Before the artist known as thisquietarmy arrived in Bangkok, we arranged a Q & A about the music, digital streaming, and the real world challenges of booking a tour as well as the tour itself. You can read the Q & A below. Before you read I highly recommend listening to the music. Click here.
If you like anything you hear or read, come to Jam Cafe on Saturday night to hear thisquietarmy perform.
Sure - thisquietarmy is a solo project from Montreal, Canada - active since 2005. My discography is comprised of 30+ releases on more than 20 labels worldwide, including full lengths on esteemed cult labels such as Denovali Records, Aurora Borealis, Consouling Sounds, Tokyo Jupiter Records, Alien8 Recordings. I've performed 325 gigs as thisquietarmy in 30 different countries in North/South America, Asia & Europe.
When did you start playing music?
I picked up the electric guitar around 2002 during my university years, without any former musical training. A few months later, I founded my first band Destroyalldreamers in which I was the main composer and I learned to play as we became a more collaborative unit. It was around then that I had started thisquietarmy as a side project, to use as a personal creative vehicle. Destroyalldreamers released full lengths in 2004 & 2007 before going on (what turned out to be an) indefinite hiatus the following year, and the focus has shifted to thisquietarmy since then.
What were your early influences?
I was never really attracted to playing music until I discovered more introspective anti-rock/mainstream bands in the end of the 90s/early 00s such as Godspeed You Black Emperor, Mogwai, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, lovesliescrushing - then delving into all range of ambient stuff like Brian Eno or Phillip Glass, or movie soundtracks - anything cinematic, abstract, progressive, instrumental really. I was always looking for a specific type of music than whatever was playing on the radio and TV, but I didn't know where to look for it. I would dabble into psychedelic rock, space rock or art rock, new wave, dark wave, electronic music, IDM etc. before I found this portal called the internet. It helped me to have access to a much wider spectrum of experimental music, and helped me focus into shaping myself and in consequence, what I wanted to express much later with music.
How would you describe the music you create?
It is primarily based on sonic guitar experimentation & improvisation with repetitions and textural buildups. It's about pushing its boundaries with the use of effect & loop pedals by changing its tone, blending multiple layers & morphing structures derived from styles such as shoegaze, post-rock, industrial, electronics, ambient, drone, black metal. It can be heavy, dense, noisy, melodic, quiet, introspective, dreamy, nightmarish, minimal, complex - the sonic and emotional range can vary a lot from one track/album to another.
They're both entirely different processes and completely independent to me. My enjoyment of both evolve separately on their own. In order to perform, you usually have to write and/or record music first in order to reproduce it, and it usually comes from a need to express yourself creatively. The more you do it, the more you appreciate the challenges of arranging and mixing tracks into what you're trying to voice. Ultimately, it can get more and more difficult and frustrating after recording 30 releases.
By the same token, the more you perform, the more you find out what the music is made of and how you're able to connect with an audience - but it's a completely different way of putting yourself out there. With time and experience, you can end up realizing that you don't always need to play what you've recorded because it is ultimately up to you. Sometimes it's not even possible to reproduce what you've recorded if for example it is improvisational and sometimes performances can be completely improvisational as well.
As for touring, it's really not for everyone - it's physically and mentally demanding and the conditions can vary a lot. For example, I've toured Europe quite a lot because I find it very enjoyable, but I've never toured Canada because it's just not worth it. But in general, I've grown to be addicted to be touring and I've grown to embrace that addiction. Before I did my first tour, I never knew I would be touring so much.
Any advice for musicians trying to make a career?
It's really not something that I planned to do at all, but it didn't just happen either. There's also a difference between being a musician and being an artist. Having no training and not being able to play anything else but my own music, I consider myself to be the latter. You have to prepare to work hard and be available to make sacrifices as it's all about making opportunities in the long run. Unless you're more of a session player for hire or something as it's easier to make a living by playing someone else's music and not having any creative responsibility. The cliché advice is to make music for yourself first, and then see where your ego/ambition takes you.
Do you primarily work as a musician and producer or do you have another job or career?
Before I started touring, I started a career as an engineer - I studied mechanical engineering and worked 40 hours a week in an office for a big corporation for a few years. It pretty much ate my soul, but it also allowed me to save up and have a financial cushion, which I used to focus on music after I got laid off 5 years ago - I haven't gone back to work since. By being fully committed to music for a while, small things started to happen and I decided to keep going. It's still a very unstable day-to-day decision, with practically no financial reward, so I needed to make a lot of adjustments in my life in order to sustain this lifestyle. I guess I really hated my job.
It's the reality of the music industry in 2015 and it's changing and evolving very fast. New tools are constantly being developed, which are changing people's listening habits, for better or for worse. For example today, when you release a new album, you're practically obligated to have it streamed for free out of your own will, because that is today's standard: everyone is trying to go viral - even a couple of years ago, it was still a novelty to have a website stream the whole record exclusively. But because there's so much music easily accessible, there is really no choice to comply if you want a shot at getting heard as people won't make the slightest effort to hunt down the music anymore. In the end, if people like it, something good will come from it (though not necessarily in the form of a sale). We live in this era where we constantly need to redefine people's needs and to keep finding creative ways to make a living from music, which sadly deters the creative aspects, but that's what it is to be an artist in 2015. You either adapt, or you give up.
I saw on your blog a recap of your 2014 gigs. What is the process of booking shows? Do you have a booking agent?
I do all my own booking by myself. The process usually starts from finding a good reason to tour - for example with a festival invitation (that doesn't necessarily pay enough for airfare but) that would nonetheless be worth accepting for the potential exposure that it might provide. From then, hopefully you'd have decided on a range of dates around it, at least 4 to 6 months in advance before the potential tour would take place, in which you spend most of those months doing research on promoters, venues and writing proposal emails on top of working out the logistics and anything related to the financial aspect of the tour. Once you set up and confirm your main anchor points in your itinerary, it gets easier to narrow down your research to specific cities. I'd say that the reply rate of an email for a proposal is about 3-4%. Which means that to book a month-long tour, you'll probably have to send around 1000 emails to potential promoters just to hope getting a show (of course, depending on offered conditions and if you are ready to accept them). So a lot of patience, perseverance, good organization skills, a lot of knowledge and/or research are required to book a tour. But honestly, I don't know why anyone would put themselves through it - I may be inspiring but I wouldn't encourage anyone to do it my way. You should probably only tour if you are lucky enough to get a booking agent, good management and a worthy record label.
Also there's a lot of shows one right after the other – what is the major challenge of touring?
Again, this depends on each people. If you can't adapt to the touring conditions, then maybe think twice about diving into a tour as it's not all glamorized as it seems. There are a lot of obstacles that we would take for granted at home, and a lot of headaches and responsibilities that come with it. Some people just aren't made to live on the road, to sleep in different beds or floors every night, to spend most of the day driving, eating food that you didn't necessarily pick for yourself, be away from their friends/families etc.
From a tour managing point of view, if you are renting a van and equipment for daily rates, you better have a lot of shows one after the other to cover your ground expenses. If that's the case, maybe it's preferable to have a crew to help out or tour together with another band - I usually rent a car and drive the whole tour myself, do my own merch, take care of finances, etc. as I don't find it easier to tour with other people. If you're making the kind of music with a light set up, then touring with more days off in between can be more realistic as a tour/vacation sort of thing.
Thisquietarmy will be performing at EESE @Jam Cafe, Bangkok on March 14, 2015. If you dig the music and want to learn more about the event, click here.