Gimme Your Answers: An Interview w/ The Most Serene Republic

The Most Serene Republic
Photo by Benjamin Telford

They arrived on the scene in the early 2000s – a young band with an impressive Arts&Crafts pickup and re-release of their dazzling first effort Underwater Cinematographer. But they hit us again, one after the other, with beautiful records, and the band quickly captured our hearts and minds with their cinematic walls of sound (and I don’t say that lightly), lush arrangements, and angelic falsetto harmonies. It’s been a half-decade since The Most Serene Republic have released new material, but it’s been well worth the wait. Released November 13th via MapleMusic, their latest offering Mediac is sure to impress old fans and new. Victims of geography, we were able to speak with lead singer Adrian (Jewett) and Ryan (Lenssen) to talk about the new album.

AMBY: Where did you all meet?  I feel like you’re all high school sweethearts.

Ryan: The truth is, some of us are elementary school sweethearts. Adrian, Nick, and myself all met during elementary school, but really became friends and bandmates during the last year of high school. Sean we met during university, Simon we met auditioning for the Strokes tour years ago, and Adam we met auditioning prior to our …And the Ever Expanding Universe tour.

AMBY: The first track is a complete knockout. The title is a reference to James Joyce. Can you speak to what the song is about at all?

Adrian: It’s about the severe lack of profound connections in an era of perverse communications. The track talks of pattern recognition with every aspect of our lives, and the boredom that results. Even falling in love and writing about it is banal because so many musicians out there are writing such twaddle about love, and refuse to break barriers and instead play it safe. The Internet as cultural pacifier? So many bands now, so much baby food. They want to sit back, collect royalties, get laid and drunk, and feed the lame their lame sauce. What needs to happen is a new way of saying the old things, but cell phones have dismissed that originality, and have taken away a lot of our imagination for good, challenging art. Phones have taken away our attention spans, and have sped up our expectations of people to the perfections of nanotechnology.  Flaws are a social crime now, and everyone wants their human friends to be like their phones, constantly spouting information, comedy, news, the weather, in perfect tandem. Admit it, your cell phone is your closest friend now. Texting after sex, texting when you first wake up. Ray Bradbury was right. Where are the profound art movements? Ah fuck it, check your phone for messages.

AMBY:  You’re obviously a band that loves a lot of different kinds of music.  Were you listening to any particular records during the making Mediac that may have subconsciously influenced the sound? Or do you make an effort to limit how much you listen to while writing as to not let other artists’ voices get in your head?

Ryan: Mediac was written over the course of 4 years. Initially many of those tracks started as embryos during the creative phase of Fantasick Impossibliss. There are staple songs and artists that flow into my head as I’m writing the music, however, I have a hard time finding a common theme that would lend itself to any particular artists in general. I definitely do not limit how much I listen to while writing. I will say that in the future, I would love to write music along the lines of Caribou or Boards of Canada.

AMBY: You’ve made several records together now.  How has the writing process changed for you as a band as you’ve gotten older?

Ryan: The writing process has mostly stayed the same. I write the foundation for the most part, and the rest of the boys build the house. Adrian adds the roof, and to finish it off I do the interior decorating and landscaping. The only difference is the use of technology. Before we always had to be in the same room together to write things and record them. Now because of busy schedules and other life events, the boys can record some of their work and send it to me over the Internet and we can work collaboratively over long distances.

AMBY: Do you prefer touring, or would you all rather be collaborating in a studio together?

Ryan: Both have its charms. I think over the years touring has lost some of its shimmer. Having fun in the studio is one of the most gratifying things we can do as a band.

AMBY: Failure of Anger is a real sleeper track on this album.  Can you talk about where this song takes place?

Adrian: “Failure of Anger,” takes place in a pastoral backyard somewhere out in Elora. Just kidding. It’s our attempt to find old connections on the path to new ones. Because it is getting scary the amount of apathy out there. You can’t get angry either. Anger always fails. You have to change the way you live your life for the better and the only way to do that is to have compassion for yourself. Change society from within. Our biggest battles are now being fought within our minds.

AMBY: For Adrian – you have one of the most impressive falsettos in post pop.  How do you take care of a voice like that?

Adrian: I stopped putting so much pressure on myself before a show with tons of warm-ups. For a long time, I never thought I was good enough to sing in my band. Then I just surrendered to myself. Vocal warm ups to me are a waste of time. I stopped trying to be cool for everyone and had the guts to just be me. I’ve always liked singing but I originally wanted to act. Now all I want to do is to continue to make new and groundbreaking music. Cigarettes and Perrier is the perfect combo for any singer. In the end though, it doesn’t matter if you warm up. It matters if you are comfortable being yourself.

AMBY: Where do you feel like the concept of the album is going in the midst of this digital age? Do you feel like the format will change soon forever – where we are limited to singles, or EPs – or will the album ultimately endure all? As well, do you feel like the Internet has had an effect on your attention span and the way you consume music?  Do you like the way it’s changed how you are?

Ryan: It seems like there is a resurgence of vinyls, so thats nice, however, we cannot be afraid of progress or change.  It is always sad when media shifts mediums, but mostly I think the anxiety about these things is the fear of the unknown. No one knows what the future of music or the album will hold. Most of us grew up with the idea of the album as a singular entity, a concept, a paragraph of thought, but that’s not necessarily the only way music can or should be devoured. I refuse to hold onto ideas simply because that is how things have been done in the past. There will always be merit to the way things have been done, but we should not be so anxious about what the future has in store.

As for the second question regarding the speed of the Internet and attention spans, Mediac is our exploration of that topic. I’ll let the record convey how we feel about that topic emotionally, but I will say that the Internet is a tool, just like a hammer is a tool. Both can be useful, and both can be destructive. We can’t blame in the tool for our usage of it. I don’t particularly enjoy how addictive the Internet is. It is a constant struggle to curtail the habit.

AMBY: The string arrangements are beautiful on this album – especially on Nation Of Beds.  Who’s responsible for the string work on this album?

Ryan: Simon (Lukasewich) is a virtuoso on violin. He truly is a gifted musician and has a wonderful sense of orchestration.

AMBY: Your music is known to be very cinematic, and in your previous works you’re often noted for your wall of sound.  This album has moments of that intensity, but feels more stripped back and minimalist in parts this time around.  Was that a conscious approach, and does this speak to where you’re at in your lives now?

Ryan: For a true example of a stripped down back to basics record I recommend checking out our Fantasick Impossibliss EP. That was our experiment into that sort of sound, and an antithesis to our normal work. However, I think our wall of sound reflects our eagerness and enthusiasm. We come up with ideas and want to add them, sometimes things drown other things out which is always a little tragic, but sometimes, for whatever reason, I feel a song needs something so we layer, and layer, and layer. I’m not sure why sometimes. Perhaps it’s because I have always dreamed that the band could have the same intensity as a full orchestra.

AMBY: You totally have that intensity. It’s like an illusion. Last question for you – choose. Nightmares every night for the rest of your life, or ‘You Forgot It In People’ was never made.

Ryan: I love BSS, but are you kidding me? I need my sleep.

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Thank you The Most Serene Republic, for giving us your answers!

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Interview by Rosemary Fairweather

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