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LISTEN: New Do Make Say Think
Eoin Murray , May 15th, 2017 11:12

Catching up with the Toronto post-rockers' Justin Small to talk their first new record in eight years as they premiered a brand new track ahead of that album's release

Toronto post-rock stalwarts Do Make Say Think will release their seventh album, and first in eight years, on May 19 via Constellation Records.

Premiering above then is the album's closing track 'Return, Return Again', a triumphant and resolutely big instrumental to leave us with. Carried by a swirling guitar arpeggio, the track's rhythm and horn sections sink and burst forth again and again throughout its course before all disintegrating into an ambient epilogue of shrouded strings and reversed brass loops.

Loosely built upon the concept of "the wild mind" presented in a Buddhist poem, the album, entitled Stubborn Persistent Illusions, presents us with the group's most fully realised work since early standouts Goodbye Enemy Airship the Landlord is Dead and & Yet & Yet.

An album that took its time to grow naturally in the midst of the band members' numerous other projects, real-life and fatherhood, the blood that courses through Stubborn Persistent Illusions is rich with lived experience and sincerity. Avoiding trite post-rock tropes and instead building itself upon a bedrock of patience and expansive motifs, this album is one that wears its fascination with expanse and boundlessness well.

Ahead of its release, tQ caught up with the band's Justin Small to talk about the album, its artwork, the changing focuses of life, and the joys and challenges faced in Toronto's music scene.

With it being eight years since Other Truths, how are you feeling about new Do Make Say Think material entering the world, especially after starting work on the album five years ago?

Justin Small: I think this album is really our best work. But let's make one thing clear: It didn't take us five years to make this record. There were five or so years between the beginning of jamming ideas and Constellation releasing it. I don't want to give the impression we were all holed up in some remote mountain studio constantly working on this thing. The truth is much more realistic and boring: life. It is impossible for our band to co-ordinate our lives around this beast we call Do Make Say Think. It is a love of ours, for every member, but one that happens at a natural pace. And it always has. When we were younger, it could be more of a focus, but as our lives change, focuses have to change too.

Do Make Say Think began over 20 years ago now. With so many other projects going on among the members of the band and with plenty of releases under your sleeves, what does this band mean to you now when you reflect on it?

JS: At a very early stage all of us agreed that the music and the idea of this band would happen naturally. There would be no meetings on how to plan a takeover of the music industry. There were no aspirations for how to be as big as we could be. We just wanted to be honest and make music that we were proud of. We also did not intend to make Do Make Say Think the absolute centre of our personal universes. That would have been impossible and it flew in the face of how we wanted to make music. This band could have easily been the centre of our universe when we were in our 20s because we really had nothing else going on. But in our 40s? Different story. So the natural dogma takes a lot fucking longer.

But I'm amazed that I'm still making music with these humans that I love with all my heart. I'm amazed that I have the opportunity. Ohad (Benchetrit - guitar, keys) and I have really solid careers as film composers, Charlie (Spearin – bass, trumpet) won a Juno Award for Contemporary Jazz Recording with his Happiness Project, Dave (Mitchell – drums) is a respected and in demand film editor and Jimmy (Payment – drums) is a chef about town. But the fact that we have done this and are a part of it is something I'll never take for granted.

The titles of the first three tracks, 'War on Torpor', 'Horripilation' and 'A Murder of Thoughts', suggest a sort of wild mental energy. And that's something that's very much echoed in the fact that these are some of the most nuanced and dynamic pieces you've ever produced. Was it a very conscious decision to make an album that was this dynamically charged?

JS: We tried, in the early stages, to tie this record to a very solid concept. Not to make a concept record per se, but to have some idea that was different from our previous records coursing through it. We always find something romantic and poetic about the songs and album titles just falls into place. We think hard about it, but at the end of the day the music speaks with its own voice and the titles we give it are just the ribbons and bows.

So this time around again we tried hard to tie the music into a solid concept. And Yet (and yet), the music bested us. We couldn't force it into a literal narrative. No matter how much we worked it didn't feel right. But then one day Ohad dropped this poem on us and it seemed to light a path. Not a "straight narrative" path, but one that seemed to guide the rest of the record in the mix stage.

So yes, this is a record dedicated to the wild mind. Something we can all relate to.

This sounds like the most optimistic and triumphant record you've come out with. Is that fair to say?

JS: I think so, yes. So often in post-rock the duty is to 'sadly build the emotional disconnect, break down to a sliver of hope and then EXPLODE TO THE END OF THE WORLD crescendo!' But as we were putting this record together, Ohad remarked that all of the songs were in major keys, and that it had pretty up-lifting elements all around it. We were mixing this beast in the shadow of a possible, now realised, Trump presidency and in the midst of some pretty huge personal and band upheavals, but somehow we kicked daylight into it.

The artwork that accompanies the album is stunning. What can you tell us about it and its relevance to the record's themes?

JS: Marianne Collins did the artwork. Can you please publish a link to her website and have people go mad at the beauty of her work?

She worked incredibly hard and under the most abstract and shit directions a client could give. We were "inspired" clients, so to speak. Meaning we just gave her the most bizarre margins to work within. But somehow she understood our narrative and concept and came up with a brilliant and visual re-telling of our music.

You're all very involved in the thriving Toronto music and arts scene. What might we not know about that's happening in there that we should be getting wise to over here?

JS: The scene here is continuing to grow all the time. I had an awesome moment today when I picked up our local free weekly, NOW magazine and saw Feist on the cover. I go way back with Leslie and it was an amazing to see her on the cover. The next page was a story about a club closing, which something that's happening far too often. This time it was the legendary Silver Dollar. My good friends in the band METZ played as the last band at the closing of the club and there was a splashy full-page photo spread of the chaos they created. As I sat on the bus on the way to the studio, I just thought about how fortunate and proud I am to be part of this community.

But our city is losing affordable housing. Our real estate is crazy and is threatening to push the young artists out. I fear for my five-year-old daughter that there might not be as vibrant a community when she grows up as there is now. Perhaps we need to go back to the illegal basement shows I remember as an upstart.

Can we optimistically expect some touring to go along with this record? Perhaps some UK shows in the foreseeable future?

JS: Yes. And no. It totally depends. This band ebbs and flows in the stupid. I'll just say that personally, yes, you can count me in.

Stubborn Persistent Illusions by Do Make Say Think is out on May 19