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Jane Vain and the Dark Matter talk about their under-development sophomore album, life in Montreal, and so much more

Posted by Greg / August 10, 2009

JaneVain2.jpgI'm not Wikipedia or anything, but if you asked me to name Calgary's top export, I would say it's music. With bands and artists like Women, Azeda Booth, Chad VanGaalen, and Braids, Calgary has been churning out enough of its distinct brand of ambient pop to give oil and beef a run for their money. Among the many Calgarian acts to put down roots in Montreal are Jane Vain and the Dark Matter. Singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jamie Fooks came here after releasing the band's first album, Love is Where the Smoke Is (Rectangle Records, 2008), and formed a new lineup with Markus Lake, Andrew Davidson and Nathan Curry. After attending a couple of their energetic live performances (and joining them for one awesome karaoke party), I've come to the position that Jane Vain and the Dark Matter are one of Montreal's most promising up and coming bands. This is why I was so happy to hear they had finished recording a new full-length album last week.

In the interview below, Jamie Fooks (with a little help from Andrew Davidson) tells me about recording the album and gives insight into her move to Montreal and the band's current direction. What started as a casual e-mail exchange turns into a candid, in-depth portrait of an indie-rock band that has entered a very exciting phase in its career. Black & white studio photos taken by Kendra Gee.


GB: How has the move to Montreal affected you from an artistic standpoint? Has it affected your sound at all?

JF: The move to Montreal has definitely affected me....and the band's sound. It is beautiful here. There are amazing things going on. Montreal is a super inspiring place. I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing sometimes, but after almost every show I go to I want to write music, or consider changing my musical direction entirely. It's a little dramatic. I'm really easily influenced if I'm impressed by something. I get home and I'm all worked up, like I wish I could write like what I just witnessed, and I get straight to work. The goal is to write music that I like. I think I like what I've written here but I always feel like I want to branch out more even more. More noise. More honesty. Less cautious and careful.

This album (as far as I'm concerned) is a pretty dramatic departure from the last. The last one took three years to record and release and some of the songs were written years before the recording began. This album contains fresh material recorded within months to a year of writing them. I know that this city, these guys I'm currently playing with, all of the experiences accumulated since the last release, and all of the amazing bands that I have discovered/been introduced to or seen live over the last couple of years have been contributing factors to the current state of Jane Vain, and I'm am very grateful for all of these things.

GB: Where was the album recorded? Was there any particular reason for choosing the studio you did?

JF: The album was recorded at Breakglass Studios and I guess there were a number of reasons we decided to go there. I really like some of the albums that they have put out. The production, the music - it all sounds pretty honest and warm... mostly, though, we were looking for a place to record and it all just lined up so effortlessly. A friend of ours mentioned that he had a friend (Jamie Benjamin, who engineered the album) who could potentially get us some night sessions there. I wanted to do night sessions because I am a very late riser and I figured we could get a lot done in a little amount of time. There were also financial restrictions on my end, so we needed to get it done as cost-effectively as possible. Once we were put in touch with Jamie I was immediately impressed with his positive attitude and attentiveness. He came to our practice and we talked and decided to try out a session and see if things worked. Turned out it did work, and we went back for three more nights and completed the basic tracking. Jamie was very patient, encouraging, and focused, which definitely helped the process


GB: How long did it take? Judging by the photos it looks like there were some late nights.

JF: Four nights for the basic tracking, midnight-8am. We did it live off the floor and then overdubbed the guitars and the main vocal lines - which I got to use a pretty sweet microphone for! We decided to do it that way for a number of practical reasons, i.e., scheduling, availability of the studio, the engineer and the band members. However, on a personal level, I'm really glad we did it that way because the record will be honest. It is a completely accurate representation of the songs as they are played by the four specific individuals involved and when we play live, and people will know what to expect. I kind of fucked that up the first time around and always felt slightly awkward/insecure about the fact that the album and the live show were so hugely different. They both involved completely different people and came off as two separate entities.

Back to this album though, we still have to add some little things at home. It would have been nice to do the entire thing at Breakglass and take advantage of some of their awesome gear but unfortunately that's not an option right now. The parts we are adding to it are possibly unnecessary but it is fun so we are adding stuff to make the album sound exactly how we want it to sound. Some backup vocals/synth parts and extra guitar parts maybe some auxillary percussion. The additions are not going to be excessive though. Simplicity is a goal for me.


GB: What would you say is the biggest difference between this album and the last?

JF: There are so many differences... I guess the first big difference is that the players in the band are the players on the album. I recorded the first album by myself... kind of laid down the skeletal structure of the album and started playing it for friends. Through this, I started talking to [original guitarist] Dillon Witfield, with whom I had briefly played in a punk rock band. Then I began playing with him and he laid down his tracks on the album. After that, a whole bunch of really talented, awesome people became involved. They would come over and write parts and record them, and by the time we were signed to Rectangle we had a pretty dense album, but in real life there were only two of us performing the material. At this point (because I had done everything with software) I was basically physically incapable of playing my parts. I had to learn how to play piano super fast and figure out a way to make the songs sound somewhat similar to the album. Needless to say there was a huge gap between what the album sounded like and what we sounded like live. I was really insecure and self conscious about this and especially about my playing. There are electronic beats on the album, so at first Dillon and I were playing with the same electronic beats, but it didn't feel that energetic, so we decided to incorporate other humans with other ideas, and things got out of hand. I think I was really just trying to cover up my insecurities (in my playing) with many tracks (on the album) and many players (in the band) as possible. That sounds kind of harsh... but I learned a lot from it.

