Sauna is a brand new Toronto based band featuring Zach Bines (Weaves), Braeden Craig (Greys), and Michael le Riche (Fake Palms).
With synths in bright focus, which le Riche both plays and builds, this project marks a departure from the electric guitar-driven sound of Fake Palms. Bines (bass) and Craig (drums), meanwhile, provide a tough and tight complement to this new approach. Minimalist one minute and maximalist the next, the music is rich with suspense and satisfying subversions of expectation.
Michael le Riche is the frontman of Fake Palms and, now, Sauna; Brian Borcherdt has played in bands like Holy Fuck and Dusted, and this year he produced Sauna’s debut EP. Here, they talk about working together on it, and about what inspired Sauna’s new video for their track “Carousel” — which, according to its director Dan Tahmizian, “is about the cyclical nature of life and how we seem to find ourselves making the same mistakes over and over falling back into familiar patterns and mind states.” Check it all out below!
— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Associate Editor
Michael le Riche: Where are you again right now? Are you in Yarmouth, at your folks’?
Brian Borcherdt: Yeah, I’ve been here for a month and a half almost now.
Michael: I guess a good place to start [is] by saying why you’re why you’re out there.
Brian: I found I wasn’t able to do anything in Toronto. We were just taking care of our daughter, Agnes, who was eight months at the time. My gear was in the basement next to her crib, so when we started naps with her in the middle of the day, it was really nice but we couldn’t do anything with our free time. Long story short, we couldn’t get anything done, so we packed up the studio, the dog, and the baby and came out to my folks’ place in Nova Scotia where the grandparents can help out with the baby, and I set up a studio above the garage.
Michael: Do you find you’re getting a lot of good work done?
Brian: Yeah, it’s been really good to go out there and work. I mean, I’m only doing a couple hours a day — the original idea was, “I’m gonna go to work and I’ll be there all day,” you know, just across the driveway above the garage. But it just didn’t work that way. I find myself still taking care of her, and also it’s kind of a holiday — taking her for walks, going swimming, which is really nice.
I’m getting good work done, though. Now I gotta start rehearsing because I’m having a reunion with my band that I was in 20 years ago. [Laughs.] I gotta start remembering how to scream like a moronic teenager.
Michael: That’s Big Black?
Brian: Burnt Black.
Michael: Burnt Black, sorry, fuck. Is Big Black Steve… whats his name?
Brian: [Laughs.] Yeah, that’s Shellac dude — Steve Albini.
Michael: Right, right. I just lost a lot of cool points.
Brian: How’s Toronto been?
Michael: Toronto’s been hot. It was like 40 degrees yesterday, but aside from that it’s been good. Just trying to write a new Sauna record, so I’ve been working pretty much every day in my apartment and sweating it out because the AC can’t keep up. So I’m trying to write songs and trying to figure out where the new Sauna’s gonna go thematically. I mean, I’ve been sending you material, and it’s definitely changing because I’m forcing myself to write a song every day without editing it.
Brian: That’s awesome.
Michael: Yeah, with that kind of time constraint, I don’t have too much time to overthink things. So I’m getting a lot of stuff that I probably won’t use, but it’s been a good exercise just to see kind of what comes naturally. It’s been an interesting process. And aside from that, just trying to enjoy what’s left of this summer and try not to melt.
Brian: No kidding. It’s inspiring the melty Sauna jams — you picked the appropriate name and aesthetic for this heat wave.
Michael: It’s been working out. The next record’s just gonna come as a puddle.
Brian: [Laughs.] It, like, draws something from chillwave, and you’re applying that to a heat wave aesthetic. It’s somewhere in the middle — it’s like the melting of the ice. The fridge has been left open, that’s the aesthetic of the next record.
Michael: Yeah, I bought a best of chillwave compilation and I stuck it in the microwave. [Laughs.]
I guess we should talk about how we met — I’m not totally sure if I remember when we actually met.
