In The Know...Interview with Les Jupes

>> Wednesday, 12 January 2011

To say Les Jupes' debut release, Modern Myths, was a long time coming would be a bit of an understatement.

The first seeds for Modern Myths were planted over half-a-decade ago, but it wasn't until three years later, after some lineup changes, that the rest of the album started to germinate. Flash forward two years to yesterday when, at last, Modern Myths came into being and finally hit stores. 

The end result is a well-executed and well-crafted set of thunderous, bombastic rockers and slow, deeply affecting soul-stirrers that really come to life under lead singer Michael Petkau Falk's sobering baritone.  Simply put, it serves notice that this Winnipeg-based band must be heard. Now. 

Yesterday evening I spoke with band founder Michael Petkau Falk and asked him about the album's beginnings; Les Jupes' current lineup; and the thematic connection behind such seemingly random topics as mathematics, Nikita Kruschev, and Chicago.

Painting over Silence: So I was wondering if you could walk us through the album’s inception and incubation. How long did Modern Myths take to write, record, and produce?

Michael Petkau Falk: Sure. The oldest song is “This Place Owes Us” which was written in 2005. Then, most of the songs came in the last six months before we started recording. Well, six months to a year. So most of 2008 is when most of the songs came. We started recording in February of 09 and Marcus was here for a little bit - we did all the bed tracks - then he went back to Montreal. I started doing overdubs and puttering away on it until spring of this year, and then I went to Montreal in July to mix it.

So it was done in July. *laughs* It’s a bit of a long arc for this one.

PoS: Producer/engineer Marcus Paquin (Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs) helped record Modern Myths. How did you originally get together with Paquin?

MPF: He’s an old friend of mine. We got to know each other through playing shows and whatever else in Montreal. When it came time to think about doing a record, we really wanted to do it right and we really wanted to find the right person for the songs and the sounds. He was kind of the obvious choice. 

PoS: As the band’s principle songwriter, which musicians/albums had a profound impact on your songwriting style?

MPF: I've obviously listened to a lot of music over a long time. I grew up in high school listening to Red House Painters, Catherine Wheel, Sonic Youth, and Smashing Pumpkins. In recent years, it’s been The National, Interpol, Iron & Wine, Land of Talk. All of that stuff has been pretty constant in the player.

PoS: So registering more on an unconscious level?

MPF: Yeah, exactly. In fact, the stuff I listen to now is probably more influential than all the R.E.M. I listened to years ago. Who knows? Maybe not. *laughs* Maybe that comes through just as much.

PoS: I guess it’s a tough thing to pinpoint.

MPF: Yeah, it is. Every now and then I hear a chord change as I mix and I think, “Oh, that’s totally what R.E.M would’ve done.” And every now and then, “there’s a lot of F sharp minor on this.” F sharp minor is a good Interpol chord.

PoS: Now along the way Les Jupes underwent a lineup change.

MPF: Yeah, multiple.

PoS: And the current band is David Schellenberg (The Playing Cards), and Kelly Beaton (All Of Your Friends), and yourself.

MPF: And Adam Klassen, who is now our drummer.

PoS: What was it about these three that made them the right fit for Les Jupes?

MPF: As I started putting the next wave of the band together I wanted people who weren’t just good musicians, but also good people – people that were also pretty passionate about wanting to do this, dive in, and do the work that is necessary. I wanted to find people who were excited about it and not just doing it out of friendship.

David’s been awesome. He came on board just over a year ago. We sat down and talked about music for awhile. I think we’re both really hard workers and we see eye to eye on a bunch of different things. It just felt like a natural fit.

Then when Jesse Warkentin was leaving, he brought Kelly to my attention and Kelly was totally the right fit again. She is a great musician and it’s great to have a female voice back in the band and be able to sing those parts on the record.

Adam is the newest one. Good drummers are hard to find. You want someone with good technical chops and who can keep a steady beat, but also someone who’s creative and not just in it to play for themselves, who can see the bigger picture. He understands songwriting and arranging and can play other instruments. He gets the bigger picture of what’s going on, and that’s been really important and really helpful.

PoS: So it’s safe to say there’s a pretty excited vibe going on at rehearsals these days?

MPF: Yeah! It’s been awesome. There’s more yesses and high fives than ever before. It’s pretty cool.

PoS: I’ve been listening to the album over the past couple days. It strikes a pretty judicious balance between the number of big, ambitious rockers and slow, affecting songs. Was this by design, or did your creative output seem to be naturally divided this way?

MPF: It’s kind of naturally been divided that way. It’s a reflection of who I am. I’ve always really enjoyed highly personal songs that go right for an emotional core. I spent a lot of time being affected by those kinds of songs when I was growing up, so that influence is pretty strong.

But I also like to lay it all out every now and then. It’s fun to play something really big with some bombast that punches you in the face every now and then. It’s an ‘I love you, I hate you’ kind of record. There’s a little bit of push and pull; there’s a kiss and there’s a punch. That’s how I am I guess, so it’s kind of natural that that part comes out on record.

PoS: There are some seemingly random topics and ideas addressed on Modern Myths.

MPF: *laughs*

PoS: We’ve got mathematics as a universal language; Nikita Khruschev (Stalin’s Ukrainian heir); depression and eating disorders; Chicago, etc. What’s the thematic connection between these ostensibly unrelated topics?

MPF: I think the thematic connection between all of them is people trying to get past the barriers in their lives. It's a story of people trying to deal with the things that have been bothering them for awhile or dealing with the things that hold them back. Whether its Kruschev dealing with Stalin looking over his shoulder and how at any second the whole thing can crumble and blow up in his face, or whether it’s someone fighting with an eating disorder, or, even on “Ghost”, about people dealing with suicide, the record is about people who are tying to get past these things and move on with their lives.

Getting over hurdles is the connection.

Catch Michael Petkau Falk and the rest of Les Jupes this Saturday at the Plug In Institute for Contemporary Art as they officially launch Modern Myths. And don't forget, you can win a pair of tickets to the show by simply sending me an email. Details here


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