We are happy to catch up with Quebec’s Your Favorite Enemies for a chat during this segment of Five Questions With. The band released their new self-produced vinyl “A Journey Beyond Ourselves” with a book about their album “Between Illness and Migration” on September 1, and we’re happy to say that a review written by us has been included in the book! Although, the book has been sold out, there are still copies of the vinyl and more great merch available, so check out their website for info.
Care to introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Alex Henry Foster. I’m the lead singer for the post-rock band Your Favorite Enemies, which I formed almost ten years ago with 5 of my longtime friends.
We are located a little outside of Montreal, where we transformed a former Catholic church into our HQ. It is composed of a proper professional recording studio, a rehearsal space, a workplace for our multi-media and merch installations, and the offices of our record label. We are fierce DIY advocates, and every project we craft is based on a profound sense of community values and our involvement for human rights.
Tell us a bit about your music and writing style.
We’ve been described as a blend of post-rock/psych/noise/prog/alt-shoegaze and referred to as the illegitimate children of Nick Cave, Mars Volta, Fugazi, Mogwai and Sonic Youth, among others.
For us, I guess it’s a little more simple of an explanation: we’re an instinctive type of unit and don’t really care or worry about conventions and formats. We pretty much do what we feel like in the midst of moments we are sharing. We are more interested in the honesty by which we commune together than what should be shared and how it must be done in order to sound cool or fit other people’s expectations.
Do you have any upcoming shows? For someone who has yet to see you live, how would you explain your live performance?
We don’t have any upcoming shows. We’re all converging towards Tangier for a few months to work on our next album.
But, for those who saw the band live, they might say that it’s some kind of a collective uplift and communal let go, that it’s pretty alive and filled with improvisation and swapped instruments, that it’s all about the moment and that nothing is forced. We never play the same “show” twice, and we don’t believe in the replication of emotions in the name of any particular type of entertainment. When it’s real, you don’t need to try to emulate whatever has worked before… as long as it’s real. For us, it’s what matters.
Oh, and you might leave the venue asking your friends if they think the singer will be alright, as it was a really high place to jump from. No need to say it’s getting harder and harder to find any good insurance coverage… and to play venues without a proper medical team on site
If you were asked to suggest only one of your songs for someone to hear, which would it be?
“Underneath a Blooming Skylight” from our album “Tokyo Sessions”.
Canadian Beats is all about Canadian music, so who are your current favourite Canadian bands/ artists?
We all have different favourites, but the common ground would be any of those bands or artists: Metz, Neil Young, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Feist, Preoccupations, Japandroids, Ought and Leonard Cohen.
Quebec-based rockers Your Favorite Enemies continue to expand their already impressive catalogue with a new massive project entitled A Journey Beyond Ourselves. Crafted entirely in-house by the members of the fiercely DIY band, it includes a box set containing the double vinyl album Tokyo Sessions, as well as a 10-inch vinyl of the unreleased track “Underneath (As Strangers Falling in Love)”, recorded live in their studio, a converted church outside Montreal.
On top of that is a lavish book filled with personal notes from lead vocalist Alex Foster, comprised of excerpts from his tour journals and never-released poetry, along with photos taken on their world tours, accompanied by commentary from each band member.
A Journey Beyond Ourselves is indeed a journey through the past five years of Your Favorite Enemies, telling the intimate story of the six individuals behind the group, and what went into making the multiple versions of their previous album Between Illness and Migration.
It also marks Foster’s return to full-time activity after several months recharging his batteries after the previous creative period that he describes as draining, both physically and emotionally. For more info on A Journey Beyond Ourselves, go to yourfavoriteenemies.com.
A Journey Beyond Ourselves is an impressive project. How long did it take to put together, and what were the challenges?
It took us a little more than a year to complete the project.
In fact, the idea first emerged around the time we came back from Japan where we did a show that was a complete reinterpretation of our album Between Illness and Migration. The concert led to the creation of the album Tokyo Sessions shortly after, and as we were getting ready to transition to our upcoming album, A Journey Beyond Ourselves briefly resurfaced. We were all too busy at the time to honestly consider working on such a colossal project, which was reconsidered while I was living in Tangier a year ago.
