Five Questions With… Mounties' Steve Bays
One-third of the storied Canadian indie rock group discusses its new album, his love of headphones, his creative new small-town life, and a disastrous first public gig.
By Jason Schneider
Mounties is many things to many people, not the least of whom are the three band members united beneath the moniker. They’ve called it everything from “a creative accident” to “a warehouse of musical ideas”. Most simply put, Mounties is the musical union of three industry veterans in Hawksley Workman, Steve Bays of Hot Hot Heat and Fur Trade, and Ryan Dahle of Limblifter and Age of Electric.
Their latest album, Heavy Meta, out April 26 through Light Organ Records, is a curious and compelling mishmash of ideas, eras, and experimentation. It inevitably includes the bits of genius that made its predecessor – and each member’s projects – worth hearing and takes it all to new heights and new dimensions. Vocal melodies, wobbly vintage synth lines, and staccato guitar leads seemingly sprout from nowhere yet never steal focus from the themes and emotions they support.
Mounties’ 2014 debut album Thrash Rock Legacy was nominated for a Polaris Music Prize, spawned three Top 20 hits at Alternative radio including the anthemic smash, “Headphones,” and helped garner the band Emerging Artist of the Year at the 2014 Sirius XM Independent Radio Awards. The album wiped away the stigma attached to the term “supergroup” with an inspired and engaging collection of songs like the sprawling indie opus “Tokyo Summer” and rhythmic summer banger “Headphones.” Calling it eclectic almost doesn’t do it justice, and that’s even truer for the trio’s sophomore release.
Indeed, Heavy Meta makes it clear that these three have cemented their sonic identity. Tracks like “No XTC” and “Flags of Convenience” are as lively as they are diverse, loaded with twisting melodies and strange-but-satisfying meters, whereas “Burning Money” and “Longplay” are sticky, more straightforward rockers. Then there’s the hypnotic slow burn of the slithery “Python Status.” Despite the array of influences and countless moving parts, the collection remains cohesive, uncompromising, and undeniably Mounties. Find out more at mountiesband.com.
What songs on the record are you most proud of and why?
They all have a special place in my heart, but I'd say that "Canoe Song" is the most quintessential “indie-math pop” song on the record, and therefore the most “Mounties”... and my favourite. Sometimes my favourite songs aren't necessarily the most catchy or the most likely to do well for your band's career, but they represent what makes your band stand out from the noise on a planet of 10 billion people. And I feel like, years from now, someone will discover “Canoe Song” and think "wait, THIS is from Canada?" I also really love “Modesty Pays,” because it just feels good. A great road trip song perhaps?
What's been the most significant change in your life over the past year?
Moving away from Vancouver to a smaller town nearby and building a studio on the property. I've wanted to do that my whole life. When Mounties started, and we went to rehearse at Hawksley's place, where he had a studio in a separate building on the property, I thought "man, this is the DREAM scenario." So, I spent the next five years building up to figuring out a way to emulate what he had done. Walking ten seconds to get to work is the best feeling. I've also become a lot more of a hermit as well, choosing to work on music or photos or videos or art, instead of going out. But I love that lifestyle. It's what I am meant to be doing. Funny enough, Hawksley has left his small town and moved to Montreal where he's right in the heart of the city. We've sort of swapped lifestyles. But it's renewed both of our passions and excitement for music, so that's a great thing.
What are your fondest musical memories as you were growing up?
I recently saw some old footage that my mom had digitized. It was my old band hanging out and making dumb music videos. We were in my parents’ garage, which we had “soundproofed” with egg cartons and random scraps of styrofoam using way too much glue gun glue. We thought we were SO cool—and of course, we SO weren't. Nor was that garage soundproofed at all. The neighbours had it shut down pretty quickly. But man, those were fun times. There was such a tangible feeling of momentum and a glow of unified teamwork and prosperity among the band. I've probably been chasing the buzz of that feeling ever since. My parents still have that garage and haven't taken down the band graffiti'd soundproofing yet. They've also left our old basement jam spot intact. I’m not sure if that's out of sentimental nostalgia, or just because they can't be bothered!
What song in your catalogue means the most to you and why?
Our first song, “Headphones.” It's one of my favourite songs I've ever been a part of. It's not the deepest song lyrically by any means, but overall, the impact of that song is always felt when you throw it on. There are so many little weird x-factor moments in it, maybe because it was written and mixed so fast—as in, a few hours. It's hard to take credit for it; so I can appreciate it as a fan more than as an ego-fueled musician! I also made that video in a few hours too. The lyrics are all glitching out for some unknown reason, but it was meant to be a first draft to show the guys and be like, “Hey, is this the right direction?" And they were all, "Don't touch it! It’s done!" So that song has an extra cozy place in my heart.
What do you recall about your first time performing in public?
One of my first bands was called Pilot Light. We put fliers all around school and invited everyone we knew. It was an after-school show in our guitar player's parents’ garage. The sound was awful, and we played awfully—at least I did. But hey, I had dreads, so that's all that matters! I think only 10 people showed up, mainly friends. I was 32 at the time. Kidding...I was 15.