words Ryan Mo
photography Alex Cassels
I’m staring at Josh Korody, co-founder of the Toronto-based duo Beliefs, as we work out the kinks in this Skype interview. He’s talking into his microphone, but there’s no sound coming out.
It’s on my end. I don’t have a webcam, either.
As I’m adjusting the audio settings in one window, my peripheral vision catches Korody fiddling with his keyboard and moving his mouth. It’s like talking to a one-way mirror — almost creepy.
Almost. And we’re on.
Over there, it was 5 PM and the sun feathered his room — even the camera’s compression rate couldn’t mask the fact that the guitarist/vocalist/producer had a long day. Periodically a car alarm would sound, but Korody didn’t seem bothered by it. Colored cables hung on the perforated hardboard like roasted ducks. An ominous column of machines rested behind him. We begin with a talk about the band’s upcoming sophomore release, Leaper.
“The Leaper record was a little more of a byproduct, of actually having a live band for a while, because when we wrote the first one it was just Jesse [Crowe] and I. This time around, we actually had a bit of a year or longer to play with a bunch of different people, doing shows and being able to do small tours. Jess and I wrote a lot of the blueprints of the songs, but we had our band members put a lot more say into all their parts, and even some of ours. It was the first time we had people in the band. And that definitely affected the way we wrote it.”
But even though Leaper is the finished work of several creatives, Beliefs hasn’t undergone lineup additions.
“We are still two. We kind of realized, especially after we finished the record, that this project will primarily be Jesse and I. We’ve been lucky to have some great friends play in and out of the band with us, but Toronto is filled with lots of musicians, so a lot of the people who played with us are in multiple bands — scheduling becomes a thing.”
Korody levels with me about the process behind Leaper. It’s been two years in the making since the release of their self-titled debut. And the lag wasn’t because of a creative slump.
“To be honest, we had a slow year because I got really busy with working on other people’s records this year, so we took our time with it. It wasn’t that we took a lot of studio time, but more that we worked on it when we had pockets of time to do it. We started in December of last year, and worked on it until about this summer because there would be two weeks or a month where we’d be able to work on it for about five hours, or something like that. So it was definitely a weird experience. There were definitely pros and cons because we got to sit on songs for a long time and just make sure everything was what we wanted it to be, but at the same time I had to make sure I wasn’t spending too much time in between listening to it, or let things affect me too much — just let it be the record that it is, regardless.”
The record itself, ten songs of massive, grinding guitars interspersed with androgynous vocals, was produced and mixed by Korody in the trapped walls of the co-owned Candle Recording Studio. There’s a bit of production embellishment in some of the songs, and Korody explains it’s to make them sound a little more interesting to the listener. Played live, things will be different. Bring earplugs.
“We’ve definitely been told we’re pretty loud. And so it’s hard to find that balance; you don’t really know what it sounds like outside of the [PA] speakers. You hope for the perfect balance where things are loud and it doesn’t feel too ‘wussy,’ but things are still audible — it’s not so garbled up in noise. I think when you’re doing anything with a lot of guitars and fairly soft vocals, whether you wanna called it shoegaze, it can definitely be a difficult genre for a person to mix in a venue.”
On that, I asked Korody how he thought about the term shoegaze being attached to Beliefs. The genre, which receded to the underground in the late ‘90s, has come back in full force with the reformation of seminal bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Swervedriver, Ride, and most recently, Lush.
“To be honest, I would love to never really be called a shoegaze band, which sounds really spoiled because I think it’s obvious where our influences come from. Obviously, we really respect those influences. But if you look back to the bands in Creation Records, I don’t think a lot of those bands necessarily sounded that similarly to each other. The term has a certain description that goes behind it, but I don’t think My Bloody Valentine sounds like Jesus and Mary Chain, or sounds like Cocteau Twins. So I guess I’m not gonna say that we are not influenced by those bands, but as an artist it would be really nice to not be pigeonholed to something like that.”
