Montreal’s Hoan have changed a lot since they started playing together a few years ago. Switching drummers, and taking a quiet approach the band have become known for their unique sound, but for them its all in the writing. With their latest record Modern Phase out April 28th they will be surprising even more with their latest sonic adventure. We talked to the band outside their gig at Baby G in Toronto for CMW to get the details on the record and how they’ve changed.
Northern Transmissions: What did you initially set out to do when you guys started playing and how much has that vision changed?
Oussama Laghzaoui: Alex and Michael were playing together in a band called Kurvi Tasch before and they went on tour, and asked me (Oush) if I wanted to join. After the tour, Alex called me and said “Change of plans we want to do this new thing.”
Alex Nicol: We basically came to a conclusion playing the kind of guitar-centric music that we had. We made this EP very quickly about a year ago, and without really knowing what it was or what we wanted it to feel like. We put it together because of the urgency of it and have fleshed it out live, made it denser than it was then. Certainly before the edginess of our sound was more obvious, and we have more nuances now in our sonic pallet. Working on these songs have really helped to bring that out.
NT: You guys have been pushing the envelope sonically a lot, how do you intend to do that both on record and in a live setting?
OL: It happens in the studio, and we want to have it on the record, but then we have to make it work live. We work it live, and push it further than the studio version and you get to the next album and try to push that sound further. With this EP we didn’t know what we were going to do but we knew what we were not going to do. We spent a lot of time in the studio surrounding ourselves in the studio, trying things, and the songs change so much.
AN: For the future material that we have, we still want to have conventional song structures at times. But we want to just bring as much mood out of the music as possible and not fall back on familiar sounds. I naturally fall back on what I know so it’s been a challenge to do something new.
Michael Heinermann: One thing that definitely changed from when we started this band was adding more synths. We were more of a classic rock band and now we have four synths and sampler on stage.
AN: The biggest change is we’ve changed drummers, (Alex) Thibeault is a producer, and sound engineer. He’s helped us learn and understand backing tracks, electric drums, and extra synth textures.
OL: We don’t make a song with a sound in mind or commit to what we’re doing now. We have more disagreements than agreements, and it’s challenging but we work through that for our sound. We want to avoid doing the same album over and over. There’s no one sound in our mind that we’re aiming for.
NT: How did this drummer change happen?
AN: Thibeault is just talented and knows how to fit in very well. That’s the sign of a good artist. I met him being in a band called Loon. He produced a lot of those tracks, and in our practices it was clear to me he had a lot of knowledge of anything drums and production. We asked him after a show if he wanted to join and he said yeah. It was almost jokingly but it was a great decision.
NT: What can people expect off of Modern Phase that they haven’t heard yet?
OL: We have a song called “Technocrats” on the album, that’s a very kraut-rock, post-punk song that’s minimal at the beginning with repetitive riffs and then builds into a dance track. That’s not something expected.
AN: There’s a lot of minimalism on record intentionally but live it’s a lot bigger and that’s been something we’ve been trying to push. When we made Modern Phase, my sole thing was I didn’t want it to be a heavy, distorted, post-punk kind of thing, I wanted to make something bare and minimal, so bare that there’s barely something there. That’s something we don’t do live at all and hopefully people like that. We play louder but not too loud because there’s something about the loudness of live shows that bugs the sh*t out of me, and I hate it. So we’ve been working to make these songs have a full body live since they don’t on record.
OL: I remember Alex saying when we were writing, “Let’s make something with a lot of space, something that breathes, but not in an awkward way,” where the absence of sound would almost be in an instrument.
AN: Yeah and I would be saying “Don’t play here, don’t play that, just do this.” I was being bossy but it was good in the end. That’ll change as we go.
NT: How do you guys know Patrick McDowall and what did he bring to the record?
AN: He basically had all the keyboards that were on the album, we didn’t have any plans for them at all. We sat down and used whatever he had. The Moog Rogue is really nice that really adds colour to songs we wouldn’t have had. I knew Patrick from years ago.
OL: I’ve never felt that comfortable in a studio before, with Patrick he makes you forget about all the pressure. You come in and lounge, and he opens the door for your compulsions. Even if it takes an hour to set up a five second overdub he’s all in. He’s a sweet guy to work with.
NT: What’s on the horizon after the new record?
AN: We have a couple of shows, and then we might play in the summer. We have a video in the works, and then we’re planning on writing more songs and making more with songs we have. We just came back from a two-week tour and now we have shows coming up, and we just want to play a lot this summer.
Interview by Owen Maxwell