Electronic dubmeister Scott Monteith's profile has increased considerably in recent months with the release of numerous works, specifically the Crackhaus (Monteith and Stephan Beaupre) recordings It's A Crackhaus Thing and the EP Blame Canada! plus the latest Deadbeat epic Something Borrowed, Something Blue, his second foray into deeply textured digi-dub. Scott generously surrendered some of his precious time to talk about the new releases, his working methods, relationship with Pole (Stefan Betke), and his past, present, and future.
Do you see Something Borrowed, Something Blue as an extension of Wild Life Documentaries, as parts in a continuum, or do you see a radical change from one to the next?
I certainly see it as a continuation, sort of chapter 2 if you will. Wild Life Documentaries was really my first attempt at breaking out of the techno framework and exploring a more traditional roots/reggae template. There was a MUTEK show here in Montreal that I performed at a few years ago with Scion and Tikiman that served as the inspiration for this. I prepared the majority of the material that ended up on the album specifically for that show, and it ended up drawing the most energetic crowd response I'd ever had up to that point, and in the end was the major motivation for putting together the album.
For this album I think I felt a lot more comfortable with that template and as a result was able to concentrate more on the sound design aspects, so in the end I feel it's a much wider and deeper album. The idea of creating something that really functions as a longer sound environment by removing the silence between the tracks and allowing different elements to re-occur in later tracks was really an afterthought with Wild Life Documentaries as well. For this one it was a compositional decision I made right from the start, and as a result I think that aspect of the disc is much more effective.
Can you comment on how the incorporation of new stylistic elements (e.g., dancehall, et cetera) into the new recording came about? Was it a conscious effort to change the signature Deadbeat style, or do you allow such changes to emerge organically, of their own accord?
Beats are usually the last thing I add to a track and I usually try to keep an “If the shoe fits, wear it” open-minded attitude toward this end of things. I like and listen to a lot of different music and (as is the case for most people I think) various influences inevitably seep into the music I make. It's definitely an organic thing.
How do you create a typical Deadbeat track and do you do so in a home setup or studio? Can you discuss this process with specific reference to, say, “Head Over Heels” on Something Borrowed, Something Blue, an incredible example of your textural command? And obviously I've got to ask about the cricket sound. Where did that idea come from?
I usually start in the background with the ambient elements and build things toward the front, but there are certainly times when a melody line will dictate what happens around it. “Head Over Heels” and “Fixed Elections” are definitely examples of this. The main piano in the former and the synth line in the latter surfaced from just mucking around late at night and the rest of those tracks were built around them. Generally I find making tracks this way much more difficult as I'm quite shit when it comes to the music theory end of things (e.g., What chord progressions make sense, et cetera), and when I have to stop and think about those things, or more truthfully, figure it out through trial and error, I often get frustrated with having been taken out of the flow of just making weird noises and sculpting the bigger picture. This has gotten easier with time but I honestly can't see ever feeling comfortable with calling myself a proper musician.
The crickets are a total indulgence of a pretty silly idea I have had for a long time. I hadn't heard an album that had a single sound running all the way through so it was something that I wanted to experiment with. It's not something that I'll probably do again but from my perspective the experiment was a successful one. I think it really does create this cohesive haze throughout the whole thing.
To what extent are your sounds generated digitally and through sampling? The cymbal sounds and piano playing on the new Deadbeat record sound like natural instruments, but are they?
Nope, they're samples. All the sounds I use are made inside the computer with the exception of field recordings which are then chopped and processed and essentially become computer-generated, Frankenstein versions of themselves in the end anyway. I'd love to experiment with doing some live instrument recording but as of yet have not had the facilities or opportunities to do so. Maybe for chapter 3?
Many changes happened in your life between albums. First of all, you quit your ‘day' job (From 1999 to late 2003, Scott worked for the Montreal based company Applied Acoustics Systems, makers of the Tassman Software Synthesizer). Why did you do so? Was it so that you could give yourself more time to focus on your burgeoning music career, or did your ascendant artistic profile make it clear that you should make the break to capitalize on that growing interest?
