By Kaelan Unrau
VANCOUVER — It’s a Thursday night at American Apparel. Amidst a sea of neon hues, Vancouver’s Peter Ricq and Robbie Slade – known collectively as Humans – are setting up for a DJ set. Founded back in 2009, Humans have long been treating audiences to their especially catchy take on indietronica. Before taking the stage, the duo met up with BeatRoute to talk about playing, partying and recording their new album.
We look for a quiet spot for the interview, which eventually leads us to the kids clothing section. Against a backdrop of Infant Stripe Karate Pants ($12) and Organic Baby Rib Skater Tank Dresses ($18), I ask Ricq and Slade about the group’s backstory.
“We met at an art show,” Slade begins. “And Pete was drawing perverted robots fucking chicks.”
“I think it’s weird,” Ricq interjects, “that people ask how you guys met. This is our third interview with BeatRoute, and I think we’ve had that question asked every time. Maybe you can try and find the old BeatRoute [issues] and see if the stories actually are the same…”
I apologize on behalf of the magazine and music journalists in general.
“We met and it was like love at first sight,” Slade continues. “We just wanted to work together. Peter did merch for my band at the time. And when he came for the initial meeting for what we wanted the merch to be, he brought an ESX-1, a sampler. And we were like, ‘what the fuck is that?’ I did not understand how he was getting sound out of it. I think I philosophically placed it in the boom box category. I didn’t know you could make so much music with it, you know?”
Before this fateful encounter, Slade had played in various folk and rock projects around town. But it was Ricq who pushed him into the digital domain.
“The first two Humans songs – ‘Always Around’ and ‘Bike Home’ – they were songs that Robbie couldn’t finish with Family Room, his old band,” Ricq explains. “And I just added synths and made it a dance track.”
“And made it way faster,” says Slade. “When we first started, I would be like, ‘No, this is way too fast.’ And he’d be like, ‘Sing it fast, sing it fast.’ Because he just sampled me, basically. It’s funny: I think of ‘Bike Home’ as a song we did together. But all I did was sing.”
“And play guitar,” says Ricq.
On records like Avec Mes Mecs (2010) and Traps (2012), synths and drum machines coexist with soulful vocals and live instrumentation. As a result, the band has frequently been placed within the folktronic, acoustic-meets-electric camp. What do Humans think about such pigeonholing?
“Yeah, that’s bullshit now,” says Slade. “That’s pretty much straight bullshit.”
According to Humans, Noontide – their most recent release and first ever full-length – falls squarely on the electronic side of things. “We always just do what we feel like,” explains Ricq. “It’s just like, what do you feel like doing? Well, I’ve been writing songs like this.”
For Slade, doing what he feels like has meant giving up the guitar completely. “Playing a lead electric guitar in such a busy, loud setting, you end up just noodling over top of shit,” he tells me, pantomiming some Van Halen-esque wankery. “And I don’t like hearing that music, so I don’t know why I’d make it.”
“But you know what?” he adds. “I wanna play bass. I could see me playing bass in Humans. More than guitar.”
I ask Ricq and Slade if they each play a certain role in the group, and if these roles might be growing less defined over time.
“There aren’t any,” Slade says.
Ricq elaborates. “Well, there used to be,” he says. “Kind of in the beginning, but even then not really. And now that Robbie actually knows how to produce electronic music, there’s not really any roles.”
“It’s way more about taste and the art we’re making than anyone’s ego or technical knowhow,” Slade explains. “Since we both know what the fuck we’re talking about, we spend most of our time discussing stylistic taste things. Like, ‘make it harder,’ or ‘no, that’s cheesy.’ We’ll just kinda talk about it.”
“But it’s hard sometimes,” says Ricq, “when you show something that you actually think is good and the other guy shuts it down.”
“I don’t shut down your stuff anymore,” Slade replies. “Not really.”
Humans recorded Noontide at Edmonton’s Audio Department studio, with the help of musician and producer extraordinaire Nik Kozub (Veal, Shout Out Out Out Out). Even compared to Traps, it’s miles ahead in terms of detail and finesse of sound. I ask them what it was like finally working with a bonafide audio engineer.
“It’s completely different,” says Slade. “With Traps, we paid a producer and then we basically mixed the record ourselves.”
“A lot of it had a lot of noise,” Ricq explains. “So I had to go in and clean it.”
“And that guy’s work ethic was like, ‘I dunno, guys. I really gotta get going, guys.'”
“‘My girlfriend’s coming,’ you know? ‘I gotta take her out.'”
“Whereas with Nik Kozub,” Slade says, “he was like 16-hour days in the studio, in a dark, dark hole.”
If you look up “noontide” in a dictionary, you’ll find that it means “the time of noon.” I ask Humans what attracted them to the word, and why they chose it for an album title.
“It’s Pete’s old band,” says Slade.
“When I was 17,” Ricq elaborates, “I had this band. It was the first time I’d ever heard the word. And the last time I’ve ever heard it. We were struggling at finding what the title was gonna be. We had all these ideas. And I thought ‘noontide’ fit the record better. And fit what your anticipation of what a night, a song, a story is.”
Does it carry a hint of nostalgia, then?
“Just a cool concept,” Ricq replies.
But with its churning bass lines and infectious rhythms, Noontide doesn’t evoke the time of noon so much as it does a late night dance floor. As Ricq and Slade explain, clubbing and partying make up an important part of the Humans experience.
“I just like watching crowds move,” says Slade. “It’s fucking sweet.”
“Well, you know when you have a dark room and you’re on stage and everyone’s not dancing?” says Ricq. “That’s ’cause you’re not doing your job right.”
“My interpretation of what constitutes dance music is kinda ever evolving,” says Slade. “Especially since we started DJing a lot. You’ll be, like, drunk and playing, and the party’s going off. And you can put something so weird on, and people will fucking go wild. And you’re like, ‘OK, I guess that’s dance music.'”
“And you can put on something really hard that you thought would get people dancing, and it just fails,” adds Ricq.
“I was at an afterhours when the cops came,” says Slade. “Chris Wang was DJing, and I went over and was like, ‘Chris, you gotta cut the music. The cops are here.’ Like 400 people were there. It was epic. I was like, ‘The cops are here. Stop it. Turn the music off.’ It’s an illegal warehouse. We’re selling booze. I thought I was gonna get in so much shit. And he was in on it with me, so he was like, ‘OK.’ And he puts on James Blake’s ‘Limit to Your Love.’ And we’re like, ‘OK, that’ll clear the dance floor.’ It’s about 3 a.m. And everyone was like…” He starts gesticulates wildly. “…just mutating. If anything, the cops started dancing a little bit. And so I was like, ‘Oh, I guess that’s dance music.’ It’s all about set and setting, right?”
Speaking of settings, I ask Ricq and Slade if they find Vancouver to be an hospitable environment for dance music.
“There’s an explosion of really world famous, world class house music coming out of Vancouver right now,” enthuses Slade. “Like the Mood Hut guys. Do you know them? They’re getting played on huge radio shows, and they’re on tour for six weeks this spring. They play huge European festivals.”
“I always like to see people taking steps to somewhere else, as opposed to making the same song or the same album,” says Ricq. “And that’s something I think we try to do all the time. Try to evolve.”
Humans perform at Celebrities March 28.BC, British Columbia, Celebrities, Humans, Noontide, Peter Ricq, Robbie Slade