By: Chris Hynes
Rock Island: What are the biggest differences between Young Manics (YM) now versus YM in 2013 when you recorded your last record ‘Solidarity Songs’?
Aaron Hickey: Solidarity Songs was written serially, each song being composed in a linear fashion, over a period of about two years. We had written, rehearsed, and played the songs live many times before recording. This is probably the most advisable way for a band writing their debut album to work because I can imagine it would be very intimidating to learn the recording process and the writing process simultaneously. The limitation of this approach is that it’s difficult to create a cohesive, band defining, sound when working like that. Tastes and influences change over time and an album can perhaps lack direction and purpose when written over such a long period. It is difficult to capture a moment in time when that period is 2 or 3 years. “Challenger” was composed with a pre-defined goal of achieving a certain sound we had imagined long before writing. We spent a lot of time experimenting with sounds attempting to create something sonically unique. Then we began to write and record simultaneously over a period of about 9 months. While we still love Solidarity Songs I think “Challenger” is an album that shows significant growth for our group.
RI: From a songwriter’s perspective, what is message you are hoping to convey with Challenger?
AH: Musically we wanted to make an album that sounded very Canadian. We wanted to create the kind of feeling you got listening to Canadian music of the alternative/college rock era and fuse it with more recognizable modern indie rock. In its infancy, we jokingly referred to the album as Sounds of the Canadian North. While that was our musical direction, I didn’t want to overtly emphasis that by being lyrically patronizing with the “Canada” theme. I attempted to ask a lot of questions, rather than lecture or pretend like I have any answers. The lyrics are simply meant to evoke the sense of wonder, awe, confusion, and chaos that I live with each day, and that I suspect other do as well.
RI: How did your approach to recording this album change from the last? What was the biggest lesson learned on the last one and how do you think it carried over onto Challenger.
AH: As I mentioned before, we composed and recorded “Challenger” in parallel, which was a big change that brought about all kinds of new opportunities and really sparked the creative process. We learned from our first album that to make a great record you need to focus just as hard on creating your sounds as you do on creating your songs. I always felt that we were good at song writing and our specialty has been creating unorthodox song structures which keep the songs exciting without becoming too obvious or distracting. Understanding how to develop a band defining sound came later and was more experience based. You must remember in saying that we have self-produced all our work, which is quite a journey and a huge learning curve.
RI: It is not uncommon for an artist to become obsessed over certain albums while they are in the studio, what albums come to mind when you were envisioning Challenger?
AH: I am excited by this question because I mentioned earlier that “Challenger” is musically a bit of a fusion of late 80’s early 90’s Canadian alt rock and modern indie rock, but I didn’t feel I had room to get specific. Now I do! So there were a few albums specifically that were very influential. The most interesting is an album called “Pretty Green” by a Toronto based group called PRETTY GREEN. This was a rather obscure vinyl album I borrowed from a friend who had purchased it for a dollar or two from a yard sale, simply because he liked the cover art. It turns out the album is magnificent and we could not believe the band was never well known. The record sounded so uniquely Canadian that it inspired us to create our own modern version. Also at the time, we had been listening to music by Mac Demarco, Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs, Beach House, Wilco, Japandroids, and Yukon Blonde. “Lost in the Dream” by War on Drugs was probably the most influential of those modern albums although there are certainly touches of all of these groups in there somewhere.
RI: Challenger is a welcome addition to the St. John’s rock scene, where do you see it fitting in? How have you noticed the scene has changed since your last release?
AH: I see it making people piss their pants from Quidi Vidi gut all the way to the Pearl. Of course I am grossly biased. I will leave it to the critics to decide where “Challenger” fits in the compendium of Newfoundland music.
To address the second half of this question it is important to know that we have been together for 8 years now. So the biggest thing we notice is that hardly any of the bands that were active when we started, exist anymore. I don’t think we could have imagined 8 years ago that we would still be together and still enjoying it as much as we do today. The most important change in the scene over that time has been the accessibility the new bands have to high quality recording. When we started most bands wrote songs and played them live and if the band broke up those songs were gone forever, except in the memories of those people who had been at the shows. If you went to a show and you knew all the songs, that meant you were a huge fan, because even if there were recordings of the songs, they were likely just garage demos. Only the bands who were funded by Music NL or who had rich parents had pro albums when we started. That barrier to entry has been completely torn apart however as technology has changed and the number of local engineers capable of doing really pro recording has increased exponentially. Today it is truly open to anyone. That is a wonderful thing.
RI: Whats next for Young Manics?
AH: Hopefully it will be shows… shows... shows. We took 10 months off live performance while we recorded this album. This is also because our guitar player James was exploring teaching and in exploring in China. The full lineup is back in town now and ready to rock again. We have some plans to do a bit of touring later on in the year when schedules align, and we never stop writing, so I am sure there will be some of that as well.
Young Manics CD Release show is at the Levee September 16