I think the dilemma of how transparent we wanted to be was more challenging than our collective willingness to truly be honest. This is what became the real cornerstone of the project as it slowly took shape, as it went from being the story covering the album concept for Between Illness and Migration, all the way to the five years of worldwide touring that followed. But somehow, as we re-opened personal notebooks and revisited personal travel journals, the project became more intimate and personal. It was now a deeper look into our relationships, the challenges associated with depression and isolation, the dazzling reality that comes with discovering the world through the eyes of six completely different individuals all coming from very humble backgrounds.
The album’s story suddenly revealed itself in a different angle, and instead of trying to rewrite it and shape some look-good type of myth, we decided to fully dwell in it and use it as a way to reconnect with each other.
Facing where we came from, who we were, what we’ve been through, and how incredibly difficult it’s been to get out of it alive has been more challenging than the incredible amount of time we spent in our archives or all the technical problems we faced crafting every single element of the project ourselves.
I guess that’s the long answer… Well, a part of it anyhow!
Why was it important to you to open up about yourselves so much?
I think it became necessary the moment I admitted that I somehow became the shadow of somebody else’s story, a witness to my own life, that I grew apart from everybody else and that I was completely isolated emotionally. I could have talked about it to some professionals or just opened up to the others, but writing has always been my way of expressing myself. So I faced it. And honestly, more than truth, allowed me to let go in a positive way rather than a drama-like public self-flagellation. I was pretty reluctant at first, but I somehow knew it was alright to do it.
Even if we’re a little more sensitive to those issues, I realized that depression and mental illness are highly difficult to admit to yourself. It became a taboo of sorts, as being “strong” has always been the answer to questions that might require being fragile. Well, at least that’s how I see it and how I now allow myself to address those issues. Matthew Good’s personal story raised a flag for me a few years ago… It broke the cycle of isolation in a way.
How would you describe what has made the band such a tight-knit unit, both as friends and musicians?
I would say that we learned to accept our differences – and God knows how different we are! So rather than feeding the necessary band compromises, we try to keep defining and redefining the nature of our shared language. We’ve acknowledged the fact that we’re all fighting our demons and shadows, and we’ve learned to receive each other for who we are rather than trying to fit others into our self-preservation views.
It’s difficult to define why, but we found each other, and we kinda found our purpose. The rest is a choice. We’ve learned over the years that projects, as fresh and uplifting as they might be, aren’t substitutes for the time we invest in each other, nor can they truly cover any problems forever. All good mottos and philosophical views we need to remember, sometimes more than others!
What can you say about any new music you’re working on now?
We’ve been working on different musical projects. Sef, Ben and I are presently completing a soundtrack project to be released sometime next year. I’ve got a French spoken word/noise/experimental album coming up as well. And I’m bringing the whole YFE circus to Tangier at the end of the month to start working on our next album in a recording studio I established in the heart of the city… Let’s just say there’s currently a lot of noise in our lives!
What are your fondest musical memories as you were growing up?
I think it would be the passionate debates and fights over real rock ’n’ roll legitimacy. Between my mother’s love for Elvis and my father’s allegiance to Creedence Clearwater Revival, the fierce conversations led to my first understanding of a man having to sleep on a couch for whatever reason! Anyway, they would later find common ground by being on the same page for their total despise towards my passion for Ministry, Skinny Puppy and The Cure. I know, I never understood why either. Maybe it has something to do with the hair… I don’t know. Go figure!
For those of you who might have missed the emergence of this excellent Montreal-based band in 2014, you’ve got to take a catch up session! These Tokyo Sessions (available exclusively on the band’s website) are the deluxe version (16 titles) of their first album “Between Illness and Migration”, released in 2015. And it’s the kind of album that leaves a mark! Led by an inferno rhythm, the work brings the listener in the eye of the storm, in the heart of a tornado of saturated guitars where melodies and languages, French sometimes appearing around the corner, answer each other. The writing is way ahead, paving the roads; the compositions lead us in lands yet unknown. Intense and raging, the work reaches heights not often frequented since the disbandment of At the Drive-In. An album that is dense, moved by an impressive underlying tension.
