Freelove Fenner: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyors of: Meticulously-constructed, succinctly-packaged popbursts with a tingly psychedelic aftertaste
File Next To: Postcards, Broadcast, A Bell Is A Cup-era Wire
Playing: WL 613 – Arboretum Festival: Ought, Fresh Snow, Freelove Fenner & Blue Angel @ House of Targ (Ottawa)

Imagine a dream where you found a copy of Thurson Moore’s Psychic Hearts where all the songs were wiry Steely Dan covers. Or, or… a straight-edge version of Nuggets‘ psychedelic haze, where all the songs disorient you for two minutes flat and then… stop. Montreal’s Freelove Fenner are charting their own path with a sound that isn’t so easy to pin down — quick songs that are packed with ideas and are never airlessly arid nor messily overstuffed. Joe Strutt chatted with the band online about finding their own sound and taking it on the road. Peter Woodford and Caitlin Loney answered collectively — “we always finish each other’s sentences anyway.”

I was intrigued to learn that you operate a recording studio, so let’s use that as a jumping-off point. Did having ready access to the studio help to hone the band’s sound, or was it more the reverse, that you had a precise sound in mind and wanted a space free from outside influences to realize it?

We built it with the mid-to-late 1960s in mind — an era when every studio had its own slightly different sound and generally made use of a lot of custom equipment. We didn’t have a precise sound in mind, it was more a process. We didn’t like using computers for music. With hardware and tape machines, there is no recall or undo and there’s finite space for takes (we rarely keep multiple takes) and tracks. You have to be more decisive. We feel pretty strongly that you get different results working this way. Whether or not they’re better results is another question.

The close connection with a studio also intrigues, as Freelove Fenner have a certain well-engineered sort of sound… clean, crisp and boiled down. What choices — aesthetic or technical — have contributed to that?

First of all, thanks. On a technical level, we do take some pride in keeping our tape machines well-calibrated. It’s pretty easy for things to sound murky if the machines are out of alignment. We record most of our songs on a one-inch 8-track machine. As I mentioned before, it forces us to make decisions as we go — we can’t keep every whimsical half-baked idea. We can’t seem to get anything done unless we work within limitations.

Spoon is probably the biggest band around these days with a rep for that sort of frills-free/bone-dry style, but closer to home, might I venture a guess that the Postcards might have had some influence on you?

Years ago I remember reading something that Britt Daniel said about trying to remove “bland elements” like thoughtless or “expected” rhythm guitar. That rang true to me. It made me think of one of Orwell’s writing rules: “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” Do you mean the Postcards from Montreal? We loved that band. We still love them in their current, more electronic incarnation, Chevalier Avant Garde.

Heading out of the studio, how consciously do you try and preserve that sound? When I saw you play, you weren’t embellishing the songs with extended solos or anything like that.

There are definitely a lot of things we can’t recreate live — backwards guitar, tape loops, transistor organ. We’re thinking about trying to play along with a portable reel-to-reel for a few songs where we’re having a hard time getting a guitar/bass/drums arrangement to work. For some of songs, we want the live version to be looser than the recorded arrangement and we hope to let things subtly evolve through experimentation. We don’t really want to stretch things out time-wise or jam (I worry that the more fun a jam is for the players, the more tedious it is for the listeners). We consider the live show a bit of a work in progress, we’re still trying to tweak some things.

And speaking of playing live, you’ve just put in some time on the road. How was SappyFest? Any other highlights?

Sappy was a definite highlight. It was all pretty fun though. It got us all wishing that there was some sort of serious competition to Tim Horton’s on Canada’s highways. So many bagels with cream cheese and tomato…

This Arboretum showcase is just Wavelength’s second show in Ottawa. Anything you plan to check out in the capital while you’re there?

We kinda like Shawarma Palace on Rideau. I believe it’s also the last Ottawa show for co-presenter Debaser (aka Rachel or Rocky LaLune). She organized a really fun show for us and Toronto band Gay in an old prison back in March.

And taking it back home to wrap things up, what are some of the other things going down in Montreal that we should know about?

Our friends Sheer Agony should have an amazing record coming out very soon. Brave Radar recently put out a cassette called Message Centre that hasn’t left our tape deck. We’re also excited for the new TOPS LP.

Thanks for your time!

Thank you, Joe!

Photo by Tessa Smith