While their name always gives off a spooky vibe, Toronto’s Casper Skulls are more emotionally vulnerable than ever with their debut record Mercy Works on the way. Adding more depth and even strings to the mix this time around, the loud and dark rock band is offering a record that really digs into relationships (lovers, friends and with oneself) to look at what communication really means. We caught up with singers and writers Melanie St. Pierre and Neil Bednis to talk about their cooperative writing process, releasing music and how they evolved their sound.
Northern Transmissions: What did you want to differently between your EP and Mercy Works?
Melanie St. Pierre: The EP was a bunch of different ideas that we had, put into a pot. We were just trying to play around and see what we liked best. “Errands” alluded to our full length.
Neil Bednis: We’ve moved in a more pop direction, but still maintain elements of what the band is.
NT: How did Paul Erlichman’s arrangements and the strings present on this record come about and what inspired you to include that in your sound?
NB: Our friend Tom (Ducks Unlimited) sent me an early demo of one of his band’s songs called “Age of Entertainment.” On that track he had these nice sounding strings, so after that we started hearing strings over our songs. Tom told us that Paul did them, so when it came time to record our record we asked Paul if he could write arrangements and find a quartet for it. We were also listening to Ocean Rain by Echo and the Bunnymen, which has 35 piece orchestra on it, so it showed us how it could work for a rock band.
NT: What did Josh Korody bring to the recording process and did he bring anything out of your performances you might have missed otherwise?
NB: Compared to working on the EP, he knew when to step back and let us do our thing. He would involve himself if he heard a spot where piano would be good or if things weren’t tight enough. He would really step back and let us be a band.
MSP: From the beginning he’s always understood our sound. So when we came for him for the full-length, he knew right away he wanted to do it live off the floor. We started off with the beds and then brought them to do our overdubs. The bulk of it was done live off the floor with vocals and overdubs done later.
NT: With the powerful duality you have as a song writing pair, do you occasionally find it hard to keep songs focused or do you have more of a separated approach?
MSP: We’re a very democratic band so when we write Neil or I will bring a skeleton of a song to the band, and then we’ll work out guitar parts. The skeletons are usually just rhythmic or lead with some rhythm involved. When they’re brought, we’ll just chip away until they’re at a place where we feel comfortable with them.
NB: Even down to the vocal, where I might have wrote the melody or the words even, but Mel’s voice fits better.
MSP: Neil and I have completely opposite registers, it’s kind of hilarious. Neil talks things instead of singing things, and I sing things. His register is low and mine’s high, so if I try to make his high, it doesn’t sound good. There are songs where we have to figure a lot of that out.
NT: Considering your record was already on the way, did you release “Nighthawks” earlier this year to separate it from where you have come?
NB: I was actually playing that song in my old band, so it was one of the first songs we played together. We recorded it a year and a half before it came out. We still liked it but it wasn’t representative of the direction we wanted to go in. There’s a song on the record called “Primeval” and it was the first song we ever worked on.
MSP: We abandoned it because we weren’t at the skill level to write it. Right before we started recording Mercy Works, we rewrote that song and really liked it. It’s cool because now it’s becoming a single on the record.
Words by Owen Maxwell