Published May 31, 2012Vancouver, BC's Apollo Ghosts garnered heaps of praise for 2010's concept album, Mount Benson, racking up a Polaris Prize long list nod in the process. In the two years that followed, the band went out of their way not to capitalize on its success, infrequently touring and releasing a string of lo-fi releases in increasingly non-traditional formats (seven-inches, a split with an ECCW wrestler, a short story book). Finally we get a proper follow-up with Landmark, which finds the group, now expanded to a quartet, with the addition of Jarrett K. on bass, playing to their strengths without rehashing the past. Landmark is chock-a-block with hooks, butting up against weird sonic experimentation that ensures there's something new to discover on repeated listens.
Is Landmark a reaction to the success of Mount Benson?
Singer/guitarist Adrian Teacher: I guess, maybe? The way we recorded it could be a reaction. If someone released a record that a lot of people liked, the next logical step would be to record in a bigger place or put a lot of money into it. But we did the complete opposite and just recorded it ourselves. There's a bit of a tongue in cheek quality to the title, Landmark. This is supposed to be our big record but we recorded it in our shitty jam space for not very much money.
I heard that you guys actually talked about throwing in the towel after the last record.
I'm always considering packing it in. Running a band is a lot of work; it's like trying to paint a picture with four people. The idea has never been that it's like a job: people work and have a life outside of it. I feel guilty about making people commit so much of their free time to my vanity. It's always in the back of my mind when to end a project.
What kept you guys together then?
I love playing with my friends so much. My friend Jarrett [K.] is now playing bass, and it changed our dynamic a lot. We were a three-piece before and having another person in the band has changed it a lot. I think change is healthy and that's the key to keeping a band alive.
Are you guys better behaved around him?
He's super-keen; he brought a lot of enthusiasm. He was always at our shows and he's always really supportive and helped us put out records. We needed a youthful kick; he's a bit younger than we are. It's like CJ Ramone or something. He had so much energy and we're all these old farts.
There's a sense in a lot of the songs of you guys kind of settling into your 30s and being more grounded in a single place.
We finished recording back in February or January. It's always weird ― you put all these songs together and you look back on it fresh. I certainly feel that theme coming through on the record, but there are other things in there too. What is a landmark? It's something that you see in the distance, but is it a person? Is it a place? It's kind of ambiguous, but I like that it's solid as well. That's the age I'm at. There are a lot of songs on there about the times we live in and getting older.
How old are you?
You guys recorded in your jam space. Did that come out of JC/DC's eviction? You used to rehearse in the same building.
Partially. Dave [Carswell] was gone most of the year touring with Destroyer and John [Collins] was with the Pornos that year. They got back from tour and went to these meetings at city council and tried to convince some landlord that we've got to keep this building alive. It was a complete fiasco. We ended up having a couple days notice to move out the entire studio, which had been amassed over eight or so years. It definitely had an impact; we were always there. It was such a refuge for us to just go and have this giant room to work in and have them there to record. It was definitely a blow to the band's ego. You have this great working space and it's pulled like a tabletop cloth out from under your feet. Now I got to jam in this butt-rock jam space with metal bands beside us. It's super-loud and such a different dynamic. You can hear that on the record; it's maybe why it's a little loud and a little different. We're trying to compete with our neighbours or something.
You did a bunch of seven-inches and split cassettes leading up to recording Landmark. Did you find that helped inform the way you did the new record?
The last EP that we did, Money Has No Heart, was an experiment: can we record ourselves and will it sound decent? That's basically how I learned to write music, on a four-track. You know those 33 1/3 books? I was reading [Guided By Voices'] Bee Thousand. Jarrett is a super-fan of GBV and got us all back into listening to them and maybe listening a bit deeper, like how Alien Lanes was recorded for ten dollars after they got a $100,000 advance. "Since Dave and John are gone, why don't we just try it ourselves?" Again, it's that thing of change and trying different things so critical to being in a band. It worked out.
As a teacher yourself, do you feel some affinity with Robert Pollard?
Yeah, especially after having read that book. I knew he had been a teacher. There's a chapter about the whole GBV experience. [Pollard] was like, "I was running around all morning trying to get rudimentary science experiments ready for his grade four class." And basically that's what I'm doing this morning. So, yeah, it definitely resonated with me, and them getting attention when they were older. They slugged it out for so long and didn't get any attention until they were 40 or whatever. They were a really honest band. They're not that cool in a lot of ways, like a lot of people wouldn't think they're that cool, but in my mind they're the coolest band.
Why were you living in Sackville for a while last year?
SappyFest has this thing for a songwriter in residence. So I went out there before the festival for two weeks. I was like, "What am I supposed to do?" I went to the office and Paul [Henderson], the organizer, was like, "Be a songwriter." I'd never done anything like that before. They put me up in this old house and I wandered the streets like a homeless man in my shorts and thought about songs. They gave me a jam space to work in. It was really endearing being in such a beautiful place.
Did any of the songs on the album come out of that experience?
Some of the riffs and some of the lyrics and whatnot were written there.
Are you keen to make a go of it as a musician instead of picking away at it part-time?
Back in my head, if there were 100,000 people out in front screaming away, I wouldn't turn that down. I'd be silly to. But, at the same time, I'm pretty realistic about how the "industry" works and seeing friends in bigger bands, what you have to do and the sacrifices that you have to make is not necessarily what I'm interested in. If it were to happen naturally and organically the way I feel like we're trying to do it now, I'd love to dedicate more time to performing and stuff like that. But if it doesn't, I'm not going to be crushed by any means. I do it for myself and for my friends.
What sacrifices are you unwilling to make?
You have to tour a lot and go out on the road and sell yourself in a certain way. You have to constantly be putting out product. There's glamour to it all, but I just wish I was younger and had gone out when I was 23. But at the same time that would be impossible. You gather all your experiences as you get older. I just wish I had done the huge touring thing when I was younger and seen what it was like to be on the road six months of the year. My friend Alex [Hungtai], in Dirty Beaches, he sort of got the call up. He used to be around all the time and now I never see him. It's just a whole different world.
Read a review of Landmark here.