Musicians are no strangers to juggling multiple projects at once and Andrew Neufeld got a big taste of what that’s like while he was recording No Virtue with his ‘boys club’, Sights & Sounds. No Virtue was self-released last month, the first full-length album that the band has worked on in over half a decade. Every member of the band went down their own paths during the time between these albums and are thrilled to be back with a new album. In our recent conversation, Neufeld told us about compiling this album while on breaks from touring with Comeback Kid, how much of a huge weight off of his shoulders getting it out into the world was, shared some stories about trouble with the law abroad, and much more.
Sights & Sounds have been around since 2006, so for 13 years at the end of this year. While you guys have been taking long breaks from recording, every one of you during those breaks has explored different creative paths inside and outside of music along the way. How do you think the different avenues you explored contributed to compiling and recording this record over the past couple of years?
I do most of my touring with my other band, Comeback Kid, and that’s kind of what sometimes takes its toll on Sights & Sounds. I’ll be gone for two or three months on tour. Everyone else will be doing their thing and then we’ll kind of meet back up after a few months, try to regain our momentum and strength (laughs). With this whole project, I think one of the biggest things… Sights & Sounds is such an outlet for me [outside of] doing the hardcore things, [this band] lets me do a lot of different kinds of stuff. With the other guys, especially Dave, who is kind of my partner in production… him working in film here in Toronto and being part of that whole world, he really had a big hand in the video content creation with this. We did two videos for this record and he was able to get a lot of hookups around the city like that. Bringing that whole world into our band on that end of things, the visual side was really cool gearing up for this record. It really worked out and we had a lot of awesome people in Toronto donating their time to help us and we were able to get White Studio and have free lights and it was a really fun experience doing the videos and getting everything together for the push of this record.
Yeah, I noticed that there was quite a bit of film work intertwined in the things that happened in between the Sights & Sounds breaks and coming back, now. I was surprised to see that although with the history of recording work that Adrien wasn’t involved in mixing or producing the album. Is that me misreading it, or was there a reason for that?
Adrien is not in the band anymore. He had a kid, so he ended up leaving. He didn’t even really leave. He does the Homer Simpson, where he goes into the bushes, kind of backs up – that was Adrien with the band, he just kinda faded. (laughs) Do you want to do this record? Then kind of a weird email back. (laughing)
Back to Comeback Kid, it’s such a massively different sound. Was it refreshing to work on a project that’s so vastly different sonically? How would you compare those two things?
That’s the whole vibe of it, yeah. You see some bands that have been around as long as Comeback Kid try to change up their style, but I’d rather just focus on doing a new project if [I’m] going to do another style, which I’m doing with Sights. Sights is purely my melodic outlet. We can do lighter songs. Heavy songs, but not heavy in like a chuga-chuga heavy metal sense. Heavy in mood and some heavy bass and stuff like that. It’s my throw it all at the wall and make something beautiful kind of thing. That’s the only way I can really describe it.
It’s cool to see that. I know what you mean with the heavy aspect, a lot of people especially with the Comeback Kid parallel, would think you mean the sound, but you can deliver a really heavy message in a beautiful way and have it come off completely differently and have other people relate to it and that’s pretty cool.
Yeah, and just incorporate a lot more of… Dave who does the keyboard and a lot of the production stuff with me here… we brought a lot of electronic elements into it. Especially heavy pulsing basses and sounds that you can’t necessarily get with a four-string instrument or a six-string instrument. Those kinds of things are pretty fun to play with. Right now we’re rehearsing and to have all of the stuff that we came up with in the studio [is amazing]. Playing that while we’re doing the songs, even in the practice space, we call it our blanket. We have our instruments, our drums, guitars, and then we have that atmospheric blanket with some of these super heavy basses that come in. For someone that is used to playing in such a stripped-down environment all of [their] life, over the last few years, having that kind of blanket with Sights is a super fun and gratifying thing to do musically.
I can imagine. You said that you guys sourced inspiration from some of your favourite influences – old and modern. You created a modern twist on electronic music and rock. Would you say that you’re still influenced by bands like The Police and Sugar Ross, but now met with some new more modern influences as well?
