Jacques Greene x Gorilla vs. Bear takeover: Blue Hawaii interview
Blue Hawaii are a great band from Montreal composed of Raphaelle Standell-Preston, who also plays in Braids, and Alex Cowan. After a four-year hiatus they are finally coming back to release Tenderness on Arbutus later this year. I’ve loved this band for quite some time and thought it would be a perfect time to catch up with both of them on Skype. — Jacques Greene
JG: If I can just record the output of my computer.
Alex: Record the video too.
JG: Oh yeah, I sent you this message before… I was downloading this app called “Call Note”… I’m staying at my friends house who has really good wifi but for some reason this one app is still taking like 20 minutes to download…
Alex: Looks like we’re going to have to do this the old fashion way.
JG: *laughs* Anyways, thanks for agreeing to do this guys.
Raph: I don’t even know what we’re agreeing to do. I just knew that we were talking.
Alex: Raph’s in Newfoundland right now.
Raph: I’m in Newfoundland.
JG: That’s great, how long are you out there for?
Raph: 4 days? 5 days? Just kind of in and out, but just long enough to be a vacation.
JG: Where are you Alex?
Alex: I’m at the studio right now.
JG: In LA?
Alex: No, in Montreal actually.
JG: I feel like a bunch of people in our universe have been migrating to LA.
Raph: Ever since Trump got elected.
JG: *laughs* All of a sudden it’s like such a weird proposition. I left America right as the elections started, or it was starting to be weird. But it was a thing where I was like, “I think I’m okay with not living in America anymore”
Raph: Yeah, I think that is a choice a lot of people are making just to say that they’re not aligned with it.
JG: If you’re an American citizen, the amount of people who are on facebook who say, “That’s it I’m moving to Canada”. That’s like, I don’t really know about that, I think if you’re smart and disagree with Trump you’re kind of more needed to stay to fight that fight and everything. But I think for us, we’re freelancing creatives, we can kind of get up and live anywhere. The decision to live in America, is one that’s kind of hard to justify.
Alex: Yeah it’s almost like you want to make it a little less cool or something if you can.
JG: Yeah I feel very comfortable to treat it as a place where I feel like I’m working and visiting friends or whatever and then I’m like, “Alright, I’m out”. Arms distance, you know like a crazy friend you have really wild nights with. You know, it’s like, I don’t want to hang out with you all the time.
Raph: Yeah, the immigration website crashed the night after the election.
JG: Yeah that’s crazy. I have a friend who’s like a graphic designer guy. His O1 was up for renewal and he still hasn’t done it because he was like, “Logically I can’t bring myself to A. bring the Department of Immigration thousands of dollars”. Like of all the parts of the American government departments to give to as a foreign national, like that’s insane. He was also like, “I know I should be doing it and I’m missing out on clients and some important time, but like the professional steps to get that done were so hard to justify”.
Raph: One way to look at it is that there are still good people down there who need to have a good time and need to have good art and should be allowed to have that. So that’s like one rationalization.
JG: Oh totally, Americans have boycotted their own states and crazy legislatures in the past. I don’t know, if Arizona had some hateful law that harmed the LGBQT community, I feel like that makes me want to play there more and have one night of safe space for those people. I’m with you. When shit kind of hits that fan in places, that’s when the arts and things are a really great, really important thing.
JG: So I’m playing this show that website is curating/putting together with Lanza and stuff. You know Gorilla Vs Bear? its one of the few blogs that still exists. They were like do you want to guest curate some posts *laughs* and I was like, “sure”.
Raph: “We’re tired of running this website would you run it for us?” (Ed. note: pretty much)
JG: Pretty much, so I’m doing it and I wanted to write and report about Montreal and new things that are exciting to me like Denis Villeneuve going to Hollywood and shit like that. And then I was also like, “Oh my god, you guys just wrote this new album and I’m a fan, I’m so excited,” how are you guys doing? It’s been 4 years since the last one?
JG: Holy Shit! Getting the gang back together, how’s it feeling?
