Scattered Clouds: The Camp Wavelength Interview

File next to: Timber Timbre, Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Purveyors of: Late-night feel-bad music for deviants on the prowl.
Playing: Camp Wavelength, Sunday August 30 @ Artscape Gibraltar Point. Get your ticket here!

Formed in 2010 as a solo project, Hull, Quebec’s Scattered Clouds expanded into a baroque exploration of the sinister. Lurching with brooding intensity, the music of Scattered Clouds is as opaque and sinister as the found footage for their video “Enchanteresse.” Dark, menacing passages give way to squalls of anarchic zeal, while Philippe Charbonneau’s somber words illustrate a world of mystery and danger. Scattered Clouds play the Sunday (August 30) afternoon of Camp Wavelength on Toronto Island.

How did Scattered Clouds begin as a musical project?

The project started in 2010 along with the birth of E-Tron Records. It was initially a solo effort with no goals other than being a home studio experiment. E-Tron released a short eight-minute tape of those experiments, and through the years the project became a real band that played shows and toured.

What attracts you to the dark and brooding sounds you create?

Nothing specific — I think that when you engage in a creative process with your instrument, software, pedals, lyrics, or whatever, you have a tendency to go towards sounds that exude your mood and your personality, whether you’re conscious of it or not. Now that The First Empire is done and released, I’m realizing that it was written during a pretty dark period of my life. The lyrical content of the record doesn’t really talk about that specifically, but the mood of the record is most definitively reminiscent of that period. As weird as it may sound, I find it comforting to write and play heavy, dark music.

How is a typical Scattered Clouds song written?

It’s a mix of solo writing, jams, band collaboration, phone recordings, and trying to make a song out of this thing we call inspiration. We also use the studio as a writing tool. We recorded bed tracks for The First Empire live to 2” tape and then overdubbed a bunch of instruments and reworked structures using digital interfaces. Some of the songs on the record sound nothing close to the way we initially played them in studio. Now we’ve gone full circle and re-arranged the songs from the record to work better live. I don’t know how the songs from the next record will be written yet, and that’s exciting to me. Process always seems be an after-thought in this band.

Olivier Fairfield and Linsey Wellman assist with some of the more exotic instruments heard on The First Empire, how did their role in the album come about?

I’ve been playing in bands and collaborating with Olivier and Linsey for many years now. They are some of the best and most interesting musicians in Canada, in my opinion. The idea behind having them collaborate on the record was to create something that was more orchestral than just a typical rock record. They also play instruments that no one in the band can play. It’s interesting to bring people in from the outside to play on your record. They engage with it in a way that’s more detached than your bandmates, and sometimes that yields fresh new ideas. For example, the ambient track “Floating Underwater” was written around a marimba riff that Olivier played over a tune that never made it on the record.

Some of the darker moments on First Empire are quite jarring. Do you think the artist has a responsibility to shock their audience?

I think that the artist has first and foremost a responsibility to be himself/herself. If an artist is honest and doing the music they truly believe in, they will in turn shock an audience. I’m not talking about “shocking” in the literal sense of the word — I’m talking about art that makes people think, feel, dance, cry, laugh, scream, politicize, be entertained, or whichever human behaviour an audience can have. Music with purpose is hard to come by.

Talking about the film noir imagery that informs your music, how do you think film influences music? Are there any specific films that influenced The First Empire?

I think film has influenced music for a long time, and will continue to do so. Ennio Morricone single-handedly created a musical genre based on western films. Miles Davis and his band improvised a soundtrack to the French film Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, which became very influential. We say an image is worth a thousand words, but I think it’s also worth a thousand sounds. Interestingly enough, The First Empire wasn’t influenced by any particular film. The record has a cinematic quality to it because it’s laid out in a way that you’re able to listen to it much like you would watch a movie. We try to construct our live show with the same concept in mind. When writing lyrics, I think of images, lighting and scenes. When I sing, I recall these images and play them in my head like a movie. They often don’t mean much, but they convey the mood of the music accurately every time.

What’s the story behind the found footage in the “Enchanteresse” video?

It’s open source 16mm educational videos from the ’70s.

For those of us not familiar with the area, what are the best haunts in Hull?

The artist-run, multi-purpose space/venue Le Temporaire, the Fairfield Circuitry pedal shop, Parc Fontaine in front of my apartment, and the old taverns where you can buy cheap beer, play free pool, and watch the Habs playoffs on big screens at full volume.

Anything new on the way?

Nothing planned yet, but we’re going to record an album next year — probably in the winter when we’re all suffering from seasonal depression. We’re going to finish this small festival run and then start writing new tunes in the fall.

— Interview by Adam Bernhardt

Scattered Clouds play Camp Wavelength Sunday, August 30 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!