It was for many reasons, all of them positive I can assure you, and having the chance to work on music full-time was definitely one of the most important. My time at AAS was really an amazingly good experience from start to finish, and I'm very proud of the accomplishments we made as a team over those 5 years. Of course I'm still using Tassman extensively and it's great to see they're continuing to push the envelope with the new version. I left in September and have managed to survive with just music thus far. How long that will last is anyone's guess. While I learned a lot from a technical perspective during my time there, one of the most important things I learned in working for a start-up for 5 years is to always take things one day at time.
Of course you got married too, and that event is celebrated by the new record. Aside from the album title, how do you see the connection between this event and the record? Are there specific musical connections you can identify?
Ironically, I think that this is probably the darkest record I've ever done. In retrospect that makes tons of sense to me, as music has always played a therapeutic role in my life. I was so amazingly happy about the wedding, and at the same time totally overwhelmed with the amount of planning involved in the ceremony and reception, there ended up being a lot of stuff outside of that that I just didn't have the time to deal with, or told myself that anyway. So I think all of those peripheral concerns ended up getting filtered into the darker moments of the album. Obviously there's some “joyful noise” in there as well though.
Tell us a bit about your musical evolution. What music/groups made big impacts upon you as you were growing up? As you played bass in bands, how did the move into electronic music come about? Why did you choose Montreal as your home after Kitchener?
I first really started getting deeply into music with a lot of skate punk in my early teens, which eventually lead me towards more industrial stuff, Psychic TV/ Throbbing Gristle, Skinny Puppy, et cetera. A friend of mine who had been living in England for a few years came back to Kitchener with a whole whack of tapes at some point in the early 90s, and insane stories of the rave scene over there. The Toronto scene was really just getting going then and I started going to events there just about every weekend. At some point I started DJing, mostly ambient stuff to begin with, and then, upon discovering it, Chain Reaction/Deepchord/Blue Train style dubby techno almost exclusively.
My childhood was actually almost equally split between Rural Quebec and Kitchener. I lived in Toronto for a year or so before coming up to Montreal and really wasn't into it. I had friends who I knew were living cheaply and very happily up here, so when it came time to plant some roots, it only made sense to give Montreal a shot. It's still my favorite city in the world. I've been here for 8 years now so I would definitely say it's the place I call home at this point.
While many of your colleagues are heavily engaged in techno-related strains of house, for example, you're deeply engaged with dub. Where did, incidentally, this love for dub originate? To what degree can this direction be traced back to Pole's first recording(s)?
I came to know dub music in a reverse chronological order. As mentioned, I was first introduced to dubby techno at raves in Toronto in the early 90s, and have since then gone on to discover the bottomless pit of classic roots, reggae, and dub proper. Recently it occurred to me that one of the reasons, at least on a sub-conscious level, that roots reggae resonated so strongly with me is its melodic similarities to Christian hymns. My father is a United Church minister and as a result my earliest experiences with live music were in church.
I saw Stefan play for the first time at an event in ‘99 that was actually the first MUTEK event, alongside David Kristian and Neotropic. We stayed in contact over e-mail and I sent him quite a few CDs to get his feedback in the years following, with the Wild Life Documentaries stuff being the first “Okay, here's a real demo for ~scape that I'd like you to ponder the idea of releasing” situation. He has been incredibly generous with his feedback and technical knowledge over years, and has, as a person, certainly played a major part in where I'm at musically today. I love his music immensely, but it is not something I would count as a direct influence, nor seek to emulate.
What are you listening to these days which strikes you as especially good? Who do you think is making important, influential music now?
In no particular order: Deru (the man), Sixtoo (also the man, and Canadian to boot), MADLIB (pure genius), AGF (gorgeous, ‘nuff said), Vladislav Delay (back in fine form with an amazing new album), The Mole (local cat set to blow up your local dancefloor and your stereo with his only special blend of crackout disco insanity), and Robert Rich (the king of modular analog ambient madness; his latest is pure bliss).
