No More Workhorse caught up with guitarist Scott Munro of Preoccupations ahead of their European tour.
Preoccupations European Tour starts in February. Sadly, there are no Irish dates!
The new album is great. When did you start working on it?
SM: We started working on it in November of 2019. Me, Matt (Flegel) and Danny (Christiansen) got together at my studio in Montreal and started working on some demos. We’d done a bunch of really rough work in the year before that, playing around with some ideas. Around late fall of 2019, we got together and started making some proper demos. We took a little Christmas break and reconvened in January and started working on recording stuff properly. Mike (Wallace) was out here then, too, and so we tracked all the ‘bed tracks’ at the studio here and then finished the bulk of the record. Nearly all the drums and most of the guitars and the bass. Then we took a little break. I was going on tour with my partner in February, so then we thought, ‘oh, we’ll get back together in March’.
And then everything closed down, and we shut it down. Me and Matt kept talking for months and months about getting together and when we’d be able to get together and do it. Eventually, after nine months had gone by, me and Matt eventually thought, ‘I guess we should start finishing it’. I sent him a bunch of the tracks. He has a studio space in New York that’s like a little basement dungeon. He started working on vocals and I was playing around with some keyboards. I was staying in my parent’s basement because I was in Calgary to go on tour. And then everything shut down and I ended up living there for a year and a half!
Me and Matt sent stuff back and forth. He’d sing on a track and then send it to me and then I’d do some vocals or keyboards or he’d send me some guitar. We went back and forth for a while and then eventually we sent it to Graham Walsh and got it mixed and then it was done.
Did it make it more difficult or was it a bit simpler making it this way?
Honestly, in a way, it was a bit simpler. Some of the early recordings that we’d done, like that song March of Progress, off the Viet Cong record, we recorded a bunch at my home studio and then Matt took it to his place and recorded the vocals at his place. We’d done a few tracks like that before where Matt had done the vocals separately. Recording vocals is kind of embarrassing in a way, right?! I think it’s nice for Matt to have a bit of space to try a bunch of shit and not worry too much about whether it sounds cool when he’s working on it.
When we were working on the New Material record, we were renting the studio in Montreal. When it came time to record vocals, I would literally set Matt up with a microphone and then leave for the day and let him try out a few things. Then I’d come back and record the last couple of takes after he had an idea what was going on. As far as my parts go, our method of recording is always to do the maximum amount of things and decide later whether or not it’s any good or not. So I was going by that same vibe where it was like, try a bunch of shit and then some of it works and some of it doesn’t. Or maybe it works as a background layer or whatever. I feel like for me and Matt, it was nice to have a bit of time to sit with it. Whereas New Material was done in the midst of doing other stuff, Viet Cong and the blue Preoccupations (self-titled) record were both written when we had a lot of time. We recorded the blue Preoccupations record in the middle of a bunch of tours. We had most of that material worked out already because we’d had a bunch of time before the Viet Cong record actually came out.
I feel this record was like going back to the old days in the sense that I had time to sit with the songs for a long time and think about what may be needed. Or try recording backup vocals for two days, and then throw them all out. Which is a luxury that I hadn’t had in years, to be able to try a bunch of stuff, knowing that maybe none of it would work!
It seems to be more of a guitar record than New Material, was that the approach you were going for this time?
SM: I don’t know if it was so orchestrated. We did talk about having a guitar record again. I feel it was like when we did the Viet Cong record, we were touring and we were playing those songs all the time. And then we got into keyboards. Honestly, on the Blue Preoccupations record, I don’t think I played any guitar except for on maybe one or two songs. Danny played most of the guitars on that record and then a bunch of stuff that sounds like guitar is just sampler! The same on New Material. There’s a bunch of guitar on that record, but we would always do this thing where we would write the guitar part and then try to play it on keyboards and let them have a little shootout on what sounded the best in the context of the song. There’s something nice and viscerally physical about guitar, it’s nice and… punchy at a show. It sounds good and it’s loud and nice. Me and Danny are both running the keyboards through guitar amps on stage now, so it’s got a bit of that same ‘tactileness’. There’s definitely something enjoyable about playing guitar.
I feel like for the blue Preoccupations record and New Material, we were always trying things on keyboards. For this record, we were always trying things on guitar. That song Slowly, when it goes into the end section, that was sort of like a reverse engineer of how we would normally do things. Danny had written that part on keyboard and then it didn’t really work. We were playing around with that song forever. There’s always one song where it’s just bass and drums for months and you’re listening to it and thinking, ‘what else could we do on this song?’ On that one, we had this keyboard part of Danny’s and then I figured it out on guitar one day, playing along while we were listening back to the track. Matt was asking, ‘oh, what’s that’? And I said, ’that’s Danny’s keyboard part, but I figured it out on guitar’. In the past, we would have gone the other way on that sort of thing, but on this record, it seemed like we were trying to have a little more fun with it and think about how we were going to play the songs live.
When we did this last tour of America, we were playing the full record live in the show, which is something that we’ve never done before. There’s always been at least one song on every record, that we probably would never play at a show, so we’ll try them all and see if they work. There’s always one or two that don’t work in a live context. Whereas on this record, I feel like we were going to try to play all these songs at some point. Me and Danny occupy basically the same role in the band, guitar and keyboards. In the studio, we’re always trading back and forth. I’ll try the guitar part and if I can’t play it, then Danny has a try at it. And then if he can’t play it, then I have another try at it. We go back and forth a couple of times. Maybe Matt will take a stab at it too. Who plays the guitar, keyboards or whatever on any song on the record doesn’t matter, whoever can do it, does it and then we figure it out for live later. With this record, we were thinking about how we would maybe play the songs at a show, which is something that we’ve never really considered since the Viet Cong record. But even on that record there’s that song Pointless Experience that we’ve only played once or twice, but it’s never been a live song. Newspaper Spoons we played for a while but it wasn’t designed to be played at a show, per se.
Which of the new tracks do you enjoy playing the most?
Honestly, they’ve all been going pretty good. I would say we’ve pulled the song Advisor off. The B- side has come together into a pretty interesting thing. We sort of reimagined some aspects of it, although not in any sort of drastic way. We’re using different instruments to make some of the sounds, but that one has turned out really well. That song Recalibrate too, I’ve been pretty happy with on the last tour. It was pretty difficult! I’ve got a few crazy changes in it. Mike has a lot of heavy lifting to do on that song as far as playing drum parts. He played all those drum parts on the record, but we worked on them, getting him to do a bunch of takes and then sampling the drums together into a part and then getting him to relearn it and play it again. Some of the drum parts are pretty difficult, but he’s played them all. Fix Bayonets! has been really fun too. I really like Matt’s lyrics on it, the way he’s trying to throw all the words possible into the verses.
After this tour when we put out another record, then we won’t play this record in its entirety anymore. But all the songs off the record, I feel are ones that could fit into a future setlist. On the American tour, we’ve been playing the entire record in the order of the album, which is something that we’ve never done before. I feel like we’ll do the same in Europe. We’ve been doing that and then doing a bunch of oldies, a half-and-half set, half the new record and then half oldies.
The interview continues in Part 2…