s your health been?” Is the song a comment on the manner in which humans communicate with each other, often through meaningless small talk?

M: That’s interesting, on the one hand those are definitely small talk expressions, but I don’t view it necessarily as meaningless. To me, it’s a bit sarcastic maybe, and a bit sincere as well. I think the image juxtaposition is what interests me, because I don’t think it’s totally straightforward, I think there are different ways to try to make sense of the banality of the statements, even when it’s about gentrification or oil spills. The sort of dryness with which really awful, painful things – that are maybe seen as “too complex” or less immediately/obviously “fixable” – are discussed is interesting to me. Sarcasm and sincerity don’t actually combat racialized people losing housing because of people like me moving into certain neighborhoods, as just one example, but maybe at best it lets people know where you stand, if that counts for anything, and it truthfully may not.

O: The track also reminds me somewhat of Murray Street-era Sonic Youth in the restrained, concise instrumentation combined with an expansive arrangement. What/who actually influenced the song?

M: That’s a very flattering comparison! I love Sonic Youth, in fact I think it’s one of those bands that we all really like. Personally, as the keyboard player, my feeling on this song was to try to be very minimalist (essentially just two chords) and let the small, subtle changes direct the movement of the song. So in that sense, as pretty much always, Grouper is a big influence for me. I also think the music made by my friends Eamon and Amy, specifically their respective solo(ish) projects Alcrete and Nennen, are big influences on my playing. I’m often more drawn to repetition than constant left-right jolts.

Ought - Sun Coming Down - Album Artwork
Ought – Sun Coming Down – Album Artwork

O: The cover art of Sun Coming Down is quite abstract. Personally, I see faces in the piece, but I can’t tell what they are feeling. Perhaps resignation. Where did it come from and how does it link to the album?

M: Chryum Lambert, a wonderful artist from Los Angeles, is responsible for the beautiful cover art. He could probably speak more to its intention, but as for what I get from it – I like the colors and use of negative space the most. I feel like that relates to my feelings on its connection to the album as well. We’ve talked amongst each other about what color or colors different songs feel like, and it’s interesting to see how we come to similar and different conclusions. Albums and songs are very associated with color for me. As well, I feel like we try to use silence or negative space on this record. Kind of a loose connection I suppose haha.

O: Throughout your work there seems to be a focus on the mundane, commonplace, and every day. It kind of reminds me of underground comix writer Harvey Pekar who said, “As a matter of fact, I deliberately look for the mundane. The most influential things that happen to virtually all of us are the things that happen on a daily basis.” Do you know of his work? Is that a fair comment?

M: I’m not familiar offhand with Harvey Pekar’s work but it sounds fascinating, probably something I’d be interested in. I think there’s a good grain of that quote that resonates with me. I don’t write the lyrics so I can’t speak to specific influences or how they manifest, but I can say I’m personally interested, especially of late, in smallness and process. There’s merit to imagining and working towards system change, but there’s also a danger that can come from feeling you deserve to have the world reflect your exact vision for it. However, I think there’s also a danger in trying to find huge, Global Truths in small, mundane moments (read: Nicholas Kristof). Humbleness and letting those directly affected lead the way makes sense to me.

O: Tim, you recently changed your surname from Beeler to Darcy. What made you wish to do this?

M: Tim had expressed for some time a desire to take his mother’s name, and recently he went through to make it official. His mom is an amazing person, so it makes sense.

O: You have some European and North American shows on the horizon. Is there anywhere you are particularly excited about playing? Why?

M: Lots of place, actually! In Europe basically everywhere but maybe especially Croatia & Poland (I’ve never been!); Vienna (last year’s show there was one of my favorites); and the UK (playing three shows with Shopping, who are amazing!). For North America: we’ve never played Detroit, so I’m looking forward to that. We’re playing with bands I love across the map, including Diet Cig in Boston, Rick from Pile in Brooklyn, Littler in Philly, Split Feet in Chicago, Burnt Shrines in Calgary, to name a few, and we’re touring the east coast with a band that I absolutely adore (but can’t name just yet). We’re playing The Silent Barn in Brooklyn, which is one of my absolute favorite places in the world. Also, Portland, where Ben grew up, will be really special. And our friends Chris and Tara will be in Vancouver, so that will be really nice. Basically anywhere we’ve got friends is somewhere I look forward to being!

O: The band is based in Montreal. What bands from Montreal should Overblown’s readers make sure to check out? Why?

M: Oh, so many! A couple personal favorites of mine are Nennen, Harsh Reality, Cheap Wig, Gashrat, Wreckage with Stick, The Past, Lungbutter, and Five Eyes. They’re all made up of great people and make wildly creative music that I probably spend most of my time listening to. Each are pretty different, and I wish I could name the other 100 Montreal bands I love but this will do for a start!

Nennen:

Harsh Reality:

Cheap Wig:

Gashrat:

Wreckage with Stick:

The past:

Lungbutter:

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