This past May, Toronto post rock icons Do Make Say Think released their first album in nearly a decade. The result was worth the wait: Stubborn Persistent Illusions is at times lush, stark, heartfelt and existential. The songs are textured by weaving musical voices that slip through your fingers just as you attempt to grasp.
But, as is the case with most instrumental music, theirs is a sound that is powerful yet difficult to define or compartmentalize.
Elusive as their sound may be, Vanyaland recently caught up with Charles Spearin, one of the group’s founders and longtime member of Broken Social Scene, over email to discuss their newest offering and the relationship between music and presence ahead of this Sunday’s show at The Sinclair. Being the group’s first U.S. tour in eight years, it’s not one to be missed.
Nick Calvino: It’s often difficult to speak about mainly instrumental music to others. How would you describe this particular album’s themes and even the group as a whole? What is behind the record that brings on descriptors such as “expressive, narrative, and restorative?”
Charles Spearin: Yes, you’re right, it is difficult to describe mainly instrumental music. But that might be the point. I’m not sure. What I mean is, I think it’s healthy to take a break from conceptualizing everything all the time. Words, whether lyrics or descriptions, are handy bite-sized concepts that take specific aspects of our living experience and reduce them to their function. It’s great, of course, that we can do that because it’s turned what would have been just another species of mammal, is, into the great sentient super-organisms that we are. But by continually reducing real life to word-versions of life, things start to feel a little empty. And because we’re so used to reducing things into concepts, we end up craving more concepts instead of actual experiences.
Instrumental music, if we can stand it, gives us a break from our constant internal narrative, our chattering thoughts, and wakes us up to our immediate experience.
For Stubborn Persistent Illusions, we took this idea of music as a replacement for chattering thoughts and wove it into a kind of narrative based on a line from a Buddhist poem:
When you lose your mind to something outside Be like the ship-captain watching her crow fly With nowhere to alight on the boundless ocean Return, return again
The idea being, no matter how involved your daydreams may be, eventually you have to return to being alive in the present moment.
How have the dynamics of the work developed over time? Has the influence of the members’ other projects worked its way into DMST affairs?
It’s not easy to tell where influences come from. You can listen to a thousand albums from all over the world and then when you pick up your guitar your fingers go back to something you learned as a teenager. It’s kind of a weird duality to be honest, there’s your fingers exploring the fretboard/keyboard/whatever and then there’s your discriminating mind that likes and dislikes what it hears. And then add in a bunch of bandmates with their own fingers and ears and minds and what you end up with is more like a discovery rather than an expression. Or maybe you’re discovering what you want to express after you’ve already expressed it? I don’t know.
In terms of developing the working relationship between us, I think we decided early on that we didn’t want to make another record just for the sake of making another record. It had to have something deeper. Something we could learn from as we went along. I’m not sure yet if we accomplished what we intended but without that intention we wouldn’t have accomplished anything at all. But to get back to your question, it could be that because we are all involved in various other projects we needed to find some kind of raison d’être.
Your relationship with Constellation Records appears to be stable as ever. What does Constellation mean to the group/yourself?
It’s pretty simple, Constellation and Do Make Say Think have a healthy working relationship and over the years we have become friends. There’s occasionally been differences of opinion but those inevitably strengthen our relationship rather than strain it. It really comes down to mutual respect.
Moving forward, after the first new record in almost 10 years and a rare tour, are there any plans for the group beyond this?
No plans yet. (But “yet” suggests there are plans to make plans, doesn’t it?) (And these parentheses are even more allusive!) (We’re not dead yet!) (& yet & yet & yet).