Yeah, definitely. We really wore our influences on our sleeve with this and I’ve taken more of the approach… sometimes [I’ve tried] to hide that stuff in the past, [but] I [am] letting it be more obvious [now]. There’s a band called Mew that we’re heavily influenced by, from Denmark, this kind of proggy, super soundscapy, indie rock band. There’s a singer called Greg Dulli who plays in Gutter Twins, Afghan Whigs, and Twilight Singers who was a huge influence for us. Devin Townsend obviously, who produced our first record. As far as our production style, the soundscapes and the leering of different elements, a lot of that influence comes from Devin Townsend and you can hear that in Serpentine, the third song on the record. Obviously, the Oasis influence is really present at least to me on the record, I don’t know if people can hear it. Smashing Pumpkins, that’s kind of where our heads are at. Stuff like Telefone Tel Aviv, Tyko, Small Black, and some of that more chill-wave stuff is really up our alley. I think we wear that on our sleeve a lot, but you have to know the references to know that.
You definitely hear that, I was going to mention Serpentine. That song really stands out on the album. The album itself doesn’t really commit to a specific genre, it bends and you do hear those influences if you know what you’re looking for. Is there a story behind Serpentine?
Oh, yeah, yeah. There’s definitely a story to that. Me and my brother have this… There’s a song [and] if Canadians are reading this… there’s that old Canadian hip hop group called Swollen Members [and] they had this song “you don’t stop…” and I don’t know how it actually goes but we were always singing it to each other as a joke and then it turned into this “dadada,dadada,dadada”… Even when it came out, my ex-girlfriend said “dude, when I heard this song I heard you guys singing it like six years ago or something like that. It’s something that me and my brother had sang to each other for so long, just [the] rhythm and then it kind of became what it was. We weren’t sure if it’d ever make it. I remember it was one of those songs that you had to push to see the vision. We definitely pulled in… that’s our most four on the floor kind of song, [that’s] Rob Zombie influenced. Ministry, Devin Townsend, that style of hard bass pounding song.
I really heard the Rob Zombie.
Trying to do a heavy song without it being just guitars blasting. We were trying to strip it back so that it sounded heavy but more in like an electronic way. (laughs) It’s funny, we’re such rock [and] punk guitar people and going into this whole… Sights & Sounds has always had that blanket atmosphere stuff, just diving into that more and more… sometimes you have to shed some of the preconceived things about writing a song. Stripping back is sometimes the way to execute it right.
It must have been pretty interesting doing that, especially because you’ve been touring so heavily with Comeback Kid and that style of music so much. Working on this record in between must have been interesting.
Yeah, now we’re just building the Sights & Sounds playlist because we have some Canadian shows coming up. We’re going to go to Europe at the end of the year, so we’re building it right now. Figuring out how to put it out live and we’re pretty much in the middle of it now and it’s pretty fun to put the live show together. It’s different than anything I’ve done before.
How has it been received? It’s your second full-length album and it just dropped a couple of weeks ago. How has it been received by the people that have been waiting for six years?
It seemed to go really well. I put it out myself and I licensed it to a couple of countries, but predominantly it’s my baby and the response seems to be going really cool so far. We haven’t played any shows yet, we start playing shows in about a week, so that’s where I will judge it a bit more.
That makes sense. Is it through Canada, the first leg?
Yeah, the first leg is Ontario and Quebec.
You had aired some personal grievances between you guys when you did this, can you expand on that?
Between us? Did we write that down somewhere? (laughs)
I think on a description of a song I may have been talking about airing out some personal grievances through a song.
It sounded like you guys had some issues between you guys that got aired out.
Not really, we’re a boys club. Even today, I’m sitting on a break from rehearsal right now to talk to you. [It’s] my brother’s birthday tomorrow [and] he’s going through some shit, but this is the place where we air it out. When we’re together at rehearsal it’s not a band that comes together and rehearses and then does their thing, it’s a very family-oriented vibe. Maybe that’s what I was saying, we come here to air out our shit. Not necessarily between each other, but this is a safe place for us where we can talk about the shit that’s going on in our lives. There’s definitely some complaining going on today as well. Not about each other but things that are going on. It’s our safe place to air it out.
Yeah, I’m sure it can turn into songs sometimes too – so that’s a good thing to have in the repertoire when you’re making music with someone.
You’ve toured extensively over the years with other bands, most notably Billy Talent, Bring Me The Horizon, Architects, Silverstein and you actually released the Silver Door EP as a compilation of demos just to bring new music to the fans on the BMTH tour. This is the first time you’re going to go back to touring with a full-length album.
