A Nova Scotian turned Torontonian, musician Brian Borcherdt is best known for his work with the salaciously named, electro-noise outfit, Holy Fuck, though he can also be credited as a solo artist and as founder of the collective, artist-run label, Dependent Music. With more than seven years of music making under his belt, Borcherdt (with sidekick, producer/drummer Leon Taheny), got the itch to declutter his approach and to break things down to their simplest form to become — at least momentarily — Dusted.
After finishing up some “business” with James of Dusted’s label, Hand Drawn Dracula, Brian gets on the phone with us to consider his side projects versus undying his musical passions, being sad versus the intense joy of musical freedom, and his (surprisingly) punk rock mindset that helped to shape his new collection of lo-fi lullabies, Totally Dusted.
I guess the question is why not sooner? I’ve been aware of a lot of musical things I’ve wanted to do for a long time now but when you’re busy there’s not much you can do… Even when you feel like maybe you can, something else comes up and a couple more years goes by. Really, a tremendous amount of stuff that happens inside my imagination doesn’t necessarily get to happen in real life (laughs). I put bands together with friends and we never get the chance to tour; I write songs but then never get around to recording them. I feel like a lot of times some of my best ideas, best work, and best intentions are never followed through on. As much as I’d like to think I can do two or three things at once, it got to the point where all of us in Holy Fuck decided we needed a break from what we were doing. It was time for me to take hold and make a record I was proud of, with an aesthetic that appealed to me and where I wasn’t compromising myself.
But surely that’s not to say that with Holy Fuck you’re compromising yourself?
No, not musically speaking, but what I enjoy most about Holy Fuck is that it’s not about songwriting; it’s a concept and a lifestyle and we write spontaneously, often on stage in front of audiences. It was meant to be coupled with something else and to be kept more as a side project. It just became this one, big…everything.
So it took on a life of its own – is it too soon to know if Dusted will too?
I hope that it will (laughs), though it’s not designed to be a sensation. It’s meant to be an outlet for me, for my songwriting. Time will tell where we can go with it. I really enjoy producing and it feels like a catharsis to see what I can bring as a producer. I’d be happy if this was successful enough that it could continue to afford me this outlet, but there’s no necessity for this to blow up overnight or to put all kinds of pressure behind it.
It sounds like a deeply important personal project for you, so what made Leon the right person to partner with to make it a reality?
Initially, it was about getting together with a person I knew I could get along really well with in the studio. I knew he’d be sympathetic to my ideas and not try too hard to change them. I also liked that he’s one of those guys that’s happy to work in a garage studio and doesn’t feel the need to take his work to this larger than life, very clean, very commercial space. I needed someone who had that understanding of what I was going for. I think for him its about the excitement of working in a new band and getting to go out on the road, and getting a chance to be involved and have some fun.
I spoke to Dallas Green a few days before his breakup with Alexisonfire was announced and we had an exchange about how angry and disconcerted some Alexisonfire fans felt about his need for City and Colour. He said they felt like he already had something perfectly great, so why do he need anything else? Do you feel pressure to justify Dusted to lovers of Holy Fuck?
No, I don’t. There’s always been a back story to Holy Fuck and I think our biggest supporters and the ones who’ve been with us the longest have always been aware that it was intended to be a side project. I also think people enjoy the freedom and excitement of that. We’d all rather let it continue on as a free and exciting beast than see it become something contrived for the sake of having stronger hit potential to get us to the next level. We’ve seen a lot of peers move up and hit new levels. With Holy Fuck, it’s been a little more challenging — but that’s just embedded in the type of band we are: our name, our aesthetics and our style of creating music. I think we all want to grow and make more and more interesting records with Holy Fuck, but if I were to pick up a guitar and start singing melodically and somberly to attract more fans, that would piss people off more than if we were to preserve our integrity but stay at the same level we are now.
Have your expectations of yourself evolved from one project to the next?
I started off from a very serious place musically. I think I’ve learned at some point not to be too serious and leave a lot of that behind. I feel like that looseness has really shaped me creatively and allowed me fly by the seat of my pants so that I can get out there and do solo stuff or Dusted or whatever. It may come off as underachieving, but for me it’s about the joy of just being able to go and play some songs for my friends without putting too much pressure on myself. With Dusted, I feel like Leon and I are having a lot of fun and even though you can’t tell on the surface, we’re taking a lot of risks. We’re writing right there during the sound checks and we’re not pushing ourselves in the way that I did with Holy Fuck. I’ve come to realize that Dusted is quite punk rock — for lack of a better term — in our approach and our philosophy and attitude.
I read a lot of reviews of your LP, Totally Dusted, in preparation for this interview and repeatedly came across keywords like ‘lo-fi’, ‘atmospheric’, ‘haunting’. Was your intention to create music that sounded this way? Was achieving that sound what you were in fact going for?
I think it was…but there’s something more to it than that that I’ve never been very good at explaining. I’m interested in that veil of mystery and that place of everything not quite being what it seems. That’s what I’m continuously drawn to and that’s what I try to create with my music. I want it to be something with layers that you need to peel away and really apply some thinking to figure out what’s going on, even though there is no right answer. It’s about trying to stay within the blurred lines and not have things be too crystal clear or literal. I enjoy dwelling in that hazy place and that’s why, aesthetically, Totally Dusted hits home for me. I allowed it to be distorted…though its something not all people understand (laughs). I played it for my Dad (laughs) — he’s very supportive and likes music and is learning to play guitar and stuff — but he didn’t seem to really like it too much. He didn’t understand the distortion and the reverb. He wanted it to be cleaner.
