Incendiary interview Viet Cong

"I can go and buy a banana all year round in the winter. I mean what the fuck is all that about? French royalty in the eighteenth century couldn't get bananas as regularly as me!

 

Let's go back in time to late last year.

It's the Saturday of Le Guess Who? festival. I'm in Ekko, Utrecht, sipping at a red wine and wincing at the taste, as if I've got toothache. I'm hung over to hell and presenting a somewhat laughable figure to the assorted Gents of the Dutch Press. Last night was nuts and involved Loop, cat fights, and talking to a Belgian lunatic. There's a lot of press milling around the Ekko, where Viet Cong are playing later. There's a real sense of expectation. Important articles will be filed later, I have no doubt. Then, the wheels start to roll and we are all detailed a member of the band. I can't be arsed pitching for a member as if they were a unit on the stock exchange and mosey about at the back, waiting to be allotted one. Sure, whoever. Whoever fancies talking to me. Funnily enough I end up in the band's dressing room, nabbing beer from the fridge and mucking about with the tour manager, bassist and singer Matt Flegel and the genial and witty guitarist, Scott Munro. There's lots of polite, clever banter. It's a thing that Canadians are good at; that sort of firm, friendly, no-nonsense way of socialising that also keeps you in check and watches out for any misdemeanours on your part. After 20 minutes or so I find myself wandering round with Scott Munro, trying to find somewhere to conduct the interview.

I already feel like I can't be arsed watching them later at Ekko. Or ever. Why? Maybe because their LP is possibly the most perfect, classic exercise in alternative guitar rock; at least for now. It has the lot, clanging, chiming guitars, the sense of remove, a sense of purpose. Why spoil that by seeing it in the flesh? I wonder whether I should tell Scott.

I suddenly realise that - in the chaos of the morning just passed - I didn't prepare any questions.

Somehow, luckily, Scott's already in full flow, talking about the tour the band are currently on. It's the usual punishing stretch of everywhere and anywhere.

IN: You American and Canadian bands are always on the road...

SM:We just gotta kick it out otherwise it won't happen.

IN: The North American work ethic.

SM: I guess, it's just what you do, otherwise you'd be sat around at home bored, you know?

IN: Let's talk about your record. I like it a lot. It's almost like a summation of every great guitar record!

(Both laugh)

IN: No, no,if you said to a guitar band, any old band, "you could make one record and then split up tomorrow", I bet a lot would want to make something like this.

SM:Yeah I felt like it was that too... but it all happened kinda quick - making the record itself. I mean all the songs on the record had been demo'd by the time we'd worked on that second EP. We'd recorded everything at that point, basically. And we had it ready, but our manager Ian said, "I think it can be better". Maybe we should re-record it. So we said okay. And he suggested our friend Graham Walsh from Holy Fuck, who's a friend of ours through his wife Julie. She used to play in the Chad van Gaalen band with me and Matt and she is like, Toronto's session ace.

...So yeah we decided to have a real go at it, and we did it in about five days.

IN: Bleedin' heck that's quick.

SM: But we brought a bunch of stuff in too, and tried out different spaces; like Newspaper Spoons is fully recorded at my house and March of Progress was recorded at my house, and the rest was all had full demos. Only one song, Silhouettes, was  a sketch.

IN: So it was like a fully formed statement; you were able to go "this is what it should be" in one fell swoop. No tortured genius stuff.

SM: Yeah pretty much. And I feel it came out really good. And it's well mixed, and mastered and it's done now!

(Both laugh)

IN: And now everyone's going to define you by this record for ever, or at least the next six months.

SM: Yep!

IN: Isn't that weird though, you do something, it's a definite full stop on a period of creativity for you, and you can't repeat it, and you will now be defined by it when you have moved on.

SM: No...well yeah, I mean for me personally I feel that that's great! I record bands in Calgary. Of course I like playing shows and touring, but making records is the thing. That's the piece of art. So I'm happy with that. It does take a certain amount of time to make it, making out how the songs will sound. So it's fine that it's defined by others. And we can stretch it in between times. Like we have - Matt and I - have already demoed the next record. I mean there's no point in hanging around.

IN: It's a very determined record, and spiky. I like the mix; especially the uncompromising bits, the long drawn out bits which are balanced against a poppy refrain. This has no sense of compromise.

SM: Nope!

IN: So I'm fascinated to know how you as a band work out things. You've made another record but in a way you're missing a trick by not splitting up now! You've made the perfect record, the ultimate art joke record. Why not call it a day.... as in now?

SM: Ach I dunno ...I mean we're just like... look I think we've all been in a lot of bands. And there's no point.... no point in making music that other people are gonna like. You can only make music that people think is good. Look I just wanna make a record that I would want to listen to. So I don't know about worrying about anything new. I personally think the new songs we are working on a way better!

(Both laugh)

....And we are getting into keyboards with the new records, so there will be changes. But I'm looking forward to touring this record. There are a few we need to work out and that's always fun to do.

IN: I missed your Amsterdam show (at some shoe shop for modern people I can't remember the name of, doubtless called a sneaker store or something, I think it was a show put on by the excellent Red Light Radio crew) so I was wondering how your songs would translate live.