Must-listens: “1-2-3”, “Empire of Sorrows”, “Anyone”.
Your Favorite Enemies guitarist is constantly pushing the comfort zone
By Jon Liebman
April 11, 2017
Growing up in Montreal, Stephane “Sef” Lemelin developed a passion for music as he took a liking to Testament, Iron Maiden, Metallica and other metal bands of the day. “I was so amazed by the intensity of the music at that time,” he says. “It was so raw and pure and it was a way for me to express myself.”
Sef is best known for his guitar work in Your Favorite Enemies, an alternative rock band he co-formed in 2006 with vocalist Alex Foster, guitarist Jeff Beaulieu, keyboardist Miss Isabel, drummer Charles “Moose” Allicie and Sef’s brother, bassist Ben Lemelin.
Since day one, the band members have made a priority of managing every aspect of YFE’s career to reflect their own values and beliefs, among which are human rights activities, Amnesty International efforts and using music to help children.
The band’s self-produced albums and EPs, including Between Illness and Migration and If I Was to Die in the Morning… Would I Still Be Sleeping with You, were released on the band’s own label, Hopeful Tragedy Records.
In 2009, the band acquired a former Catholic church in Drummondville, about an hour-and-a-half outside Montreal, and converted it into a full-service recording studio. They launched their own talk show, Bla Bla Bla: The Live Show in 2010, which covers band news, tour and merchandise information and other relevant YFE goings on.
Your Favorite Enemies has been cited by Billboard magazine as a band “to watch.” They have delighted audiences throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia and were a part of the 2015 Juno Awards when Between Illness And Migration was nominated for “Rock Album of the Year.”
FGPO’s Jon Liebman caught up with Sef at the Tech 21 booth at the 2017 winter NAMM Show in Anaheim, CA.
As you can see in some of the pictures, we have the crazy privilege of living in a former catholic church that we turned into our own professional studio a couple of years ago. It’s pretty much the band’s headquarters, as we also have our own record label offices, a video production department and full merch facilities in the church. Most of us live there as well… let’s just say it’s noisy for all sorts of reasons! But it’s an incredible kind of trippy experience in all possible ways.
How long have you been a musician? How did you get into it in the first place?
I started playing music in the early ‘90s, almost by accident. I was the typical loner who wasn’t really into sports and didn’t quite fit with the cool kids – portray the ultimate hipster look in a world where hipsters didn’t exist! Music was pretty much my thing. I was an avid listener of everything that music channels could feed me with. I never really envisioned playing any instrument, even if I was coming from a highly musical family. Since home wasn’t a very empowering environment, it was like I was another furniture… until one of my brothers lent me a cheap tape of what was a Metallica mix of live bootleg songs and what is now considered their old school stuff. That moment has been a game changer for me. It just hit me, really.
The sounds… the intensity… it was like a hurricane screaming to my face “GET YOUR SHIT OUT… BE!” So, not only was I amazed to realize that music can give you such a profound way to express yourself, but that it could be done without any filters, without having to be nice and clean. With music, I found a place where I could exist without the limitation of the reality I felt being a total stranger to. And for the very first time, the introverted kid teachers used to say would become an honorary member of a loser town found something to live for.
I asked for an electric guitar but ended up with my father’s old acoustic Gretsch. I had lessons from a guy who was into Kenny Rogers, Toto, and some other irrelevant crap compared to the heavy stuff I was into. It didn’t take long that I started begging again for an electric guitar, an amp, and the holy grail: a distortion pedal… the BOSS Metal Zone MT-2! This was the first pedal I’ve ever had.
Who have been some of your major musical influences, past or present?
