Ken Schalk, well regarded percussionist from Brooklyn’s Candiria once said something to the effect that “heavy” can be as much about feel and vibe as another distorted guitar cowboy screaming over a mosh part. I often have thought back to that quote and paraphrased it over
Montreal’s BIG|BRAVE will likewise seep into your bones and deliver a
listening experience rather than a cheap aggro fix. Whether floating amidst ethereal
drone akin to the wake up chill of a cold wind on a mountaintop or bashing
the listener with tribal beats akin to loops, the trio deliver in full on
Southern Lord release Au De La.
Brian from respected blog Meat Mead Metal even went so far as to say that ,“there’s not another band that possibly could replicate what Big | Brave achieve on this record”. It’s true that some avant garde or truly post-punk bands just have their own sound, be it Killing Joke or Tearist or Swans. Or some films you could sort of describe, such as Lars von Trier’s Depression Trilogy or, I dunno… the space herpe in Ice Pirates. You could do half assed justice trying to explain, but some things just need to be experienced.
Jessica Moss of Thee Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra lends guest violin to the record, but the beating heart of this band is in the guitar and drums interplay and liberated vocals. The band know the space between the heart beat or down hit on a drum is as important as the moment of explosion, and can say as much.
Robin Wattie, in house banshee, checks in to answer my questions on what else she had to say with this record BELOW.
I love the freedom of the music. I’ve been waiting for Au De La. The kind
of shouted vocals recall revival music via like experimental punk/noise to me
or almost Yoko Ono (on a more lucid day). And the music, just a great blend of
dynamics, control and release. What was it like creating this?
Robin Wattie: Thank you, that is very nice to say. It was definitely a process
that included a lot of intuition, thought and loads of feeling. All the sounds
created in this album are concoctions of our own accord. There was a lot of
trial and error; a lot of trying ideas out.
Patience and minimalism were the driving forces behind our concept – right
down to how we each play our respective instruments, voice included. It takes
a lot of restraint, a lot of deliberation. Part of the focus was recognizing
each piece as such – i.e. an entity in of itself – and really listening to
what we were doing and where each piece seemed to be going without falling
back on any kind of formula.
Every part of this process is challenging but in a very good way. It has
forced us to think and rethink our approach, our sound and our instruments in
very different ways. I can say confidentially that it is easier to play
everything faster and fill the space and air with all kinds of sounds and
notes that make up the music compared to pairing everything down times ten to
just one chord and one hit for as long as any one of our songs lasts while
making it dynamic enough and interesting enough to keep the interest of the
How was it making the more ambient and atmospheric moments? “Look At How The World Has Made A Change” is perhaps the most beautiful song to ever come out on Southern Lord, but it certainly has an ominous gravitas. I feel like it could be in some panorama scene in a bleak Western, but I’ve been watching Deadwood re-runs. I hope you tour with Earth or something and I can go and sway in place while kind of throwing horns to myself, lol.
Awe! Thank you so much! That’s so nice!
The more ambient and atmospheric moments we’ve created were a different kind
of release compared to the cathartic release of the heavier parts. Although
they were somewhat smoother in their inception, they did come out of a lot of
trial and error as well. In this song, the ambient part is particularly free,
one of the ‘freest’ parts of the entire album in the sense that it is loosely
structured – but still structured.
On a side note: Holy snap I think we’d die of happiness if we ever got to tour
with Earth!!! I mean we’ve been pretty much dying of happiness this last year
alone – so many wonderful people with whom we highly respect have come into
our lives, so many wonderful amazing unbelievable things have happened and are
happening. We’ve worked so incredibly hard at our craft and kept persevering
so all these marvellous things feel extra magnificent!
It seems like a very inspired time for bands like you, Bell Witch or even
fellow Canadians’ LAE – who just did a phenomenal record with Steve Austin of
TITD – to really stroke out for your own gold, so to speak. Lae’s “Broken
Knee” or your record, there’s hope for more brainy, outside of the box stuff.
Or is that naive to think it’s a resurgence? There is always an artsier
underground as well. Circle Takes The Square or the good indie rock bands,
etc. Bands who can read. Maybe it just feels better to exclaim it is a
renaissance and hope more mainstream “norms” will get better taste”? I guess
it worked out for Lorde and Florence Welch somehow, lol.
In terms of reception, I can’t say as an authority if it really is an inspired
time for bands because I think there have always been great ‘brainy/outside of
the box’ bands and musicians creating wonderfully inspired works that people
have been listening to. Although nowadays, it has become very easy for a huge
number of people to acquire and consume all different kinds of music from all
over the world so perhaps there is something there – perhaps most people’s
antennae has widened it’s range thus in turn, it has expanded their
ears/hearts and what they are willing to hear and open themselves up to.
