North Atlantic Drift: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyors of: Oceanic ebb and flow of such scale that only attentive ears may hear.
File next to: Northumbria, Chasing Dreams, Dirty Inputs
Playing: Wavelength’s “Don’t Speak” Friday, March 25th at Array Space. Limited number of tickets at the door for $10 each!

North Atlantic Drift is the collaborative effort of Toronto’s Mike Abercrombie and Brad Deschamps, whose music is a monumental, cyclical movement of warmth (much like the ocean current that shares their name). Sparse yet lush compositions with slow, calculated evolutions achieve a unique balance between stability and dynamism, tranquility and intrigue. Abercrombie and Dechamps’ latest album, Visitor, further exemplifies the duo’s procifiency in coaxing this balance out from an extensive, beautiful palette of tones.

You two just released your gorgeous new record, Visitor, last month. InTextura’s review of the album, one aspect in particular is lauded numerous times: restraint. Is exercising this kind of restraint a recognized part of North Atlantic Drift’s philosophy, or do you perhaps feel that it’s an unavoidable side effect of the kind of music you’re making?

Mike: We certainly exercise restraint as a philosophy. With digital recording allowing for nearly unlimited tracks, it’s very easy to overproduce a piece of music to the point of clutter. I like to think of restraint as showing a certain musical maturity. Knowing when NOT to play is the sign of a confident musician.

Brad: We’ve always found that with the songs that we’ve added the most layers to, we inevitably end up stripping back the clutter. I think we both like music (and art for that matter) that is fairly minimal, so restraint is a pretty key philosophy to what we do.

As Stationary Travels points out, Visitor sets itself on a more overtly synth-oriented path than your previous releases. What inspired that motion? Did the writing process differ much as a result, or did it feel like a natural step?

Mike: On Visitor it took us a while to realize what kind of album we were making. We started the sessions with a few more full-bodied tracks, but opted to axe those in favour of a more stripped-down feel. I think Brad’s solo anthéne release was a big influence too, as we kind of realized the beauty in slowly evolving loops and phrases.

Brad: We still use quite a bit of guitar, though we often treat it so that it sounds like a synthesizer, through octave pedals and reverb. It was a pretty natural step, I think; we found ourselves gravitating to this sound, and moving a little further away from some of our more structured songs on earlier records, more towards textures and loops.

What do you feel the appeal of drone and ambient music is within the wider tapestry of musical genres? What, if anything, does it get at that other forms of music might not be able to reach so easily?

Mike: Ambient music, in my opinion, is therapy. At the risk of sounding too New Age, it really does calm the mood and enhance your well-being. Even employing traditionally harsh sonics like feedback and insane amounts of distortion, if done with care — much like our pals in Northumbria — still retains a beauty and trance-like quality that I am convinced has healing properties.

Brad: I totally agree, it can definitely be therapeutic. I quite often listen to ambient, drone or classical music when on the streetcar or bus or walking around the city; it distracts from the chaos that surrounds you.

North Atlantic Drift’s namesake is a warm-water ocean current, extending northeast from the Gulf Stream all the way to the coast of Europe and onward. Was there a symbolic rationale behind the name choice beyond just seeking something fitting for the music?

Mike: I think we wanted a name that wouldn’t imply a certain genre but still made sense with the music.

Brad: Yeah, it wasn’t necessarily chosen for any symbolic reason, but we floated a few other ideas about and it just seemed to make the most sense with the music we were writing. It definitely became part of a more oceanic theme when we chose to name our label Polar Seas as well.

What are your thoughts on playing to a completely silent audience for “Don’t Speak,” based on past performance experience?

Mike: It’s an interesting concept and I’m curious to see how people respond. I think anyone who appreciates this style of music will be turned on by the thought of a silent audience. Although there is something in trying to win the attention of chattering crowd!

Brad: We’ve only played live a few times, but we’ve found people have generally been pretty attentive during our shows. And we have some pretty quiet songs during our set that could pretty easily get drowned out by chatter.  We’re really looking forward to “Don’t Speak” — it’ll be a really unique, interesting experiment!

— Interview by Marko Cindric