Crackhaus is a big part of your life too and you received lots of good notices for the CD released last year. Can you comment a bit on how the group sound develops?
To tell you the truth there's not much story to tell. Crackhaus has always been, and continues to be, about having fun together for us. We don't keep any sort of schedule as to when we will get together to work on music and the only consistent prerequisite in terms of the music is that it has got to make us laugh, or at the very least crack a smile. It's really a wonderful creative connection that came about as a logical progression in our long-standing friendship. We've always been about having fun together.
The whole issue of influences is complicated, as presumably you want to expose yourself to the music of others without being too influenced by it. I read one article about you, for example, which argued that Pole's influence was overly pervasive on Wild Life Documentaries. Do you consciously try to avoid being influenced so as to not have an influence emerge in your own music too greatly?
To tell you the truth, drawing the Pole connection has always felt just a little too easy to me. I mean, come on, I record on ~scape for God sake! As I mentioned, I'm a big fan of Stefan's music, as well as many other people employing dub aesthetics in their work these days, Rhythm and Sound and Twilight Circus to name but a few. I think it's impossible not to be influenced by the music you listen to. There so much of it out there across all genres that I enjoy so much and I would never consider depriving myself of all that great music simply to protect myself from the risk of being influenced. If things ever did reach that point I think it would probably be time for me to stop.
Let's discuss the whole notion of ‘cultural appropriation.' I'm wondering if you (as might Pole or Rhythm & Sound) ever encounter any resistance from dub purists to your working within a dub-oriented style, or are you typically met with a positive response by broadcasting the style to a much larger audience?
While I'm not at all concerned with trying to avoid sounding like or emulating other peoples' work, the issue of influence does come into play on a related note for me. Because the music I'm making, as well as a very large portion of electronic music, is rooted in black musical traditions, I often struggle with finding the line for myself between making a respectful, loving nod to all of the great music that has come before me, and what amounts to cultural appropriation, which seems to be disregarded in an electronic music context a lot of the time. I guess regardless of how you categorize the end result, it's important for me to acknowledge that the rhythms and techniques I use are a lot older than I am, and if I can find some way to place my own voice within that historical framework and maybe push the existing boundaries a little bit then that's great. I guess I just hope people will enjoy the music regardless of what they decide to call it.
Sadly I've had precious few opportunities to interact with the more roots dub community, but the ones I have had have been extremely positive. I would love to see more crossover between these two communities in terms of events. Rhythm and Sound live with Jah Shaka and Sizzla, now that would be something to see! Funnily enough, there's actually a huge reggae fesitval happening here in Montreal the same weekend as MUTEK with Culture, Buju Banton, and Anthony B to name but a few. Needless to say I've been scheming to try and figure out how I'm going to be able to go to both.
How do you compare your style to the Rhythm & Sound style? Does Rhythm & Sound with the Artists tempt you to work with vocalists?
Mark and Moritz's music was some of the first electronic music that resonated deeply for me (no pun intended), and I continue to be amazed by the sheer amount of raw passion and emotion that exude from every new release they put out. I haven't given serious consideration to incorporating vocals, as I haven't really had the facilities to do so up this point, and I guess maybe haven't met the right vocalist yet. I'm completely open to it as a possibility. I have every confidence that if it's meant to happen, opportunities will present themselves.
Future plans (touring, recording) in general for 2004 (aside from your upcoming Crackhaus MUTEK appearance)? Are there differences for you in the experience of performing at MUTEK versus Sonar or Transmediale?
A bit more touring over the next few months, then back in the studio to start thinking about chapter 3. Steve and I will be releasing a new Crackhaus CD/2x12 on Mutek_rec at the festival this year that will include 7 or 8 new tracks as well as remixes from our nearest and dearest. MUTEK has been such a big part of my life both in terms of music and the friendships that have developed with the people associated with it over the last few years. It kind of feels like playing at a family wedding or something, only in this case the family is fucking huge! It's going to be a lot of fun I'm sure, as it always is.