Interview with Scott Munro (Preoccupations) – Part 2
No More Workhorse caught up with guitarist Scott Munro of Preoccupations ahead of their European tour. This is Part 2 of the interview, Part 1 is here.
You must be pleased to get back out and tour.
It’s nice to see friends and go places again. We did a tour last year, too, but that one was still in the thick of it. There was a lot more stuff to do, COVID tests when we were crossing the border and we weren’t really seeing anybody when we were on tour. We’d see the odd person, see our very dear friends a couple of times, but there were no people hanging out backstage, whereas normally we’d have a couple of our friends. It was definitely nice to be back out and to see some people and try some of the new songs out. I feel like we’ve been playing the same songs for a bunch of time because we hadn’t had a new record on the last couple of tours. At the beginning of a tour, we’ll always go through a couple of the records and say, maybe we could play this song or maybe we can play this song, try to retire a couple of the old ones and maybe bring in one new song that we’ve barely played before. But then again, as I was saying before, some of the songs work better in a live context. Whereas I feel like with this record, the songs all work pretty well in a live context.
You tour in Europe next month (February, 2023), is that right?
That is right. We start in the Netherlands on February 1, and then, to be totally honest, I’m pretty foggy about the exact schedule. I know we’re going quite far east in Europe playing a bunch of places we’ve never played before, which will be fun. And then we’re doing a bunch of dates in England and Scotland, which I’m quite excited about. We haven’t been back there in quite a while. We haven’t played in Glasgow since I think since the Viet Cong record. I remember playing at a venue that was in the basement, I think. Honestly, I’m stoked to go back to Glasgow. I love Scotland. That’s where all my ancestors are from. But they all live in Canada now, pretty much.
You guys released the album yourselves?
Yeah, we did. We still put it out on Flemish Eye in Canada, but in the rest of the world, we released it ourselves. We were out of our contract with Jagjaguwar and we figured it was time to try something a little different. Mostly we’d finished the record already by the time we were figuring it out. We shopped it around a little bit too – we had talked about putting it out ourselves since we started recording it, but then Matt wanted to see what the situation was (with other labels). So we sent it around to a few labels and we got a couple of offers, but none of them were really what we were after. We ended up signing a distribution deal with this company called Red Eye and then doing it that way. So we were the label, technically, and then they distributed it if you want to get it at a store, which has been really handy. They’ve honestly been fantastic. They’ve done a great job. We hired this company called Rare Form to help us plan the rollout.
We played around with so many different ideas where we thought, should we put it out on bandcamp only? We talked about that for months. Or maybe we press 500 LPs and then we put it out on bandcamp digitally only? Once we’d been talking about that, we thought we should try to do a proper release and see how it goes. The record was done. We didn’t need an advance to go into the studio or anything like that. We’d done all the work already, we just needed to press the records, so we went for it. So, honestly, I don’t know if it’s better or worse than putting it out with a label. It was definitely a lot more work! Although, to be fully honest, Matt did most of the work. I sort of liaise on all the recordings, I record the records, and me and Matt produce the records. He’s more on the big picture side of it and I’m more on the details side of it. Then me and our drummer Mike organise all the touring, although in Europe we hired a tour manager. But Matt did most of the heavy lifting as far as actually getting the record released, which I think was maybe a little detrimental on his sanity. Although he did a fantastic job.
I think there’s still a certain amount of people that want to buy an album. Do you still buy music yourself?
Oh yeah, I buy music a lot. Probably 90% of the music I buy is me and my friend Evan going to this record store that’s halfway between our houses, and going through all the used vinyl there. They always have a New Arrivals bin in the used section. Then I also buy records at shows all the time. Whenever I go to see local bands in Montreal then I’ll buy something. Cassette is actually my preferred medium, mostly because I can just slip it in my pocket. Although I do have quite a lot of records, too. But honestly, given the choice, I’ll buy the cassette every time. I guess it’s also because I’m right at that age where I remember buying Nirvana – Nevermind on cassette from HMV or whatever. In the early 90s cassette was king.
It was the cheapest way to buy anything.
Yeah, totally. I had a really nice deck, too, a Panasonic Walkman, essentially. A little portable cassette deck and I had all my cassettes. It was the best. I’m still a little bit nostalgic to that medium. Plus, they do tend to be cheaper. I like that I can throw it in my pocket at the gig and carry it around. I don’t have to bring a bag or buy a bag or have a record that I’m holding for the rest of the night. Records in my house take up quite a lot of space. Probably a quarter of my living room furniture is meant for holding records!
Can you tell me what artists have been really important to you over the years?
