Language Arts: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyors of: Artful indie pop that goes down like sugar.
File next to: The Bird and the Bee, The Most Serene Republic
Playing: Manifesto x Wavelength, this Friday (May 20) at the Garrison. Get tickets here!

Toronto-via-Halifax three-piece Language Arts are champions of an intricate flavour of indie pop that is at once isolated and lush, playful and introspective, complex and catchy. Their latest record, Able Island, flutters with optimism as it traverses a rich emotional spectrum, mirroring the band’s own journey across Canada during its recording. Marko Cindric spoke with vocalist and guitarist Kristen Cudmore in advance of the band’s appearance this Friday at Manifesto x Wavelength.

Tell us the origin story of Language Arts! How did the band come to be, and what’s the story behind the name?

The band started in Halifax in the summer of 2004, when I was just out of university, taking my summer job as a night “suicide watch” patient attendant. I used the creative output to help cope with the changes that were about to come in my life, but also from seeing how other people’s lives were affecting my own. “Language Arts” was the official name that winter, when I moved to B.C. and wanted to have a descriptor for the music be the band name — I put as much emphasis on the lyrics as I did on the music.

Your latest record, Able Island, was recorded in various places across Canada over the course of a cross-country trip. Was the album already fully written at this point? Did you find that your spatial contexts led to major transformations in terms of how you originally expected certain songs to turn out?

I would say that the majority of the songs were written, but in between travels I ended up writing an onslaught of tunes, and then we started cutting the old ones to make room for the new ones. What inspired that was probably some things I was dealing with in my life, and when you’re on the road, you rarely have time to reflect privately. I closed myself in a room and the poppiest songs came out without hesitation. When I met with the band, we decided to record them because they came to life so easily in one jam, so it was hard to deny them space on Able Island. When we went back out, we re-recorded some of the old ones and threw down the new ones.

Production-wise, the spaces we used to record in really did make the sound what it is, and we are and were super pumped about that! Able Island has a lot of character on it, due to the nor’easter winds, the crackling fireplaces, the raindrops hitting the alleyway, the playback of the van speakers when recording the gang vocals, etc. etc. etc.

Through both this recording process and your presentation of the album as an homage to Sable Island in Nova Scotia, there appears to be a very strong link between your music and notions of space. Is this a conscious link that happens as you’re writing the songs, or do the connections make themselves known after the fact? What do you feel is the value of emphasizing the spatial within music?

Well, I guess as an expat of Nova Scotia, it comes through strong that I’m homesick. It was conscious to write this way, as Sable Island was always on my mind as the inspiration. Its beauty is unseen by many, and stories are untold, but it is a piece of my home to which I have never been nor been allowed to go. It’s mysterious and is shaped by the sea and the weather. It started as a land for looters, a shipwreck graveyard, and then turned into a rescue station, a weather station, and then a wild horse farm that is now just wild and unkempt.

You can link these characteristics in so many metaphorical ways. For me, as a person of my age and position in life, I feel the need to belong, and a loneliness comes with that. I feel guilt for living away from where I feel I belong, but it comes with its reasons, and it has made me learn how to build a home wherever I am, and love where I am from from wherever I am as well.

We tried to recreate these sentiments by taking the music wherever we were and making it happen however we could, and Nova Scotia is all over the record, as the recording began and ended there. We have all of Canada (aside from Newfoundland and the Territories) on this record!

If you could give the “you” of five years ago one piece of advice, what would it be? Could be music-related or otherwise.

I would tell five-years-ago me to just let things happen and not worry so much, because things will come together how they will when I start to let go of control and just be ready for the fun adventure. I would also reinforce my belief, always, that it’s all about the music; it’s not about me.

And finally: consider the band in a tour vehicle setting. Who’s claimed which seat, and what are they doing to pass the time?

Neil MacIntosh (drums) is usually driving and we are taking turns selecting music and talking about life. But secretly we’re waiting for Joel Visentin (keys, synth bass) to fall asleep in the far back corner of the van — whenever he’s done eating his candy and the sugar high has worn off. Once he’s out, we count “1-2-3” and open all of the windows at the exact same time, while clipping 120km/h down the highway, to wake him up abruptly. What a fun little game that is! Sorry, Joel! 🙂 (Works best in the prairies.)

— Interview by Marko Cindric