Kingston duo Paul Saulnier (vocals, guitar) and Benjamin Nelson (drums) are PS I Love You, and their music – like their respective personalities – is the harmonious union of brute emotion with a demure pop sensibility. Their debut LP Meet Me at the Muster Station – released this past spring – has left critics starry-eyed, inspiring some of the most passionate and amorous acclaim in recent indie rock memory. Soft-spoken but engagingly wry, Paul opens up about his teenage man-crush for Hendrix, his pragmatic partnership with Benjamin, and the “intense, emotional experience” that is PS I Love You.
I can’t find a single bad review for Meet Me at the Muster Station.
Well, we’re really grateful for all the great press, but honestly…it makes me pretty nervous about the future. I feel like we’re going to be scrutinized even more so when we do our second and third albums.
When you read things like PS I Love You channel ‘the blood of Springsteen’ do you feel like reviewers get you?
(Laughs) Well, I’ve read a lot of press where people seem to understand where we’re coming from – and we do listen to a lot of Springsteen; I’m not going to lie.
What kind of songs do you write?
I think we write pop songs, but performing them is such an intense, emotional experience that they end up sounding really noisy and loud, and they have a kind of off-the-cuff feeling. It’s just who we are. If we were properly trained, more careful musicians, they’d all be pop hits.
When did you start playing guitar?
I started when I was really young because I wanted to be a rock star. Most of my teenage years were devoted to Jimi Hendrix to the point that I didn’t want to play like anyone else: I wanted to sound exactly like him. I eventually realized that was impossible – and I think I’m better for it. I’m not trying to sound like anyone else.
You were solo for some time – why partner with Benjamin?
I’d played in a band with him already and we worked really well together as musicians – and we were good friends. He seemed like the perfect drummer for the songs I was working on. When we started writing songs together everything just clicked.
Your songs rarely go beyond three minutes – why?
We try to edit the songs down to their core elements. And lyrically, I never have that much to say, so we try to get the feelings of the songs across without relying on lyrics. It’s more about the sound and the intensity and the sum of all parts.
What’s your recording process like?
It’s relaxed. We invite our producer Matt to our loft where we rehearse and he sets up his gear and records us playing live. Then we add extras like guitar parts, vocals – and mix it all together.
Is the Get Over video a typical Saturday night in Kingston?
That was the original idea – but my friends and I are normally not that…uh…exciting (laughs). The director was really pushing us to party harder to make the video look better, so it’s fake in that sense. We never jump around and act crazy like that.
Hopefully you’re not often sick in the streets, either.
Well that’s happened before, but it’s not every week… maybe every other week.
You once said that Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. albums feel like a tease once you’ve seen them live. Could you say the same of your band?
They’re different experiences…and I honestly don’t know which one is better. With the albums there’s the luxury of adding extra parts – electric organs, tambourines and like, six guitars – but the live show has a raw and very real, loud sound that is hopefully inescapable … in a good way.
Do you experiment on stage?
If it was left up to me, half of our shows would be improvised guitar noise and feedback, but Benjamin’s like: ‘I hate that; let’s just do the song.’ He keeps me in check.
Tell me about your forthcoming Figure It Out compilation.
We have a few 7-inch records and a CDR-EP of my early songs – and we want to make sure fans can get all that – so we compiled them on one release. And we threw a couple covers on there of Madonna and Rush. It’s also another good excuse for Benjamin to make a nice album cover because he designs all our stuff.
It was a little project to keep him busy?
(Laughs). He often says he’s only in a band so he can design record covers, so we have to keep making more records.
PS I Love You play the Osheaga Festival in Montreal tomorrow (July 30). To learn more about the band, visit www.paperbagrecords.com.
*Originally published under ‘Interviews’ on MyTelus.com.