words and photography Lamont Abramczyk
Shamanic. Witchy. Medieval. Psychedelic. Acid. Many words have been used to describe DOOMSQUAD, the Toronto-based electronic band consisting of the Blumas siblings. Whatever freaky adjectives you want to use to describe their sound, one thing’s for sure: once you start listening to their new album Kalaboogie, you won’t want to listen to anything else. Perhaps you might even wake up dancing in the forest, unsure of how you got there. To learn more about what went into the new record, we catch up with Trevor, Jaclyn, and Allie Blumas of DOOMSQUAD before their show at Double Double Land in Toronto.
CREEP: This past month’s been pretty hectic for you. After playing throughout the United States, including a handful of shows in Austin, Texas as part of this year’s SXSW, how does it feel to be back in Canada?
Allie: I think we’re still getting back into things.
Jaclyn: It’s only been two days, but yeah, we’re good.
How long were you in the States for?
Jaclyn: We left at the beginning of February, so just shy of two months.
Trevor: The first month of that we were in New Mexico recording the new album.
Your previous album, Kalaboogie, was based out of Northern Ontario and inspired by the Canadian landscape. Why the sudden shift to New Mexico?
Trevor: I guess partly for that Reason.
Allie: We were drawn to New Mexico as a place.
Jaclyn: We pull a lot of ideas from the surroundings that we’re in. Over the past decade or so, we’ve built a relationship with the desert through some friends we have down there. One of the main similarities is the sky, you know? Anywhere where you can get out to a place and see a full, expansive solar system. It was important to find a place where we could see that.
From what I understand Kalaboogie was inspired by a cottage you visited while you were up there. Can you tell about the town Calabogie, and how it inspired your previous album?
Jaclyn: Well Calabogie is the town, and Kalaboogie is the record. There’s a K and an extra O in there [laughs].
Trevor: It’s kind of this place where we came of age. It’s the childhood cottage that we would go to every year. We only got to visit it once a year, so it became a big deal for us. It was always so exciting for us because we grew up there and when we first started to become not only musicians, but conceptualize DOOMSQUAD, a lot of it started to happen up there. The first demos and ideas for songs were written up there. There’s something about the organic process of when we started to realize DOOMSQUAD as a band – it just so happened to be in correspondence with that environment. It seemed natural, like the environment was kind of speaking to us.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you decided to form DOOMSQUAD. From what I understand it was actually quite spontaneous?
Jaclyn: I was living there (Vancouver) at the time. We were all living in different cities and hadn’t really spent a lot of time with each other since our childhood. These two (Trevor and Allie) came out and we started playing music for fun around the house. A lot of our friends are musicians out there and they kind of booked us a show. We were like, “Wow, we should probably write some music for this show,” and it happened. The project was a lot different back then. We hadn’t fully realized what it was or why we were doing it. We were also writing folk music back then.
Trevor: I don’t think we were even trying to be a band. It was just a fun thing to do for the summer.
Jaclyn: The name was DOOMSQUAD because we were like, “Oh, we’re a family band, you know?” And as we took things more seriously we were like, “Ah, the name’s cool – we should stick with it!”
I heard you actually started out on homemade instruments, is that right?
Allie: Yeah, some of them were!
Jaclyn: Musical saw, spoons, sand paper, cheese grater, all that kind of stuff.
Trevor: Tin pot drums.
Allie: Big heavy boots.
Jaclyn: Like, there was piano, but the piano was out of tune.
Trevor: Our dog was featured singing on some of the tracks too.
How does being in a band together affect your relationship as siblings?
Trevor: Well, I guess it’s almost like a business now. We’re like business partners if we want to look at it in a serious way, so that’s kind of shifted the dynamics a little bit.
Do you find it’s almost impersonal, that you have to view each other as coworkers, yet you’re still family?
