Hello all in Guitaro, could you please introduce yourselves and let me know what you play in the band?
Mark Wiebe – guitars, vocals, keyboards, sequencing/drum programming
Jeremy Unrau – bass and stuff
Heather Warkentin – guitar/vocals
When and how did you form?
J – Mark and Heather had played together previously in Madeline. Jer Epp and I had played together quite a bit in various pick-up bands. The first time we all played together was September 1997 I think. Right before that I was playing with Mark and Jason Pultz, also ex-Madeline in a power-pop summer project called Pacer. Jason moved to Toronto at the end of the summer, Pacer dissolved, and Guitaro was born. The name surfaced in those early days, but wasn’t officially adopted till 2000.
When did each of you start making music?
J – I was always wrestling with some instrument as a kid and bought my first electric guitar (super crappy) when I was 16 or 17. That kind kick started it for me. My family was pretty into the church thing back then so I played there whenever I could. When I was 18 a friend encouraged me to play bass for him at some coffee house. So I learned and was hooked.
H – My dad always had an acoustic guitar kickin around….when I was about 12 or 13 I was inspired by Eddie Brickell, Carol King, Tom Petty and really wanted to be a musician so I got a ‘teach yourself guitar’ book and learned a few chords (this only got me so far before I pursued some lessons).When I was 15 I started singing in my first band, Cedar Itch….I really dug music and wanted to try being part of it. Madeline was the next band I sang in and did lyric writing which was a new challenge. I didn’t start doing the guitar + singing thing until Guitaro.
M – I took piano lessons when I was about 10 or so for a couple of years, got bored of that then moved on to acoustic guitar, then got my first electric guitar for x-mas when I was 16. I used that same guitar for over 10 years and just got a new one this year. The first songs I wrote were for Madeline (with Heather) but didn’t start writing lyrics and singing until Pacer got going a couple years later.
Futura Black is an amazing album. Can you give us any indication of the writing process behind the songs and how the recording process went?
J – All these guitar songs started showing up slowly. Some were born during jams, many appeared during solo acoustic sessions. I think there was a very intentional movement towards a much heavier, fuzzed, super wide sound. So when we were writing on the acoustic we thought about that. We even wanted the more laid back tracks to seem huge. A little background – We had all moved out to Winnipeg for school from the west coast and stayed out there for a few years. It was then that we wrote most of that stuff and recorded Futura Black.
H – Most of the songs on Futura Black were written on acoustic and then brought to the band to transform and arrange in an electric way. Vocal melodies were mostly constructed quietly with acoustic accompaniment. Mark and I would just sing stuff until they sounded good together and gave the song a feeling that felt right. Or one of us had a melody and the other would find a complementary harmony. The sound of a vocal melody and how it works as an instrument is almost more important to me than the meaning of the words I sing. Ideally a vocal part is heard as another instrument in the mix, not the central part of a song.
M – I kind of had an idea of how I wanted the songs to sound like production-wise, which I didn’t really come close to achieving but lots of people seem to dig it so that’s cool. Not quite as huge and shiny sounding as I would have liked but for a recording budget slightly above zero it turned out ok. The drums were laid down in one 12 hour recording session which I would not recommend doing. The bed tracks for 12.5 songs were laid down during that session but we settled on the 9 that turned out best for the album. The rest of the album was recorded in the basement of the house we were renting at the time in Winnipeg on my computer with some rented mics and outboard gear. The main ingredient for the album was lots of layers of everything and thanks to the magic of digital recording we weren’t limited to the number of overdubs we could do.
Since it has been a while since you came out with Futura Black, what has been up in the recording sector? I know you came out with a fab track for the Club AC30 series, but do you have plans for another LP soon? If so, when?
J – We’ve been laying down tracks for a new LP, tentatively titled JJ’s Crystal Palace. Writing, rehearsing, arranging and recording bits and pieces… all that stuff. Reinventing ourselves a bit. The Club AC30 single was a good ramp up for us.
H – We are not a band that pumps out tunes quickly….we tend to have ideas that are worked on for some time before they feel complete. Since the Club AC30 thing and Jer Epp leaving the band the instrumentation has been shifting a bit so we are figuring all that out too.
