Fly Pan Am‘s is maybe the most heartbreaking reunion of somehow glorious bands that made the history of contemporary music I saw in the last year. The project, developed in 1996 by former Godspeed You Black Emperor guitarist Roger Tellier-Graig with the precious support by talented musicians like Eric Gringas, Felix Morel, Jean-Sébastien Truchy and Jonathan Parant, managed to grasp some interesting stylistic ideas on the fertile grounds of post-rock and shoegazing. Their ‘C’est ça’ (released by Constellation records) could sometimes sound predictable, but these Montreal-based wise guys managed to turn the musical experience they offered astonishingly exciting as if they were showing some notorious place by revealing many previously hidden details and wrapping the listener into a warm hypnotic flow. After getting wrapped by the listening of their album (and personally some nostalgic listening of some of their previous ones), we had a talk with them.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi guys! How are you doing?
Roger: Positively busy! We’ve been working with the dance company Animals of Distinction over the past little while, composing the soundtrack for their newest piece, Frontera, and we just came back from its premiere in Quebec City earlier this week.
Chain D.L.K.: As far as I read, Constellation records was super happy to welcome you back after… 15 years! How do you remember that first landing on Constellation?
Roger: Wow, that is quite a while back and my memory isn’t so reliable anymore, so I’m afraid I can’t go into any details here. It was certainly a great time for music in Montreal, and we were happy to be part of Constellation’s roster at the time.
JS: If I remember correctly, even though our first show at Hotel 2 Tango wasn’t great, CST and some of GY!BE came without our knowledge to our second show, a few months later. II guess they really like what we played then (one track, about 20mins of a pulsing drone that would eventually « develop » in a kind of ultra-minimalist rock bit for the remainder of the track). From there on, I think CST were curious enough to be present at other shows, have us play at an event of there’s (Musique Fragile) until they felt confident enough in our music to offer us to put a record out for us. Even then they were quite encouraging, helping us along the way from recording, mixing and everything.
Chain D.L.K.: Some readers know about your following steps, some other not… let’s try to refresh their mind since the beginning! How did Fly Pan Am start?
Roger: We started out as a bunch of music fans lost in a city that didn’t really have a scene at the time – that was before we ever heard of Constellation, so apart from some of the folks who ran cool little record shops here and there, we felt very alone. I remember we were even daydreaming about moving to the UK at the time – ha-ha. A lot of the bands that we liked were from there, bands like Main, Laika, Loop, Pram, Stereolab, Seefeel, etc. Eventually, we heard about GY!BE, Exhaust and Constellation, so we hooked up and started playing shows with them. At the time, Constellation was curating the Musique Fragile series in their loft space in Old Montreal, and we went to a bunch of them. They eventually invited us to perform, and we started working with them not long after that.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s the importance of having grown in Montreal for the development of your sound?
Roger: I’m not sure how much our location had an actual impact on our sound. We were listening to music from the US and Europe mostly. The fact of being able to afford cheap housing definitely helped us spend time working on music, but yeah, I guess you could say that once the scene started developing, and we discovered folks like Shalabi Effect, David Kristian, Alexandre St-Onge, the label Alien 8, then I guess we started developing a mutual influence on each other in a way. Like I said earlier, it was a rich time for music in Montreal.
Chain D.L.K.: What are the main milestones of your path out of Constellation between 2004 and 2019?
Roger: Personally, I started learning how to make electronic music on my own around 2008 with the project Le Révélateur. This project then turned into an audio-visual duo with video artist Sabrina Ratté, and we performed live a lot and released stuff on labels like Root Strata, NNA Tapes, Steve Hauschildt’s Gneiss Things and Dekorder. I also rediscovered musique concrète – which had been a personal influence in the early FPA years – so I decided to go back to school and studied electroacoustic composition at the Conservatory here in Montreal. This music will be coming out next year on the Second Editions imprint.
JS: Around 2010 after somewhat of a brake from music, I started playing more electronic music in groups and especially solo with releases on Root Strata, Digitalis Records, Tranquility Tapes, Sic Sic Tapes and others and founded, with a couple of friends, Los Discos Enfantasmes, a now defunct cassette label. Somewhere around then the creation of Avec le soleil sortant de sa bouche happened, and we have since released two records on Constellation.
Félix: I kept really busy playing in a lot of bands. Les Enfants Sauvages was an improvised No Wave supergroup with members of Les Georges Leningrad, Duchess Says, AIDS Wolf and Red Mass. Panopticon Eyelids was a Psychedelic Noise Rock band with free rock and No Wave influences. We released a bunch of tapes and CD-Rs on underground labels and self released an LP. No Negative was a punk band with Noise Rock, Death Rock and Psych influences. We released a 7 inch and 2 LPs.
Chain D.L.K.: First, thanks for attaching lyrics to your album! Such a wise choice will avoid many cyclotomic questions on what you said, what you’re going to say… or maybe not! For instance the way by which you seem to describe what’s happening to the sound you forge on the amazing Distance Dealer is awesome… but speaking in general, what’s the role of lyrics now and in the past in the development of your music? Is it a more sonic element or a source of meaning?
Roger: With regard to the lyrics I wrote and sang, I would say I am interested in both the sonic quality of the words, as well as the delivery, as I am with the potential meaning of the lyrics. Lyrics are an opportunity for me to tackle some ideas and considerations that really interest me, but I am not interested in turning this expression into a self-congratulatory manifestation of my perspective on things. I prefer a more open-ended approach, where you might get the impression that the lyrics are pointing at something, but it all kinda remains vague, blurry, dreamy, hallucinatory. I first come up with the vocal lines and the delivery, so once I set out to write lyrics I need words that fit in musically, so this highly influences the choice of words. I will already have a pretty clear idea of what I want a song to be about beforehand, but again, the choice of words may have an impact on what I had set out to do originally.