Anyway, Everything was backwards last time. I really didn't know what I was doing and I made a lot of mistakes, but I think because of those mistakes the process this time around was a lot easier and more straight forward. I moved to Montreal.... wrote most of the album with one guitar line... recorded demos (trying to keep them as simple as possible, leaving lots of room for other people's ideas....met Nathan and started practicing with him... re-connected with Markus, who had played in Jane Vain before). Andrew moved here and started playing the drums, and we started practicing a lot. Everyone worked out their own parts and we discussed them when it was necessary. Overall it feels really collaborative. We make suggestions to each other and try different things out. It's really nice and stress free. The biggest difference (to get back to the original question) is that everything was easier this time around. It was way less stressful and confusing.

AD: Jain Vain is unique/rad/consitently a band of learning things on the fly. Like what Jamie and everyone had to do on the last album, to learn parts and instruments after already having an album, now learning to play guitar as you record a new album. Drummers learning to play drums on the fly (and how to set them up and buy them), Jamie learning to drive after having a band vehicle. Nathan learning about whip-its and how to grow great mustaches, oh and biology. Markus, he's always learning stuff on that internet, so I don't know what to say about him, he can probably build an electronic device to say it on his behalf. Ya know? Learning, diy, on the fly. It's a theme and a lifestyle. Think about it.


GB: Analogue or digital?

JF: It's digital. At Breakglass they have both options and I had a real conflict with this. We went with digital because, although I can't speak for the guys, my playing is just not up to par for an analogue recording. I considered asking one of the good guitar players I know to play my parts but felt obligated to play them myself. Maybe it's pride or principles but I think that it's important to play what you've written, and I know I can speak for the guys when I say they feel the same way. I know this choice could potentially affect the popularity of the album, in that it could be perceived negatively by those people out there seeking perfection, but I don't really care about what those people think anyway. Nothing is perfect. Nobody is perfect, and when you get into digital recording with editing and pitch correction, etc., you can stray from authenticity. I wanted authenticity. I wanted the warmth of tape but I knew I might not be able to play the parts I'd written in one take. We didn't have the money to do a shit load of takes to tape. It would have been a waste of tape. With all of that said I knew I could get the parts after a couple of takes, and there are some mistakes, but I'm cool with that.

I just started playing guitar more seriously in October and if we had gone with tape it could have been a nightmare. I'm hoping my skills will improve enough in the next couple of years to take that on for the next album. I run all of the tracks I record at home through a tape player before my mixer and I love the way it sounds. Apparently this is a pretty loaded question. I realise that I have contradicted myself in this response but I always carry around a conflict about whats best for the songs, what's best for the band, and what's best for the individuals in the band. By the time we were in the studio it seemed that what worked best was digital recording with very little editing.

GB: Getting back to what you mentioned earlier about seeing concerts that inspired you to write music that matched what you saw, can you name any particular instances of this? I'm interested in hearing more about which shows/artists have inspired you.

JF: I've got to think pretty far back here. When I first arrived (last October) it was during Pop! Montreal, so I checked out the Women/Julie Doiron/Chad VanGaalen show, Silver Apples and Mt. Eerie a little later. All good shows - these were all bands I was more into in Calgary, some of them from Calgary. During Pop last year I mostly just went around seeing my friends play, people I met on tour, etc. In Calgary, during Sled Island, we played the main stage and after The Gutter Twins set, and we opened up for Jonathan Richman. Of Montreal, Wire and Mogwai played next - that was crazy. Our other band opened up for Okkervil River... It was a pretty amazing year. The year before we opened up for Cat Power, also mind blowing. All of those shows were incredibly inspiring.

Back to Montreal though... I went to the Magik Markers show a couple of weeks ago at Sala Rossa and that was pretty cool. I missed Mika Miko and regretted it (was working), got the album though. We recently opened up for Micachu and the Shapes though, and it was really, really good. I bought their record! Her song writing... soooo good.Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 20090731-JaneVain7a.jpgTune-Yards at Il Motore gave me goosebumps, and speaking of Tune-Yards, I saw Sister Suvi by accident in a park in Brooklyn during the last CMJ and felt grateful for it. I saw Vivian Girls play a number of times during CMJ and at Divan Orange last fall, and too be honest, I didn't really like them at first, but then they totally grew on me. It kind of reminds me of Black Tambourine. Marnie Stern was pretty cool too - you know, she shreds. I saw Parts and Labor in Brooklyn as well. Also, at Il Motore I saw Pains of Being Pure at Heart and The Depreciation Guild... both pretty good. No Age at Club Lambi was awesome; I think the opening acts were really good too. Deerhunter was pretty good (at Theatre Plaza). White Light was a good show w/ echos still singing limbs. I missed Bobby Conn a couple of weeks ago and regretted it.

As far as Montreal bands go, all of the Braids shows are great. Special Noise are so good. Grand Trine, Angels in America, Leopard et Moi... I saw them at The Eastern Bloc and liked it a lot. Plants and Animals, Silly Kissers, Homosexual Cops, Denial Tone, Dead Wife, Aww Shucks!, Shapes and Sizes, Kara Keith... and I just recently found out about Golden Isles. I still really want to check out Clues, Handsome furs, The Witchies. I have been at work everytime AIDS Wolf has played since I moved here. Dirty Wedding, Jerusalem my heart, Mixylodian... I could probably go on for hours.

GB: Lyrically speaking, what kinds of stories are you telling these days?

JF: The first album I mostly wrote about myself. This one is mostly about someone else... according to me.


Jane Vain and the Dark Matter's next Montreal show will be at Il Motore on August 15. Go check out their new material.



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