M – The album is in the works but when it will be done, nobody knows. We’ve written songs for about half of an album the rest of the songs still need to be extracted from the ether. If we don’t get our act together, maybe we’ll release an EP instead. I need to find time to work on Guitaro stuff in between my other music projects (Sinewave and Helpcomputer) and my full-time job so that makes things move along slower than I’d like (my Sinewave album Unity Gain will be coming out this summer on VInyl Republik – ww.vinylrepublik.com).
If so, when?
M – your guess is as good as mine!
J – Not sure when, but this year would be cool. December would be nice, but it’s hard to gauge recording time. Futura Black took 17 months.
H – Like I said we don’t rush things! and how is the writing and recording coming?
H – I personally find I don’t just sit down and write a song too often, its not something I can force or do on demand I guess. I certainly think there are songs in me somewhere, they just take a while to find. Mark and Jer have been doing more of the writing for this album so far.
M – It’s evolving at a slightly faster pace than maybe some species, but it will kick Darwin’s ass!
Flying Cloud is one of my favorite tracks on Futura. Is there an interesting story behind it? How and when was it written?
J – I think we were listening to a lot of ABBA at the time (2000). After we named it, we realized that the Doobie Brothers and Dinosaur Jr. both have songs named Flying Cloud. Oops.
H – I came up with the basic rhythm and chords, Jer had a big part in arranging it and all of us collectively gave it the feel. The lyrics were written later after I figured out a vocal melody. I was feeling sort of caught between the ocean and the prairie at the time (we were all living in Winnipeg, Manitoba but from the West Coast near Vancouver, BC).
M – I added the keyboard parts!
How did you get your song on the AC30 disc?
J – Robin got a hold us and asked us if we wanted to be part of a London club night CD single. I think the idea was to actually play Club AC30 as well, but we didn’t make it out there. It sounded like a cool opportunity so we busted out Rainbow Brain. I’d say that track gives you a good idea of what the next record might feel like.
When was that song recorded and when was it written?
J – We finished/recorded it last year. That was kind of a phantom song I had hanging around shapeless for a 3 or 4 years. I always wanted it to have a Robo-Classical feel. We recorded at Mark’s place here in Vancouver last year.
What’s the scene like where you live in Canada? Is there a lot going on in the indie-market or the shoegaze market in particular?
J – There are lots of wicked bands from Canada, for sure. I don’t do a very good job keeping up on them however. As far as the shoegaze thing goes, I think those sensibilities have crept into a lot of different styles so you might hear it in a band even though they don’t consider themselves shoegaze. Like us. I think our influences were influenced by that more than we were. I can’t totally speak to what’s happening in Canadian shoegaze at the moment, but I can point to who I think were the godparents of genre in this country, namely Eric’s Trip and subsequently Elevator to Hell (now Elevator). What they did and are doing had/has a distinctly different flavour than ‘traditional’ UK shoegaze. A much spookier aesthetic. People may disagree or see it as stonerrock, but I guess the term shoegaze has always had wider connotations to me.
H – The indie scene in Canada is quite prominent in that there are tons of bands in pretty much every city in Canada. I have to admit that it takes a lot of digging around and exploring to find out about them and I am not committed enough I guess. I have been into Black Mountain, an indie band from here in Vancouver. I usually get introduced to new music from other friends who are more proactive in exploring the scene. In terms of the shoegaze scene I don’t really know of anything. At least not in the ‘traditional’ UK style. We have never really pegged ourselves as shoegaze or tried to align ourselves with any specific genre (but the comparison is made quite often).
M – Hinterland is a really cool Vancouver band we’ve played with several times that some might call shoegaze-ey (but they also rock out pretty good too!). They’ve got a new album coming out soon, so keep your ears open. A Northern Chorus from Ontario is another band we’ve played with that has been gaining some notoriety in Canada and they have a really nice spacey/mellow aesthetic. Vancouver band Readymade would also probably fall into the shoegaze category. They don’t play live too often, but have released several albums and seem to have a bit of a following of their own. Other hot stuff coming out of Canada would most likely include Caribou/Manitoba (just saw them live, awesome show!), Stars, and The Arcade Fire.
Do you plan to come down to the States and do some touring? If so, when?