Chain D.L.K.: How many times did anyone try to match you to Stereolab or Slowdive or both by “offending” the praiseworthy way you forged your own distinguishing aural mark?
Roger: Well, I personally really love Stereolab’s Transient Random Noise-Bursts and Mars Audiac Quintet, as well as Slowdive’s Pygmalion, so such a comparison cannot offend me in any way. People seem to namedrop My Bloody Valentine and black metal way more though – haha.
Chain D.L.K.: Related to the previous question/answer, are there any band that inspired some choices somehow?
Roger: Yes, the first actual wave of “post-rock” bands, like Main, Seefeel, Disco Inferno, when it was more about using technology to go beyond the usual rock tropes than what it turned into later on, but also earlier bands like Dome. These bands were definitely an inspiration at the time where we started the band back in 1996, but we had no idea how to make music like that. When we set out to make this record, we had grown so much individually, learning how to use samplers, synthesizers and computers, that it just made sense to finally make this record we had always wanted to make, a kind of futuristic rock record using electroacoustic techniques. I like to joke that this is our 4AD record, as if someone like Christian Zanési had produced it.
JS: We’ll also incorporate, as always, other influences, coming from near-non-audible electronic music to contemporary music all the way to complete noise when composing. But as Roger points out when answering this question, we always have a direction, something to achieve sound wise but never letting go of all the various influences which will help us, hopefully, bring a different flavor to our work when compared to the work of others in a similar – or not so similar – genre. To me, a FPA record is always the combination of influences that give us a direction and all the other ones that will help us somewhat counteract said direction or, at least, play with certain aspects of composition, genre/tropes and listener’s expectations.
Chain D.L.K.: C’est ça! Besides the Canadian bilinguism, is there a reason behind the choice of title in French where lyrics are in English?
Roger: The title is kind of nod to the end of our last record, “N’écoutez pas”, where you hear our bass player JS’s kids ask in French “What is Le Fly Pan Am?”; since we felt this record was the logical successor to “N’écoutez pas” – we felt we were picking up exactly where we had stopped in 2004 – we decided to link the two this way. “C’est ça” pretty much means “It’s this”. We also wanted a French title because all the lyrics were in English, which was a first for us, and it felt necessary to counterbalance that with a simple French title.
Chain D.L.K.: I enjoyed the experimental interplays such as Alienage Syntropy or Dizzy Delusions or the opening Avant-Gardez Vous, even if they look like ironic stylistic drops or moments of detached divertissement… what’s the correct meaning of such a grasp?
Roger: To be honest, they are not intended to be ironic. We’ve always had more abstract pieces or passages on our records, and this just came very naturally for us. We wanted this to be a record that played with pop tropes, but it still had to feel like a Fly Pan Am record. We’ve always loved contrast and the friction that comes from opposing radically different aesthetics. I have a feeling this kind of abstract material will keep expanding and take up more space as we continue working together.
Chain D.L.K.: Shoes are on the grounds but your sound points to fluffy clouds and outer spaces, even by means of bleeps and hisses that evoke orbiting satellites and space debris… that’s amazing! But someone could ask you what’s the role of those brutal-metal like shouts…
Roger: Haha, yes. There are three people in the band that provide vocals on the record, and we all have a distinct approach and different backgrounds, and It’s very important for us to acknowledge the sensibilities of all band members as much as possible. We believe that richness comes from the complex intersection of different references and influences, which again, creates contrast, which is a core element of FPA. JS is the one singing with this approach, and this is something he has been developing in his solo work, as well as in his other band Avec le soleil sortant de sa bouche, so it just made sense for us to bring that element into the making of this record. If you listen carefully to “Brûlez suivant, suivante!”, the first track on “N’écoutez pas”, you can hear the root of this approach of our dual dynamic singing, where I sing in a low-key dreamy way, and JS shouts on top of me, far in the mix. We tend to see these different approaches to vocals as a set of variables we can use to create dynamics. We’re interested in seeing how you can use a certain vocal aesthetic in the context of a piece that wouldn’t normally feature that type of approach, because for us, what may sound like a “brutal-metal like shout” is simply a different color of singing, a different way to approach vocals.
JS: I couldn’t agree more 🙂
Chain D.L.K.: Any past release that could be the perfect logical match with C’est ça?
Roger: Personally, I’m tempted to say OLD’s “The Musical Dimensions Of Sleastak”. It’s a totally crazy futuristic post-metal record from 1993. It goes all over the place, from abstract ambient passages, to sample-based experimental sections and vocoder cyborg rock. I was definitely listening to it a lot when we were working on the record.
Chain D.L.K.: Did you bring it on stage yet? Any interesting feedbacks besides moving steps and waving heads?
Roger: We’ve only done a handful of shows in Canada at this point. Folks seem to enjoy it. We’re coming to the UK in March, and Europe after that.
Chain D.L.K.: Any work in progress? Would you live Constellation again or should we expect something else marked by this awesome label?
Roger: Yeah, as I mentioned earlier, we just finished composing the soundtrack to the piece Frontera by the dance company Animals of Distinction. We’re hoping to record that sometime in 2020.
JS: After that (the soundtrack), we’ll most likely be back with a full length, hopefully in a not so distant future…