Etiquette: The Camp Wavelength Interview

Purveyors of: Moody synthpop for the bedroom and, occasionally, the ballroom.
File next to: Beach House, The xx
Playing: Camp Wavelength, Saturday August 29 @ Artscape Gibraltar Point
Get your ticket here!

Toronto’s Etiquette seemingly emerged fully formed in late 2014, but in truth, its members have been here the whole time. Founded by Julie Fader (a solo performer in her own right, but also contributor to such acts as Great Lake Swimmers and Chad Van Gaalen) and Graham Walsh (member of Holy Fuck, producer/engineer for the likes of Viet Cong and METZ), Etiquette have been in your ears and eyes in various forms before this incarnation — so it’s no wonder their creeping synth dirges and haunting vocals feel as comfortable as a pair of your favourite jeans. We caught up with Julie and peppered her with questions about the creative process, finding a work/life balance, and synthesizers.

What do you feel like you were able to do with Etiquette that you weren’t able to accomplish with other projects? Do you feel like the “space” in Etiquette gives you something you might not have been able to do with a pure Julie Fader project, which is how I understand this whole thing sort of began?

I really feel like it’s all just versions of what I am. I love minimalism and always have. I’ve been playing keys live for ages in bands, while singing harmonies. For ages, I would only play electric guitar with delay, reverb and distortion. One day I picked up acoustic guitar and started finger picking, and it became my main method of writing for a while. It all ties together somehow. The Etiquette project is my project, yes — but with more of a true partnership of ideas with Graham Walsh. It’s ours, not mine.

Are the live players able to contribute much to the writing process as you’ve become a bit more established as a group, or is this still a project where you and Graham are writing the music and then translating the live arrangements later?

Well, the live versions of some songs have started taking new breath and direction. Longer instrumentals have been really inspiring us as a band. We stay fairly true to the original ideas with others. Dean Stone played most of the drums on the Etiquette record, so it’s been amazing having him translate yet stay true. New music will be a collaborative approach as a band, I’m sure — we are already planning the next record.

Who is the live lineup these days?

Myself, Graham Walsh, Dean Stone [Feist] plays drums, Andrew Roy plays guitar, Andy Lloyd has been playing bass with us, and is about to get super busy touring with Born Ruffians and Fresh Snow for a while. Dustin Hawthorne [Operators] has been playing bass with us as well. Hannah Georgas sings with us when she’s around and able.

There are surely some blurred lines between work and home. How do you and Graham carve out time for yourselves, or what strategies do you have to avoid this? What are the “me time” activities when you two need a break?

Our home studio has been really busy the past months. Many amazing people, cool sounds, and new records are happening downstairs. Graham has been engineering, producing, mixing, and co-writing. Pretty great, but a very busy stretch of time. Graham hasn’t really had time to himself for ages. When he has a brief window he usually does something incredibly handy around the house — he builds something, or works on his own music ideas, or reads about gear, gear, gear. My very favourite things to do really are working on visual art upstairs in my studio, cooking, and writing. The writing is a little trickier since I like calm and privacy for that, but it’s coming. Getting back in to reading lengthy novels is making my brain happy.

Is there a “well” you return to for ideas, or a method you use when feeling somewhat uninspired? Or conversely, do you only write when inspiration hits? Some folks plunk themselves down and force the ideas to come in a more formatted, formal way, while others don’t. Curious how you battle writer’s block and also what the genesis of a Julie Fader or Etiquette song is.

I’m working on that now, to be honest. I’m finding a routine, digging in. The space around me can be important: comfort, inspiration. I write ideas anywhere, but ideas I am drawn to come when I can open my mind a little more. I put my Wurlitzer in our bedroom last week, and that’s been really nice. A digital recorder and a couple of blank books getting filled up, pens and some time. Once in a while I go back and read words from other books I have written in to see if something moves me.

Tell me a bit about a song you are writing right now.

Living your life (right now). Not being let down by others. Narcissism, and how draining it is to be around. Living your life right now, because you can’t really get to your life later. Something like that.

There’s a shimmery, cold ’80s adult contemporary vibe on the songs. So much of Graham’s other work is so warm and analog — it’s a stark and cool contrast.

While I heard the first sexy bass lines he played with his vintage chorus pedal, I knew we had a direction I was excited about. His [Sequential Circuits] Six Trak and [Teenage Engineering] OP-1 synthesizers also made sounds he was pretty excited about back when we were writing the record. I don’t really feel the sounds are cold; I find the opposite, really. There is a warmth and dreaminess to it for me. Maybe I find warmth in the cold.

In keeping with the theme of Camp Wavelength, was summer camp part of your childhood?

Not really. I spent a bunch of time at my grandparents’ farm as a child though. Lots of hiking in the woods, running around outside, and singing to animals. Similar?

Similar, perhaps in a more transient way! Hey, have you seen the feature film Ernest Goes To Camp?

I have not. I’m thinking maybe this is the film where the two guys are moving the corpse of their boss around?

Hmm. I don’t remember that subplot. You might be thinking of Weekend At Bernie’s III: Bernie Goes To Camp?

Graham is more into comedy than I am. Once in a while, on a flight or something, I’ll watch comedy. I generally prefer drama.

Thanks Julie! Catch Etiquette first thing on Saturday afternoon at Camp Wavelength.

— Interview by Dean Williams

Etiquette plays Camp Wavelength Saturday, August 29 at Artscape Gibraltar Point (Toronto Island). Get your single day tickets here! Or better yet, join us for the whole weekend and get a Festival Pass!