It’s cool, it’s good to have. We’ve done that a couple of times, just released music because we had shows going on. We’re like ‘well fuck, that Bring Me The Horizon thing’… it was like yeah, we have to go on tour and they’re putting out that Sempiternal album and were just on their way to stardom so we were like fuck, we have to do it. We don’t have any new music but we have these demos, we might as well just put it out. (laughing)
I never felt like Silver Door was really the best representation of us and I [don’t] think it really held up to the full length before [it]. This record, No Virtue, we’ve been working on [it] for years and it’s such a relief to finally get it out. Even though it was done and in the bag, before it came out it was really hard for me to focus on trying to write new material for Comeback Kid or do anything else musically. Just because, I kind of felt like once I got it out a couple of weeks ago and it’s all out on the table I feel like now I can get my head ready for the next thing. It’s a huge relief to have this out. It’s one of the bodies of work that I’m most proud of.
You’ve been working on it for so long it’s kind of like a weight has been lifted and you can breathe again, I’m sure.
Yeah, I don’t know how a lot of… some artists are really good at juggling different projects and I’m [only] able to do that to some extent. Even when this is done, I’ve produced another project with another band and I’ve done a few things, a couple of tours, but to [be able to] dive into the next thing, whatever record that is, I needed to get this done and out and over with and be able to shift my focus after that.
It’s funny that you look at the EP like that because sometimes it’ll surprise you. Ten years from now you might look back and go ‘oh wow, that is gold and we didn’t even realize it. It was these demos that we put out and didn’t really have a reason why other than to have new things to play, but then you look back and think well, that was important in itself.
I think there’s some pretty badass songs on there but the recordings are not up to… we recorded it in practice rooms and some people like that kind of stripped-down recording but I was glad that we could put the juice on the production on the new shit.
For sure. You did the fourth song on the album with Nicole Dollanganger, who is known for focusing her music on some really serious struggle and doesn’t waste any time sugar-coating it in her lyrics. Is that why you chose to work with her on Caught Up?
I just think her voice is beautiful and a guy who was engineering the record with us, my friend Chris, he kind of knew her and maybe had worked with her before and we had this part, it was a waltzy type piano chilled out song and I thought she would work perfect for it. It really worked out. I was actually able to get her to do a lot of pad type vocals on other songs, oos and aa’s and stuff where you might hear her across the record but not necessarily as a feature.
Yeah, I noticed those.
I was pretty much like I’ll keep you here as long as you want, having a voice like that is such an asset to a band like us. If we’re not doing it with her voice we’re going to be making it with a keyboard or something. High oos and lush, glossy, airy high notes. We had some fun and got her to do a bunch of different stuff and threw it in there.
Your voices contrasted really well together on Caught Up.
Is there a meaning to that song?
The chorus is too caught up to find the witts to bail. Talking about wanting to leave but being too scared.
A place, a relationship, a situation?
Anything, yeah. It’s a little loose, I have some things that I could relate it too, but it’s about being too caught up in whatever you’ve got going on to get your shit together and carry on. Go on to the next thing.
I like that, it covers a lot. I wasn’t sure if it was directed at something specific or just a generalized thing.
I like to finish off my interviews by asking the person I’m speaking with for a funny quirk or character trait about themselves because I feel like the personality tends to get lost in a lot of interviews. Is there anything you can think of that would surprise people that you haven’t really let out before?
I’m not sure, I’m a piece of work myself. (laughing) I’m always late, don’t tell any of my bosses. I literally… my friend is super good at photoshop and me and my girl were late for something and I got him to photoshop slow and slower with dumb and dumber, but us, our faces. Give me 20 minutes, I’ll take 40. (laughs)
I’m the same way, I relate to that a lot. Don’t tell any of my bosses either. (laughing)
I was just joking around the other day [too] and was like ‘I’ve been arrested in a few countries and it’s always for the stupidest shit, it’s always for weed. Literally every time.
It’s the Canadian in you.
I know, fuck! But I always make it and I’m allowed back in every country. I’m welcome in every single country.
Stupidest shit. Like I went to jail one time in Serbia because I was trying to roll a hash cigarette at the reggae tent of the festival and these undercover cops got me. I just remember I went in and it was a pill fest, Moby was playing and Prodigy and Comeback Kid, this was like ten years ago but I just remember leaving the courtroom, [because] I had to go to court the next morning, and I remember being like ‘I’m never smoking weed again’! (laughing) Which is laughable now, but those run-ins with the law will put the fear of God in you.
This interview was originally posted on The Rock Source Magazine’s website.