For our band, the one that early on brought us together was This Heat. I remember me and Matt both found This Heat separately when they put out that CD box set in the early or mid-2000s. We had both got that box set separately when we were younger and got super into it. That band is still a constant source of inspiration for me, as far as the boldness of the recordings and the way the vocal harmonies are on the songs. They’re one of the perfect bands for me.
I feel like we take a lot of a lot of influence from The Cure too, or Echo and the Bunnymen, those are the two big ones as far as melodramatic goth stuff goes. The Cure is one of my favourites, they’ve got so many different kinds of records. Whatever mood I’m in, there’s a Cure record that fits that mood. And that’s a rare thing to say about a band where so many bands just do one thing. They do lots of things well and they always sound like The Cure. They’re one of the perfect bands, in my opinion. Robert Smith’s singing is outrageously good, and he’s maintained it through all the records. We saw them live when we played at Sasquatch Festival in Washington State. This was a few years ago. We played that festival and we stayed for the whole weekend, camping in tents for fun. The Cure played one of the nights and seeing or hearing Robert Smith sing it was like, oh, yeah, he’s still got it. I feel like that’s always the defining factor when you see what is essentially a legacy act it’s always, oh, can the singer still do the ‘thing’? And Robert Smith could still do the ‘thing’ perfectly. He sounded the same as when he was in that live video of them when they were 16 or 17 years old. They’re playing A Forest and they sound exactly the same. His voice sounds exactly the same. Phenomenal songwriter, beautiful keyboard playing.
What about the Canadian music scene?
There’s a bunch of great bands in Canada. I play in my partner’s band, her name is Marlaena Moore and we made a record over the lockdown. This was unfortunate timing for her, but she put out a record in March of 2020 that was produced by our old buddy Chad Van Gaalen. Me and Matt used to play in his band for years. She and I made a record over the pandemic, over the early part of the lockdown. We did a little tour last summer and we’ve played a few shows here lately. It’s a rock band, I don’t know what else to describe it as. We made a pretty strange record, but we’ve been playing it live a little more straight up. She plays bass and sings and then I play guitar. We’ve had a couple of different drummers, actually. Mike from Preoccupations played drums on about half the record. My good friend from college Chris Dadge played drums on the rest of it and he plays in Chad VanGaalen’s band. He also played drums on all those Alvvays records.
Marlaena Moore put out a video pretty recently for a song called Pacer that’s off the new record.
The VanGaalen record has a really great video for a song called I Miss You. I’ve seen this Montreal band called The Painters a bunch of times recently, they sound like The Byrds. That seems to be the vibe in Montreal these days. Everybody’s getting the jangle back on, but in an old school way. Jangly guitar is the best. I still love it after all these years. I played bass and guitar last year on a record by this Calgary artist named Samantha Savage Smith. I played in her live band for a while, too. She made a pretty trippy rock record. It’s pretty psychedelic. She’s a fantastic singer.
There are tons of great bands in Canada. It’s hard to even narrow it down. Toronto has a really beautiful scene right now. We played some shows with this band Hot Garbage recently that are a psychedelic band. Toronto has a big psychrock scene right now. The east coast or the eastern side of Canada is where I’m living, so it’s easier for me to find bands out there. I feel like it sort of goes back and forth a little bit. Like when we were starting Preoccupations, Calgary had a big post punk scene going on, but then most of the bands moved away, to Montreal or Toronto. The scenes have little waves like that where something good will pop up and a bunch of bands will come out of it that are all in a similar style. And then maybe one or two of those will carry on, and then the rest of the people move on to whatever the next thing is.
Have you many other interests outside music?
I jog and I do some photography and make some visual art of that sort of ilk. Although I’m doing it slowly these days. I run a recording studio with my partner Marlene. I co run it with my friend Rena Kozak, who used to be Preoccupations’ live sound engineer. She mixed us for years for the blue Preoccupations record and for the New Material tours and is a fantastic sound engineer. She and I run the studio here and produce and engineer a bunch of stuff. We do some live sessions for the internet. I produce some commercial music. Me and Matt scored a film called Man Running by this guy, Gary Burns out of Calgary. Rena does a bunch of work like that, too. We run a repair shop out of the studio too. So I’m fixing amps and synthesisers. Honestly, that’s almost my hobby. I was going to say I’ve been trying to build some guitars, although saying that I’m building them is a pretty grandiose! I’m taking a bunch of guitars that are broken and putting them back together into formations that work.
I’ve been doing a bunch of work like that, doing guitar setups and fixing keyboards and finally trying to learn about electronics. I’ve been dicking around with that stuff since I was a teenager, but now I feel like in the last few years I finally know enough about it that I’m successfully doing things. I try to keep myself busy. I don’t do too well with waiting around, it stresses me out.
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