Preoccupations—the PMA interview

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It has been a big year for Preoccupations. Between a name change, relentless touring, and a new album, the Calgary natives have found ways to remain in the indie rock spotlight. Their last two albums received glowing reviews, while stoking controversy for their previous moniker, Viet Cong. With a new name, the Preoccupations self-titled album is a third attempt at a first impression, and it is receiving outstanding reviews—including here at PMA.

Despite the heavier explorations on Preoccupations’ new album, I am surprised by the friendly and easygoing voice on the other side of the phone. Scott “Monty” Munro has been the guitarist-keyboardist for Preoccupations since the band’s formation in 2012. I spoke with him about the new album, the band’s endless gigging, their creative processes, and future endeavors.

Firstly, I would like to congratulate you on the new album. Do you consider this new self-titled album to be a debut?

In a way, knowing it was coming out under a different name definitely changed how we were doing things. It is hard to say exactly how. I guess it gave us the freedom to do whatever we wanted to do as opposed to feeling like we had to follow up on our last record. It was refreshing not having to worry about the other records. It would have been similar regardless of the name change, but it did drive home that feeling of starting fresh.

I understand that some of the tracks like “Anxiety” were written a long time ago and used for this album. What was that process like?

Some of the instruments used on Anxiety were recorded before the Viet Cong album. For example, the keyboard and the drone sound on “Anxiety” were recorded a while ago, the drums and vocals were added later. Different instruments and parts of the song would be recorded separately, and then brought together by Graham Walsh. The album sounds very unified, but it was actually recorded in a bunch of different spaces over quite a long period of time.

Did living in different areas of the country affect your writing or recording process?

Not really, this last record we had a bunch of the stuff written beforehand and it came together in the studio when we hashed it out. Although I think for the next record we will write it more together. We are actually planning on getting a space for a couple months to write and record everything together.

I also noticed on this album you guys used a lot more synths and had more of an ambient sound than on past albums, did anything in particular prompt this change?

We did do a lot of keyboard on the last album as well, but it was more blended in with the guitar. Dani and I would play the guitar parts on the keyboard, to get a different texture, a different sound, and then blend it in beneath the guitar track. This record, more often we would just try the guitar part on the keyboard and then in the end just stay with the keyboard. Dani and I also brought keyboards with us on tour and getting a lot more comfortable with synthesizers, which I think that ultimately resulted in us going with that direction on the album.

Your last two albums were leaked prematurely. What are your thoughts about this album getting leaked?

I didn’t actually realize the album had been leaked until a friend told me a week ago; I’m not on the Internet that much. I think it is good, I’m happy people were eager to hear it. I think it would have been worse if it had been leaked and nobody downloaded it. Honestly you just have to accept it now, because that is how the world works these days. You can do your best to have it not leak, but there is little you can do to protect it. Our last album sold mostly on vinyl and cassette anyways. I think people who enjoy our music may download the album, but will buy a copy at some point.

I really enjoyed the videos for “Anxiety” and “Degraded”. I know you collaborated with some highly acclaimed directors, but what was your own personal influence on the videos?

We worked with David Park on a couple of videos before; he did two out of three of the videos for our last album. We liked his style right away so we were eager to work with him again. For the “Anxiety” video we were getting a some real push from the record label to be in one of our music videos, which we were not stoked at all in doing. We were going to Ymir, which is a town just south of Nelson, British Columbia. Our friend owns an old 30-year-old church there that he has turned into a guesthouse, which is where we often go to rehearse. We were packing up to go rehearse at this guesthouse to prepare for the upcoming tour and we told the record label that if they want us in the music video then they would have to fly David out to shoot the video. He wanted a horror movie vibe and the place worked perfectly. David brought up this wind up motor 60 mm camera and picked some spooky locations. It was a lot of fun. Some of the shots were also filmed in New York as well.

The video for “Degraded” was pretty abstract, was there any meaning intended for the video?

We had zero input into the “Degraded” video. Valentina Tapia sent over a couple stills and showed us what kind of animation she wanted to do for the video. We were completely for what she was going for. It turned out fantastic, even if I don’t know what is going on in the video. She sent over her last cut, and asked if we had any input for the edits or cuts. I remember watching it and having no idea what I could say. Like I couldn’t possibly have any input on this, which was great. I was very happy how that video turned out. On most of our videos we don’t have that much involvement, we just approve the general direction that the director is going for. We got into this industry to make music and other people got into this industry to make videos. So us commenting on how the videos are being made doesn’t really make any sense. That is not our area of expertise.

Why were you against appearing in your own music video?

I don’t think the videos necessarily need us in them. Us being in the videos don’t make them any better. I don’t want to be in a video where this band was hanging out in the street, but now they are playing at a fucking pool party, just the idea of that kind of video was very unappealing. If that was the case, what was the point of us being in the video? We’re not actors, if someone has a vision for the video they should hire professional actors and it will turn out much better.

Shifting gears a bit, was it at all daunting to go back to touring after the last tour had around 200 shows? Did you feel any need to try to live up to that number?

No not really, when we signed up for this job we knew what it entailed and we enjoy it quite a bit. I’m actually pretty excited to get back to touring again. So far we have worked 3 songs from the record and I am excited to learn more of them. Over the years we have made lots of connections, so going back on the road means we get to see a lot of old friends. Generally I can say that we are all excited to hit the road again. 

Was there any album or creative piece that was inspiring you guys while recording or touring?

We were listening to a lot of Chrome at one point, but to be honest this year has was a bit different in that we didn’t share as much space as we have in the past. Although when we were recording we were listening to The Cure quite a bit, we actually put a wind chime on one of our new songs as a kind of nod to that band. Other than that as I said before we just weren’t in the same space for as long. Although, personally I must have watched David Cronenburg’s eXistenZ around eight times while mixing the album. Dani and I also must have watched Full Metal Jacket around 12 times in that timeframe as well.

I saw that Dan Boeckner (of Wolf Parade and Divine Fits) joined you guys on stage at the FYF fest in LA and that he was featured on some of the songs on your new album. How was it collaborating with Dan? Did he have any input on the new album?

Not really, for the album Dan came into the studio to lay down the vocal track and that was it. Flegel had already written the vocal melodies for the track beforehand. We were in Montreal working on the record, hanging out with Boeckner a bunch. I think he ended up working with Graham Walsh on an Operators album partially because he liked our first record, which is super flattering. But anyways we were working on “Memory” and there was something that just wasn’t coming together about it. Flegel figured we should give Dan a call, so we called him up and asked if he’d be interested. He came in that same day did three takes of vocals and that was it. Originally we intended for more of a duet, but we ended up only using a duet for that closing chorus.

Any other memorable events from the tour so far?

We played a funny show at Third Man Records in Detroit, we got asked to go play the launch party. They sent out this giant balloon with a record player attached to it. They were trying to break the record for longest distance from a playing record to its speakers. It started with Jack White discussing the purpose of this balloon launch. As we played our set the record player got higher and higher as the music played in the background of our set. At the end of our set the record player fell to ground. It was still playing mid fall, so when it crashed down it made these crazy sounds, it was pretty interesting. After that we went down to Chinese restaurant, and Flegel ended up getting pretty hammered. We found him passed out in a park in downtown Detroit. So we put him in a taxi with his credit card, and continued the night in Downtown Detroit.