Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra’s reputation precedes them. Having been active for 15 years now, they have engaged listeners with nothing but monumental syntheses, their music more often than not swelling to mammoth heights, in sound and in sentiment. When speaking with singer/guitarist Efrim Menuck (also of Godspeed You! Black Emperor notoriety), one can pick up on his weariness; the motions of such weighty divulgence that himself and his fellow band members undergo is an exhausting endeavour. Our conversation revolved very little around the aesthetics of the music itself, but rather the messages embedded within. There is a disdainful tinge to the way Menuck elaborates upon his surroundings. But heavy emotion has translated into a collection that is substantial in effort. The new album is called Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything and it is sheer poetry.
BeatRoute: What would you say the thesis of the album is? Do you approach them this way, or rather organically?
Efrim Menuck: Usually, we’ve played songs live long before they were recorded, so we kind of end up applying a retroactive thesis to a handful of tunes. On this record, most of the songs we wrote in the month leading up going into the studio. We had the title of that first song (“Fuck Off Get Free”) and then that became the mission statement for the entire thing. Everything sort of just fell in place after that. But yes, we definitely approach records with a thesis. I feel like it’s very important that long-playing records contain theses.
BR: What sorts of themes are you dealing with on Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything?
EM: Broadly speaking, it’s like the love song for Montreal, the city we’re from. And it sort of rides these two poles of both love and rage because it can feel like those are both two sides of the same coin, you know? They’re inversely related to each other. The more love you feel towards the people in your life, the more rage you feel about the world that we live in.
BR: What was different about the making of this particular album?
EM: We have our own recording studio [Hotel2Tango] so usually we record there. But, this time around, we found this strange and old, sort of ‘60s-era mansion in the countryside and we just rented that place out and recorded there. It was a very focused and intensive 10-day process where we were fairly isolated from friends and family.
BR: Did this translate into the sound? Did you find yourselves to be more exploratory?
EM: We felt freer on this one, but I feel like that’s a road we’ve been on for the past few years. So, I think this is the first record that we’ve made that’s reflected where we’ve been. I don’t think we consciously sought after new sounds, but I think we’re aware of the fact that we were playing with more of an abandon than in the past.
BR: Considering these melancholic themes, are the songs more of a cathartic endeavour for you? Or maybe a sort of call to action towards some kind of change?
EM: I would say the songs are more of a hope for action. Definitely catharsis. Maybe that idea of most us in this world share similar nightmares and those nightmares don’t get talked about expressively very often. We’re definitely committed to that idea of laying stuff on the table and of acknowledgment, because in some strange way that’s kind of like a joy effect for us — especially when the music is repetitive and there’s rhythm to it. There’s a good feeling in that. It’s kind of like the feeling of hitting bottom. Sometimes, when you’re at your lowest, that’s when you can actually start feeling hope again, ‘cause you’re not extending so much of your heart and brain denying that things are bad. So, it feels more like that than like wallowing in misery.
BR: What kinds of things do you hope to see?
EM: I don’t know. I’m not an activist and I’m definitely not a politician or anything. But, I mean, it’s strange times we live in because there are more manifestations of dissent, like people in the streets. And it’s disheartening because it’s happening more often but those movements get co-opted almost immediately. And no systemic change actually happens. But it tells me something that we’ve reached the point in 2014 where there’s so many of us in the world that are dissatisfied, that anything seems possible. I think the beginning point is acknowledging that there is an “us” and there is a “them,” and that there’s more of us than there are of them.
BR: How do you keep yourselves going in light of these despairing realizations?
EM: Oh there are definitely moments of despair. But, we live lucky lives. We’re touring musicians and we earn a humble living from doing that, so already we’re fortunate. We get to travel around the world and talk to different people, and we go into it all with our eyes wide open, learning about the commonalities. Even being able to witness what makes each country and continent different is so enlightening. So a lot of the exercise for us is just trying to understand or make sense of what it means to be alive in the early 21st century.
Catch Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra at Republik (Calgary) on May 4 and at Union Sound Hall (Winnipeg) on May 6.
By Nivedita Iyer