Interesting…but did he find it sad at all? I ask because some people tend to mistake stark, uncomplicated music as being somehow introspective and melancholy. Does he ever worry about why he son is so sad?
As a matter of fact, the last outing I did outside of Holy Fuck was a solo record called Coyotes, and after that one, my Mom asked, ‘Why are you so sad?’ because I had this line about killing all the owls and killing all the coyotes. I said, ‘Well Mom, I’m not sad; I kind of wrote this song about you‘ (laughs). She used to have these nightmares about owls and coyotes getting in and killing all her chickens…I thought that was pretty funny (laughs).
Does the sadness creep in there sometimes though?
Maybe there’s sadness, but I feel like there’s joy in exploring the simpler side of life and allowing people to read what they want into your music. With something like sports, for example, it’s easy to qualify performance and ability, but with music there’s more of a choice to be made in how you perform. There’s a reason why I only learned to play guitar so well and that’s because I learned to play it as well as I wanted to. Musicians have that choice. I think people often assume they’ll dazzle you with their fancy chords, but I don’t like fancy chords and I have chosen not to play them. I’ve chosen F and C and to go back and forth between them so I can relax and daydream about a place that’s peaceful or sometimes sad or whatever, and I’m not concerned with technique and how impressive the chord is.
Abandoning technique does make you very punk rock, so your assertion earlier is true — and with two of you, certainly, your sound can only ever be so complex. I wonder, is it easier for you to create the sounds you want with two of you, or is it more of a challenge to get there?
It’s an experiment in progress but what I’m noticing is that the studio was easy with just the two of us but it’s the live part that’s difficult. A song that I’ve written that’s really simple, Leon really gets it and there’s no big puzzle piece to it, but it becomes suddenly quite complicated when we have to learn how to play it as two people. But as much as it makes it difficult it also makes it really exciting. I think if that aspect wasn’t there he might get really bored with the project. Ultimately, it’s like, ‘I can’t play this snare and the melody line at the same time, I can only play the snare and the bass line at the same time…but the bass line has to be simple.’ There’s this challenge of having to play this all with just four hands and we have decisions to make as a result. It forces us to consider what’s most important.
I asked Dallas Green this question in rather a cheeky way and didn’t expect a serious answer back: I asked if he had any other splinter projects in the works that might surprise his fans and he said, ‘I’ve got a bunch of these weird electro songs I’ve been writing on my laptop for like, 10 years. I do it late at night for fun when I can’t sleep.’ So I want to ask you if there are still other projects you’ll launch one day if you can.
There’s a handful. I have moments where I can get the seed sort of planted and that gets me excited for a while, and there’s a bunch of stuff on my iPod that I listen to on tour and reflect on and make notes and stuff. I’ve always wanted to be in a heavier guitar band and that’s why everything else I do sort of feels like a side project to this imaginary band that has never really been. I’ve reached out to a few people like Doug from Constantines and Alex from Metz, and we have this three-piece that’s heavy and really psychedelic and punk. If you threw Constantines and Metz and Holy Fuck all in a blender, its almost exactly what you’d get. I’ve also been working on a folk project that’s pretty straight ahead acoustic stuff with banjos and harmonies.
Well certainly, creating various types of music shouldn’t suggest that you’re flighty or that your heart isn’t in one place.
Well, I think it’s honest. Most people tend to listen to variety music. You love your iPod or your vinyl collection, or both, but whatever the case, it’s a very eclectic time in music for everyone. I think at some point, learning from peers and the people that I admire and respect that have come before me, that you should really take the time to learn what you’re good at. I think we shouldn’t be in hurry to decide what music we want to make; we should explore why we love the things we do and then later, decide what is the best voice we want to move forward with.
Dusted’s debut, Total Dust is out now on Hand Drawn Dracula/Polyvore. The band have will play a Hand Drawn Dracula Showcase at POP Montreal 2012 and an extensive Fall Tour including gigs with Perfume Genius across North America. Dates listed below.
DUSTED ON TOUR
Oct 02 Bryant Lake Bowl, Minneapolis, MN
Oct 03 Logan Square Auditorium, Chicago, IL
Oct 05 918 Bathurst Space, Toronto, ON
Oct 06 il Motore, Montreal, QC
Oct 07 Johnny D’s Uptown Restaurant & Music Club, Somerville, MA
Oct 08 Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY
Oct 09 Le Poisson Rouge, New York, NY
Oct 11 Johnny Brenda’s Philadelphia, PA
Oct 12 The Hamilton, Washington, DC
Oct 13 The ArtsCenter,Carrboro, NC
Oct 15 The High Watt, Nashville, TN
Oct 17 Fort Worth Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth, TX
Oct 18 Central Presbyterian Church, Austin, TX
Oct 21 Club Congress, Tucson, AZ
Oct 22 Irenic, San Diego, CA
Oct 23 The Masonic Lodge at Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA
Oct 24 Swedish American Hall, San Francisco, CA
Oct 26 Aladdin Theater Portland, OR
Oct 27 Frye Art Museum,Seattle, WA
Nov 13 Bootleg Bar, Los Angeles, CA