Next Wave #580: Ought

Constellation-signed foursome delivers first time…

It’s more common than not for Clash’s Next Wave features to focus on artists some months, if not years, away from delivering debut albums. And yet, when Ought first connected with our listening gear, it was via just that: the four-piece’s own first record, the astounding, Constellation-released ‘More Than Any Other Day’.

Reviewed here, the album was more than deserving of a 9/10 score. Recorded at Montreal’s Hotel2Tango, it follows in the line of great LPs from the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade, as another to emerge as an essential listen. So of course we got some questions away to the band, to learn a little more about where they’re coming from – and where they’re going next.

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Ought, ‘Clarity!’
(live in their practise space; studio recording appears on ‘More Than Any Other Day’)

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Congratulations on the album – it’s one of the most exciting records I have heard in 2014 so far. Was it a set that came together pretty quickly, or have these eight songs been through a few versions to find the sweetest results?

Tim Beeler (vocals, guitar): Our songs fall on a scale from taking months to finish to coming out right away. The album was an expansion-pack for a five-song EP we recorded earlier in the year. Four of those songs made it onto the album, plus a few new ones and one from a previous EP that has stuck with us, (album opener) ‘Pleasant Heart’. Everyone seemed to be on the same page that these were the songs that would make the album.

The recordings certainly resonate with a real spontaneity, a live energy. Is that a feeling you wanted to make sure came through – or is it just a result of Hotel2Tango’s studio set­up?

Beeler: I think it’s a result of who we are as a band. There was never any question that we wanted to track as much of the album live as possible. We get our energy from playing together. Even with some of the overdubs. We did the violin and vocals at the same time on ‘Forgiveness’, so that we could play off each other. We’re definitely a live band, though of course we love the record too.

Touching on influences and inspirations – every time we have the album on in the office, certain names come up. Can your music be so simply broken down into bands that you like – not in the sense of explicit aping, but in terms of you realising those bands’ strengths were operating in parallel to your own, so that you can hear the comparisons?

Matt May (keyboard): Influences and inspirations are interesting things. We definitely have a few bands we (mostly) all get excited about. It’s hard to say where we find general inspiration, because it tends to be so diverse. That being said, sometimes we’ll be in the car, or practising, or at a show, or just listening to music somewhere and we’ll talk about specific moments that excite us, such as the rhythm changes in Speedy Ortiz songs, or the way our friend Grace delivers her vocals in Lungbutter and Femmaggots, or just the whole feel of that Life Without Buildings record, ‘Any Other City’. Otherwise, inspiration – and how it seeps into our playing – is kind of mysterious. We’re particularly inspired by the amazing people we know in Montreal who make such immensely creative music.

And lyrically, the album’s pretty arresting, with a real positivity striking me from the very first listen. Do you feel that the best way to progress change, in any form, is to present a unified front, rather than merely rallying against a bigger opposition with little support of your own? I really get a sense of camaraderie from the album, which extends beyond the four of you to, I’d guess, any audience that checks you out…?

Beeler: I think the power of presenting the positive is that there is no limit to it. Things that are made purely in opposition to a thing require that thing to keep going. People live their whole lives like this “I’m anti-this or anti-that”, the result of which is letting that thing that you opposed occupy a pretty central place in your life. Another bonus of working in the positive is that there is more room for people to get on board. Like, you may vote this or that way, you may think we should stop voting or start voting more, but regardless of how you feel about that, we can all agree that we want this positive change to happen, even if we don’t know exactly what the outcome would look like.

Camaraderie is a great word for it, and I think that speaks pretty to how we feel. This is probably one of the more powerful things that we took away from the 2012 Quebec student movement – an ability to feel connected with lots of people that aren’t necessarily visible or even your friends or family. To be able to imagine a group that might fear as you fear or hope as you hope is something special. I also like the idea that the tools for change are already out there, already underway. We don’t need a new platform or social agenda, just to slowly get down with the idea that we’re all in this together.

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Ought, ‘The Weather Song’

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Seeing the reception for the album, can you allow yourselves to speculate as to what that band could achieve now, compared to what you thought it might ahead of release? Surely this excellent critical reaction couldn’t have been foretold… or could it?

May: Haha yeah, I don’t think I personally saw this coming. I feel like I’ve always been the one in the band who’s a bummer about these things. The most heartening stuff has been the really sweet things people say to us in messages, or say about us on the websites we sometimes check for fun. Everyone has pretty much been very nice and thoughtful, which is cool to see in this digital era. The reaction from our peers in Montreal has also been really great. People seem genuinely excited, which is really wild to me, but also really nice. For the future, I think we just want to play a bunch of shows and meet rad people and eat good and cheap (vegetarian) sandwiches and burritos.

Do you feel you have peers, domestically or internationally? It’s like ‘More Than Any Other Day’ could easily energise other acts to be as honest with themselves as you’ve been. Do you hope to have that effect not just on previously passive audiences, but also those who set out to make their own art?

Beeler: I think it’s a wonderful thing when people feel they can create freely, in the sense that they’re not thinking about what someone might think of them, or how their art will be ‘judged’. I’ve definitely gone through periods of thinking like that with other projects, and have only gotten to where I’m at by seeing other people be Brave and Real – on stage, or wherever else. Of course the side-effects are that someone is usually truly enjoying what their doing if this is the case, which makes it organic and infectious and fun, like a great groove you want to get down with – not to rule out the melancholic or whatever else someone might be bringing to the table.

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WHERE: Montreal

WHAT: Scratchy, acerbic punk-rock with an indie twist, like a collision between Talking Heads and Fugazi (only more than that)

GET 3 SONGS: ‘The Weather Song’ (video above), ‘Today More Than Any Other Day’, ‘Around Again’

FACT: Quite unbelievably, Matt May doesn’t ‘do’ cake. “Lemon cake sounds tasty, but I was always more of a pie man. Mmm, pumpkin pie.” Heathen!

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Politics, we mentioned those too – and those words are posted up over here. Listen to 'More Than Any Other Day' in full via Deezer, below…

‘More Than Any Other Day’ is out now. Find Ought on that Facebook. See them play live in the UK as follows…

15th – Jabberwocky Festival, London
16th – Green Man Festival, Wales

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Listen to 'More Than Any Other Day' in full via Deezer, below…

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