Brian: It’s not that interesting. [Laughs.] You were working at Paul’s Boutique — that’s probably how you met a lot of people — and I liked your record. It actually came through hearing the Fake Palms record and really loving it. Like I knew you already, but didn’t know what you did musically. I heard that Fake Palms record, so then I probably just started saying hello to you and complimenting you on the record.
Michael: Yeah, I met most people I know musically in Toronto through working at Paul’s, which I should say is kind of a cultural hub in Toronto, for a lot of musicians and artists. It’s a used vintage guitar and synthesizer store. That makes sense now that you bring it up. I remember, you bought that Guild guitar one day when I was working.
Brian: Yeah! I remember one day going in there one day and just being, like, “What’s the best value of anything in the store?” Somebody handed me that Guild, and it was such a good purchase. I love that guitar.
Michael: I’ve been a fan of your work for years. I remember seeing Holy Fuck for the first time, I think at the Kool Haus years and years ago — I think it was you and Metric. Does that make sense?
Brian: You’re a closet Metric fan, now everyone knows!
Michael: I came specifically to see Holy Fuck! Because — maybe it was just the EP, or maybe Latin was out at the time, but I was really into whatever you had put out. I was living in Barrie at the time, so me and a couple of friends came down specifically for the show.
Brian: I find that hard to believe, that would have been a long time ago.
Michael: Yeah, I was still in high school, maybe grade nine or ten. My friend just got their driver’s license, so, [we were] like, “Yeah, let’s go to Toronto, big, scary city.” It was amazing. And then when you expressed that you liked the Fake Palms stuff I was like, Oh, sweet. I am gonna work with this guy. I’m gonna figure out a way to make a record with this man.
Brian: [Laughs.] I’m glad you did. I wanted to compliment you on the new demos that you’re sending me. I like that you’re doing one a day, kind of pushing yourself. But it’s interesting for me to hear, because I hear different sides of the coin. I like that you’re saying you’re not overthinking it, because there’s room to grow. There’s potential beyond the demo, and that’s really exciting.
Michael: Yeah, it’s weird. It’s the most naked I’ve felt sending you those songs that kind of come almost subconsciously because of how quickly they’re done. I’m sending demos to you and then I’m sending them to the other members of the band Zach and Brayden and it’s like therapy; you guys are getting this window into my brain every day about where I’m at, and I’m not even necessarily aware of what is going on, because I’m too close to it. So you guys can see like, “Oh, man, oof, I guess he had a bad day today,” or “Oh, he’s doing all right.”
Brian: I find that when you do things that way, if you step away for long enough, you forget doing it. And what’s kind of cool about that is [it’s] one of the only times you’ll ever be able to be hear your own self from a third party perspective. I’ve done that before with demos, where I’ve forgotten how to play them but I really liked the song, and I’ll pick up my guitar to remember how to play it and I’m like, Oh, really? It’s that stupid song?. I learned to appreciate it anew because I didn’t realize what song it was, and then I remembered what song it was and I liked it less. But that’s how other people might hear your music, so that’s kind of an interesting exercise.
Michael: Yeah, I’ve found that already. Yesterday I went back to listen to a couple of them and I didn’t even remember doing them. It was like a weird fugue state, or something, which is stressful. It makes me wonder if I’m losing my memory. But I guess that’s just what happens when you have to work so quickly.
Brian: Imagine being in the major label era when your A&R rep would be pressuring you to make a record — it would be harder to stand behind it. But nowadays, we can take to long to make a record. Maybe there’s an in-between, where we don’t have to make a record under the gun. but we also don’t spend six years doing it like I have.
Michael: Right, and I guess even with the Sauna thing, the EP that you and I worked on, we didn’t spend a lot of time on it — like, it wasn’t years and years and years — but it did feel like we were laboring over it for a time.