I grew up with heavy bands, but at one point, I needed that force to have some nuances as well. I found The Edge having a huge influence on me. It wasn’t his band as much as him, the guitar player… The way he created landscapes and the melodies out of nothing, the way he was expressing himself in a very simple way sometimes sounded heavier than most of the bands I was devoted to. He’s a really soulful and heartfelt musician and artist!
Alex, singer in Your Favorite Enemies and a good friend of mine, later introduced me to post-punk, noise rock, experimental rock and shoegaze music. I hated it all at first! To me, it felt like they couldn’t play their instruments! And then he challenged me to give it a try! The heavy metal mullet that still secretly lived deep inside my soul was totally blown away! Well, after being completely humiliated by the fact that I was not only incapable to play what first sounded like shit, but I wasn’t able to freaking understand any of it! It became a little obsession of my own to discover even more about it (but I didn’t tell Alex about it at first!)
Now, I can say that Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth), Nels Cline (Wilco), Warren Ellis (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds), Ed O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead) are the guys I’m really into. I’m not denying my roots, and I’m not one to say that one guy or genre is better than another. But all those guys inspired me to think “outside the box” in a very liberating way, pretty much like John Frusciante had an impact on me in the “just feel it” type of way music should be played. At least, that’s how I see it now!
What drew you to using pedals initially? Have you been using them throughout your playing career? How have pedals helped to shape your sound, or influence the style that you’ve created?
Before going completely crazy (and I mean getting all my friends and bandmates go nuts with me constantly talking about pedals), I was more “minimalist”. It wasn’t about being a purist or playing a game. For me, a statement ain’t about what you see, it’s about the guts you have to express yourself as you feel it. I didn’t have the courage to say much at the time… it was more about being loud! I still am today, but with more gear!
My brother Ben (the band’s bass player) and Jeff (the band’s other guitar player) are always into sounds. They’re at the service of the vibe and feel. They came back one day with a few pedals they found at a very cool store called Moog Audio in Montreal. They had a few pedals from companies I had never heard of. I couldn’t understand why those would be needed, what could be made out of them. Until I plugged them. What I heard was like a lightning strike made of nuclear protons and a zombie apocalypse. The morning after, in secret, I was in front of the Moog Audio store with a coffee in hand. I came back almost 2 days later with Catalinbread, Carl Martin, Bad Cat, Mad Professor, Homebrew Electronics, Mid-Fi Electronics, ZVEX. I wanted to try everything. And once I tried everything, I wanted everything! It was excessive and totally immature, but it was like walking in Disneyland holding Mickey’s hand!
What I discovered was way beyond pedal companies and wasting serious cash on all those little wonderful boxes of wonders! It was all the possibilities I had in front of me to craft the sounds I could hear in my head, the tools I needed to express the emotions I had inside and never could before. It was a personal experience, something as defining as when I first played an electric guitar and almost blew my amps once I hit the Metal Zone pedal! It was WOW.
If you were to ask my friends and bandmates, I admit it, I’m still overly obsessed with pedals! And I’m probably responsible for a lot of the prescriptions they take and ear plugs they use, especially when they’re stuck in a van or a bus right beside me! But hey, blame Alex, Ben and Jeff! It’s their fault if I’m always looking to find different ways of expressing myself now!
What’s your current setup look like? Take us through your pedal rig (feel free to include amps and instruments as well if you’d like):
Alright, the serious stuff now! The ES-8 from BOSS is really my management system for all my pedals. All my pedals are connected to it! I can change the pedal orders with it, do parallel routing, control my TimeLine and BigSky from Strymon and my DD-500 from BOSS via MIDI (Sending MIDI Clock, Program Change, #CC). I have an internal expression pedal in it and so much more! Working with this switcher pushed back my limits!
