Fletcher talks about writing, singing, singing in French, naming songs, going around the world, Canada’s place in the indie music scene, cleaning out their heads, psychic powers, becoming a jam band, getting stranded in Tokyo between the two Club Quatros, and much more…
QRO: After you primarily sang on the first record, and Dave did on the second, it seems like you sang more this time. Why did that come about?
Tim Fletcher: I think that we’re a band that likes to play around with expectations. We’re a band that likes to challenge ourselves, doing things differently every time. We have a number of tools at our disposal, and we like to use them and not get bored with ourselves. Dave also sings on this record, as well.
I don’t know. It just felt right this way. I really can’t say more about it than that.
QRO: After accidentally titling two of the songs on your first record the same names as musicians (“Allison Krausse” & “Of Montreal”), do you ever worry about that happening again? Is that why you don’t have songs with names in them on the last two records?
TF: The thing with “Allison Krause”, the song title, is that me and Dave, I remember, we were sitting in Brooklyn, trying to figure out, on our windowsill, looking out, over the river, “Let’s give Allison a last name, for the song title!”
We tried ‘Allison Horowitz’, ‘Allison Leibowitz’ – we wanted an Eastern European, Jewish name, just because of the nature of who it was based on. ‘Oh, ‘Krausse’ – that’s a cool name…’
And after the album had been printed up and everything, Allison Krauss wasn’t really that well known, and she became way more known after we did that. It’s kind of weird – a really strange coincidence.
But it hasn’t made us more vigilant in the naming of our songs.
QRO: There’s a couple of Oceans tracks with ‘geographic’ titles, like “Snow in California” and “Eastern Europe”. Did that come from anything, like touring, or was it just coincidence?
TF: A lot of the writing of the album was done during traveling, touring, or separate from the band – some of us were simply traveling abroad, meeting people. I think, when you’re a musician, you have to throw yourself into situations that are musically and creatively stimulating with other people, and not just your band.
So we were all sort of doing that everywhere: writing was done in Turkey, Mexico, Japan, it was done in South America, throughout all of Europe, North America. I think all of those encounters fed into the lyrics, and the thematic concerns, but also the music. When we all came back together at home and needed to work and arrange, to finish these pieces we had, I think we felt that geographic concern.
The world is a tiny place right now. It’s hard to ignore the tiny-ness of our planet, and not be moved by that, be concerned by that. It kind of softens the heart, in a way. I think all those concerns were on our plate, and it fed the writing, arranging, recording of all these songs.
There were a whole host of other songs that we didn’t put on the record, but had the same concerns. If you look at “Snakecharming the Masses”, there’s a rhythmic concerns in that, which come from jams with other people. I think a lot of the other songs have that.
QRO: You did one song in French, “Retour a Vega” – but for the Wicker Park soundtrack. Why none on your albums?
TF: “Retour a Vega” is a song written by some of our friends, who are in a band called ‘Chinatown’ now. Some of us used to play in an earlier incarnation of that band. We wanted to do a French song because we all speak French, we’re from Quebec, and we wanted to give back to the French side of our upbringing and heritage.
We picked a song that our friends wrote because it was a beautiful song that, had we not covered it, it would have remained on an album that only a couple hundred people would have heard. And we thought the world should hear it. It was just a song we felt we wanted to record and play.
We’re really happy that people respond to it in such a positive way, and are touched by it, because we feel like we’re giving back to our friends and to, like I said, our heritage.
QRO: It seems like, this year, there’s been sort of a ‘Canadian revival’ in indie-rock – you guys, Broken Social Scene (QRO interview), Constantines (QRO interview), Feist (QRO live review) is now a mega-star, etc. Do you think there’s anything special going on up there?
TF: It’s all [shared label] Arts & Crafts!
I think a large reason that people are fascinated with Canada is that it’s been existing in relative obscurity up until now, in terms of its underground, alternative contribution to music. There’s been a lot of huge artists, Bryan Adams, Alanis Morissette, la-di-da-di-da…
There’s a lot of great music happening there, and it was all almost allowed to flourish under the radar because it was under the radar, and expectations were thrown out the window. Creativity was given a ‘greenhouse forum’ to grow and bloom.
Coupled with the fact that it’s fuckin’ freezing and snowing most of the year, people have to find something worth not committing suicide over. So, there are all these intense feelings that the weather creates in you.
It’s always been there. It’s just that the world is starting to investigate it more, because, like I said, the world is tiny, and getting smaller and smaller.
QRO: What was making the video for “Being Here” like? Where did the idea come from?
TF: Basically, it comes simply out of the idea that The Stills are neurotic people who need to have giant q-tips inserted into their heads and cleaned out. And you have to remove your head and give it to the doctors in order to do that. And if they get stolen from the hospital, someone has to go back and find them, and in the video, it was me. I’m giving everyone their heads back, their new, clean heads back – from Sam Roberts; he’s the guy in the video.
It’s about us being a family and understanding each other’s insanity, and knowing that we’ll do our best to help each other out, as a family.
QRO: Why did you make that weird ‘Telepathic Message’ video?
TF: I have psychic powers. I’m adept at telekinesis, and I just figured the world needed to know that…
QRO: Are there any new songs that you’re really liking playing live?
TF: Like I was saying at the beginning of the interview, every song off this album translates so well into the live setting that we’re excited about all of them. I don’t want to be cliché, again…
I think it’s an eclectic album, in the sense that I don’t think any one song defines the record, so every song live has a different character to it. And I think that every song works really well live, so we’re excited about all of them.
QRO: You say every song is different. Does that make it difficult to create a set list for a show?
You know some things that work, and you try and create arcs, and peaks & valleys. When you have three albums, you can really craft a well-paced set list and every night, decide on a different way to reach rhapsody.