And to touch on whether or not the mainstream will or wants to acquire ‘better
taste’, I don’t know if it is fair to qualify different genres of music and
the direction they take and are taking (even if it is ‘mainstream’). It’s just
a different type of music – like cheese, some love the moldy blue and some
hate it or are afraid of it, doesn’t make the cheese any less of a cheese.
Haha! And again, with the Internet it is way too easy to acquire and explore
an array of musical styles. So considering all that is available and yet, one
still prefers/feels drawn to a certain type of musical genre, I feel that that
should be ok. And for me specifically, it is. But I digress…
All I can really say is that I am so happy that people are actually listening
– like actually listening for real and for true. Appreciating is a whole other
Would you prefer a larger curated festival setting such as Roadburn or a more intimate club or warehouse/art environment for your live exaltations?
In all honesty, we really have no preference. We could be playing for fifteen
people and if the sounds are being translated and the people are listening
then we couldn’t ask for more!
How does this record serve as a mile marker for where your souls/spirits are at right now and was it tracked live?
The entire album was tracked live, vocals as well with the exception of a few
And I guess one could say that this album could serve as a mile marker for
where our souls and spirits are or can be or has been, but not at all in its
entirety, only a part of it. This really is just one facet that is being
explored through the band.
What was Efrim Menuck’s role as producer? Kind of helping the canvas dry, so to speak? Having worked with Godspeed You! Black Emperor, I feel like Menuck could get your noisier tides without your intent/vibes being diluted.
Having opened for Thee Silver Mt. Zion a few times before recording the album,
Efrim definitely understood and appreciates what we sound like and what we
were working towards. Going into the studio, we already had every song
completed and refined. He helped us translate it and really honed in on what
we were trying to achieve through the use of mic placements for example, and
would suggest very little but enough for us to think about details we might
have missed or thought we had right – which is great, because we are
constantly learning and are open to this.
Would you talk a bit about Jessica from Silver Mt. Zion adding some strings
for you? How’d that meeting/team up take place?
Jessica actually approached us! This was very welcomed because in all honesty
we were to shy to ask! It was very easy to work with her; she understood
everything and created these remarkably beautiful sounds with very little
direction. Her intuition is incredible. The very first time we practiced the
first song with her went unbelievably well – almost like we had been
practicing together for ages. She really upped the anti, which was great for
us to learn from.
I love music like yours or , say, My Brother The Wind or…in a slightly
poppier but still edgy way, Nicole Dollanganger (who is working with Grimes).
Artists who are really in control of tempo and can take a breath to allow
something bigger to reveal itself. Do you credit your patience, if that feels
accurate, as songwriters to appreciation for cinema or for maybe moving at a
different step in your hearts than the cannibalistic outside world? thanks,
That’s a good question. I don’t know where to place the credit per se, or if
there is any one place to put it, but I can attest to the fact that again,
patience and minimalism and feeling are the driving forces in creating all of
our sound down to how each of us play our instruments – not to mention the
heart and soul we put into every piece and every single performance.
Thinking back, I remember in the very beginnings of creating music, at the
very beginning of the band, Mathieu brought up John Cage’s 4:33 and explained
how he loved the concept and the performative aspect to ‘playing’ such a piece
and the types of relationships it can create between the performer and the
listener/audience which in turn, I fell in love with. Quite frankly Mathieu
was really the sole motivating influence in honing in on the certain direction
and level of performance in the inception of Big | Brave. He pushed us to
think hard about how we approach our instruments and our execution and our
Both Mathieu and I come from a visual arts background. I know that
conceptually, some of our music writing stems from this place paired with the
intention to explore the performative aspect of our live set. We strive to
create a relationship with the listener/audience. One could even say that the
minimalism and patience, as you say being in “control of tempo and can take a
breath to allow something bigger to reveal itself” could also be likened to
some abstract visual art – leaving enough room for the receiver to feel a part
of the piece, to allow the receiver enough room to create their own narrative,
have their own experiences and even be a part of something outside themselves.
And all three of us have a deep appreciation for cinema; Mathieu considered a
career as a Foley artist, Louis actually worked on sets, And I am a lover of
how and what can be transposed and manifested and felt through the imagery,
music and the story. However it was never intended to create something
cinematic specifically. I think that this is just a happy accident so to
I also just want to thank you for the thought-filled questions and references.
These are great questions and I thoroughly enjoyed answering them! 🙂
Likewise, a pleasure.