Programm: The Wavelength Interview

File Next To: Ostrich Tuning, The xx, My Bloody Valentine
Purveyors Of: Cold-wave shoegaze
Last played Wavelength: NXNE Showcase, June 2013 @ Creatures Creating
Playing next: Red Bull Sound Select October 9th at The Garrison with Titus Andronicus and Ice Cream

Programm are an indeterminate life form, a symbiotic aggregate of independent organisms. They emit strange, echoing sonic reverberations that resemble that of the “cold-wave” genus, yet are more closely related to the “shoegaze” phylum. Dr. Adam Bradley of the Wavelength Institute for Better Music investigates this odd and beautiful siphonophore. Using special recording technology, Dr. Bradley was able to draw these conclusions about their existence.

The name of a band can make a considerable difference to its success in a number of ways. First the band was named Volcano Playground, then you changed it to Program, then you added the extra ‘m’, presumably for Googleability. Walk me through the changes and how you think it’s helped/hindered if at all.

We can’t really say if it’s helped or hindered. But the reason for the change was that we didn’t like the original name. We also went through a fairly drastic change in our sound and wanted to distance ourselves from some of our early growing pains. We wanted a fresh start. Honestly it hasn’t really worked. The name still comes up in every interview we do, but with the name change we have more control over the content that’s out there.

Feels like you’ve changed your vibe significantly along the way. An earlier incarnation wandered into shoegaze/pop territory more commonly, but that content is even hard to find online. A new direction in mind?

There is definitely a new direction. The music you would have heard, that has been taken offline, is where we were over four years ago, and a lot has happened since then. What changed is we’ve grown as a band in that we know our individual strengths and weaknesses, and how they complement each other. We’ve learned how to write to our strengths. We also shed the naive assumption that we can do anything we wanted — which in studio is maybe true — but realized we have to be able to pull it off live. Also the line-up has changed, and our influences have changed as well. We’ve moved away from the dream-pop / shoegaze thing. There are still shoegaze elements though. As for dream-pop, that was a compromise that most of us were never happy with. We did it for a while but weren’t into it. That’s where we had to let a member go. Being in a band where you don’t have the freedom to write the kind of songs you really want to write is tough.

You’ve recorded with the legendary producer David Newfeld. Not for more recent work I realize, but I’m curious about what that experience was like.

Working with Dave was great. It was a huge learning experience in many ways. It was our first time working with a real producer in a proper studio. And he’s not just any producer, he’s a producer in the classic sense of the term, in that he has an unwavering musical ethic and isn’t there to cater to your whims. It’s ultimately about the song and making it as good as it can be, even if that means removing a band member or two from the session and bringing in someone better. That didn’t happen with us because we’re pretty comfortable in the studio, but I know some cases where he brought in his own drummer because the band’s drummer wasn’t cutting it. Ultimately he was too heavy-handed a producer for us. I have the utmost respect for his method, but I wanted to produce our first record. We have a very definite idea of what sounds and tones and textures we wanted on the record and we were willing to spend years doing it ourselves to acheive that goal. And that’s what we did. Most important is the mood of the songs. If the songs don’t move us (and the listener, that being the ultimate goal) emotionally, or give a shiver down our spines, then what’s the point? We’re sort of purists that way. There is so much music out there already, so if it doesn’t meet our standards then we don’t want it out there. That’s why you can’t find our earlier music. We took down the old stuff, and we’re sitting on the new record until it’s ready.

We also only did the one song with Dave, for financial reasons. We only got a grant for one song. We couldn’t make the album we wanted to make with him or any producer unless they did it for free. I want to continue to grow as a producer and maybe produce for others, so it was a good learning experience in that sense as well. Luckily we worked with Dave at the outset and I learned some production tricks that helped me out. And as a person, he’s an interesting guy and a gracious host. His church studio is great as well. I won’t geek out on his gear but he’s got some unique stuff. Also we did my vocals in the church at night, and the control room is in the basement, so it was just me up there. It was kind of spooky. In a good way.

Looks like you’ll be doing some touring in Germany. Seems to be a popular notion for Canadian artists of many walks to explore those regions. Why Germany in particular?

We probably will but not yet. There is another band in Germany called Programm. But an app called Songkick automatically posts the shows that they play on some of our pages.

What’s on the horizon for Programm? Can we look forward to a new full-length?

We’ve been busy lately. At the moment we’re finishing up our first record, which technically has been done for a year, but because it was self-produced, on a tiny budget, when we signed on with Sleepless Records we got access to their studio (Dreamhouse), and producer Alex Bonenfant (METZ, Crystal Castles) is helping us polish things up a bit. Redoing some guitar and vocals, and swapping out some electronic drums for real drums, and vice versa. In addition to that, we’re amassing content so that we can release things steadily once we get the ball rolling. We have two videos finished and will do a third. We did a live in-studio session at Noble Studios for Converse Rubber Tracks, and we’ll be doing alternate or stripped-down versions of some songs for Southern Souls. We’re also writing demos for our second album. Technically we’re always writing, and have been for years. Between all of us there are maybe 500-600 demos, though most of those will never see the light of day. At least not as Programm. As for shows, we play whenever a good show comes up, but try not to play too much. Once a month generally. We’ll be touring for sure, but I can’t say where and when yet.