After the show, I gathered my things and proceeded to the green room where I was to meet up with the band, and with any luck, Murray, who was mysteriously absent for the entirety of the first part of the interview. When I arrived, I was greeted at the door and shuffled in the room past Jian who was making himself a sandwich. To my surprise, the one and only Murray Foster was indeed present and accounted for, but gathering together his things as if to leave. Noticing the opportunity, I jumped in questions blazing...
Meanwhile...: I noticed that many of the songs sound a little different than the versions that appear on your albums, and I was wondering just how much have the songs grown over the course of playing them live over and over again?
Murray Foster: We’re getting to the point with a lot of those early Bargainville tunes where we want to consciously mess with them. They’ve sort of evolved to their highest point in that form.
I guess, for us, [the] songs evolve into a sort of cohesion and they’re really solid live. And then we’ll pick a few like ‘Video Bargainville’ or ‘BJ Don’t Cry’ and we’ll consciously mess with them.
Mike Ford: The song ‘River Valley’ is one song that, on the album when it first came out, we were really timid. And now when we play it live we’re delivering it. It’s got some balls and it’s got some confidence. And some of the stuff on Wood, when we first recorded it we had just written it, we were just barely learning it and so it didn’t have the confidence. So that’s one of the main things, you play it over and over and it becomes much more of a piece that stands on its own.
MW...: You just run with it.
MW...: I was also noticing how crafty all of the switches were between songs. You guys are running around and changing instruments and positions, but because you’re always talking and moving around, nobody really notices that you’re doing it.
Dave Matheson: Good, then it comes off.
MW...: Is that planned, or is that part of your...
DM: Well, because we enjoy talking so much dead air really stands out.
MW...: How much of that is improvisational and how much of it is planned prior to the show?
MFord: You’ve got a little sheet there and it does say the next song is Sad Girl, so we generally follow the pre-show set-list. So you know you’ve got to get over there at some point. So everyone is just kind of doing their stuff and somebody will mention something - you might play with it for a bit, whatever the improv is - but sooner or later, you know you’re going to get there.
It’s kind of like little...Snakes & Ladders. [laughs]
MFoster: We know the end points. We don’t know the middle points. We’ve been playing together for so long that we have the confidence that when we want to, we can crack into the song. But we can also mess around between the songs...between the song, and take it somewhere else. Like in an improv, just talking or musically, and bring the show back to wherever it has to go. [We] just want to mess around, have a little fun, and go back to work. And the work, of course, being playing our own music.
MFord: Doesn’t always work though. [laughs]
MW...: It didn’t occur to me until you guys started playing You Will Go To the Moon, that NASA had used that song to wake up the astronauts on one of the shuttle missions. How cool is that?
DM: Very cool. We’re number six in space.
MFoster: Marc Garneau knows us.
MFord: You try imagining it, you know? Like maybe some of it will leak out of the space shuttle and now it’s on it’s way past Pluto.
MW...: Well, if it was played on the radio, you would be achieving the same effect.
MFord: Well, that aint happenin’.
MFord: We have to get our stuff to the other planets the old fashioned way. Actually sent up in a rocketship and then make it just echo out into space. It’s not working with the satellites.
MW...: So, did NASA just use the song or did they approach you with it first?
DM: Actually, our label in New York called them and got the tape to them and said, “Hey, we now you guys are doing stuff to wake the astronauts up and we’ve got quite a song here.” They said, “Sure.”
MW...: Very cool.
At this point I notice Murray making his way to the door, duffel bag in hand. He’d been shuffling around the room for the last five or ten minutes gathering his things and getting his coat. I wasn’t about to let him get away this time...
MW...: Murray, are you leaving?
MFoster: No, no. Just walking around...
MW...: I just had a couple of questions that I was asking everyone to getting their feedback on certain things, like what is your overall reaction to Thornhill as an album compared to the rest of your body of work as a band?
MFoster: It’s our most domesticated record. Our most housetrained record. It has the most sharp edges lopped off than any record that we’ve done, which is both good and bad. We were originally going for an album that has a mood and has a sound. So, we went for it and we got it. We’ve done that before with Wood, we sort of wanted that cohesive sound, and with Bargainville and ...Moon we wanted that eclectic sound. Whichever kind of album we’ve finished, we always want to do the other kind right after.
MW...: So that’s why every second album has had a shift in the approach you take to the music.
MFoster: Exactly. And we’re going to follow up Thornhill with The ‘C’ Album just like we followed up Wood with The ‘B’ Album. So, I think [that] whenever we do the serious cohesive albums, and lop off the sharp edges, we really want to put those sharp edges onto some album and get them out there. This kind of record is only half of what we want to express.
I like it a lot as a record. I’m proud of it, but it’s sort of half the story. To see where the other half of our brains have gone.
MW...: Speaking of The ‘C’ Album, it almost begs the question, will there ever be an ‘A’ Album?
MFoster: Well, 24 albums from now when we get the ‘Z’ Album, I guess...
MFord: [back in the cheesy British accent] All of our albums are ‘A’ Albums.
MW: I talked to Mike here about the definition of success earlier, saying that success is not necessarily having that hit song in heavy rotation on MTV, but perfecting your craft and doing material that you’re proud of. How do the rest of you guys respond to that?
DM: That type of success is a real kind of success. That’s a definition of success. By describing our success, I don’t think we’ve touched anything like that. We haven’t enjoyed that kind of success. But we do have a kind of success that keeps us happy, and certainly amongst our peers and friends in our milieu, we are successful. We make a living doing music and making records, get to travel and enjoy the response of people who listen to this creative plop in the wind that we come up with. So, yeah that’s a good sign of success.
MW...: So, Murray, that puts you in the spotlight now.
MFoster: I think that there is such a discrepancy between the MTV success that we all know - the Sugar Rays and the Backstreet Boys and such - and what’s happening on the ground. What’s coming up from here. The kids in their basements, what’s happening in small clubs across North America. There’s this huge middle ground of bands such as ours that make a living ignored by the upper level. It’s this sub-culture that exists across North America of bands that will probably never crack but exist in this middle ground and fans know about them and it’s a cult thing. Separate from the mainstream radio and stuff. And that’s a really cool position to occupy, which we sort of do in the states. Because it is cult, and it is passed on through friends of friends as opposed to radio. So it creates a real devoted fan. A zealous fan that follows you all across the country. It’s a really great atmosphere playing to those people, so that’s a kind of success as well. It’s very gratifying to play to those people. To have those people.
And in Canada when we sort of went from cult band to mainstream act six years ago, we lost those cult fans and the dynamic in the room we played had changed. And that was a drag. So it’s nice to have that in the States. That success that is cult, that is personal.
And with Murray's philosophy of success firmly in hand, we finished up with a brief discussion of how the guys felt about the show that night at Louis’ Pub. Already well past midnight, we shut down the interview and I gathered my things. Goodbyes were said and directions were given to Mike who was looking for the campus bookstore, and then they were off. Probably to enjoy some well-deserved rest and a day off before heading out on the road again.