After all, he says, it’s only Beliefs’ second album to-date, and as any passion project with gumption, it endeavors to stand on its own sonic aesthetics.
“We’re getting to the point with this band where we’re kinda just doing things that make the most sense, so that we keep music fun for us — just make it something out of love and passion. I want us to get to the point where we can define our own sound. Even for this record, I’m sure a lot of people will give those comparisons because a lot of the material is heavily influenced by that music. And that’s totally fine, but I’m hoping that by record three or four, people will eventually just say ‘it sounds like us’ or ‘it is us,’ you know?”
Pragmatism seems antithetical to a band called Beliefs, but when its members are involved in multiple projects, it’s a necessity — Crowe is a photographer, runs her own salon, and produces her own music under PRAISES; Korody works with musicians at Candle Recording Studio and plays for Breeze, WISH, Vallens, and other Toronto acts. On top of this, he’s recently come out with a new effort: the avant-garde industrial identity of Nailbiter. As a musician more inclined toward gear, sonics, and experimentation, Korody sees this as a breath of fresh air, a divergence from his melodically tinged collaborations.
“I really wanna be able to do this project on my own. Having done bands in the last few years, I wanna try to do a project where I can do it mostly by myself. If anyone listens to this record (Formats, out September 25 and streaming on BrooklynVegan), even though it’s a small record, hopefully no one cares too much that I’m not replicating it live. Maybe eventually, if I make more records.”
For Nailbiter, Korody eschews punk’s bread-and-butter: gone are the offset guitars and stacked pedalboards. In a way, the aurally challenging compositions act as a creative palate-cleanser, demolishing influence and throwing Korody back to square one.
“I’ve put my guitar down for the last year or so — I just needed a break from it to explore something else, but I think that in 2016 things will come full-circle and I’ll try to incorporate the few different things I’ve been messing around with in the last year and kinda work it all together. Jesse and I have been talking about doing that for the next Beliefs record, and it probably will be pretty different because I really wanna go into it without any preconceived genre notions.”
It’s not just about rebooting inspiration, though. Nailbiter is also the starchild of Korody’s growing affection for the modular synth, a product of the trysts he’s had working with bands like Traitrs and Mimico. I ask about the gear porn — every producer worth his salt is into gear porn. Korody’s eyes light up as he moves the camera to show the module behind him. Colored cables ran wild over the scores of inputs, between the knobs that controlled near-infinite parameters. This was definitely not safe for work.
“It’s the most addictive gear. My very first Nailbiter live rig is essentially a modular synth which I create all the sounds from a day or two before the show. I basically synthesize with the patch cables and the knobs to make different sounds. I tend to do a lot of percussive sounds, like a kickdrum or a bass sound. And I have a controller that I recently got that can control all the analog stuff with it, which is huge because usually controllers are laptop-based and I’m really trying to avoid controlling with a laptop. Though I record everything on a laptop, I didn’t make music with it besides editing — I didn’t use soft synths. I used a computer so much for everything else that the last thing I wanna do is make music with it.”
As beautiful as it looks in the light, the Nailbiter live rig is a beast to tame in a dark venue. And Korody still gets nervous at shows, especially on the ones he’s invested a lot of creative energy into. Especially the ones where the lineup contains bands from completely unrelated genres.
“You just feel like you want it to be so good… I don’t know if it’ll ever go away — I’m 30 now and I’ve played so many gigs and I still get super nervous.”
Stage fright is one thing — it doesn’t take away from Korody’s live performance. But tarantulas? That’s a whole different story.
“I have the most intense arachnophobia. I’m not a big fan of insects in general. I couldn’t even watch an episode of Fear Factor. I was gonna see that movie with Jake Gyllenhaal, The Enemy, but I never got around to it. We were driving back from Hamilton the other night and I heard there was a big tarantula in it, and I’m so happy I didn’t get to see that movie, because it would’ve scarred me. So, I’m never gonna live in Australia, I’ll never go to the jungle, and I’ll never go to a pet store... because they might have spiders in them.”
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