J – That’s a tough one. I think we’d like to, but there are no definite plans as of yet. If we did, we’d probably cruise down the west coast for starters. You’ll have to come see us in Vancouver in the mean time. June 4th at the Picadilly with Hinterland and Bleep.
M – That show’s not happening now, so we’ve got nothing at the moment. We are still trying to figure out how to pull off a live show without a drummer. Hopefully we’ll be playing some shows again this summer.
For the gear heads out there, can you tell us what gear you use live and in the studio?
J – I think we use the same gear for both. My set up is simple: Fender bass, Big muff, Boss limiter, Crate amp, Line 6 Bass Pod, Mark’s synths.
H – I use a Danelectro electric guitar (nice and light with a thin-ish neck for those smallhanded people like me).Roland Jazz Chorus Amp and Big Muff fuzz pedal as well as different built in amp effects. Mark and I usually like to use delay on our vocals just to space them out a bit and lend more texture.
M – For guitars, my Big Muff and Rat distortion pedals are indispensable. I also use phaser and digital delay pedals. The main guitar I’m using now is an Ibanez Jet King, and I have a Fender acoustic and an old no-name electric. I’ve gradually been building up my studio gear, so I’m now using a laptop with a MOTU 828 MKII audio interface. I use a variety of software synths and midi controllers and I also have a vintage Roland Juno 6 analog synth circa 1982.
What makes a great song? What is your approach to writing?
J – I like a song that vibrates you in a certain way. Chills, watery eyes are desire-able side-effects. A few well placed hooks that keep you listening to a track over and over. Writing happens in a lot of different ways. It doesn’t work when I force it. Rarely, things just flow out of me. My stuff tends to stew really slowly. I usually start by finding a nice set of chords then spend a lot of time on structure, dosage and mood (probably the most important ingredient). I may have a few lyrical ideas/guide lines but tend to leave that to Mark and Heather. Our writing has also shifted away from always writing with guitars, to writing with keyboards or chunks of sound.
H – It’s totally about mood. I think a great song is one that gets in your blood in a subtle yet magnetic way. My favorite songs are ones that can drift in the background and not take over but resonate distinctly. It’s difficult to put into words but I need to connect with songs, it feels quite personal. As Jer said above, vibration is a large part of it. I think that’s why music is so personal.
People vibrate in different ways and connect with songs that complete something for them. In terms of songwriting approach it generally happens on guitar and involves playing and jamming around by myself with little bits that endear me. Then I work with Mark or Jer to expand and make a song/arrangement of it.
M – What makes a great song is really totally subjective and personal and it’s all about how it makes you feel and what it makes you feel. A lot of it is most likely on a totally subconscious level anyway, so writing about it is probably pretty much useless. Anyway, most of the songs I write originate on acoustic guitar often while I am watching TV or just chilling out. More recently I’ve written some songs on keyboards and added guitars later. Lyrics always come last and are my least favorite and most painful part of writing a song.
If you have any, could you tell us what artists you would say are influences on your work?
J – Jean Michel Jarre, Air, Elevator, Radiohead, Madeline, James Last
H – Whatever I am listening to at the time. Usually it’s a particular mood that influences me.</br>
M – Early influences would include Smashing Pumpkins and Starflyer 59 for their huge big muff multi-layered guitar sounds. Dandy Warhols were a big influence, but their latest album was kind of shite compared to the earlier ones. Radiohead, Air, The Beatles.
What artists/cds are you listening to now?
H – Daft Punk, Scissor Sisters, Ulrich Schnauss, Unintended, Arcade Fire, various synth classics.
M – Currently I am listening to Ulrich Schnauss, M83, Autolux, Caribou, Air, Kings of Convenience, Pete Samples, Fourtet, and the Raveonettes
Any other comments?
J – Jeremy Epp, our drummer left the band a few months back. Jer was awesome, and it was super fun to play with him. We were very lucky to have him. Obviously we are having to adjust to this change and find new approaches. We won’t be adding another member to replace him either. At the same time, we’re excited about the new directions that things seem to be going. I think all bands transform continually (one way or another). That’s what we’re rolling with now.
M – We recently hooked up with Tonevendor to sell our CD through their on-line store (www.tonevendor.com) which has been a major boost for us and is proving that this album really has legs, as we have sold more copies over the past several months than we did when it first came out in 2002.