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Sweet Mother Logic talk new material, songwriting before their show at Sala this Saturday

Posted by Greg / January 11, 2013

20130111-SweetMotherLogic2.jpgSweet Mother Logic are a Montreal music institution. With a revolving cast of collaborators, a deep pool of talent, and boundless creativity and innovation, the group never cease to impress listeners. Their science aesthetic is so enthralling that the National Geographic Channel used their Ascension Island EP to soundtrack the show "Departures." This Saturday night at Sala Rossa, they will headline what promises to be one of the most thrilling shows for lovers of exciting and intricate instrumental music with Saxsyndrum and Dam Ships. I recently spoke with the band about their new material, writing soundtracks, and much more.

When you play at Sala on Saturday, what kind of new material will you be debuting? How does it compare to your previous albums?

Jack: We'll be performing a few new songs that we've been assembling over the past couple of months. Each song we write gives us an opportunity to explore new musical territories, and composing with new material gives us new environments to play in. These songs reflect our previous work, but also expand upon it. I feel like we're always standing on the shoulders of the music we've already written, and looking ahead to the new sounds and structures ahead of us. These songs are a lot of fun and are still a challenge to play, which'll really keep us on our toes this Saturday.  

Justin: The new songs revisit a few ideas we explored a long time ago - we're going for a more narrative (some might say rambling) structure, and reuse melodies in drastically different contexts. We also play a lot with transitioning back and forth between very angular, structured sounds and more organic, free sounds - kind of an Apollo vs. Dionysus thing in musical form. But it still definitely sounds like Sweet Mother Logic.

You frequently play with guest musicians - do you see Sweet Mother Logic as a revolving door band with a few key members? How does the dynamic of your members affect your music?

Justin: I think the best analogy would be an ice cream sundae - there's a nice mix of ingredients at its core, but extra toppings are always great. We have five permanent members, and we always write our songs to be performed as a five-piece, but for bigger shows we'll round up whatever guest musicians happen to be available. For this show we'll have an upright bass and viola, which, combined with the cello and violin, let us form a string quartet with an unusually broad range, and a trumpet to bring out some of the melodies.

Jack: We've been really lucky throughout our career to have played with so many talented musicians. Our guests are always friends who have been generous enough to play with us when we want to enlarge our sound both on stage and in studio. But the fact that we are the same five people holding it all together (writing all of the music, handling all of the business etc.) gives us all the kind of working relationship that we need to accomplish goals, and it would be very hard for this band to work any other way.

Your Ascension Island EP was used in the National Geographic show "Departures." Did you ever envision your music functioning as a soundtrack?

Justin: We get a lot of comments from people telling us that our music would be great in soundtracks - though we never really expected to get to the point of licensing it to a TV show! But our music is very suited to it, given the narrative quality and the lack of vocals. Departures was an especially good fit for us, and by chance, they even visited Ascension Island in the show!

Jack: Our keyboardist is an animator, and he's used our music as a soundtrack to a couple of his projects. We've also composed music for friends animations and short films on occasion, but I always feel that our music is much more cinematic the less we're trying to make it so. People have also used our music for their Youtube videos and other short documentaries, which is always flattering. It's great that the music can be used in this way, and we've even tried to encourage it by releasing the songs under a Creative Commons license; hopefully it will give the songs some more longevity. 

Between this and your most recent LP, Natural History, you seem to have a science theme running through your music. What's up with that?

Jack: It's true, it is something we all tend to agree on when it comes to making aesthetic decisions. Since we make all of these decisions together we have to end up with something we all really like and agree on. I guess we're all closeted scientists at heart (except for Justin, he's getting his Master's in molecular biology to sabotage scientific research from the inside).

Justin: Most of it just stems from our love for the aesthetic of old science and exploration, but it's also representative of the curiosity and experimentation we put into our music writing. Our first EP was inspired by early balloon expeditions, especially that of S.A. Andrée* - a hilarious misadventure that everyone needs to read about. For Natural History, we really loved the aesthetic of natural history museum dioramas - the way they transition from taxidermied animals to sculpted landscapes to beautiful paintings. So we used photos of dioramas for our album art and took our promo photos in the Redpath Museum at McGill.

Do you have a musical vision for the band? Has it changed since you started?

Justin: It's funny you ask this, because I just found an ancient ad we put up six years ago when we were first looking for a drummer, and our vision couldn't have changed more. It reads, "Four piece band looking for a fifth. Experimental band headed by two cellists, combining jazz, lounge, hip-hop, funk, rock, and blues." When starting the band we had in mind a sort of instrumental jazzy hip-hop sound. We did a terrible arrangement of "Hit the Road, Jack" with a computer beat. Then Adrian - our drummer - joined the band, and he despised jazz at the time (he has since completed a bachelor's in jazz performance at Concordia), and our sound changed to the orchestral indie sound that you can hear on our first EP.

Jack: We haven't ever had a mission statement, but we've always had a general inclination about how we want our music to be. That sense of taste is always changing as the band matures and develops, but there's always some feeling that guides us forward. It's nice not to feel stuck by a rigid sense of musical identity, and we're lucky enough to have still been able to make some interesting original music. 

Where are you going next? Any idea when we'll get a new album?

Justin: We're currently planning a tour in Canada in June. It's pretty strange, but we've never gone on an actual tour yet, just faraway trips on weekends. We all have pretty hectic schedules, and we're all at different stages in our lives, but it looks like we'll finally manage to clear a few weeks to tour.
At this point we're debating whether to record an EP this fall, or to wait and record a full album. We took a bit of a break from songwriting this past year, but we're back at it with more crazy ideas than we know what to do with. At the very least, expect a couple singles, and maybe a music video along the way!

What kinds of music have you been listening to recently? Anything you can recommend to readers?

Jack: Kate and I have been going through and 80's phase recently, top 100 songs of the decade kind of thing, it's been a blast! I've been taking up gypsy jazz as well, and have been listening to a lot of Quintette du Hot Club de France, really great stuff. 

Justin: I've really been enjoying the new albums of The Luyas, Menomena, and Tame Impala. For classical music I've had Dvorak's "American" String Quartet (No. 12), and John Tavener's "The Protecting Veil" pretty much on repeat.

Sweet Mother Logic play at Sala Rossa on Saturday, January 12 with Saxsyndrum and Dam Ships
Check out the event page here

Discussion

31 Comments

Chrsity / January 26, 2013 at 06:24 pm
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It is amazing how something can change over time. Just like their sound, it changed since they first started and it has certainly made them more successful that way.
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@Danuta, It's an interview post... there are no videos...
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