Beliefs: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyors of: Gauzey, guitar-driven dream pop.
File next to: My Bloody Valentine, No Joy, Whirr
Playing: Night Two of WL16, Saturday February 13 at The Garrison. Get tickets!

Toronto’s Beliefs have been at it since 2010 — but this is their year. Beliefs second release, Leaper (Hand Drawn Dracula, 2015) has perked up ears for its unabashed inspiration in ‘90s dream pop and shoegaze, and with its obscured vocals, richly layered guitars, and dense, thunderous production, Leaper is arguably the purest distillate of the form the recent revival has seen. We caught up with the core and constant members of Beliefs, Josh Korody (Wish, Nailbiter) and Jesse Crowe (Praises, Rolemodel), as they were finishing a recording session in Josh’s West End studio, Candle Recording.

Josh, between your bands and the recording of other bands, making music is your full-time gig, which is more than most of us can say. What, if anything, becomes different once you’ve turned your passion into your “job?”

Josh: I don’t even know how to begin. I could probably talk about that for a year. It’s all I think about sometimes. In the grand scheme of things, I would say that if I had to choose between what I do now and any other job I’ve ever done, I would choose this. If there was ever a point though, that I didn’t like this as much — I would just stop doing it. Something weird happens when you start to do something you love for a living — you’re more ready to stop doing it. Anyone who does speciality working — building guitars, making their own gear, any business really — there’s this constant idea that you are carrying around; if you ever hit this brick wall where you aren’t enjoying it or you can’t live off of it — you’re somehow more ready to walk away from it, to venture into something else.

A note that has been hit in a lot of the reviews of Leaper is that it could just as easily have been recorded in 1995 as 2015 — some people might bristle at that. It’s going to be hard, though, to escape the comparisons to the early ‘90s and to past acts that have worked with this sonic palette — does that get under your skin at all?

Jesse: Nah. It’s natural for me to have gone there, because it’s a lot of what I listen to. But at the same time, it’s twenty years later, everything is cyclical — it kind of makes sense that music is hitting on this right now. But if we make another record, I don’t think it’s going to be embodied by these tastes. It touches on what we’re interested in at this point, but we are planning to move on from it. You can’t make the same record over and over again.

Josh: When our first record had finally come out, it was a long wait for us. We had already started writing the next one. It took a long time to record [Leaper] — some of the songs were already pretty well rehearsed and gigged, a couple years old. We wanted to reflect the live feel.

Jesse: When we first started out too, it was hard to find anybody that wanted to play with a shoegaze-y band. Now, people have top ten lists of their favourite shoegaze or dream pop records. It’s changed.

In music as sculptured and textured as yours, sometimes the act of composition, recording and production blur into one another and become a single motion. You’re kind of creating a finished product as you’re composing it.

Josh: Yeah, especially with electronic music, I’d say, because it’s a really broad thing. For me, I don’t write music when I do electronic stuff [with Nailbiter], I don’t write scales, I just do it — and there’s a lot of people I’ve talked to that do that, and there’s a lot of people that don’t do that.

Jesse: Yeah, they just do it the tangible way.

Josh: [To Jesse] Well, we all have minds of our own and when you do your guitar stuff, you’re thinking about that stuff when we’re rehearsing and when we’re playing. Whether it’s in a quiet room writing or playing live.

Jesse: I’m more verbally descriptive. I’ll say, “I want this to have this feeling or have it sit like this.” I’ll play a guitar part and I’ll say I need this lead to sound like a buzzsaw. Usually the great thing about working with Josh is that he’s someone who sculpts sound, and between the two of us, we can find it. We can just mess with things until we find it. I’m less likely to find that on my own, maybe because it’s not much of my world, but I feel like I can describe things well enough that we can collectively figure it out.

