The name of the band is Ought
The name of the song is Today More Than Any Other Day. The name of the city is Montreal. It’s been described as some kind of Mecca, a holy grail for artistic activity, for creativity, for – if you want to put it crudely – hipsters. Its fervent past has paved the way for a million bands to bubble and burst into life across every genre imaginable, cementing itself as a hotbed for all things alt.
But the legendary loft spaces that birthed so many mythologised DIY scenes have since been cleared to make way for trendy coffee shops and eateries. It’s dive bars like Brasserie Beaubien in the city’s slowly improving Rosemont arrondissement that now provide a platform for young bands to kick off, make a racket and tear into the fabric of the musical landscape. And tear they will. With a force that only serves to solidify the city’s reputation, Ought have broken out of their own noise and dissonance and infected virtually everyone who’s been lucky enough to fall within earshot of the charmingly melodramatic, chaotic art-punk of their debut album Today More Than Any Other Day and the post- album creative burst of its follow-up EP Once More With Feeling.
It’s a frostbitten afternoon in Montreal when we catch up with Ought via Skype. They’ve retreated to their Rosemont apartment for respite from their US tour. “It’s getting really cold here. We’re only home for a week so we’re trying not to turn our heating on. It sucks, but we’re fine,” says drummer and violinist Tim Keen with his expatriated Australian twang. “When we get back proper at the end of November we’ll hopefully go back into the mode that we were in. We all play in other bands as well. So that will involve playing at some local, small venues.” Keen lives with the band’s guitarist and vocalist Tim Beeler and keyboardist Matt May. In the background Beeler makes eggs as Matt shares his concerns about the fate of Montreal’s venues. “We’ve played loft spaces and it’s definitely been a big part of the part of the Montreal music scenes that have existed over the last 10 or more years. A lot of them got shut down though. They’re often short- lived,” he tells us. The house they share is right in the heart of the district they have grown up in as a band. “Brasserie Beaubien is a really good bar that’s a block from our house,” says Tim, “You feel like you can get away with anything there, that people will be excited by the weird stuff you do.”
Of course, the aforementioned closure of less profitable venues is a cultural as well as physical shift, and the larger sociopolitical issue at hand is gentrification and its creeping, overbearing thrust. “There’s an area, St Henry, which is like an old working class area that’s just getting torn up.” Keen tells us, “It depends on the area I guess and how gentrified it is already or how working class it was to start with.” So what about Rosemont then? “It’s not happening as egregiously where we live, but that may be because it’s already a little bit gentrified here,” he ponders.
To unravel a myth, we begin to probe the band on their oft-discussed political leanings, a reputation stemming in part from the four friends’ involvement in the Quebec student riots of 2012. But when picking apart Beeler’s hyperreal, David Byrne-esque rants (“And today more than any other day / I am prepared to make the decision between two percent and whole milk / And today more than any other day / look into the eyes of the old man on the train and say ‘Well everything is going to be OK’”) and attempting to link them to the issues facing Montreal, we fumble around trying to make a link between the band’s sonic dissonance and their deconstructive worldview. At this point Keen begins to tire of the line of questioning, quickly rebuffing our rambling, fantastical theories. “I know the argument, I think it’s valuable. It’s true for a lot of people, it allows them to break out of hegemonic conventions. I don’t know how relevant that is to us as much as it might be more relevant that atonality just sounds good or feels appropriate for what we’re trying to convey.”
"Part of not being a shit is not telling other people how to behave, and we fulfill our responsibility by trying to be as mindful as we can in the art that we make" - Tim Keen
We refer back to an article in which the band discussed postmodern author Don Delillo and his book White Noise, and they burst into embarrassed laughter. “We’ve all read that book,” Keen laughs. “We all read it in one week and I guess in that week we were talking about it as if it’s like our manifesto or something. It’s a good book. White Noise does something cool in terms of reflecting modernity and making it seem strange or surreal.” But is that the point of Ought?
We ask whether they feel a responsibility to reflect on the human condition through their art. “I think in terms of what we present, it’s definitely based on conversations we have, communities we’re interacting with. There’s an attempt to be conscientious or thoughtful to the extent we can be or try to be,” Matt responds, with Keen adding “Given that all art is gonna influence someone to behave a certain way, do we feel responsible to be mindful of that?” He sighs, before answering his own question. “Look, part of not being a shit is not telling other people how to behave, and we fulfill our responsibility by trying to be as mindful as we can in the art that we make. I think that’s true of music and of literature. I don’t think I see that great a separation between the responsibility of the two things.”
We’re tweaking a nerve, Keen’s drifting away. And so we quickly shift the subject back towards the band’s home city and home lives, the domestic realities of Ought. “I have other bands, I work on a label and I’ll be recording friends’ bands” Keen reflects on his bulging schedule of musical endeavours. “God, I think I need a hobby” he jokes wearily. “Maybe we’ll get a cat. That would be good.” With little left to say, our conversation draws to a close.
A cruel winter waits, the band hole up in their adopted city. It’s impossible to imagine Ought anywhere else. They are home. The name of the city is Montreal.
Ought’s latest EP, Once More With Feeling, is out now via Constellation Records