A decade is a milestone for many groups, two decades is a rare if not Herculean feat. Psychedelic rockers By Divine Right is one of a small minority of Canadian bands to reach and pass the 20-year mark in its existence. Having released nine records and worked with 27 different members over the years, vocalist/guitarist Jose Contreras is frank when asked if he thought he would be involved in a band with such longevity: “No fucking chance. I didn’t know what I was doing….it was really easy for me to lose myself in the sounds and the music and I just followed that…I was just lucky to be in Toronto.”
Calling from home just outside of Ontario’s biggest city, Jose reflects on finishing his first acting work in a feature film. Shooting wrapped up at 5 a.m. the morning of the interview. “It’s cool to see that my training…that I put myself through has applications in different disciplines,” he says of the three-week schedule. The experience is part of “further studies in being in the moment” which helped to shape the writing for By Divine Right’s new record Organized Accidents.
The group’s ninth album and second on Hand Drawn Dracula was recorded on his own property surrounded by forest, his own studio the second building on his land. Such comfortable lodgings allowed for the writing process room to breathe. “Past The Stars,” the record’s bouncing bass heavy lead track, started as a “three hour improvisation.” Not only did the home studio permit Jose as much time as needed to complete the record, the new material serves as a reminder of his beginnings as a younger musician. He says the new album sounds akin to his very first and never-widely-released cassette recorded back in university at age 19. The difference between then and now? Jose replies, “I’m no longer trying to impress anyone, not that I was very good at impressing anyone. My goals are lofty in the sense that I really want to just make great music and do the best I can and leave this trail of truth behind me.”
The band’s 2010 studio release Mutant Message was long-listed for the Polaris Music Prize and nominated for a Juno. Jose expresses mixed yet positive feelings about the recognition. Being able to talk about his work and making records is a lucky place to be for By Divine Right’s only constant member. “I feel that like my last two records are the ones I’m at peace with because I didn’t have easy nosy management or nosy labels telling me what to do,” Jose says, stressing creative independence and the purity of making music throughout the half-hour interview.
After being involved in By Divine Right for more than 20 years, Jose recognizes the group as a creative vehicle that “has always been guided by a spirit that’s always been beyond my control.” Harnessing that energy has always been part of the fuel for the band. Jose elaborates “When you have a riff or an idea nothing can stop you, nothing can slow you down from wanting to solve that mystery.” Overall, the songwriter surmises that his and the group’s approach to music hasn’t changed too dramatically. What has changed is the clarity of vision. Jose speaks with confidence that “I know what I want and I’m clear on it.” With an extensive summer tour beginning in Ontario this summer and more recording planned throughout, By Divine Right stand strong with no sign of slowing down.
By James Olson
Photo: Jonathan Abrosimoff and Ben Srokosz