When Library Voices gear up for shows, they go whole hog. The Regina band tours about as hard as they can. For example, look at what their recent and upcoming schedule is like — U.S. gigs including shows at South by Southwest, a Canadian tour with buddies Yukon Blonde and upcoming European shows.
You don’t have to take my word for it, though. LV’s Michael Dawson was kind enough to answer some of my questions via e-mail for this issue of the prairie dog. He talks about what the band is up to in the next few months, his thoughts on what their follow-up to 2011’s Summer of Lust might sound like and how they’re keeping it all together.
Read my Q&A with Dawson after the jump.
Library Voices are playing tonight at the University of Regina Riddell Centre Multi-Purpose Room, along with Yukon Blonde and Great Bloomers.
You’ve talked before, with Library Voices and National Frost before that, about how much playing live and the audience’s reaction to your music has effected the direction you take the songs. What do you think will be the takeaway from your current tour?
That’s a really good question. I think it boils down to the way people consume music — everything is so bloggable and retweetable that it creates this unavoidable immediacy to anything you record. It is hard not to feel like people are setting out to judge what you create rather than enjoy it.
Our whole take on setting out to write songs based on how they work with an audience has never been about trying to write songs we think they will like — it’s been about trying to grow and push ourselves as songwriters. To remain objective about the music we create and accept when certain things don’t work. When you’re onstage you can tell when the audience is there with you and when you’re lost them entirely.
Some of my favourite albums of all time are studio albums that are next to impossible to perform live — but the reality of Library Voices is that last year we spent 200-plus days on the road and 14 in a recording studio. It’s amazing to me that people pay money to come see us perform night after night and so at the end of the day how our songs translate live remains more important than trying to impress some critic who shit talks things from his computer so he can get guest passes to shows.
Your live show has always been a huge part of your appeal. With this current round of touring, you’re going all over the place. Has the intensity of this tour cause you to do anything differently? Do you think it’ll change your approach to shows in the future?
Paul [Gutheil] did the math a couple of days ago. This tour isn’t even half over yet and we’ve already driven 1,600 k.m., which averages out to about 550 k.m. per day. Yesterday we woke up in New York and by noon today we were setting to record a session at the Verge for Sirius XM. Now it’s 5 p.m. and we just loaded in for a soundcheck at Lee’s Palace. It would be an understatement to say we’re all feeling a little exhausted at this point but the thing is we are really on the road for the 45 minutes we actually get to play every night. We’ve definitely made changes to the way we approach our shows, but we’ve done so by trying to be smarter about how we spend the rest of our day — going to bed earlier, trying to be realistic about the amount we take on, etc.
Honestly, one of the biggest struggles with our live show on this tour has been in that in making a conscious shift to remind ourselves that it’s why we’re on tour. I think we’ve started to put an unrealistic pressure on ourselves to perform at the top of our game each night. It’s inevitable when you have seven bodies flailing around a tiny stage every night that things are going to wrong or get broken at some point but we’ve been trying to work past beating ourselves up over it. The legs broke on the kick drum a couple of weeks ago and we had to pull a volunteer from the audience to sit on top of it the rest of the show to keep it from moving.
What plans are there so far for a follow-up to Summer of Lust?
We are more or less on the road from now until August. At this point the band still doesn’t make a penny and so the odd day or two we do have at home has been divided between spending time with loved ones and finding temporary work here and there to help pay the bills. For the first time since we started the band four years ago we’re looking at blocking out a healthy chunk of time to be at home and focus on writing this fall.
How do you see the next stage of the band? Will it be more of a refinement of your sound, like it was between Denim on Denim and Summer of Lust, or more of a reinvention?
I’ve actually been thinking a lot about that. The last thing I want to do is refine what we did on Summer of Lust. Making a record is a strange double-edged sword where obviously the songs you write are an enormous part of it but the manner in which you record and produce the record also has such an impact on the way those songs come across. Denim on Denim was largely written in the studio and though a lot of self-editing happened as we went along it still felt dense and cluttered. The excitement in learning there is no limit to the instrumentation we can include on a record got the best of us. We also played a few hundred shows in support of that album and as a result a healthy portion of the instruments we used ended up wrecked.
With Summer Of Lust we tried to refine those songs for two reasons. We set out to do away with a lot of that clutter — I guess it’s our spring cleaning summertime album. But we also tried to write songs that would be sustainable to tour behind. Songs that translated better to a stage than Denim On Denim did and used instruments that would be better suited for bouncing around in a van for a few hundred kilometers a day. In that capacity I think we succeeded on Summer Of Lust but this time around it feels like we need to try something entirely new. From a music fan perspective there’s nothing more disappointing than hearing a new album by a band you like and feeling like they just played it safe and did more of what they had done on the last album. I’d rather respect someone for growth, even if they lose me along the way, than watch them become a parody of themselves.
It seems like the people you work with is ever growing, with people from Regina, Nevado Records and Dine Alone all becoming part of your circle. What friends have you made recently — maybe at South by Southwest for example — that you think you might be working with in the future?
I know we caught some flack when we started to look outside of Regina for people to work with. Our struggle with that is that we never set out to be a band in Regina. We will always be a band from Regina and we couldn’t be prouder of that fact, but we had always hoped to travel as far as we could with this project. We’ve definitely had the opportunity to meet a lot of amazing people and very grateful for that. Every tour feels a little bit like summer camp because you get to come home with a bunch of new friends. In a couple weeks we’re headed overseas for our first UK/European tour and so SXSW was great in that we got to meet a number of the people we are working with who we had only known via e-mail until that point.
I certainly know a lot of your own projects, from your hip-hop work to your music video directing to the book you’re working on. Carl has College Kids, of course, who are working on an album. What other projects are members of Library Voices working on these days?
That’s a good question. I don’t even have an honest answer for it. I think we all just try to keep a productive as possible in our down time. I know Mike [Thievin] recorded drums on a bunch of prog metal songs a few weeks back. Brennan [Ross] has been hard at work building a studio over the past while which he finally got operational about 24 hours before we left for three months.
You’ve got a long list of literary heroes that pop up in your songs. Any idea who we might see popping up in the next batch of tunes?
I actually don’t have any idea at the moment. I was actually hell bent on not using any literary references when we set out writing Summer Of Lust but by the time I was done with the lyrics they were full of them again. I’ve sort of just accepted that it’s what we do. So who knows — maybe this will be the album that doesn’t have any.
Also, since you’re a pretty literary band and all, any comment on the battle between Half-Blood Blues and The Sisters Brothers for Canadian novel of the year?
I have to confess I actually haven’t read Half-Blood Blues yet. Both Mike T. and Eoin [Hickey-Cameron] have read it on this trek though.