SM: Ach, the Amsterdam show was a bit dodgy for me. We flew all day that day, from Calgary to London, missed our flight to Amsterdam, then caught a later flight. Anyway we got to the venue and started drinking beer and smoked a joint, and I plugged into an amp that I'd never used before and cranked it out and it was LOUD. I mean I've played some loud shows before but this one was loud, and in a tiny room. Which is always how it is... It was a good show to do though. You know? But logistics were crazy...

IN: Ach it sounds fun Scott! At least you've got the spirit to do it. There are far too many people who worry about that prep stuff nowadays. Have you ever read Eye Mind? The book about the 13th Floor Elevators? One of the best rock books going. And they talk about the Elevators routinely getting to a venue, plugging in and bashing out their show.

SM: Yeah! Sometimes those shows are fantastic. At festivals you do that, plug into the amp and go. I think that Amsterdam show was a pain because I didn't sleep on the flight over. I know Matt didn't sleep... By the time I got on stage I had probably been awake for 30 solid hours. And then drinking through it. For me it was bad... I felt that I played bad, my gear didn't work, no time to trouble shoot.... And someone filmed it too! So you can all watch it for the rest of eternity!

(Both laugh)

IN: Let's go back to the LP. I thought the lyrics were funny on the record, like travelogues; conjuring up visions of places and things. And lots of suggestive, gnomic couplets. Very 1980s, like the Associates or Simple Minds... throwing up strange imagery.

SM: That's down to Matt; you'll have to ask him. I'm not much of a lyric writer. If it was down to me or anyone else there would be NO lyrics on ANY songs. (Laughs) But I dunno... we're all into  the dystopian, sci-fi stuff and I know Matt writes stuff all the time. We all have dark sense of humour. And I know Matt has this dark sense of irony, about how ridiculous life is, about how we are here, talking about all this nonsense with you... And then you run into people every day who take it so seriously. I run into bands all the time who take it so seriously. I mean I keep saying you're playing in a rock band right now! Don't worry about it!

I've worked at all kinds of crazy jobs... and I really believe that enjoying yourself is a decision you have to make. And there's tons of crazy dark stuff in life... if you can't laugh at that you're not human.

IN: It also felt like a joker's record. I mean, I was looking at the records and one minute I was thinking, God, you pretentious arses, and the next minute I was laughing at some of the lines because they were so funny.  Canadians are very sarcastic aren't they?

SM: Yeah Canadians are. I remember Matt telling me about some lesson he had at school.  And their  teacher was asking the class what the English language was missing, and Matt says we need a sarcasm mark (laughs)...

... and regarding the record, the listener can take the record as seriously as they want. It's down to them.   And I guess it's like some of the songs are serious in a way. But something can be serious but it's not like the sermon on the mount it's a rock record. And I love rock records; my most favourite things in the whole world are rock records. But yeah...

Ach you know, it's hard to be upset about anything. As a Canadian it's hard to be upset about anything. Because my life is probably better than most people's lives have been for all of human time (both laugh). I can go and buy a banana all year round in the winter. I mean what the fuck is all that about? French royalty in the eighteenth century couldn't get bananas as regularly as me!

(Both laugh)

We're living like kings right now...

IN: With better dental care.

SM: Of course there is still shit going on and there are terrible problems in the world, but my life is ridiculously easy, and generally most people like me in North America have very little to complain about.

IN: And yet artists feel the need to make sense of the world... But there is no sense in these equations of what's good and what's bad. It shifts over time and place, constantly. Funnily enough I'm staying with a friend and she's found a book in a jumble sale; a Dutch book from the early 40s, called something like the True Adolf Hitler, and inside it's got a whole set of pictures of Adolf playing with a dog and tickling a baby. And there's another refraction of what was perceived to be, or promoted as "good" in one place and at one time.

SM: I like plenty of music that plenty of people don't like. And I hate modern country music.. I Calgary everybody loves that shit. And I think it's the worst, most banal garbage that's ever been produced by any person in society.

IN: Why don't you lot make one then?

SM: What, like a modern country record?

IN: Yeah that'd be fucking class.

SM: Oh man that'd be like... I think I'd have to commit suicide afterwards, it'd be a reckless end. Mandatory suicide.

IN: Just change your identity. Do it like the Residents put a mask on, no-one would know! Go on!

SM: Oh man... I played in an indie folk/pop band with some buddies in Canada and we thought we could write that music at the same time as our own, and sell the cheesiest hooks and riffs off to the country bands but hey who am I to complain? Maybe country's the greatest form of artistic expression that's ever existed. But hey it's like Guns and Roses. I love them around appetite for destruction but others in our band hate 'em.

...You read that Slash book? It's crazy. You need to get it.

IN: Did you know Slash digs Dutch ULTRA band Minny Pops? And Slash invited them to support Slash So you have this art synth band, with a nerdy post-punk vocals, opening up for Slash.

SM: Oh my word.

After this we both end up swapping "post-punk" notes, mostly round Bauhaus and Julian Cope solo LPs.It's cool. Then the interview is broken up, the band are busy and there's a queue of eager reporters. I decide to go and nab more beer from the fridge. Typically these Cannucks don't seem to mind, and I end up eating their cheese sandwiches and sipping their beer as  a succession of interviews are politely conducted. I miss the show. Still, I'm not sure that actually matters.