OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Left: Mike Isacson. Right: Mihkel Kaup




I had the chance to catch with Victoria art rockers Crashing Into Things. Well, I spoke to half of them. The Estonian half: singer/bassist Mike Isacson and guitarist Mihkel Kaup. They were a breeze to get an interview out of — all I had to do was ask them to tell me about the band. It was like winding up a clockwork toy, and off they went…





Mike:
The day after my wife left me I went to a Battles show. I was reeling psychologically and emotionally. At the end of the night I heard someone say, “Hey Mike”, and this guy came up and gave me a hug. Then I realized it was Adrian Southward, who I hadn’t seen for 13 years back when we were in an improv band called Fractal Cactus. He says, “I have a song I want you to do vocals on”. I hadn’t done any music for years. So, I went over to Pender Island with him the next weekend. We did a little jam session and did some recording. After I had done that for his song I thought of the song “We Didn’t Know”, which is on our first album. I’d been sitting on that for about 10 years. It was the only good song I’d ever written, the only song that had ever just come to me up to that point. So then we started working on that. So Adrian and I started the band, came up with the name. Adrian, being a real multi-instrumentalist, was able to play drums and guitars. We started off as a two-piece, just bass, drums and vocals, and we played quite a few shows like that. Then I met Mihkel at Logans. We figured out pretty quick that his dad and my uncle were super good friends.

Mihkel:
We’re Estonian. There aren’t many Estonians in this world. We have similar musical tastes, love for blood sausage and herring. We had those things in common and then we went, “Oh, you play music!”

Mike:
Yeah, I went and saw Mihkal’s band High Arctic. Fantastic band. Probably my favourite album of all time is Mike Watt’s ‘Contemplating the Engine Room’. Nels Cline plays guitar on that. One night on Facebook I posted, “If anyone wants to be our Nels Cline…” Mihkal answers and says, “Yeah, I’ll play with you guys.” I thought High Arctic was way above where we were at, so I was blown away.

Mihkel:
I listened to them and I thought, “Oh, these guys need a guitar player.” So I loved the idea. I’m a fan of Mike Watt too, although more with The Minutemen. I am still trying to get Mike’s bass to sound more like Mike Watt. Anyway, I thought it would be good to get involved in a project that isn’t mine, where I can just be the guitar player. Have my stuff run by somebody else for approval. I thought it would be a good discipline and a good exercise. I didn’t know how long I’d be into it. We worked out a couple of songs and then went to Pender (Island) to record. I’m like, “I’m not sure what I’m going to do here.” We went into this cabin in the woods – a really idyllic recording situation. We were in this small room. The chicken chapel. The other two had already recorded their parts, so the tape started rolling and I just let it rip. Adrian goes, “Oh man, that was awesome!” It was fun because I still got to go berserk like I do with my other band, but this let me restrain myself and put them into these little pockets of explosiveness. And then really think about the melodies for your songs. I always think there has to be a hook to keep you humming along. So, it’s been fun, and it turned into more than an exercise.

With the latest album, Adrian and I both said, “We have to do something about Mike’s tone (on bass)”. (Scott) Henderson, who was recording the album, thought the same thing, so it wasn’t just me. So we sat there and played with the levels on his amp. It didn’t take long. Basically, it was getting rid of the effects unit, then crank this up, crank that up. Then it sounded great. Been sounding great ever since. Adrian and I are total nerds about tone.

Mike:
We did the first album just the three of us, but I’m not sure we ever played live as a three-piece. Anyway, Adrian had stuff going on and he even warned us, “You guys might want to consider getting a drummer.” He’s a great guitarist, so it was way easier to just get another drummer. We put out an ad and this guy (David Houghton) responds. Turns out he’s been playing in hardcore bands in England for about 20 years. A great drummer. He’s really into prog.

Mihkel:
I connected with him right away, because we were doing “Tunnels”, which was something I could really push, and here’s this drummer that was really going for it with me. That’s when it really became fun for me. On the first album I was doing one chord through an entire song. I got a few more chords by the time the second album came along.

Mike:
We don’t have the luxury of a ton of time to think about things too much. We just try to play together when we get a chance. Quite often when practicing it’s just Dave and I. I don’t consciously sit down and try to write a song, I just let them come to me. I don’t care what genre or anything. So there’s never any focus on “Oh, we need to sound like this”. I will have my vocals and melody and bass-line, and I’m imagining it going a certain way, but we just go with whatever happens. Rarely do I ever say, “Er, no, I’m not sure about that”.

Mihkel:
Yeah, Mike says this is how the song goes and then we flesh it out. So we’re building the Frankenstein monster. Like Mike, I don’t think “Oh, I’m going to write these riffs.” I am always listening for the hook, and I let it come out naturally. It usually happens in practice – I hear it and then I think, “That’s it”, so it locks in and that becomes the riff for that song. If you walk away and the tune is still in your head then I’ve done my job. It’s like the old whistle test in England. After playing a song through you’d go into the back alley for a smoke or whatever, and if you caught your whistling the tune then it was a keeper.

Mike:
This last album (‘To Consume, and To Be Consumed’) was really pretty rushed. About a week and half before the recording we played about four shows to get a chance to play the new songs. And then we just went into the studio. I tore my Achilles heel really bad, so by the end the day of recording my leg was like a python. It was brutal. But that was our only chance to record.

Mihkel:
Whenever we wanted to do another take he’d be like, “No, I can’t!” In my experience, the more takes you have the better. The more you have to work with the better version you’ll get in the end.

Even after doing that little mini tour, there were still two songs that Adrian and I had no idea what we were going to do on. “You Always, You Never” and “I Saw It Coming”. I had the main riff but there are several walk-ups that didn’t come to me until we were in the studio.

Mike:
On the title song, Tara (Landry) and I had never practiced that song together. She’d heard it but we’d never practiced it. So we just handed it to her. That was a single take. I think she would have liked to do other takes, but I liked how it came out, so…

Mihkel:
The core of that song was just me, Mike and Dave. Then Adrian added melodica and there were extra things on top. Tara was chewing her nails trying to figure out how to sing it. At first she was only going to sing part of the chorus, but then just decided to sing the whole thing.

Mike:
The second album was certainly a progression. In my mind, we are always, just going to keep getting better … until a certain point where I guess we won’t. That’s the whole idea – just keep getting better.

Mihkel:
It’s like the tomato sauce out on the burner, it’s getting better with time.

Mike:
A lot of bands do their best album right out of the gate. For me that would be terrible. We want to keep improving. This album is heavier – the first one was poppier. If we had done the first one as a four-piece it would have sounded a lot different.

Mihkel:
It’s a shorter record but there’s more to it.

Mike:
On the first album there was a certain immaturity. I hadn’t made any music since I was 25 so it was, “Blarghh, here’s the last 13 years of my life.” It’s an interesting process, where you are a mature 38 years old but you’re doing this music that you know is immature but the songs are there so you have to go with it.

Mihkel:
It (the first album) is like the teenage version of Crashing Into Things. Now with the second one we are like in our twenties.

Mike:
Yeah, it would be a great thing if we could eventually make music as mature as we are.