This is my setup:
Tuner BOSS TU-2
Ernie Ball Volume Pedal
Loop 1: Mad Pro Compressor
Loop 2: ZVEX Fuzz Factory and Catalinbread Ottava Magus
Loop 3: Mad Pro Sky Blue Overdrive
Loop 4: Homebrew Electronics Big D and Mid-Fi Clari(not)
Loop 5: Homebrew Wah, Whammy, Tech 21 Roto Choir
Loop 6: Homebrew Frost Bite, ZVEX Ring Tone, Mid-Fi Pitch Pirate
Loop 7: Boss DD-500 and Boss Slicer
Loop 8: TimeLine and BigSky from Strymon
Vol. Loop: Durham Electronics Sex Drive
I also have the Thunderverb 200 and Custom Shop 50 from Orange, Fender Silverface Twin Reverb 1969, Savage Glas 30 and Schatten 19 head, Vox AC30CC2X and AC15HW head, Skyraider from Mack Amps. We usually run the different heads in the Orange PPC412HP8. I like running two amps at the same time, one stack head/cabinet 4×12″ and one combo 2×12″.
We have a ridiculous number of guitars… This is Alex’s obsession (what’s the problem with singers always wanting to be guitar players?!) We have more Fender guitars than I can truly remember, quite a few Duesenberg models, one of which is a signature for Your Favorite Enemies, several Gibson, a couple of Gretsch, Rickenbacker, Scott Walker, and probably a few more! Alex will be disappointed that I didn’t remember them all! My drug of choice is Fender. I’m a Jazzmaster and Jaguar devotee! And in all the completely ridiculous choices I have, my main guitars are the Fender Jazzmaster Thurston Moore Signature and a Jaguar ’62 re-issue. That’s what I play with every day.
Favorite type of pedal (drive, delay, fuzz, etc. – more than one answer is always acceptable!):
I can’t name them all? You should know that pedals are like kids; you have to tell them that you love them all the same, that you don’t have any favorite. But I’ll try and respect the rules this time!
Every effect pedal has its own sonic personality and its own special textures or features, and since you can mix them together, it is often the combination of pedals that gives something special and creates a totally new realm of possibilities… But because I have to choose, I’m a huge fan of delay and reverb! Those effects have the ability to create dreamy landscapes, to add some insane noises, special rhythmic and to turn a simple note into something so unique that it’s on a full scale of emotions in itself.
You’re stranded on a desert island – which three (3) of the following do you want to have? Instruments: Fender Jazzmaster Thurston Moore Amps: You allow me to bring only one pedal, so I would bring the Thunderverb 200 to be able to have overdrive and distortion! Pedals: BigSky from Strymon
*Note: I hate those one-item-only-each type of cruel desert island questions!*
What’s up next for you/your band(s)?
I’m flying with Alex and Jeff to the NAMM show! We have been invited by Roland and BOSS to be part of the event! I will be doing a clinic at the BOSS booth. We’ll be back in studio to work on Your Favorite Enemies’ upcoming album after that, and I’m overly excited about it!
The Klon hype: Love it or Hate it?
Some friends asked me about it, so I was curious to try it. But whatever the debate, the trend or the buzz about it, at the end of the day, it’s not about being interested in investing $1,500 or more for an overdrive pedal. No offense to anyone, but we’re in an era where there are so many amazing pedals coming from really ingenious, smart and passionate people. And if a $5 pedal allows me to express myself, than that’s the pedal I need. I guess it’s not the best way to get myself a free Klon… so let’s see if receiving one might change my mind!
Any last comments, promos or anything you’d like to talk about?
First of all, I want to thank you for offering me the opportunity to share my passion for music and gear. That pure kind of passion is really what matters to me. It’s not about the brands or the logos, it’s what makes you want to take the chance to share emotions or whatever might be important to you. It’s not about streaming and download, it’s about life in its simplest expressions… so thanks for that!
Please feel free to drop me a line on my personal Facebook, Your Favorite Enemies’ band page or whatever platform you are into. I love discovering other people’s rig and knowing the reasons that make them do it. It’s always a real pleasure to share this passion with you guys.
If you want to see my stuff, I also did a tutorial video series concerning the ES-8 Switching System and DD-500 from BOSS. You can see my whole footboard set up in the series on YouTube.
