An Interview With : Michael Lessard (The Contortionist)
16th March 2016, 19:30
Posted by Tristan
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Reliant on both intuition and assessment we as a species endure the constant battle of nature versus nurture. On the one hand it is arguable that our behavioural patterns exhibit evidence of cognitive learning through the way that we are raised. However on the other hand there is the argument that our upbringing is inconsequential and that we are in fact reliant on instinct. Fascinated by these philosophical queries we spoke to The Contortionist vocalist Michael Lessard regarding their phenomenal album Language, its fruition and ultimately the very near future where we have only just seen the beginning of the bands parable.

Listen to the full unedited interview on our Soundcloud file below or read the full thing underneath!

Hello!

Hows it goin’?

Very well, how are you?

Excellent, excellent! Enjoying my day in London!

Have you seen any of the sights?

I haven’t been around too much, the last time I was here I got to experience the city a bit, went into town, did some radio interviews and stuff like that. I got to experience it a little bit, tomorrow we have a day off in London so I’m sure I will get most of that in there!

Any plans?

See where the day takes us!

Excellent so could you kind of fill us in on The Contortionist’s year so far?

Basically this year has been touring, for lack of a better summary. We’ve just gone out with a bunch of bands! Fallujah, Revocation, Chon, Between The Buried and Me, Animals As Leaders, Tesseract… We’ve just been all systems go, touring for the Language cycle and making sure we get out play shows and do all that stuff and actually wrapping up that tour cycle directly after this with our last headline tour in the states. Then we will take some time off and start for the next one!

It’s hard to believe that it was two years since Language was out.

It’s fast approaching that! It seems really crazy to me too, it feels like yesterday we just finished it up and here we are two years later.

What was the writing and recording process like with Jamie King?

So we took about three or four months, sat down in a house, wrote together. At that point it was Joey Robby, myself and Cameron. It was just us four at that point in time, wrote the album, went into the studio with Jamie. Reworked things, we brought Eric in who is now our full time keyboardist. He came in to do the studio keyboards and had such a good time with him and we clicked so well that we brought him in as a full time member.

Robby actually recorded bass on the album which a lot of people don’t know, because we had lost our bass player but we knew Jordan was going to be the new bass player. It happened so fast, we had Robby do bass on basically short notice in the studio but luckily he had written all of the bass parts for the album anyway, he knew what he was doing. In the studio, working with Jamie King is great its a pleasure every time. He’s a brilliant, humble amazing human being in every aspect of life he is just a great guy.

Did he not influence you but give you certain ideas that you may not have had before?

For vocals, for sure! The main reason we went with Jamie was because I had such a strong relationship because of one of my previous projects. Working with Jamie has always been, like I said before, a delight. When we started working on vocals, we will do eight to ten hour days of just. I will lay down what I have and we will think, is this the proper approach, does it need to be in a different register, does it need to be more aggressive, maybe change the melody like this and then we can try harmonies…

If whatever I lay down works, awesome. If not me and Jamie just go to town, have a good time reworking stuff. He plays a huge part in that and even the stuff that he didn’t change he plays a huge part in making an easy process to get on album. He’s such a focused, smart individual that he never holds anything up. I’ve worked with some people where its like if your producer is having a bad day then that means you’re having a bad day. It trickles into everybody elses mood but with Jamie, he’s to the point ever day and makes sure that every recording environment is a pleasant one.

He sounds like a fantastic producer to work with!

He is! There’s a reason why Between The Buried and Me always goes with him and its because of that. When you go in he wants to know what your vision is of the album. He wants to know what YOU want it to sound like, he wants to try and get to that product for you, he wants to make that for you. He’s obviously got a signature sound that blends in there as well and that works for us!

What was your vision?

When we got in the studio, the vision was kind of still being found! It all came together very nicely, I didn’t even know what to expect before the album was finished. I think it took a little while after because it was such a fast process between writing, recording to alright we’re putting this thing out. Whereas with this next album we are taking as much time off as we need to write it. That will be a nice change of pace.

It’s early days but are you thinking of returning with Jamie King?

