By Christine Leonard
CALGARY — Celebrating a decade of rolling the haze and rocking watering holes across the Great Plains, Saskatoon’s Slow Down Molasses is slightly bemused by their own longevity. Long dark winters and hot dusty summers have left their mark on the melodious and moody ensemble, prompting pragmatic lead guitarist/vocalist Tyson McShane to take stock of all that has been accomplished and that is still left to be done.
“It has been a long while and I’m actually somewhat amazed that we’re still doing stuff,” says McShane, the band’s principal songwriter.
With a barrel-full of enduring releases to their credit, including; I’m An Old Believer (2008), Walk Into the Sea (2011), Bodies of Water: Remixes (2012), and Burnt Black Cars (2015) McShane and company are now poised to step into the sunlight, and maybe even show off their rumoured farmer-tans, with the release of their latest LP, 100% Sunshine (2016).
“This album is the first time we’ve recorded with the same lineup that we toured the previous album with,” reports McShane, who pioneered Slow Down Molasses’ last two albums with bandmates keyboardist/guitarist Aaron Scholz, guitarist Levi Soulodre, bassist Chris Morin, and drummer Jordan Kurtz. “Previously, it was always a very solid group of people, but there were a lot more that we’d bring in for recording sessions and we definitely weren’t playing the same arrangements all the time. Now it’s the same five people playing all the time and it has definitely made things a lot more concise and a lot more exciting in ways. It was very wonderful to be very collaborative in the past and get to play with a lot of local people I was a fan of, but it’s kind of amazing to have a good idea of what everybody else is going to do when we’re writing and performing live.”
Just because they’ve reigned in the guest list doesn’t mean Slow Down Molasses has turned off the tap when it comes to creating multifaceted pieces of recording studio pop-art. On the contrary, the quintet’s fantastically communal compositions have blossomed and grown in ways that are equally unexpected and consistent with their reputation for generating melodious melancholia.
“I think its quite funny how this new album is similar to how we used to indulge a lot of layers, except this time we were much more deliberate with what we were doing. That laid the foundation and now it’s a really exciting album to play live, because we can improvise around those more focused dimensions.”
As deceptively loose sounding as the cold-plagued McShane’s stogy sinuses, the album’s first single, “Moon Queen,” embodies the super smooth fulsomeness and echoing vibrancy that we’ve come to expect from this post-punk synth and sawdust ensemble. Intertwining the esprit of modern electronica within a traditional wire and wood framework, Slow Down Molasses crystalizes the momentum and portent of a civilization teetering on the edge of tomorrow. Toeing that barbed line between a fleeting fad and a steady fade.
“It’s really a key thing in what we do,” McShane acknowledges. “A least of couple of us are into drone and free-noise type stuff, while half the band came-up through playing in punk rock bands. So, there’s always a bit of desire, especially in a live situation, to tend to be more energetic. My songs are relatively simple and I tend to nail them, so we decided to be fairly chaotic onstage.”
Wise enough to know when a semblance of order is merited, Slow Down Molasses recorded 100% Sunshine’s eleven lugubrious tracks with Barrett Ross and Chad Munson at Ghetto Box Studios in their hometown before entrusting to Glasgow-based producer Tony Doogan (Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, Teenage Fanclub) with putting a platinum-polish on the final mixes. According to McShane working alongside Doogan, at his infamous Castle of Doom Studios, was an invigorating experience. One which provided him with a valuable new perspective on something he’s been so close to for so many years.
“We were so incredibly excited to get to work with Mr. Tony Doogan on this album. He definitely challenged our preconceived notions of ourselves,” McShane recalls. “All of the records he’s done sound like big rock albums, but with a lot of chaotic stuff going on around them. He’s known for being able to balance those moments and he definitely delivered. It was above and beyond anything we expected. It was a fantastic experience and nice way to wrap up this album.”
A concerted attempt at preserving the dynamism of a live jam for future consumption, 100% Sunshine essentially bottles the emotional weight of McShane’s dreamy yet desolate narratives. But the vitriol and gloom of Slow Down Molasses’ humming-and-thrumming heartbeat cannot be constrained. Like the fount of his nostrils, it flows forth with an irrepressible force and a desire to spread free-wheelin’ and truth-dealin’ tunes like a virus.
“100% Sunshine is definitely a very sardonic title,” he confesses. “We tend to write ‘depresser’ songs and this album for me is probably the bleakest album we’ve done. Initially, I just wanted to call it ‘Disorientation’ because a lot of the lyrical themes deal with dissociative and obsessive behavior and that idea of presenting a façade that doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s underneath.”
Slow Down Molasses perform October 7th as part of UP+DT Music Festival in Edmonton, October 9th at Nite Owl in Calgary, and October 14th at O’Hanlon’s in Regina. They then head out to Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves next month.AB, Alberta, Nite Owl, O'Hanlan's, Saskatchewan, SK, Slow Down Molasses, Up+Downtown Festival