ALBUM REVIEW: BIAM: Tokyo Sessions – Your Favorite Enemies
YOUR FAVORITE ENEMIES have delved deep into themselves to release a new incarnation of their Between Illness and Migration record, Deluxe: Tokyo Sessions, is a new interpretation of the album, with some additional new material.
The aim for this album, it seems, is to create an album that no matter where you come from, creed, colour and ethnicity is merely a forgotten formality the moment you hear this album. Its blend of musical styles all spear headed with an alt-rock sensibility has given the album conviction in its purpose. Regardless of preference, there is something for everyone to take from this, the various interpretations of the music has created an umbrella message in a sense, a unity through individuality if you will.
The compositions themselves are heavily melody driven, even on heavier tracks like Where Did We Lose Each Other, the focus remains on melody. The main factors that push this release to another level seems to stem from its foray into progressive territories, the depth and construction of the music shows a band very in tune with themselves, each other and their audience, at times bordering close musically to Kaleidoscope and in other occasions bordering on the side of Placebo, the diversity of this band is equalled only by their talent and their vision.
For the most part the lyricism throughout the album is poetic, a composition in their own right, adding more reasons to listen to this album countless times, with every listen, comes something new and mind expanding.
As Alex Foster proclaims in I Just Want You to Know, ‘We’re so much more than noise’, and nothing more could be true for this band and album, not one aspect of this album is noise or unnecessary in any sense. YOUR FAVORITE ENEMIES may not be a household name yet, but with messages as profound as the ones contained in this album, it won’t be long until they are.
Your Favorite Enemies ahead of Drake and Beyoncé
The Quebec band reach the first position in the iTunes Canada charts.
With no commercial radio playing their music, the Quebec band Your Favorite Enemies made it to the top of the charts on iTunes Canada with its latest album, ahead of Drake, Beyoncé, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Adele.
The formation, hailing from Drummondville, quickly lost its first position to Blink 182.
Nonetheless, the deluxe version of “Between Illness and Migration”, “Tokyo Sessions”, sold 26, 000 copies in Canada since its release on June 17, 2016.
Overall, Your Favorite Enemies have sold 200 000 albums in a dozen countries since the beginning of their career. The band often headlines festivals in China, Japan and Europe, where they enjoy a desirable popularity. But not in Quebec.
No one is a prophet in his own country, does the saying go. But the wind is finally turning, after 10 years, admits the band’s guitarist, Jeff Beaulieu.
“It did take a while before it happened”, says Jeff. “We’re more than happy to finally be able to enjoy this, and not to have to stop by the airport in order to play a show.”
“For us, releasing an album in Quebec, in Canada, is always a little scarier than it is anywhere else in the world. We’re always a little more wary of the reactions. But to see such a response is extraordinary. This is the most wonderful gift we could have had. It’s always been so hard here.”
Making it in the U.S. of A.
The first version of the album “Between Illness and Migration”, released in May 2014 in Canada, knew a similar beginning, making its way into the Canadian top charts alongside Coldplay and The Black Keys. The second version takes its inspiration from a recent concert in Tokyo, where the band members allowed themselves to explore new musical avenues with the same songs, with which they decided to do a new album.
“We made something that includes a little bit of electronic in it. In Japan, you can really try what you want, let go to the music, and people will enjoy”, says Jeff Beaulieu.
Elsewhere in the world, the album “Between Illness and Migration” received raving reviews. One British media even said of Your Favorite Enemies that they were the best thing to come out of Canada since maple bacon, comparing the musical experience to that of Pink Floyd.
Jeff Beaulieu now hopes for a breakthrough in the United States of America, another “difficult-to-pierce market”. He however adds that the band is now discussing the release of their next album with producers from Los Angeles and New York City.
New album coming up in 2017
Your Favorite Enemies have been around for 10 years already. In 2009, they acquired a church in Drummondville that they turned into a recording studio.
Today, Your Favorite Enemies is a collective of 20 people. The band members, proudly independent, do everything themselves: they founded their own label, act as their own manager, and even do their own band t-shirts.
Thanks to word of mouth, to their fans and to their concerts, the band has built a certain popularity. They are now working on a new album, due out early 2017.