Jaclyn: It’s almost more personal…. because we were always close and stuff but now we’re relying on each other. As we’re going through this, as we’re exploring this project and really putting a lot of time into it, we all kind of have to depend on each other. We see each other a lot more, at least more then we used to, especially since we’ve been touring a lot.
Trevor: Everybody thinks we’re super close, and I guess we are now. We’ve always been, but we lived in different cities for a long time, attending different universities across the country. It was this idea of DOOMSQUAD, and a band together which brought us much closer. If it wasn’t for the band, Jac might still be living back in Vancouver, and Allie in Montreal.
How does this relationship affect your creative process? Do you find that you ever have to compromise, or do you for the most part mesh together well?
Jaclyn: Do you guys think we compromise?
Allie: Maybe the very odd time when one of us just isn’t feeling it, but usually we sort it out. We flow really well.
Trevor: Yeah, I think that’s what made it seem right in the first place – we all miraculously had the exact same idea for the band. I think the time we compromise the most is when we’re deciding a set list for a show. Our music’s flexible so we can always curate our sets based on the vibes of the people in the crowd. We usually curate our set like ten minutes before the show. It’s funny because in my head I’ll be like, “Oh yeah this is a dancing crowd, alright, these kids want to dance,” and Jaclyn’s like, “Let’s do a mellow, psych set.”
Melodic repetition, chanting, distant vocals and deep percussions each play a significant role in your music, and help you to achieve a very distinctive sound. Often referred to as psychedelic trance, shamanic, or even witchy indie and medieval, how would you describe the music of DOOMSQUAD?
Trevor: [laughs] Those are good, I guess.
Jaclyn: Medieval’s interesting because nobody’s really described us as that except for The Coast.
Allie: Yeah, This girl from The Coast came down for NXNE. It was the first time we’d ever played NXNE, and she didn’t like it. She said, “You know, I could tell you about the show or I could just show you my paper,” and it was just six words that said: Medieval, Techno, Loot, Dinner Theater Music.
Jaclyn: She thought it was an insult because she’d written all these great reviews about other bands, and ours was just this photograph, but we were like, “Oh cool, that’s nice!”
Allie: And all those words are fitting…. maybe not Dinner Theater.
Trevor: We always have so much trouble trying to brand our music so we often don’t. We’ll lock into it certain words that we think embody the philosophy behind our music, like trance for one, shaman beat, psychedelic, stuff like that. We try not to use those things too much because we love keeping it open and having people try to explain our music in their own way.
Jaclyn: Yeah, we find that everyone has a different way of describing it. It’s this personal thing. If they feel like talking about it at all, they’ll find this way to articulate it, which feels special. This EP that we have coming out soon is very different to Kalaboogie, and the record that we wrote in New Mexico will be very different to the EP. We kind of just categorize our songs as we write them.
Trevor: And again, being informed by place and setting. The EP, actually I think it’s coming out really soon, was recorded in a studio in Toronto. It was our first time doing something like that so to me, it feels as though it has a real urban vibe. It has a lot of city energy and is way more dance-y.
From what I understand, you each pursue other artistic endeavours outside of making music. DOOMSQUAD aside, what have you guys been up to recently?
Allie: I’m a dancer and I just started up this collective with a few friends that I dance with in Montreal who are now here in Toronto. Anna from ANAMAI’s a dancer and she’s in it too. It’s called Open Fortress. We’re working on some stuff for this summer/ fall. We’re also all part of this arts cooperative called Heretical Objects.
Trevor: Heretical Objects is partially a tape label, so we release music on cassettes (limited editions). We produce music videos and have an arts wing. The main idea is it’s spread out across Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. It’s not a collective in a sense that there’s one guiding aesthetic or one principal – it’s actually a bunch of friends with unique practices. It’s kind of like, through collaboration or helping out each other, it encourages people to make work no matter how daunting it may seem. It creates a means to help get each other’s work out.
You of course come from a very artistic household, each attending art school and your parents pursuing music and photography. What external influences do you think most inspire your artistic styles?