Brian: It kind of felt like we compressed all of our laboring into a short amount of time. It felt like we overthought it as much as we could in a tight window. And that may be for the best, because we could have really drawn it out, but we didn’t allow [ourselves] to. We still tried things a million different ways. Remember when you came over and we tried beats through a drum machine, and all these different effects, and then totally threw it all out. We were like, “Ah, this sucks!” and threw it away.
Michael: Yeah, I feel like that happened a lot. [Laughs.]
Brian: But it didn’t take too long. We did that really quickly, we wasted a day. We probably wasted two, three days on that record.
Michael: Yeah, which, I guess all things considered isn’t that bad.
Brian: We’re not afraid to throw something away. A lot of people get precious about it and they have to keep all the bad ideas, but you and I are really good about saying, “That sucks, let’s get rid of it.”
Michael: Yeah, I feel like that’s important. That was something I noticed working with you too — I feel like you can just throw out ideas into the collective air, and then if everyone’s on the same page, you’re just like, “alright!” It’s like ego-less songwriting. It’s just like, “This is an idea, let’s try it. Oh, that doesn’t work, that’s awful? Let’s throw it out.” And no one’s worried that they’re gonna seem uncool or lesser than because they put out this idea.
Brian: Sometimes it’s [about] having a horse in the race, where somebody holds onto an idea not because it’s a good idea, but because it’s their idea. I think it’s important to parse through that and say, “Well, we tried, and it was a lame horse.”
Michael: Yeah, exactly. So you’re working on a Dusted record out East. Are you working on a new Holy Fuck record?
Brian: The Holy Fuck record’s done, and now we’re in the slow fall to the finish line where it’s kind of out of our hands, management has the record and really like it, and we’re just trying to think of the best logistic way to release it. But we really like it. We’re going on tour with Hot Chip, Alexis [Taylor] is gonna do a song with us every night. Until I’m on stage with that band, I feel like I’ve kind of mentally put it out of my mind. I’ve had so much other stuff going on, I kind of forced myself to compartmentalize it a little bit. Maybe to a fault, because I’m almost forgetting about Holy Fuck right now.
Michael: Soon we’ll get together and hopefully whittle down however many demos I’ve gotten, we’ll make another Sauna record.
Brian: Yeah! I’m really excited about those demos because I’ve got three days of driving coming up this week, so I’ll have lots of time to listen to them. And when I get back to Toronto at the end of this month, you and I can get together and talk about these ideas. I’m glad you keep firing these ideas out there. It makes my job easy.
Michael: Yeah, totally. I’m looking forward to it.
Brian: I want to congratulate you on your video, it was really cool to watch. I like the old school animation techniques— what is that called, a zoetrope kind of thing?
Michael: Yeah, Dan Tahmizian, the director, came up with that concept and he just shot us for a couple hours and then spent days and days and days chopping up frames and stills from what he shot and creating this, like, 3D platform that just kind of kept scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. It’s amazing to see. I was blown away when I saw it.
Brian: I really appreciate videos like that because there’s that synesthetic quality — it’s almost how we picture music. There’s many ways to picture music, as a space, as movement, as imagery, and it captures the movement of the song.
Michael: Yeah. When making the record I was really inspired by the Russian Suprematism art movement, which is all very simple. [Kazimir] Malevich, I believe, is the father of that movement and he had this amazing piece of video art that I showed Dan. I was like, “This is what really inspired the music,” because it’s so simple, it’s two to three parts — Sauna is bass, drums, synth, and we’re trying to do as much as we can with as little as possible. So Dan took that and put it through his mind and I think he made a really interesting video that doesn’t look like a lot of things that you can see these days.
Brian: I think it’s cool, because we talk about how computers have simplified everything, but at the same time, we still labor over everything. We still spend hours and hours and hours with a keyboard and mouse staring at a screen. And when you think about it, it’s probably not much more time [saved] than if you were to do it the old-fashioned way of stop animation. It’d be interesting to see how people could combine those mediums.
Michael: Yeah, using modern technology, but then also using old techniques and just getting the best out of both worlds.