The four members of Ought — Tim Beeler (Darcy) on guitar and vocals, Matt May on keyboards, Ben Stidworthy on bass and Tim Keen on drums and violin – are based in Montreal, having met while they were attending McGill University. Their debut full-length album, ‘More Than Any Other Day’, was enthusiastically received; garnering accolades from across North America, Europe and around the globe. I chatted with drummer Keen on the making of their follow-up album ‘Sun Coming Down’.
How did the members of Ought meet?
We all went to McGill together. We met through mutual friends, people who were playing music with each other all the time.
And what was the plan when you guys decided to form a band together?
There was very little forethought to it. Kind of an incredibly small amount of forethought, actually. Kind of dumb. I think that is a good way to approach the creative process. You do an immense amount of work gathering things that you care about, listening to them, poring over them. Then when it comes the time to doing the thing you just do it. All the things you’ve been thinking about inevitably show up.
How did you guys approach making ‘Sun Coming Down’ after the success of ‘More Than Any Other Day’?
In terms of process it was fairly similar. We wrote the record using essentially the same methodology as the first time. We did fairly free-form practices together and then hashed out ideas. Obviously, sonically it’s not a huge departure. It’s a little bolder, in the sense that it’s willing to accommodate slightly more challenging sounds.
On that last point, there does seem to be more variety on the new record, both with the music and the vocals.
It was intentional to expand the pallet. That was partly due to the production process – we had a lot more time on this record — and partly because of the way we wrote it. We wrote it with the idea of making a record rather than a series of discrete songs. And, yes, there’s a lot more vocal variation. The thing that honestly is being missed by a lot of the press is that there is quite a bit more singing on this record, more melodic parts than on the previous one. When I think of this record I think of more interesting vocal melodies. In my view, it’s a better version of what the first record was, with more interesting execution.
Is there a theme running through ‘Sun Coming Down’?
Tim’s lyrics generally are thematically coherent, which is more to do with where his thoughts are when we’re writing the record. I do think this one is thematically in line with the first one, things like bringing strangeness to the everyday. But now our everyday has changed because we spend all our time in a band and touring. Something that has changed in our lives is that a sort of undergraduate headiness has been replaced by a more pragmatic approach. We are generally more focused on what is going to happen day to day.
How does the creative process work for Ought? How is the music composed?
It’s staggeringly, heartbreakingly democratic. It’s takes a very long time. It’s a drawing blood from a stone process to get to place where we all like the song. It’s a plus, because all those ideas that do make the cut go through a rigorous set of checks and balances from everyone’s individual artistic perspective. It’s a good thing. This record was made a lot faster, which is an indicator of how much time we’ve spent together.
Your music has been described as math rock. Is that a fair description?
Don’t know that I’d call it math rock. With math rock there is a deliberate emphasis on the technical elements of the sound and bringing to the front the fact that you are doing something quite technical. I don’t think that our music is as rhythmically or melodically complex as most music you’d call math rock. Also, we have the opposite intention – we aim to obscure the technical stuff. In a practice you’ll very, very rarely see us in high level conversation about chord progressions or time signatures.
People often compare Ought to David Byrne and Talking Heads.
Yeah, we get that a lot. One person writes and then everyone else feels pressured to write it. Maybe in certain places the David Byrne vocal style may be true – he is a writer who writes about modernity and Tim is a writer who writes about modernity.
Do you think you sound like Talking Heads?
I don’t have a problem with being compared to other bands, but whenever someone plays Talking Heads I really think that every element in our band sounds quite different. There are so many other bands that we sound a ton more like. People say we sound like The Fall, and sometimes I think ‘shit, we do sound a little like The Fall’. Sometimes. But the Talking Heads thing – it doesn’t bug me, it just confuses me.