by Laura Stanley
While the contemporary sonic landscape is deluged with vaporwave, “slacker” sounds, and multi-genre music that fits under the blanket description “chill,” Montreal pop-rock band Look Vibrant is decidedly un-chill. The band take a maximalist approach to their sonic building and so their releases, including their latest, The Up Here Place, are rambunctious and move vertiginously from one beat to the next.
“We think about how to make the song unique or how to flip it on its head so that it’s not a normal indie pop or indie rock song,” Look Vibrant’s Matt Murphy says. “What elements can we bring out that make it stand out or be interesting for us?”
Look Vibrant began as a two-piece between Matt and his childhood friend Justin Lazarus. The pair met at an acting camp in Toronto where Justin, as an act of “friend flirting,” hid Matt’s lunchbox. Matt participated in this game of hide-and-seek and they have been friends ever since. In 2013 when the pair were in Montreal going to school, they released two, two track cassettes, Plateau and Sweater In The Lake. Justin and Matt later met Alex Rand and drummer Eli Kaufman who joined the band. Together they released Only Qualms in 2015, a notably slicker EP.
After three years of toiling away in studio and reflecting on their sonic aesthetic, Look Vibrant released their debut full-length record, The Up Here Place, earlier this month. The 2013 releases and Only Qualms present us with the two sides of Look Vibrant: the cluttered and the clean. The Up Here Place occupies the middle ground; it is organized chaos and is the band’s most coherent proclamation yet.
Standout track “Last One To Survive” dazzles and screeches and is fueled with a seemingly bottomless reserve of energy so when Matt states, “I will be the last one to survive,” it does seem likely that he will outlast everybody. On another winner, “Numb Your Spirit,” each of the track’s layers wildly shake with energy, my favourite is the sparkling synth undercurrent that gets more powerful in the second verse. Altogether these layers make for a bounty of goodness, especially for those with, as Look Vibrant markets their music towards, “eager ears.”
“You got to freak out sometimes,” Eli says about their energetic nature. “Our music is for people who want to freak out.”
We chat with Eli, Alex, and Matt together by phone on a Monday morning earlier this month to talk music making, ambition, and their new record.
Immediately from the first releases in 2013, you can hear the band’s interest in complex music but then your sounds smooths out a bit in Only Qualms. What has the sonic journey been like for the band?
Matt: Speaking as somebody who followed it through since the very beginning until now, I think it has been good and bad. I think there were some tumultuous periods involved. The transition between the first cassettes in 2013 to the Only Qualms EP was sort of crazy because when Justin and I released the first cassette, we didn’t expect anyone at all to listen or to care whatsoever. That set up a pressure for the next thing we were going to release. I had been talking to a lot of people in Montreal and some people were confused by the approach of the cassettes or thought it was just noise. They were wondering if we could record something that wasn’t just crazy and noisy and super layered. I think we wanted to experiment in making something that was clean and a little more hi-fi and direct for better or worse. So Only Qualms came out and that was a very polished sounding EP. I think for a long time we didn’t look back on to that EP very fondly. We were a bit disappointed with how it turned out but now that more time has gone by, I think we have learned to appreciate it a bit more.
For [The Up Here Place], the band started becoming really involved. Alex and Eli and our producer Andrew [David] played a huge roll in the album. All the instruments were tracked in a studio as opposed to having software drums and software synths, we had real everything which was a different approach. I think we are quite happy with how the album turned out in the end.
Alex: I think that with Only Qualms it went too far into the polished world and then with this album, it sounds studio recorded and everything but it still has that noise element to it which I’m really happy with. It kind of toes the line in a way that I’m satisfied with.
You mentioned that you have mixed feelings about Only Qualms. Is that because you felt it was too polished and strayed away from what you want?
Matt: Yeah, I think ultimately that was exactly it. We took a lot of feedback from a bunch of people and we took that feedback to heart and didn’t necessarily follow exactly what we wanted to do and we were confused. We felt the need to make something polished and really clean even though ultimately that wasn’t what Justin and I wanted to do at the time. If I were to go back and relive that experience now, Justin and I would probably made something noisy and a bit more weirder
So the key is to not listen to other people.
Matt: I think the feedback from other people was wonderful and if we had a bit more confidence in ourselves, we would have used that feedback to influence more of our own decisions but I think that all we did was listen to what other people were saying and we didn’t trust our own visions or have too much confidence in ourselves at the time. I think we let other people’s opinions propel us to a magnificent extent. To the point where I think we lost our own voices in the process.
You released “Sweater in the Lake,” the first track from the new LP, in 2013. What was the time frame like writing and recording The Up Here Place?
Matt: It was definitely a long, long, long process. We made some failed attempts in the summer of 2015 and none of us were really in the right head-space to be doing it at the time. So we just scraped what was recorded. We kept plowing along and then really started the process in summer 2016. It was a super long process. We were doing everything track by track so it wasn’t like the full band was in the room and we were recording live off the floor. It was like a hundred tracks per song. Our producer Andrew, who kind of acts like our fifth member of the band, he has been a godsend in the process because he has his own studio set up and that’s where we tracked everything. He has a bunch of amazing equipment and his ears are incredibly sensitive so he helped us through this long three year process and made everything sound good and was really patient with us.
Eli: I think it was definitely a learning experience on how to make an album, especially an album with 100 tracks on each song. I’ve made albums with other bands but it was simpler but trying to do this at that scale was a learning process so I think we know how to execute it much quicker which is kind of exciting as well.
The album is about growing up and navigating young adulthood and I read that each song presents an exaggerated aspect of Matt or Justin’s personality. What drew you, Matt, to explore that part of you or those “what could happen” moments?
Matt: That was something that Justin and I noticed after we had written all the songs. We thought, “oh hey, every character in each of these songs is just a hyper-exaggerated aspect of ourselves that we don’t like.” On “My Old City,” that’s about an entitled asshole type of character who died and goes to heaven but he’s not happy in heaven either with all the things he likes and he’s apathetic and bored. That was a shot at the apathy and irony of hipster culture and how there’s a lot of entitled, really privilege people, like myself, who seemingly don’t care about anything and even if they die and are given everything they want, they wouldn’t be satisfied. I’m digging at myself.
In a press release about the album, it says, “Thematically, the album is an exploration of naive ambition, the constant need to reach ever growing heights, and the inevitable sharp drop that comes in its wake.” What’s naive ambition and how does it differ from regular old ambition?
Matt: I think the naive ambition refers to the recording process we were talking about earlier. Recording 100 tracks for each song, knowing that the music isn’t really popular or what’s in right now and spending three years on a record for no apparent reason. Making the process way more meticulous than it needs to be and having that dream that somebody is going to listen to this and care. I think that the naive ambition propelled us to keep going and finish the record as oppose to being more realistic.
So it’s a good thing!
Matt: Yeah, I guess! Ultimately.