FIVE QUESTIONS WITH… ALEX FOSTER OF YOUR FAVORITE ENEMIES
By Jason Schneider
There’s an argument to be made that (aside from The Tragically Hip) Montreal’s Your Favorite Enemies are the most popular homegrown rock band in Canada right now.
And chances are you haven’t heard of them.
The fiercely DIY outfit released its latest album, Between Illness And Migration: Tokyo Sessions, on June 17 and it immediately hit the Top 5 in four categories on iTunes, along with selling over 26,000 units to put it (ironically) just behind The Hip’s Yer Favourites compilation on SoundScan’s Catalogue Albums chart.
The band already earned a JUNO nomination for Best Rock Album in 2015 for the original version of Between Illness And Migration, but soon after gave the album new life by completely re-recording it based on an updated artistic vision. It’s a move most artists would never consider, but Your Favorite Enemies have been playing by their own rules now for a decade and their achievements speak for themselves.
Formed by Alex Foster (vocals), Jeff Beaulieu (guitar), Sef (guitar), Ben Lemelin (bass), Miss Isabel (keyboards) and Charles “Moose” Allicie (drums), the band was shaped musically and philosophically by the likes of Fugazi, Sonic Youth, The Cure, Pixies, My Bloody Valentine and Mars Volta, establishing their label, Hopeful Tragedy Records, in 2007.
They quickly sold 30,000 copies of their debut EP through innovative and aggressive online marketing, leading to a headlining European tour after only four shows at home. The band’s 2008 album, Love Is A Promise Whispering Goodbye, found a rabid audience in Japan, and Your Favorite Enemies became the first non-Japanese band to contribute songs to Final Fantasy video game soundtracks, all of which would hit the top of the Japanese charts.
Using that windfall, they converted a church in Drummondville, Quebec into a multi-media headquarters and recording studio, while also using proceeds to set up a non-profit human rights organization, “Rock ‘N Rights.” In 2011, the band embarked on an audacious 17-date tour of China (documented on the DVD “The Uplifting Sound of an Epiphanic Awakening…”), while continuing to expand its loyal following in Japan with benefit concerts in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto for victims of the Tohoku tsunami.
Although their audiences in Europe and Australia consistently grew as well, the special bond they share with Japan inspired the re-imagining of Between Illness And Migration last year. Alex Foster took some time to explain how it all happened.
What made you decide to completely rerecord Between Illness and Migration?
The idea came together last November as we were in the midst of the rehearsals for a secret show in Japan, where we would perform the whole album. It was planned to be a storyteller type of show, just two or three acoustic guitars and a few microphones. As we were re-immersing ourselves into the songs, not only did we rediscover the essence of the album, but we realized how much it had evolved after years of touring. The easy and simple gig then became a concert involving several keyboards, electric guitars, controllers, effect processors, a crazy amount of percussions and a drum kit, all of it supported by the live projection of short movies designed for every song.
It became a moment of abandonment where we were swapping instruments, getting into improvised musical landscapes, and totally letting go. Once back home, we decided to record the album as the journey it became. Our advisers thought we were crazy, but after almost a decade of such singular nonsense, we figured it was best to keep following our own madness, which, in retrospect, has always been the foundation of our business strategy anyway!
What songs do you feel underwent the biggest transformation and why?
It’s a tricky question, since Tokyo Sessions is so intrinsically different from the original version of the album. But if I have to highlight what embodies the nature of what Tokyo Sessions is all about, I would say the songs “Satsuki Yami (My Heartbeat)” and “Underneath a Blooming Skylight.” “Satsuki Yami” used to be a short musical opening track defined by saturated noisy guitars interlaced with ambient keyboards. Its atmospheric and abrasive vibe reflected the very first colors of dawn, a balance of dark waves and bright lights, musically painting the state of emergency we were in when we initially wrote Between Illness and Migration.