Alex: We took some time off after our last record cause Raph and I had split up or whatever, but we always wanted to keep doing music so it never faded away completely. But yeah we kinda started just doing it casually and slowly in LA and we went to Whistler, BC and started doing it there, had this cabin.
JG: What’s going on in Whistler, is there a studio out there?
Raph: It’s a really little cute 70’s cabin, little bungalow thing and it’s by a lake and we seshed in the living room.
JG: That sounds so opposite of the description of your music that I’ve read in your press release or whatever and the photo’s of slick people looking at iphones and stuff. A log cabin is so removed from that. Is the record about that dichotomy?
Raph: I was just in like a couple different long distance relationships via facebook messenger mostly and just realised how toxic it was and how it gave this whole other element to the relationship that was very difficult to navigate because it’s a very new form of communication. I think that holds a lot more, I want to say energy even though that’s really hippy sounding, but it just holds a lot more potential for disaster from miscommunication than we come to realize. Especially when we try to navigate a romantic relationship. So, I remember when even I was in Whistler and we were having such a good time, I was on my phone so much talking to this one partner and it was really taking away from my trip and being in the moment and so I reflected on the relationships that weren’t working and how they were making me feel, and also the intersection of technology and that and how it was very much taking away my ability to enjoy my surroundings. Instead I was worried about this little screen and all of it.
JG: That’s really interesting, I’m assuming you guys are relatively the same age as me. I’m 27 and MSN Messenger was such a big thing when we were kids.
Alex: I remember that.
JG: And I remember you’d catch a girl’s eye, and that meant every night you’d be pouring your heart out via MSN messenger. Talking about your upbringing, your hopes, fears and dreams, your parents, etc. The option of text communication as opposed to being an awkward teenager and sitting down with this person and getting to know someone slower and more progressively as opposed to being like “I kinda kissed you once at lunch, and now we’re having 6 hour conversations every night.” is a crazy thing that the internet and text can allow. Because those screens are not only consuming, but they also bring along a different kind of dialogue.
Alex: I think it has to do with timing too. So i was thinking about when you play music in an analog studio with instruments and stuff there isn’t this set clock. But, when you’re doing electronic music there is this set clock that’s happening. So I have this idea that when you’re texting you’re doing it in this digital time, like it’s not like this real life thing when you’re talking to someone and you’re engaging their responses and changing theirs behaviors based on that. So you’re saying whatever you want to say and they’re reading it and there’s this interesting lag that happens digitally that doesn’t happen in an analog space. It just takes a little while to get it across, it doesn’t matter how good the technology is, and it’s interesting because it causes all these layers of misinterpretation and it also enables a lot of communication with people you wouldn’t normally talk to or people you’ve never met before and all this great stuff. It’s interesting because there is two sides to it and that’s kind of this room for error that’s introduced when you have a lot of communication like that.
Raph: I think it also acts as like a mask, especially for people who are more socially awkward in the real world.
JG: The only way I charmed a girl ever in the real world before 20, was to be able to be well spoken on text. IRL was not my domain.
Raph: Yeah, so one of the people I was talking to online, he was so different in real life than online. There was a lot of difficulty in real life vs. digital life, because we’d spent so much time talking on the phone, because we live in different countries. So that’s what the records about.
JG: So I want to know were any of those partners full digital? Like were there any people you’d met and started talking and blossoming fully through the Facebook messenger and then met them later?
Raph: No, I’ve met them always in real life, and then it was about keeping up with the relationship even though we were on different continents.
JG: Yeah totally, my girlfriend dealt with something similar years before we started dating. They had this thing where they had crossed paths once at a party, and this guy hits her up on Facebook and thru seeing they had a couple similar interests they strike up a conversation and then they end up having this facebook messenger chat for months and months and months and she was telling me that she actually fell for him. She was super into this dude and couldn’t wait to meet him and then they finally hung out and it was awful and she was like “fuck this loser”
Raph: The thing is like your mind can create it’s ideal fantasy when you don’t see the person because it’s like your kinda filling in the blanks of everything that’s missing and deciding everything you want this person to be like or what you want there voice to even be like and it’s pretty endless. Yeah, it can be really jarring when you see the person in real life and you’re like “OMG I totally have you wrong”. It’s kind of like a novel that’s being interpreted into a movie. You know, you’re reading The Lord Of The Rings and in the book you imagine Frodo with blond hair and then you see the movie and he has brown hair.