Playing shows now are the coolest, fun-est thing ever. It’s better than ever because we’re able to play three-hour shows now, and have it mapped out, and actually accomplish our goal.
We’re hopefully going to get to a place where it will be a ‘Grateful Dead’ kind of thing. We can have really long, extended jams, with ups and downs. Hopefully, when Phish is fully gone, and that other band, Widespread Panic – we’re next!
QRO: What about from the first two records: are there any that you really like playing live?
TF: I really like playing “Retour a Vega”, even though that’s not on any record. We have a cool arrangement now, with three-way harmonies at the beginning. It’s at a down part in the set.
I mean, I like playing them all. We’re consciously not playing some of the songs from the first two records so that, when we start playing them again, they’ll be special.
We play “Lola, Stars & Stripes”, “Gender Bombs”… We play a lot of the old songs, as well. And I think when we’re doing our own shows, when we’re headlining more, and when this album’s been out for longer, I think we’ll be playing longer and longer shows. We’re going to try to make our shows into big events, where they can go on a long time, and craziness happening, and a lot of participation by the audience. Making them feel loved; having them be a part of the show.
That being said, we played “Still In Love” last night, and we haven’t done that in half a year.
QRO: Do you ever feel nervous about playing “Retour a Vega” to non-French-speaking crowds?
TF: I think it’s special to them, because they don’t understand the lyrics. I think it’s the kind of song that’s intriguing for people to want to try and figure out what the lyrics are. I think melodically, atmospherically, and just vibe-wise, I think it’s a really compelling song.
QRO: Do you have any post-Oceans material?
TF: Yeah, yeah. We’ve been furiously writing. Nick Cave, who we’re big fans of, always talks about how, when he goes on vacation, he’s uneasy, because he feels he’s going to lose touch with the spark of songwriting. And I think we feel the same way – I know I feel the same way, Dave feels the same way.
We’ve fallen into the trap of not continuing to record, and waiting too long. And I think we’ve learned our lessons well, with the last two records, and we’re just writing, and writing, and writing. We’re becoming vitally inspired more and more as the years go by, because of that. So we’re all keeping going with the writing.
QRO: Do you play any of it live?
TF: No. Maybe some time. Soon…
QRO: Do you think maybe by the Kings of Leon tour?
TF: Maybe. We’ll see. Could be…
QRO: What cities or venues have you really liked playing at?
TF: Istanbul is unbelievable. We played on the fifth flour of this ancient building. It was like seven hundred years old. Was turned into this crazy club.
Club Quatro, actually, of which there is more than one in Tokyo. Tokyo is a great town to play in. New York City is unbelievable. Chicago is great. I love Chicago. Seattle…
Mexico City is fuckin’ amazing. Mexico is such a great place – it’s one of my favorite places in the world. The audiences and the people there are so good. We played to like ten thousand people outside of Azteca Stadium, opening for Incubus. It started raining, and a couple people threw some shoes, but it was all good.
I like the weird places in the world. Weird cities in Germany, München is really cool. Paris is really cool. Every city can be cool. Like I said, every audience can differ: same city, different audience.
QRO: Is it any extra-special, playing “Retour a Vega” in Paris or France?
TF: The thing is, I’m English; I’m Anglophone. My parents were born in England. I’m an English guy, living in Quebec. I learned to speak French because I grew up with these guys, but I speak a weird English-French. So, when I sing, I have a weird accent. So people in Quebec don’t really know what I’m saying, people in France don’t really know what I’m saying. When I speak, they understand, but not when I’m singing. “Retour a Vega” is sung in a weird French accent.
QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?
TF: One time, in Tokyo – there’s two Club Quatros in Tokyo. The first time we were ever there, the first night, we all went to this club called ‘The Lexington Queen’. It’s sort of a tourist-y, hipster kind of place – really, really lame.
Except, we met a whole bunch of people there. We met these two Australian surfer dudes, and across the street, they had herbal ecstasy. It’s really cheap. So they brought some over, and we all took ecstasy – I didn’t take any.
And some of them left. I was talking to this girl and her boyfriend, and I noticed that the club was kind of empty, and I didn’t see any of the guys around. I was like, “Alright, I gotta go – I don’t know where any of my friends are…” So I left, and they closed The Lexington Queen.
And I couldn’t find my friends – they were nowhere. And I didn’t have my hotel key, I didn’t remember the name of the hotel, I didn’t know what part of town I was in, I didn’t know where I was, and I had no money – and no cell phone.
All I knew, in this entire town, was that we were playing The Club Quatro the next day. So I was like, ‘Oh my god’ – it was four in the morning – ‘I’m fucked!’ I checked the internet cafes, checked the restaurants around, and they were gone. They left without me.
So I walked around, a little bit drunk, and I saw this guy and this girl, who looked kind of hip, and I was like, in English, and they didn’t really understand English, “Do you know where Club Quatro is? I’m fucked up, I have no money… I’m lost.”
They explained to me that there was two. ‘Alright, I’ll go to this Club Quatro…’ So I walked there. It took me two hours, it was like six in the morning, and it was the wrong one!
So I walked to the other one. I couldn’t take a cab – I had no money; I was broke. So I walked to the other Club Quatro; it was nine in the morning. I just slept outside until the club owner showed up. “Everyone in my band must be super worried about me – can I use your phone?” And he was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah…’
And I go in touch with them, “I’m here! I’m at the club…” And they were like, “Where the fuck were you? We were going crazy! We went back to The Lexington Queen and you weren’t there! What the hell?!” And I was like, “I left – you guys deserted me!”
It was pretty intense, being lost in Tokyo. First night ever…