When the time came for titling their first full-length album, Tomcat Combat did not want to let it be an afterthought.
I'm Okay You're Okay, coming out this weekend on local label Noyes Records, is named after a self-help book. The five-piece instrumental group is directing this ironic plea for recovery at what Noel Macdonald calls a depressed and formulaic musical genre called post-rock.
"You start really slow, really sad, overly sentimental and sappy. If it's going to be rewarding it has to grow out of that spot, it can't be fast right away or too flashy," says guitarist Noel Macdonald, bemoaning the complacent nature of many of post-rock's more popular groups, such as Explosions in the Sky and Sigur Rós.
"I don't understand why more post-rock bands play with that structure."
With that in mind, Tomcat Combat have worked at emphasizing the "rock" in post-rock through crafting energetic songs that start fast and loud. Album opener "Pacer's Club" speaks to this ethos, launching with a quick and math-rock-esque rhythm buoyed by heavy guitars and squelchy synth noises.
The band, featuring Macdonald and Brad Lahead on guitars, Dan Nightengale on bass, Gary Staple on drums and Alex Mitchell on the Moog, have been making a lot of headway since playing their first show in February 2006. The band recorded a self-titled EP only a couple of months after that first show, a move that Macdonald says was fortunate in the long run. Made by the band without outside help, Macdonald says they ended up with a recording he tries his best to forget.
"If you do it yourself you're really going to have to know what you're doing. That was a big lesson. This time around we were just going to do everything right. We were going to wait until we had some money and we were going to just practice, practice, practice and go into the studio all ready to blow through the songs and get out of there.
"We're not recording engineers or mixing engineers, we're just musicians making music. That's what we do good so that's what we should devote our energy to."
To take the pressure off themselves this time, the band elected to record at Echo Chamber with veteran Halifax producer/musician Charles Austin. Beyond appreciating the relaxed approach Austin took to recording the band's album, they were also keen on what Macdonald calls "the warm analogue sound" of recording direct to tape.
A big difference between the new album and the EP is the amount of time the band spent tinkering and refining their songs beforehand. "It took a lot of editing and scraping before we were ready to take them into the studio. We wanted to make sure everything was really cohesive." This process included sometimes practicing as much as five times a week, which wasn't always easy with the band members' school, work and other musical commitments.
When Macdonald and Staple first conceived Tomcat Combat, they were certain the band would be instrumental. Whether it comes down to being as loud as they like, making sharp turns in arrangements or emphasizing strong melodies, Macdonald finds that making music without vocals gives their songs more freedom. "With vocals in there I think it would draw too much attention away from the music," he says.
Tomcat Combat plans to tour in the fall, and will soon begin playing some select dates throughout the Maritimes. In the meantime, Macdonald hopes listeners will enjoy the new album in any setting. While some post-rock bands are more appropriate for private listening, Macdonald believes the energy of I'm Okay You're Okaymakes it good anytime, anyplace.
"I think you should put on this record with friends, bob your head a little bit and enjoy it. And not be depressed."
Tomcat Combat CD Release show w/Sleepless Nights, Medium Mood and Murder Sounds, Saturday, June 14, at the North Street Church, 5657 North St., 7pm, $8 adv/$10.
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