JG: So how does tenderness, as a term and as an idea relate to that?
Raph: It was realizing that I’d gone down this path of giving a lot of myself to these relationships that weren’t giving a lot back to me and trying to learn very literally how to be tender to myself, and the same with Alex. That’s something we’ve been going through a lot for the last 4 years. It’s a constant theme in our lives and in our friendship.
Alex: Yeah, I totally agree with that. It’s also even just in a more general sense, it’s about how to be more tender to each other in a digital sense at all. The Internet can be a very volatile place with a lot of trolling and a lot of hate. Even like beyond person to person relationships, even in group setting and stuff, people use the internet as a mouthpiece for hate a lot of the time too. So it’s the idea of like “how can we both close to each other online” and that kinda plays into the relationship access. It’s like that couple that’s sitting there on the couch together, maybe texting somebody else or even each other or something. It’s this idea that they could be in real life but instead they’re spending most of their time on there phone or whatever.
JG: I get something very Montreal from that. I feel like our music communities, even though they’re different, the Mile End World has often, even with with like Godspeed You Black Emperor like insert records are kinda about that type shit. There has always been like this real world, “we screen print record sleeves and post them” vibe. I feel like Montreal has this ethos/MO that like sense of community instead of digital coldness. I’ve always really enjoyed that of our city. I was on the cover of one of my records on my phone, it was called “Phantom Vibrate”. In a much more abstract way, it was kind of about addressing the same idea of distance and isolation and yet closeness that only the internet has been able to create.
Raph: It’s such a new realm, and it’s so much our lives. We barely understand the effects that it has on our love life and our friendships, it’s very new.
The internet allows a lot of insecurities to flourish, or a lot of our masked anger youtube comments or something. It’s like you would never, ever say that to my face.
JG: Yeah, that’s so true.
Raph: Yet here’s a platform for your darkest mean comments and it’s right under your fingertips so go for it!
JG: Yeah, and you’re posting it as “Asshat47” or some awful name *laughs*
Raph: That’s your name isn’t it Philippe?
JG: Yeah that’s me, it’s “Asshat47”, that’s what I do to blow off steam. But I know people who do that to blow off steam, or used to when they were kids, they’d be fucking trolls. It’s such a weird… I can’t relate to that at all, but it’s out there. Did you guys make any music over the internet?
Raph: Kind of.
Alex: We did in a sense. We didn’t open up Splice or any cloud based collaborative apps. We did use a lot of voice memos, like there’s a lot of interludes on the track and we used the voice memos for that, or voicemails Raph received, or samples we recorded on the train and we did use a lot of stuff from our life and we did a lot of recordings. Raph has a song where she has a diary entry style thing and she started speaking into the phone and we’d email back to ourselves. We used a lot of emailing voices.
JG: I love that you guys made this record about technological distance in person.
Raph: Part of it too though, was about becoming friends again. Because like, we stayed in touch after our breakup, but definitely being in person again together, and seeing where each other are at was a really important process. I think that hugely foundational element to calling it “Tenderness” is learning how to care for one another in a new realm.
JG: That’s awesome. That’s also where the distance from the first record can come in. I just put out my debut album, so it’s also cool to talk you guys about coming out with a sophomore record.
Raph: It’s kind of like our third one, because we had this little free EP that we made.
Alex: It was like a free thing that was only 30 minutes long, and it wasn’t promoted anywhere so it wasn’t an official release.
Raph: So I guess this is our sophomore record?
Alex: We’re small enough that we don’t have people hating on us.
JG: Same actually, every once in awhile I’ll do a vanity google or twitter search on myself to see if anybody really hates my music. I very rarely come across someone being like “You’re trash”. I know it’s not everyone being like “you’re great,” but that always brought me to think about how big an artist has to get to get actual scorn as opposed to just like “ehh not for me”. At what point do you think people start being like, “This band is trash and I need to let people know”.
