Gulfer is an indie rock band based in Montreal. Their latest record, Third Wind, is out February 28 on Topshelf.
(Photo Credit: Noémie Plante)
David Mitchell, Vincent Ford, and Joseph Therriault are members of the Montreal-based band Gulfer; Kenny Boothby and Brodie Germain are members of the Toronto-based band Little Kid. Both bands have new records coming out next month — Gulfer’s Third Wind and Little Kid’s A Million Easy Payments — so to celebrate, the friends got on a Zoom call to catch up.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music
David Mitchell: Your guys’ record is awesome, and I have a bunch of questions about it. I’ve been lucky to have it in a bunch of different iterations for what feels like at least a year now. You sent me demos, and every couple of months I would open the link and it would be updated in some capacity. At the very least, “Bad Energy” when I first heard it, was very lo-fi. It just sounded like guitar and vocals for seven minutes, if I remember correctly.
Kenny Boothby: Yeah.
David: And then it’s blossomed [with] all kinds of layers and instruments. It’s been really cool to hear that song evolve. I was wondering if you could talk about your process in building that track?
Kenny: Sure, yeah. We had a SoundCloud with working versions of a bunch of the songs, and that was one of the last ones that I wrote. So I put it on this playlist of songs — which is funny that you heard, I don’t even remember exactly what was on there. Maybe even some songs that aren’t on [the album] anymore. But, yeah, the original four-track demo was just me. Most of them, if I demo it, it’s just on the four-track with the guitar and maybe some piano or something. I don’t know if Brodie wants to speak to how it progressed from there.
Brodie Germain: Well, that song was a pain in the ass, because it’s so long so you want to keep it interesting the whole time. You hear it, and it sounds awesome already — I feel like this happens with a lot of Kenny’s demos, where you don’t want to ruin the song. You just want to do the song justice. There’s a whole other version of that song that we recorded that is just in a Google Drive somewhere.
Kenny: Yeah, the first time we tried to record it, I was saying, “You know, the only thing we gotta be careful of is that we shouldn’t make the song too big.” And then we go in there, and it felt fun, but we had Brodie and Liam [Cole] both playing drums, and of course it got extremely big. If you listen to the version of that one, it starts with a full on Bruce Springsteen beat and big electric guitars. At the time we were like, “Woah, this really was a different direction!” But then within a week or so, at home listening to the mix, I was like, Oh, no, we we made it too big. So we had to start it with a kind of slinkier… We did it in a rehearsal studio just onto tape, the version that we used. So it was quite a process. It was annoying. I don’t know if you folks have ever had to restart on a song or just admit it’s not working. It’s not a nice feeling.
Vincent Ford: I think we’ve always kept everything we recorded, if I’m not mistaken.
Joseph Therriault: I think the closest thing we have is actually the opposite problem, where we forgot to record drums and bass for a track that we were all excited about. I don’t know what happened on the day of, but then later we had to work backwards.
Vincent: I think we just forgot to track altogether. We were just like, “Oh, yeah, we got nine songs for the record.” And then a couple months later I was like, “Hey, actually, we jammed another song that was pretty awesome. I think we should include it on the record and make it a 10 track record.” The song is “Too Slow,” and we’re really stoked about it. It’s the first time that we’re having electronic drums in the mix, because we didn’t track drum and bass for it. With the way we recorded the album, we were able to still track guitars for it, because I did most of the tracking for guitars and vocals so we had that luxury. But we didn’t have the luxury to go back in the studio or to pay an engineer to record drum and bass for just a minute and a half of a pop punk math rock song, you know?
David: It’s a single and I’m curious to see what the reaction is. It is such a funny story — I don’t even play bass on the track. I think Vince just tracked the bass line. It was a weird outlier track for us, for sure.
Brodie: I read the little blurb thing when Kenny sent the the link over — Joe, you did a lot more writing for this [record], right? Both from the writing part and recording, how did that change with this record compared to the other ones?
Joseph: There’s a bunch of things that are different going on with this one. It feels kind of transitional for us, in the sense that the songwriting process for some of the early songs versus the later songs were pretty different. Some of them were more riff heavy and the vocals kind of came later, whereas there’s a couple other songs that were really hook-oriented and had the vocals first, and then we didn’t want to do too much instrumentally or riff-wise in order to leave space for it and do some fun production tricks. We wanted to kind of diversify the sounds we were working with, in contrast to some of the previous records. Which we’ve always done a little bit, but we wanted to bring that more towards the forefront. So synth, autotune and formant shifting, and all that kind of stuff was something we wanted to leave a lot of space for in the songwriting. So we kind of dialed back a lot of other elements of our sound.
Brodie: Yeah, it struck me as more most diverse musically for you folks, like a lot of different sounds. It was cool.
Vincent: Yeah. And we had the demos for a really long time, so we had a lot of time to to play with those and rearrange the songs over and over and obsess with the arrangements and the sounds, a little bit too much at one point. I definitely burned myself out with those demos, but I’m happy with the result. Happy that we’re done with it. I can’t wait for the feedback.
Kenny: I was curious about that, because something we have in common is we both released our albums in 2020, the previous ones. For us, four years, compared to the ones before, is like an eternity. We were kind of doing one a year for a bit there, and it felt great to be going fast. We had Transfiguration Highway done, and we knew it would be about a year ‘til it came out, so we were like, “Let’s get this other one done before it’s out.” And we did half of this one before the lockdown, but then we couldn’t really see each other for a while. But we also kind of just got sick of some stuff and removed it from the album. So I was curious if you folks had a similar path — some of these songs are quite old for you.