Josh: The way we made the first and second record, it wasn’t like… band goes into studio, band records live in a room, does a couple over dubs, has someone else calling shots, telling them things are good, or things are bad, and then sending said recordings to one person here, another person there. The way the record was made, it was, “Here’s the end and here’s the start,” it was just, chip, chip, here’s the recording, here’s the mixing, and by the time I got to having to mix it I had already spent a lot of time, but we could have used the original mixes and it would have been a good-sounding record.

So that’s the answer to the question, the answer is you really did just mix it as you wrote.

Josh: Oh for sure. The way we did it was, half the songs were mostly fleshed out with all the players in the band, because we had been playing it live; the other half were really new, so I mostly had worked them out with Jesse, then we’d show our drummer, and basically for a month or so it was mostly just Jesse, me and Ben [Reinhartz, drums], making sure the structure was there. Then Richard [Stanley, guitar] for the guitar parts, 60% of the bass and 60% of the guitar parts were all made up — on the spot.

For the recordings, these parts were almost improvised?

Both: Yeah!

Josh: A lot of vocals too.

Jesse: The lead on “1992” for example, and I would argue it’s what actually makes that song so catchy. [laughs]

Josh: And the bass too.

Jesse: Totally, the bass had to be written around that guitar hop.

Josh: Jesse writes more of the vocal stuff than I do. This record I ended up having a few songs, the first one she wrote all the vocals. For any harmonies, doubling, or any crossing of vocals in between, she’s so much better at that, and lyrics. There’s huge chunks of recordings we’ve done where I’m looking at lyrics the day I’m supposed to do vocals.

Jesse: Yeah, maybe 15 minutes before. Usually, if I’m doing lyrics, I hear the song and then I’ll hear sounds and then I’ll write dummy lyrics and then from there I’ll start to write something based on a theme of what’s going on in my life or Josh’s life or whatever. But usually because with Beliefs, because we’re writing together as a band, I try not to make it too personal because that’s weird.

Josh: They’re half abstract, half personal.

Jesse: Totally, I like things to be more cinematic or visual. I want you to be a character that’s going and doing this thing.

Jesse, you and Josh appear to have an almost non-verbal shorthand for communication in the studio. Have you ever had a partnership that worked that easily, or is this a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing? Should we ask Josh to leave the room so you can answer?

Jesse: [laughs] Josh and I get along really well, we also get along really poorly, and that’s why the music is good. And I think we’ve come now to be able to communicate really well, in a way that even if we’re frustrated we don’t care. But I think that it is really, really hard to bond with someone individually, and to work so close together and make a project for years and years, without veering off into different directions or just not wanting to do it anymore. It’s pretty special and we’re really good friends. I feel like the only time we ever get on each other’s nerves is within the band. [laughs]

Josh: Yeah, I guess this is the only band that I’ve been in where it has a lot more responsibility. Any other project I’ve been in hasn’t done too much beyond playing in Toronto.

You’ve seemingly hit a nerve and tapped into something that people really want: a modern spin on that ‘90s dream-pop sound but without the billowing blouses and massive reverb-y snares.

Josh: I wouldn’t consider us that successful. We’re not a “business.”

Jesse: I have a business so I can pay to be in a band. That’s something I tell people all the time: you make the least amount of money at the highest level of success before your “break” —

Josh: We’ve been in a weird spot in our career as a band for the last two years. We’ve pursued things and we’ve done things and we’ve gained attention, but it’s really tough because we still are trying to get a booking agent, for example. We’re booking a lot of our own shows, which sometimes is fine, sometimes is not fine, and I guess sinking a lot of our own personal money just to say, “Let’s go and do this tour.”

Jesse: Touring is a total chicken-and-egg thing. Booking agents want bands that have toured, but to tour without a booking agent you’re losing money. It’s a whole industry thing, because the industry right now doesn’t make any money at all so no one’s willing to take those little chances to grow a band. It’s a tough point for everyone, it’s a tough point for the industry, it’s a tough point for bands, it’s just tough.

Josh: Well, even for us, or any band, to go to the States right now is so expensive.

On the flip side, is there a certain freedom in the fact that there’s no way anyone is making any money, most of the time?

