Think About Life is the type of band that makes music writers want to quit. It's hard to write about them in any honest and meaningful way without descending into lifeless party-band descriptors. ("An exuberant live show! Charmingly shambolic!") And really, it doesn't really do them justice. The facts, on paper: A few years ago, Montreal musicians Martin Cesar, Matt Shane and Graham Van Pelt took the energy that fuelled Montreal all-ages shows and Casio-and-drum-machine house parties and created a self-titled EP. They toured with Wolf Parade and went to Japan. They crowd-surfed, sweated and screamed. They were, in short, cool as all shit.
For most groups, this is a decent start: a not-bad album and a spot on Alien8 Recordings, along with some of the best outre acts in the world. But this spring, three years after their debut, Think About Life re-emerged with Family, a disarmingly tight new record with dreamy vocals, sparkling samples and a groovy, amazing optimism. (The group also boasts a new drummer, Greg Napier, formerly of Halifax's own Special Noise.) During a phone call from Montreal on a frigid post-Thanksgiving morning, multi-instrumentalist Van Pelt insists the story behind his band's very grown-up new sound isn't a big deal at all.
"Oh, it's not a very interesting story!" he says. "The first album was recorded when we had been a band for three months. We just recorded everything we came up with in our jam space. Martin sang, I wrote the keys and Matt did the drums." With the new album, "this was the first time we sat down and worked everything out as a band. There wasn't a lot of delineation between roles. It was a real group effort."
It would seem, then, that Family was borne from a literal closeness between the three members: a moment of clarity when they all realized they had lots in common when it came to sampling and song content. "Having My Baby" takes its title from a sample that Van Pelt and Cesar loved, sped-up and uttered throughout the song in a voice that sounds female. Meanwhile, Cesar sings as if he were the one having the baby and begs his girlfriend to stay. It's a strange, heartfelt role reversal laid over spangling keys and drums, reminiscent of the Go! Team at their finest. And Think About Life does share that British band's childlike exuberance---there's little hipster detachment or posturing here. Van Pelt says the group couldn't front the "right" attitude even if they tried.
"We wouldn't be able to pull off a really harsh stance," he says. "If you see us in person, we're not super well put-together dudes pulling off bold fashion statements or something. I'm not into that kind of stuff. It's not what I want to write."
When he's not playing with Think About Life, Van Pelt plays and records with his sometimes-band, sometimes one-man project Miracle Fortress, whose album Five Roses was nominated for a Polaris Prize in 2007. Van Pelt sighs when asked whether he considers either group a side project.
"Depending on what city you're in, Think About Life or Miracle Fortress is more popular," he says. "I take both seriously. It's funny how you get in this loop of speculation. Someone speculates about you, and you start to speculate about why they're speculating."
As more people get turned on to Family and witness Think About Life's ridiculously fun live shows on this leg of their tour, one has to wonder whether Van Pelt, Cesar and now Napier will remain unaffected by the ever-encroaching blob of media conjecture and that old standby, blog hype.
"Ha! I'm not unaffected by that at all," Van Pelt says. "Sometimes, if you go to SXSW or something, you have an anxiety attack. I guess more people are talking, and maybe there's too many people talking about it. My relationship to people consuming our music is based only on live shows, because that's where we see it. People make unqualified statements, but it doesn't change the fact that I really enjoy the music most people make. And it's nice to see when people are really into what we're making."
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