After spending an all-nighter in a recording studio JosÃ© Miguel Contreras has no problem cracking a joke in the earliest hours of a Friday morning. When asked what prompted the five-year break between his last album and his newest, Contreras has a simple deadpan answer, “You know… I had a lot of laundry.” But that’s not enough. “I was going to make up a story about how I went crazy and I hitchhiked down to Mexico and my family found me in a ditch then ended up in a clinic,” he added.
Contreras is the front man, vocalist, guitarist and guiding guru of Toronto’s By Divine Right. This past December the band not only turned twenty but also released a follow-up to 2004’s Sweet Confusion after a lengthy hiatus. The recording of their new album, Mutant Message, was spread out over the period, explained Contreras.
Work on the album would fluctuate; Contreras would head into the studio “for a couple of months, then stop for eight.” Then, last year, he stepped back into the studio, reassessed the material he had gathered over the years, and decided to re-record about half of the album. The large gaps between recording sessions didn’t bother Contreras.
“I can read eight books and have conversations over years. I’m good like that,” Contreras said. “I exist in a weird multi-bubble.”
Over the break Contreras was given the chance to approach music from a different perspective, he was offered the opportunity to produce. His new role as a studio producer and the birth of his child with wife Lily Frost, contributed to the notable absence of By Divine Right. However, Contreras believes that his experience as a producer has helped reaffirm his artistic mantra.
“It helped cement my philosophy that recording should be as simple as possible, even when there are insane layers of noise that can be beautiful. It should be art directed,” Contreras said. “I’ve always know that, and that’s what I share with people.”
Over the band’s extensive history, Contreras has had the opportunity to share his philosophy with a number of other artists that have become a who’s who of Canadian talent, including Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene, Leslie Feist, and Brian Borcherdt of Holy Fuck.
Throughout its existence the band has seen 21 members come and go. Some journalists have drawn parallels to The Yardbrids, a 1960s English rock group that launched the careers of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, because of the long list of influential members that have been a part of By Divine Right. Contreras does not see it that way.
“That’s ridiculous. Toronto’s just so lame. Their press is hilarious. I understand what they’re talking about but Brendan is a great bass player but he’s not Eric Clapton or Jimmy page. A lot of people come through my band but I haven’t seen any Led Zepplins come out of it. I’m pretty free and I try to be as direct as possible. I guess that’s inspiring to people,” Contreras said. “Who doesn’t like encouraging people?”
Contreras says that he is ready for another stint in the studio and that he is “inspired.” But before heading back and immersing himself in recording, Contreras will be touring Ontario, Quebec, and parts of the Maritimes, a prospect that is both exciting and challenging for the new father.
“I’m used to the sleep deprivation. In fact I sleep more on tour now than I do at home because of my kid. Obviously I miss my family on tour, but I love playing music,” Contreras said. “Touring is an opportunity to live that daily.”