Joseph: 100%. What you said about the COVID thing really resonates with us. I don’t know what the number is for Vince, but for me, I think the majority of the songs were pre-COVID, in terms of the demo or whatever. And then obviously they evolved a lot and we worked on them together. There’s always that lag, which I’m still learning how to deal with. It’s crazy how long it can take and how much work it takes to bring something to the finish line, you know?
Kenny: Yep. Have you been able to work on other new stuff? I feel like I’ve got a bit of a block when the album’s done, but it’s not released, where I’m itching to start on other stuff but nothing’s quite getting momentum. And I’m wondering if it’s [that] I’m waiting ‘til the album’s out and then I can maybe let go of it or something.
Vincent: Lucky for me, Joe is really active on the songwriting process right now. He’s got already three really interesting songs that I’m eager to work on.
Joseph: Yeah, I think for us it’s maybe a little different. Vince writes a lot, too, so for us it’s kind of the other side of the coin where, because we’re always writing songs, there isn’t ever a demarcation of, “Here’s this batch.” There’s kind of a continuity.
David: We also have the beds of five new songs recorded; we’ll probably have some Spotify single situations, split type stuff out at the end of this year. I think the goal is just to keep the algorithm happy. And we’re not really touring much, we’re not really doing all the other things that bands do. But if we can keep putting songs out, then that’s definitely a way to keep ourselves feeling like we’re keeping busy.
Kenny: Yeah, from the sounds of it, you are. Is it easy for you to get together to record? Is that something you have to plan ahead a lot? Our workflow has changed a lot since COVID, about how easy is it to get together and to have access to reasonable equipment.
Vincent: We definitely have to plan everything in advance. I’d say every time we get together, it’s really because we have something serious to work on. Either it’s working on arrangements for a song or on our live set for the next show. Because otherwise, we don’t really meet or spend time together. And for the studio stuff, we need to book it in advance. We got a lot of friends that have small studios and good enough equipment for us to use and that are really cheap, so we’re really lucky to have that. For this batch of five songs that David talked about, I really wanted us to be in the studio together to work on those tracks, as opposed to the whole, “Let’s get a bunch of mixes, listen to them, open a thread on messenger, start emailing back 400 times until it’s done.” So that’s what’s different right now.
Joseph: Something I wanted to ask you all about: I feel like on some of your previous records, there was a little bit more experimentation with, at the beginning of the track maybe five seconds of a tape delay or something weird. What made you want to cut back on some of those ideas? How did you approach that?
Brodie: The way we were recording stuff before, I feel like everything was done very piecemeal. We would just do these little tinkering sessions recorded in Kenny’s room or whatever. And then Paul [Vroom, bassist] had this space where we could record stuff live. So SUN MILK was recorded mostly live, might as well… was recorded mostly live, Transfig was mostly live. A lot of the recent one is as well. So I think just in general, it became more of a Band kind of sound. We were also embracing that a lot more too — like that The-Band-backing-up-Bob-Dylan sort of sound.
Kenny: Yeah. And Paul mixed flowers, but for the first half of working on that, it was me and Brodie just with a little portable 16-track digital recorder zoom recorder thing. So a lot of it was recorded by me or by Brodie, and we don’t really know what we’re doing. And especially thinking back to then, there was a lot more time of me just in my room playing with pedals and doing dumb shit that you don’t want to do when there’s someone else watching you. So I think a lot more of the process now is in a group and we’re maybe a little more down to business. There’s less of that exploration maybe happening. I think that might shift a bit, just being more together while we’re doing the layers and things.
Joseph: That makes sense with my experience, too, because during the pandemic, when we wrote a lot more on Logic, we ended up having a lot more of that. Because, you know, you’re not worried about annoying your bandmates, because you could spend whatever amount of time you want and then reduce it to a five second thing at the beginning or end of the track.
Brodie: Your new album definitely has tons of little snippets that’ll just kind of show up for a sec or whatever. It’s super cool. I was reading the description, and then I was thinking — it’s like a four letter word now, with the stuff on Twitter about the shoegaze revival and the big Stereogum article and all this stuff. On the new record, there’s some big reverb, distortion guitar kind of stuff getting grouped in with those bands. Are you into that stuff?
Vincent: Huge fan. Love Blue Smiley. I was lucky enough to play with them when they came to Montreal. Still listening to MBV all the time. I know Joey’s a huge My Bloody Valentine fan, and David’s into it too. He’s showing us the new stuff that’s coming out that’s more maybe emo adjacent.
David: I think I also get caught up in the minutia that you were sort of alluding to…
Brodie: Weird genre shit.
David: Yeah. But it’s also not a genre that I consider myself a deep expert on either, but I do think about, like, Are we grouping all this stuff in? Now it’s like, what’s the difference between shoegaze and slowcore and just a loud guitar band? I feel like it’s a very liberal term. It’s a conversation that I like to watch on Twitter or think about in my head, but I’m also not the deepest shoegaze head either, so I don’t have a grand hypothesis or thesis statement here. Maybe it’s indirectly in the descriptor of [our] record, or maybe you hear elements of it in some tracks, but this is not a shoegaze album.
Brodie: No, not at all.
David: Maybe there’s notes of it here and there, but I’m also worried in my weird brain about being like, Oh, yeah, we’re shoegaze now and we’re jumping on this trend. I don’t want to market the album in this way. There’s mad tapping, and like Vince was alluding to before, math rock, pop punk — it’s all over the place. But I also think that’s what makes the record cool. We’re reaching for a lot of different sonic references, and it’s cool that they’re coming through. But it’s also cool that it’s not just one thing that we’re going for.
Brodie: That’s what I was thinking. It sounds for sure like a different thing from your last couple records, but it’s still the same band. I feel like that’s what comes through.
David: Which to me, that’s the highest praise.
(Photo Credit: left, Noémie Plante; right, Aisha Ghali)