‘We’re all in our own little worlds’ — Graham Van Pelt (bottom l) enjoys his bandmates’ diverse tastes.
A few things happened to Montreal’s Think About Life between its self-titled 2006 debut and last year’s Family. For one thing, frontman Martin Cesar’s vocal stylings migrated from shouty and borderline-atonal to soulful and pitch-perfect. Musically, the band retained its frenetic, dancefloor-ready energy but replaced its heavily distorted synths with crisp horn blasts and guitar licks, all sounding like something pulled from the storied annals of funk music history. According to the band’s producer and musical pacemaker, Graham Van Pelt, the secret to this transformation was learning how to sample.
“There’s definitely no way I could reveal much of that,” he laughs when asked about his secret stash of source material. “There’s one that we cleared that was from a CD that came out of a gas station dollar bin that a friend of mine just randomly grabbed. It was called Raps to Rock and it was the soundtrack to a documentary series created in like 1989 about struggling musicians in New York City. One of the samples from there got mutated and rearranged into the vocal loop in ‘Havin’ My Baby.’ That one I can tell you because it’s public knowledge. Otherwise, it’s a dark art: You can’t reveal your tricks.”
With a roster that stitches together a foursome of musicians who all keep themselves busy with other projects, it’s no surprise that these pilfered and transmuted snippets are the glue that makes the band stick. Van Pelt helms the dreamy Miracle Fortress, while recent addition Caila Thompson-Hannant shares time with polyrhythmic Victoria transplants Shapes and Sizes. Then there’s frontman Cesar, who posted a reflection on the death of lo-fi genius Mark Linkous (a.k.a. Sparklehorse) the band’s blog last month — a lovely tribute to an artist who will surely be missed, but it’s hardly the first name that springs to mind when rattling off obvious influences on Think About Life’s party-pop.
“We're all in our own little worlds and we certainly don't have a shared taste — I don't even know if I could name a Sparklehorse song for you,” says Van Pelt. “The lucky thing about being in this band is that you're not just getting the same ideas bouncing back at you all the time. People have different mind-sets. To me, the ideal for a band is to have a lot of people coming from different places and the band ends up going to a place where none of those individuals would have gone on their own.”
That open-ended approach ensures that there’s nothing “side-project” about Think About Life, and there’s seemingly no risk of other commitments overshadowing the future of the band. In Van Pelt’s view, the band is just hitting its stride on its current tour — its first turn through Western Canada, in fact — which gives it a great opportunity to try out new material.
“I think with Family , we’ve kind of just learned how to do all the stuff we were doing on that album, so now we might try to just get better at that stuff,” he says. “We’re playing some new stuff on the road, but we haven’t had much free time lately, so we’ve got a couple new things in the works that we’re testing out.”
“We’re just kind of messing around at this point. It’s good to see how people react to something they’ve never heard. It draws attention to stuff you might not have noticed, like if there's a certain part of the song where everyone stops dancing and goes to the bar to get a drink. We might want to rethink that.”