From the humble beginnings of a want ad in the local paper to releasing their first full length album and touring with the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Hot Hot Heat and Death from Above 1979, Controller.Controller are quickly establishing themselves as of one the best acts in the ever-burgeoning Canadian music scene. Their debut EP History was released in 2004 to much acclaim, leading to the more ambitious follow-up, X-Amounts, on Paperbag Records just last year.
Critics and fans alike appear to have great difficulty categorizing their sound, labeling being a collective need we all know is often met by artists with mumbles of hesitation and sighed laments. “Journalists only have so much space, only so many words to convey what the music is about. When we were starting, you want to be written about and get that exposure.There was a small movement of bands like The Rapture and we got lumped into that. It helped us at first, and then trends pass, you know” said guitarist Scott Kaija. Disco punk, death disco, and “sexy dance rock from Canada” are a few of the attempts to characterize their music, and while some of the adjectives apply, the one undisputed truism about Controller.Controller is their ability to create darkly propulsive, distortion-heavy hooks paired with consistent beats you can move to. The insistence on disco as a prefix and suffix seems to lie in the danceable, punchy rhythmic hi-hat use and direct, clean, jumpy bass lines that permeate most of the album. PIL, the Cure and Interpol are some of the sounds they’ve been compared to. Indeed if music is colour and sound is something you see, “ours is black and red” said Kaija with laughter. But whatever genre or amalgam you choose to call it, rocking is something it most definitely does.
Hailing from Toronto, Kaija and second guitarist Ronnie Morris had been friends before getting together with bassist Colwyn Llewellyn-Thomas. Ronnie knew drummer Jeff Scheven from school and asked him to saddle up. Vocalist Nirmala Basnayake was the last to join, hanging out at rehearsals before picking up the mike. Kaija simply explained “it was instant chemistry.”
The process of recording the History EP was initially a rather awkward one. “We wanted to make a good record. Some of us had never been in a recording studio before, and for lack of a better analogy, it’s kind of like a first date, not knowing what you’re doing, developing a relationship with the engineer, wondering how you’re going to pay for it.Then we did a full length (X-Amounts), at that point we spent months on the road, worked with the same guy, same studio. [There was] a lot more confidence, a higher comfort level.”
Kaija said that it was a battle to balance the demands of being in an increasingly popular band, with the desire to do everyday things and stay happy.
“Bands are kind of a ridiculous thing. You sort of have that collective creative expression. That’s fine. When you suddenly start playing for an audience, leave home for five months, you have to start to balance the relationships in the band.”
When the pressures become too overwhelming, a little time away from each other can also do a lot of good. “We played Ottawa on Thursday. We hadn’t rehearsed or seen each other in a while. The rapport is back, you’re not sick of each other, you play the stage you never played before, think it’s going to be a disaster, but it was fun. It had value.”
Tracks such as “PF” and “Poison/Safe” create a noisy soundscape with quick cutting guitar riffs amidst a bouncing bass line and an up-tempo beat that culminates into eruptions of dissonance and battles of guitars. “Straight in the Head” provides the catchiest riff and more prominent bass that is complemented by Basnayake’s strong, authoritative voice, along with a clean and simple drum beat. Ominous indistinct vocals and keyboard effects mark the brief “BLK GLV,” while the mellowness and down-tempo of “The Raw No” allows a departure from the dance floor so you can get yourself another drink.
Controller.Controller are proving they’ve earned their success, and hope to continue along that vein in the long run.
“In five years I’ll be closer to 40 than to 30” said Kaija. “you hope to still be playing music, [but it’s] kind of silly to still be sleeping on the floor in a stranger’s house.” Can’t someone please get these people a hotel room?
Controller.Controller with You Say Party, We Say Die! at Club Lambi September 16, 8pm.