As for the song “Underneath a Blooming Skylight”, which is totally different from the original version called “Underneath a Stretching Skyline,” it represents the most fundamental difference you can hear between the two versions of the album. The original focus was mostly on the words and the storytelling, while its new incarnation is about the musical landscape and the sonic sensations that come with it. It’s about the groove, and becoming one with the noises and rhythm. This all allows the words to reveal themselves in a totally different light.
What has been the biggest change in your life over the past year?
I think it would be about enjoying the moment for whatever the moment might be about, as simple as it may sound. We’ve been a DIY band from the very beginning and have been incredibly blessed to accomplish things that we never could have imagined in our wildest dreams. We are extremely privileged to do what we love, with our best friends and based on our values. Nonetheless, it has always been incredibly challenging for us to take a second to enjoy any of those blessings.
We all have a fear of becoming complacent, and being perceived as hedonistic a-holes by our friends. But for the first time in almost a decade, we collectively agreed that it was okay to slow down a little to enjoy the view, or at least to crack a sincere smile once in a while. So if you ask me a deep rhetorical question such as “How are you?” I might actually answer “Good” without being lectured by my bandmates about the horrible state of the world we are in!
What has been your most memorable experience while touring?
For us, every place we tour in is defined by the people we meet and the emotions we share with them, from the Beatles type of welcome we’ve experienced in Japanese airports, up to wondering if we were in the right venue in Hong Kong. Every moment is truly singular for us. But to pick one, it would be the first time we toured in mainland China. That was a crazy experience, rich in all sorts of moments. It was 17 gigs in 21 days, all over the country. It was an insane tour from the beginning, as the most influential Chinese newspaper put a picture of us on their front page, along with the mention that we were the most controversial band to ever set foot in China due to our role as spokespeople for Amnesty International and as human rights advocates. Let’s say that it was quite an introduction to the country!
Local authorities were quite concerned when we landed in Beijing, as they were probably expecting a kind of Sex Pistols circus to happen. We had a very serious welcome committee waiting for us. But after a few moments, we ended up being asked to take pictures and videos with the authorities. It was surreal to say the least. There’s no proper touring circuit in China, so besides the main festivals we were playing, local promoters pretty much established one of the first touring routes with Your Favorite Enemies, with all that comes with being the first ones to experience something that is more complicated that it looks.
But the most fabulous part of that whole experience was seeing a generation literally awakening before our eyes, gathering together, and eager to share their dreams, and ideas about freedom and peace. Most of the local concert organizers were young people opening venues with friends, serving a community of kids who were all discovering The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Ramones, Nirvana and Sonic Youth at the same time they were discovering classical music, jazz, Burroughs, Bukowski and Hemingway. We pretty much lived a cultural revolution through that tour.
And since a revolution cannot be a true one without a few incidents, I got back home with a broken jaw, cracked ribs, a chipped tooth, a back hernia and cigarette burns on my face, all of which occurred at different concerts. Making friends is easy when you’re ready to join the crowd; the problem is picking the right balcony to jump from and not losing sight of your band on the stage while body surfing for almost the whole set because the festival security lost their grip. We could write a whole book on that particular tour. It was incredibly disorienting, but in the most wonderful way.
If there is anything you’d like to change about the music industry, what would it be?
It would most definitely be the cynicism that floats on every level of the industry. A lot of people got into the music business because music changed their lives, from folk to punk to postpunk and metal up to pop music. But it feels like a lot of people’s heart and soul deserted them the day they added a framed picture of themselves with one of their musical heroes on the wall of their big office. For me, cynicism is like paying a fortune to hear Bono talk about poverty in the back of his private jet. It’s funny for a second, until it’s too much of a joke to laugh about.
And as much as I don’t drink the “new tech services will save us all” KoolAid, neither do I want to hear the same old lamentations about the glorious days of music. We’re in a plane dealing with major turbulences for what seems like a never-ending ride now, but as some complain about the quality of the champagne that got spilled on their designer jeans, others put together quite a party in the back. It’s all about perspectives and how hard you’re willing to work on what you believe in, on what is meaningful to you. And when the volume of the music is louder at IKEA than it is at HMV, maybe it’s time to dream it all over again.