Billboard Interview by Robert Thompson (Sept, 2008)

1)    What place does an album have with the public these days, given short attention spans, MP3s, etc.?

It doesn’t have much of a place at all. I’m sure young kids just discovering music download individual tracks completely out of any context. It’s only older people that would care about sequencing etc. I have always been an album person. Even as a kid I understood that an album was its own world and I remember being home at lunch hour listening to an album with the state of mind of a kid reading a storybook, with each song a link to the next. A good album always feels planned, conceptual. It’s a beautiful art form.

For me it comes down to how much escapism I can get from music. It takes more than 2-4 minutes to really lose yourself in a world or mood. The best albums draw you into another place for 30 minutes to an hour. And a two-sided album is even better because it gives you an intermission and a choice of which side to listen to. All of this is fading with Mp3s. It’s frustrating to me that most people may still only hear our new record as a bunch of random clips via Myspace.  With vinyl LPs, if you wanted to skip a song, moving the needle was just tricky enough to discourage you and keep you in line!

2)    I’ve always thought the High Dials were a pretty smart group, but most simply lump the band is as sixties revivalists. How do you see it? Of course working with Rainbow Quartz (though I loved Cotton Mather) didn’t help, nor did hanging with the BJM.

Yeah, we still get perceived that way sometimes. Anyone that actually listens to anything we’ve done since A New Devotion would know that we’re not a 60s revival band. We’re just a pop band with a certain type of songcraft so we have to deal with that tag the way ELO or Big Star probably did. Our first record had some pretty overt nods to that decade obviously. I was blissed out on freakbeat and Revolver when we started it. For about 6 years I didn’t listen to much past 1968. But that was 5-6 years ago and the music has shifted a lot. There are a lot of bands that people have assumed are influences that have meant very little to me. My songwriting is probably much more influenced by the Cure and the Smiths than a lot of bands people assume I would worship. I think there’s a melodic sensibility and attitide though that is very 60s and that’s what ties us in with bands like BJM. And we have lots of harmonies which most bands don’t do. But we’ve long since got past trying to emulate any bands. In fact, if a song starts to sound predictable as one type of thing, as a rule, we try to bend it a different way.

There’s been a lot of lazy journalism dogging my poor band! It’s hard for any emerging group to be judged on its own merits and not against influences. I guess we are still earning respect to get to that point. But at the end of the day, I don’t care too much what people label the music as anymore, cause I know what the music really means and where it comes from. It’s soul music in the truest sense.

3)    What effect have the lineup changes had on the band, recording, sound, etc.?

It meant that the album couldn’t be done totally live off the floor which is what we would’ve liked after so much touring. Robbie MacArthur, the lead guitarist, played most of the bass on the record and couldn’t do both at once! With the different musicians coming and going, it just progressed piecemeal too, from the originals demos in Ireland to the final overdubs in Montreal. It slowed us down, probably, but that may not have been a bad thing. Being forced to do things bit by bit opens up a lot more creativity and also gets the arrangements really sharp. 

When a longtime member leaves a band, a big space is left that needs to be filled. The remaining musicians had more elbow room so to speak and filled it nicely. I think the contributions from the newest members, Max and Eric were much bigger than they might have been for that reason. In most ways though, this album to me is a natural progression from the last one. It’s actually closer in sound to what we wanted last time. 

4)    Seagull Blues sounds more like a Ride song than anything from the sixties (though they were, of course, influenced by the Creation, Byrds and the like). Is some of the sound second (or third)-generation inspired? In other words, groups you liked that would have been influenced by late sixties psych?

Yes, that’s the case, though I wasn’t thinking of Ride at all when I imagined the melody. I loved that band and still do. We obviously have a lot in common with bands like that. We are all drinking from the same well. There really is an ongoing tradition that you can loosely define as psychedelia, from bands like the Creation through to Ride to the Flaming Lips. I think psychedelia happens when a hole opens up in the song through some dissonance or reverb or droning and you fall through into another headspace. In other words, it trips you out. Any band with that agenda is connected in spirit. All those bands on Creation Records from the 80s and 90s do that and they have influenced the sound of the band for sure.

5)    The band seems to have missed the connection to Montreal that benefited everyone from Patrick Watson to Arcade Fire to Stars, etc. That said, the sound of the group doesn’t seem out of place within that. How do you see it? 

Yes, we have been passed over in that way, though we’ve enjoyed some nice accolades from unexpected places. We are a one-band scene in this city. I definitely feel way more at home musically on the West Coast. It’s weird. But the city of Montreal has influenced the band in so many ways and we are as Montreal as anybody, probably way more so. We regularly discuss the relative merits of different poutines and have frequently canceled important band rehearsals to watch the Montreal Canadiens. Being a “Montreal” band would just be another tag we’d have to shake though, so no thanks!