It should come as no surprise to most people reading TWM that I’m a huge Cursed Arrows fan. Ever since I heard their 2007 debut Knives Are Falling From The Sky, I’ve been fairly outspoken about my love for what they do as a duo in an often overcrowded genre. 2009’s amazingly titled Telepathic High Five refined upon the sound of their debut, focusing on a more direct sound but also taking a step towards longer songs with a few more twists and turns. Which brings us to their new record — their first as citizens of Halifax — The Madness of Crowds.
My initial thoughts when listening to the new record was that overall it felt a bit like Telepathic High Five part two, and that is in no way a negative thing. But it wasn’t until I spent a bit more time with the album that I noticed the more subtle additions they’ve added here. Jack E’s chants of “Uh Huh!” on the climax of the opening title track for example. It’s just not the kind of thing I’d expect to hear, but it is all the better for it (it’s actually incredibly catchy). Similarly, when they break “Last Stop” down to a duet, it’s a welcome chance to catch your breath before diving back into the song again.
“Death Rattle Blues” — which appeared on their recent cassette — finally makes all those past comparisons to White Stripes valid with it’s bluesy guitar opening riff that leads the song towards its helluva rock out ending, with Jack E and Ry N singing dueling melodic lines over one another.
“Strip Joint Roundabout” is definitely one of my personal favourite tracks here. It’s like a three-minute time warp back to the ’90s, with a familiar-yet-not vocal melody that never fails to get stuck in my head. The chorus of “Riding by on a bike / He said ‘Jesus is the lord and not Neil Young!'” is just so catchy. It’s one of those songs that is so short, focused, and to the point, that you can’t help but go back for multiple repeats when you’re listening through the record.
I will say that The Madness Of Crowds hasn’t instantly hit me in the same way some of Cursed Arrows’ past records have. I don’t find myself coming back to it quite as often as I did with say, Telepathic High Five. In that regard, it could very much just be a sleeper record. Often times the albums I end up loving were ones that crept up on me. Time will tell if that is the case here, but any way you cut it The Madness Of Crowds is yet another terrifically consistent chunk of fuzzed out yet melodic indie rock from Ry N and Jack E. Turn it up.
I got the chance to ask Ry N and Jack E some questions via email, and they were nice enough to take part in an interview for us. They are performing this Saturday, April 30th at Rancho Relaxo, so make sure you’re out to catch their live show!
The new record is your first since you moved out to Halifax, how did that influence the writing and recording process this time around? Was it very different in comparison to your previous records?
R – Most of the album was written prior to moving. We had a number of songs starting to come together, but didn’t have a practice space for the better part of a year. This led to writing a lot of songs quietly at home on acoustic guitars, which in a way was a first for us. In the past we had written songs together on guitar and drums and recorded very quickly afterwards. We were bursting with these songs when we got to Halifax and needed to get them recorded and out of our brains.
J – The songs for this album were written over a span of two years – that has been the biggest change for us – the song-writing. But the album was recorded in 3 days. The recording process was more challenging this time around, and it was faster than ever. The guitar and drums have been live on all of our albums, but this time we overdubbed single-take guitar and vocal passes immediately and didn’t labour over anything.
Did you make a conscious effort to do anything differently this time, in terms of your sound or elements of your sound?
J – I made an effort to teach myself guitar, to write songs alone for the first time. Otherwise, our only effort was to continue writing music despite our lack of access to our instruments, to a studio space of our own. We wrote acoustic songs without thinking of how they might end up.
R – Nothing was done consciously in terms of changing anything. That was happenstance. Everything came together quite organically as a result of not having a practice space for so long. It forced us to change gears and try approaching songs from a different angle.
You guys got a twitter / bandcamp this past year, and have always maintained a solid online presence with your blog and website etc. Is that something you think is important to keep up in this modern music climate?
R – It’s a necessary evil in a way, because it’s seemingly the direction that the industry (and subsequently, music fans) have all headed. We are trying to distinguish ourselves in a very crowded marketplace, so keeping our music available in as many places as people are spending their time is the best we can do independently. It’s definitely helping worldwide exposure having a good internet presence. Locally, the difference remains to be seen.
J – When I was a teenager I was ravenous for music but had no money to spend on it. I relied on radio and TV, and later to a lesser degree, the internet. So I understand.
And in relation to the last question, you put your previous two records up as a pay-what-you-can download, what made you do that?
R – In a way, over-saturation has made it so that people are unwilling to spend money on a band they’re not sure of, or haven’t read about on the latest taste-making blog. Putting our music out as pay what you can (which 99% of the time translates to “free”) is a way of saying how strongly we believe in what we’re doing. We want to make a living from this, but good bands seemingly have to give music away for free these days simply to attract attention to the songs themselves.
J – The Madness Of Crowds is a free album partly because we wanted it to be. It’s an achievement for us unlike any other so we feel at peace with giving it away. We’ve done the same with our back catalogue for the obvious reason that people would never hear those albums otherwise.
Providing free recorded entertainment for whoever wants it has its merits. It allows our music to reach fans regardless of their locale, or access to money.
It could be said that a lot of your records carry over-arching themes and concepts, how would you explain that element of The Madness of Crowds?
J – The Madness Of Crowds is the first half of a double album. It’s the more political half, the one that addresses war, but love is intertwined throughout. You can’t have war without love. It’s very dark, very bluesy. Just darkly honest.
In the past you’ve pulled out a lot of choice cover songs in your live set (Elliott Smith, Nirvana, etc). Any new covers or tricks up your sleeve for the upcoming tour?
R – We have a frightening wealth of covers to choose from, to play or to improvise at any time. I think this is our way of carrying on folk tradition – the storytelling tradition. We will definitely have some surprises this time around.
J – Jefferson Airplane.
Lastly, you guys are vegan, and as a vegan band on tour I’m sure you’ve run into your fair share of problems when it comes to finding a decent meal. Do you have any tips or tricks that you’ve come to rely on over the years on tour? Suggestions for other vegan bands, favourite places to stop, etc?
R – Grocery stores!
J – Have good taste in food and you will see your stamina and general health improve. Toronto, Moncton, and Montreal boast some awesome places to eat excellent vegan food. Guelph has The Cornerstone and Wild Organic Way. Restaurants in general are too pricey for us, though. After
15 years of living this way it’s second nature to bring our own food everywhere since we rarely have money. We feel satisfied when we know where our food comes from – and when it tastes good! Avocado on toast with some coconut oil can be a meal unto itself. Veganism is a small part of
our overarching philosophy as people and as a band, but it’s an important one.