Jaclyn: Maybe just arts school in general.
Allie: We went to an elementary school in London (Ontario), which was an arts school. We all went there at different times, but I think we can all agree it was a pretty great experience.
Jaclyn: I think the thing about attending arts school at a young age is that you learn to collaborate and work on things you’re not that comfortable with. I think growing up and doing that on a daily basis was cool because everything we do is collaborative in some sense.
If you could collaborate with any artist/artists, past or present, who would it be and why?
Trevor: Tanya Tagaq
Jaclyn: Richard Tuttle
Trevor: Mary Margaret O’Hara, who’s actually going to be on our next album!
Jaclyn: Tanya Tagaq was a huge dream come true. We got to tour with her last year.
I was actually going to ask about that. What did you take away from touring with Tanya Tagaq. You have very similar styles, in a spiritual sense.
Allie: I feel like it’s kind of hard to talk about [laughs].
Jaclyn: She’s just way more knowledgeable then us. We bow to her wisdom, even though both of our sounds require a kind of spiritual state of mind. Her wisdom comes through in every expressive sound and thing that she does – it’s really intense.
Allie: Her music’s so important, especially when you experience it live. I mean, it’s important in general, but her live shows are a whole other thing. It’s really confrontational. Individually, I think everyone walks away with a really unique experience.
Jaclyn: At SXSE for example, there’s so much free booze and everyone’s really wild, and then there’s Tanya’s show. We went and everybody’s just stopped in their tracks. She makes this whirlpool, and everything everybody’s thinking is just stopped and they’re directed to her.
In previous interviews you’ve mentioned a written group manifesto, or philosophy. What kind of ideals are you hoping to form or encompass through this?
Trevor: DOOMSQUAD kind of came out of this conceptual idea of how we wanted to make music and what we were hoping to achieve in the music that we made. The songs and everything else were formed out of that idea, so we wrote that down so we’d never lose sight of it. We’ve stayed petty glued to that original intent behind what DOOMAQUAD was, and of course it evolves but I hope as long as the band exists, that will be at the very core of it.
Is there an overall message you’re trying to communicate with your audience?
Jaclyn: One thing I’d really like if people said, and I mean we do hear it and it is conscious for us, is sitting down and listening to a record and kind of changing the way you listen to it. I mean, you’re on the go and really focused on this deep listening and through this kind of trance you can sometimes just drift off into this space. I don’t know – I’d take that as a big compliment if people got that from our music.
Trevor: I think we’re also trying to be part of a larger conversation in more international music trends. A lot of our songs have very Western formats. A lot of the music that initially inspired us and always does is more music as an actual. Here we use music as this escapist thing, pleasure and enjoyment, but I think music is so much more than that for a lot of cultures around the world. Music’s this vessel for transformation and spiritual healing, for cathartic things. This is where the idea for trance comes from. Fela Kuti is a huge inspiration for us. His music’s a revolutionary tool – music not only for the sake of music. He’s getting people dancing in a revolutionary act, and that’s the kind of conversation we’re trying to have.
Last year two artists with similar names, Aesop Rock and A$AP Rocky, were introduced to each other resulting in widespread hysteria throughout the hip hop world community. What would you say if introduced to Edmonton-based hip hop outfit, sans abbreviated Doom-squad?
Jaclyn: I think they’d maybe not like us. I think they’re bigger then us. They have a lot of fans.
Allie: I know on Instagram, when you search #Doomsquad, all of our stuff gets mixed together. I’d like to meet them.
Trevor: It’d be funny if they came to Toronto and we played a show with them.
Jaclyn: I feel like they might not like our music.
Allie: I’d totally be into meeting them.
What creeps each of you out the most?
Jaclyn: I kind of embrace creepy things, maybe snakes. Certain sounds really creep me out.
Trevor: Pedophiles. Very right-wing Republican politics.
Photography by Lamont Abramczyk
Posted on April 13, 2015.
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