Jesse: There’s a strange freedom in that, because then you’re only doing it because you want to. For me, I’ve always thought of it in a way that if you’re only doing it because you want to, that means it skims all the garbage music where people think that maybe they’re going to make something of themselves.

Jesse: Yes, it skims that off the surface because there’s no money in there anymore, and it leaves you with people that are passionate and making music because they need to. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re always going to like everything — that comes down to taste — but it leaves you with people who really want to do it, which totally rules. Something about the industry being so bad that there’s no money being made at least means that you’re left with genuine passion, which is really cool.

Josh: I’ve been fairly content with just putting out the record and for people who want to enjoy it to enjoy it.

Jesse: For sure, I would like to go some places, but that’s why I’m in five bands. Someone’s going to take me somewhere. [laughs] I like the fact that we settled on having a really low pressure release.

Josh: Another big reason why we’re not playing a lot is because we don’t have that line-up anymore and it really feels natural to start again with a clean slate. It just really makes sense.

Jesse: Yeah, we’ve been playing that record for years.

Josh: Yeah, and I think we’re both a little bit eager to try to change up the sound a little more.

You could be forgiven for growing tired of the endless comparisons to My Bloody Valentine, Ride, the list goes on…

Jesse: It’s not even that, I’m just really sick of writing music where you always have to have a part for three guitars. So now that we don’t have a band we don’t necessarily have to always have three guitars. Josh can play some synth, I can just sing—

Josh: Two basses!

So you just want to blow up the format?

Jesse: Anything else, totally.

Josh: I think this time around too, I haven’t even mentioned to Jesse yet, but I’m definitely debating having someone else involved as far as producing and engineering.

Jesse: Once we actually go to record, yeah.

Josh: Because for the last album, Leaper, everything was kind of figured out, I was able to track with Ben on drums, we’d build things as we go. But because we want to start more from scratch, I could picture us both being too occupied, jumping on different instruments and trying ideas.

Jesse: Yeah, once we start recording for real, for sure.

Josh: I also want to take my Nailbiter approach of hitting record and just… trying it.

Jesse: That’s how I want to write for the next one, just hit record, take pieces of things, cut it up.

Josh: Yeah, at least we have something to listen back to, as opposed to a loud jam room where you can’t really tell what’s going on.

Jesse: Yeah, I haven’t written anything for Beliefs since our last record because I don’t want to, because I want to do it like that. So anything I feel like I might have that could be for Beliefs, I have to reformat it. I don’t want it to be guitar music.

So, you’re playing the Wavelength Music Festival this Saturday, for Wavelength’s 16th year. Is that something you guys got plugged into at all? Do you have a personal connection to Wavelength as an organization?

Jesse: I used to go to [Wavelength shows at] Sneaky Dee’s on Sundays because you never knew what you were going to get. Sometimes you’d say, “Wow, this is really great,” and other times it’d be more like “What on earth is happening?” But that’s the best part.

Josh: We definitely respect the diversity to it. The first Wavelength show I played was the festival [2013’s ALL CAPS! on Toronto Island], but because it was a festival, it’s more common for things to be diverse. When it’s a bigger festival show you’re going to have Wu-Tang Clan and Alexisonfire, or something like that. So I didn’t think anything of it as much, but the second time I played was with Wish and we played with a hip-hop—

Jesse: You played with Jazz Cartier!

Josh: Is that who it was? Wow, holy shit.

Jesse: Yeah, it was his first live show.

Josh: He was really good. Wow, I didn’t even realize that.

Jesse: Yeah, the entire point [of Wavelength] is to be like, here’s a triangle and we’re going to pull the corners of the triangle as far as we can get it.

Josh: It makes sense for Toronto, I’ve always found this to be one of the most open-minded places I’ve ever lived, it makes a lot of sense.

Don’t miss Beliefs when they play The Garrison Saturday February 13 for Wavelength 16. Get your tickets or festival passes here.

— Interview by Dean Williams