In a quasi-reality in the belly of a sandworm on a remote island lies a cacophony of surf-psych guitar, wailing violin, and eerie vocals cascading against a wall of thundering drums.
Much like the fictional beast of Final Fantasy VI sidequest lore it references, Zoner Eater, the latest album from the belligerent, fiendishly catchy Montreal quartet Smokes (out October 30), is a gateway into another plane. A slow swirl of gloom pop, drone, and psych, the group’s debut LP sees guitarist and vocalist Nick Maas on a frantic and confessional pilgrimage. Smokes has been a hell of a storied band, slowly building momentum like a giant, dirty snowball.
In the last year and a half or so, the band has tirelessly absorbed influences and indulged friends in the Montreal scene, quietly acclimating themselves to an evolution in sound that culminated with the addition of bassist Andrew Miller (The This Many Boyfriends Club), and the writing and recording of Zone Eater. Smokes originally formed with longtime friends and collaborators Nick Maas and Patrick Cruvellier after the dissolution of their previous band, Bananafish. Drummer Jeremy MacCuish (Nancy Pants, Parlovr) joined a bit later, after Maas and Cruvellier heard his drumming via sharing a jam space with Parlovr.
Now, with the release of their debut LP, and their newly reformed cigarette habits, Nick Maas granted us some time to pick his brain about the musically brawny four piece, the experience of being a band firmly ensconced in the Montreal scene, and also helps us unpack some of the minutiae embedded deep within Zone Eater.
AUX: So… does it feel weird to have this name now that you guys don’t smoke?
Nick Maas: Super weird. Smoking is amazing, and makes any band look and sound better. I have no idea why I quit in the first place.
You have all been heavily involved in the Montreal scene for a long time now, how have you seen it change in the last couple of years?
Well, there’s certainly been a rise, over the last five years, in the popularity and number of electronic DIY bedroom acts like Grimes, Doldrums, Mozart’s Sister, stuff like that, that’s gone on to become really popular. Before that style of music took the helm, rock bands like Wolf Parade, Parlovr, Hollerado and the like were more ubiquitous. But there are tons of other styles of music and art being made constantly in this city, let’s not forget. I dunno, I feel like rock n roll is due for a comeback.
Would you say there’s now a pretty defined niche in Montreal that Smokes fit in?
Pat and I have made more of an effort in the last couple years to become more involved in the music scene, branching out, playing in other bands, etc. A sort of community formed, almost on its own, and now a lot of the artists and bands we’ve been organizing and playing shows with have joined forces and started a collective called Oh Hi. So I suppose there’s a bit of a niche now.
Do you think the scene is more collaborative in nature than other cities and scenes?
Hmm. I can’t really speak about too many other cities. Toronto is a big scary foreign place to me with lots of grunge bands. I don’t really know much about the scene there, or how collaborative those folks are. Out east in the Maritimes, though, people seem pretty collaborative – band crossover and all that. Maybe that’s because the communities are smaller, but it’s also probably due to the laid-back nature of the people out there.
When did you decide to throw a bassist in the mix, and why?
It was also in the summer of 2014. It just became clear that in order to fulfill our vision, a bassist was crucial. Bass is essential to rock n roll. It is also really cool. It helps convey the whole emotional thing. It makes you have to piss.
Do you think it’s become harder or easier for an independent band in Canada the past couple of years?
I don’t see that things have changed that much. Maybe I just have my head lodged in my own ass, but we’ve been doing the same shit for most of our time as a band. Organizing and promoting our own shows, doing everything ourselves. Things become a bit easier once you start gaining some traction. But no one is looking out for you, that’s for sure.
So then, do you feel like you’re making headway, or do you feel like you’re kind of treading water?
I’m extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, especially what we’ve done in recent months. As a songwriter and an artist, I feel like I’m really hitting my stride now, and I feel like the band is only getting better and better. I can’t tell you how excited I am for the future. The songs are getting better and better, and we’re working harder and harder. Definitely no treading water here. We’re just getting started.