Local rock band Departures recorded its debut album with Howard Bilerman, who has worked with Arcade Fire and Handsome Furs. – Supplied
Departures debut full-length, the devastatingly beautiful and layered Still and Moving Lines, has been a labour of post-rock love.
Self-funded by the band, which includes Nick Liang, Stephen Kesselman, Rob Gardiner, Alannah Walker and Graham Wolf, the 10-song album was recorded by Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire, Handsome Furs) with the initial five-day recording sessions taking place at Private Ear Studios in Winnipeg.
After a setback with the two-inch tape recorder malfunctioning, the band cranked out what it could with its remaining session time, picking things up in June at Bilerman’s Montreal studio while on tour and corresponding about the mix via email.
“We only recorded for two days there. Things are cost prohibitive, you have to wait until you have enough money to do things,” says 22-year-old lead singer-guitarist Liang. “I guess that’s why there was a long gestation period for the album. We obviously prefer to do things quicker and hopefully in the future - if there is a future for recording - we can work at an accelerated pace and won’t be beholden to as many restraints. It’s not really a big issue with how long it took. We all have school and lives.”
When this writer first spoke with Liang in the autumn of 2010 about the band’s debut EP Kino-Pravda, he had only hinted at the full-length and working with Bilerman as a possibility. Additionally, he spoke at length about his admiration of outspoken engineer/musician Steve Albini, a man known for his principles.
It was clear upon our initial meeting that Liang is someone who prefers to let the music speak for himself, yet he’s incredibly well spoken when asked about what it means to be in a band.
“In the enterprise of being a band the only perspective we have is our own,” he says. “We don’t really pay much credence or consideration to outside perspectives.
“It’s a pretty self-contained venture playing in a band. We’re happy as long as the five of us are happy. Everything else is a conjecture. I hope that the lasting impression of this venture will be the friendships we’ve fostered. At the end of the day, I won’t really be looking at if we’re successful beyond our wildest imaginations, which we have no expectations of really. If it wasn’t enjoyable we’d have some serious reservations about doing things.”
While some bands might work with a name producer like Bilerman to attach notoriety to its product, Departures do it because of a desired sound and experience.
When such noted sites as Pitchfork, Stereogum and Chartattack began posting the Pillars single (with Pitchfork noting “it’s impressive that they can seamlessly execute so many sonic shifts”), it was evident that Liang and co. would eventually have to discuss the record.
“I’m naturally suspicious of people who try to appeal to our vanity,” he says. “We’ve had more interviews and I’m much more comfortable and relaxed speaking to someone like you or someone that’s engaged in the community that I engage with too, but when it’s just a line of questioning like ‘Where are you guys from?’, we’ve been trying to navigate those more superficial interviews. I’m fine with even saying no to a lot of things.
“Regardless, it’s just a bunch of people being interested in things.”
The conundrum is that once you’ve made a record and have a tour to promote, you have to do the legwork. Liang is confident in doing things his way or no way, preferring the simplicity of the pre-Internet world in which bands were mysterious and didn’t tweet about what they ate for lunch.
“I don’t feel particularly compelled to contribute to that tabloid culture of misinformation,” he says. “I don’t want to add to a lot of noise. There’s a lot of bios and a lot of information about a lot of bands and I’d rather there just be nothing and we can operate how we’ve been operating, which has been perfectly comfortable.”
While Departures has been a band for a number of years, Liang and his bandmates are also involved heavily in other projects, including Cannon Bros. and Greg MacPherson’s band, confirming that supportive sense of community.
“Everyone is working towards the same thing - to have a great arts scene, music scene, film industry, whatever,” he says. “In Winnipeg, there’s no sense of competition for me.
“Everything we do is an extension of us as individuals. We’re very normal people. Being in a band for us isn’t licence to behave differently. It’s a window into this unique dynamic between five people.”