Raph: That happened on the latest Arcade Fire record, like I read this one article about them and after reading it I was like, “this song sounds like one of the worst in the whole world!” and then I listened to it and it was fine, it was just whatever. But I think it’s because they take up so much space, that people are like “you need to make something better than that if you’re going to occupy that space”
JG: I think it actually ties into themes you were talking about with your record. It seems like you’re approaching modern anxieties and things in a personal and emotional way. Whereas this new Arcade Fire record seems, according to reviews I heard and even the track titles, seems like a cynical exercise. It’s very much like “I’m an old guy, and you’re all just refreshing twitter all the time” and I get it, I understand those frustrations, those are things I think about all the time. So I was like wow kudos for a rock band actually singing about today, and not their own outdated youth experience. When they announced the thing I was giving props to a rock brand addressing internet and modern themes because it’s something we don’t get so much in rock music and band music. I think the Arcade Fire music that worked for me was because it was insanely honest and heart on its sleeve. From what I’ve seen the new record is very wink face.
Raph: I just don’t think you can necessarily continue doing that when you’re constantly comfortable, you’re making like millions of dollars, you have people doing things for you left, right and center. I think it just makes it difficult to relate to everyone else and I feel like they are still trying to do that and it’s like “we’ve called your bluff, you’re not one of us anymore”.
JG: I have no idea how a human being could deal with that amount of pressure. In a weird way especially because they’re a rock band and there are currently so few big, successful rock bands. If you’re selling records as a multi-piece outfit, there’s so much pressure on you to be good, people are so ready to type out the “rock is dead” headlines and by the end it’s like the nails are just sitting there next to the coffin.
Alex: Yeah I saw a funny meme, that said like “Mac Demarco is the only rock band that exists now”
JG: *laughs* Your records is also going for almost DJ cuts and stuff?
Alex: Yeah, I mean I guess. All the songs have brass voice, are really loud and a little melancholic. It’s not too far away from stuff we’ve done in the past in that sense. But, it’s definitely a little more upbeat than anything else we’ve done in some ways.
JG: ‘In Two’ on the last one was so fire, so you guys can definitely venture into that very well.
Alex: It’s definitely a concept record, it’s sort of delicate and stuff. I think the next single we’re gonna put out is kinda like this housey party anthem sorta song.
Raph: It’s a dance anthem kind of thing. You know, you’re at the bar and you’re kind of like “Liiife” and taking a bunch of shots. That’s how I envision it. We’d laugh when we got to the chorus, we’d imagine people like high-fiving and stuff.
JG: Have you guys performed any of these songs live yet?
Raph & Alex: No
JG: Are you guys looking forward to that?
Raph: We haven’t gotten started really. That’s what August is for, when I get off my vacation.
JG: I think we’re really blessed in music to keep our work alive. When you shoot a movie it’s on film and then all you can do is screen it. It’s so cool that you can write a bunch of songs and then keep them alive, like you get to play them in front of people in real time. You’ll connect to a song in a different way when you’re on stage with it, that’s all very cool.
Alex: I guess the crazy part is that you can do all that work, but then you spend all the time making it different, but that recording still exists of the version you made a year ago.
JG: Yeah definitely, that’s a weird thing and even the standard that people expect. But with all the great bands or artists, like Prince is one of the best examples, you see this like “Yeah the recording is great, but that band makes the fucking record come to life”. Such a mastery of what makes the songs tick and then playing inside them. It’s so much fun, and it feels like you’re keeping the song alive, instead of that taxidermy idea kind of thing.
JG: Is there anything else you want to tell people about this record? When does the record come out?
Alex & Raph: October.
JG: Is it just one more single until it comes out?
Alex & Raph: Two more.
JG: You guys have a shitload of tracks on this thing huh? It’s like a Drake album.
Alex: Except there’s a lot of shorter tracks, like there’s a voicemail from Raph on it and shit like that.
JG: Thank you soooo much for taking the time to talk to me guys. Have a great day – can’t wait to hear this thing.