I would like that very much, its very possible. He is definitely at the top of the list for people that we want to work with.

What about lyrically on Language, what kind of themes are explored on the album?

Try to give a real crude summary here. The basic summary is with any good story you need a black and a white, a light and a dark. Whether it be Star Wars with the Dark Side and the Jedi every story there’s good and evil there is some sort of contrast there. So I started with the initial idea of the intuitive process and the calculative process, something that is more conspired. Something that you sit and you work on and you hone in and focus on as opposed to something that you let naturally flow out and see what happens.

Then I put it in the form of a story, metaphorical story. Which is basically the idea of making something, whether it be a child, a piece of art whatever that is. Making that and then people in turn interpreting that piece of art. If you and I were to watch a movie and it didn’t talk about what the movie was about, if it was an abstract movie, if there was room for the imagination to run wild. We would both have completely different understandings of what that movie might be about because of the different life experiences we have had. It kind of plays with that idea in the form of a story and all this over stuff. Theres a lot of layers but basically its about creating something and that something communicating being interpreted by other things.

So say it was an album, like Language, somebody who listens to it, may think that the album is about something in particular. Something that they personally feel its about because thats what they can relate to. That’s why its somewhat vague a lot of times but at the end of the album there is a line “you are the perceiver, the perceived, the parable” basically saying to the listener, that they are the perceiver they are perceiving what they are listening. They are creating the parable, which is the story but in their own head. That’s why there is the line “but its all in your head” its mostly a story and then on the last track it pulls the lens back a little bit futher and it shows you that its a story and on the last part of that song it pulls it back even further and its me talking directly to the listener.

So it’s like breaking the fourth wall?

Exactly.

Is that where the quote at the end ties in?

Yeah and that just fit! That all lined up perfectly because a lot of philosophy inspired the album, eastern philosophy. Alan Watts, who is a very famous man for talking a lot about Buddhism and things of that nature, putting into very simple analogies for people to understand. It was someone that I listened to a lot when I was growing up, my dad had a lot of his books, had a bunch of his lectures. I showed Cameron, Alan Watts and got him into Alan Watts. He was a big inspiration for the album and then Robby one day, was like “hey we should put this at the end of the album” and I said “Is this Alan Watts?” and he said “Yeah, you’ve heard of him?” so it kind of all came full circle. Call it synchronicity call it coincidence it just felt right so we just put it on. It seems to be something that a lot of people latched onto at the end of the album.

I think its definite like a finite point. Especially, after that kind of epic riff it kind of dissolves nicely. Are you quite a spiritual person yourself?

I try to be! I think as much as anybody would like to be, I don’t feel like I am at a higher level of existence than anybody else but I try to be mindful and do all those things. I find the philosophies that apply to that very interesting and I believe that they can be very beneficial for people to apply. So I try to be yes.

You mentioned earlier on that you toured with Chon, Revocation.. Do you find that because The Contortionist’s sound flirts with Metal and theres Post Rock elements, that you’re not really pigeonholed if that makes sense?

Yeah, I believe so theres also the fact that we try and go out of our way. Some of those tours are headliner tours so we make sure that each tour is different. One was Revocation and Fallujah the next tour was Chon. We try to make sure to do that because one its more interesting for us to have this different styles of bands to tour with and then they inspire us to do newer things.

When you tour with a band like Chon, they are a very feel good shreddy band. It feels good to watch because of how feel good their music is. Then it makes you want to make feel good music to some degree and then you tour with Revocation and you’re like holy, these guys are insane! It makes you want to do that! Being able to put ourselves in those positions where we can be inspired by those bands, it helps tremendously for us. It makes it so that we are not pigeonholed and I think it forces us as musicians to have to adapt, pick a set list that can maybe fit more with those kind of bands.

Do the earlier stuff so that its heavier if we go out on a heavy tour. Maybe its all melodic and we don’t do anything with screaming or maybe we do stuff like the Rediscovered. Go out with a band like Circa Surive, it leaves us more pass. You can never have too many options. If we wanted to go back to what Exoplanet sounded like, we could! There’s no one to say that can’t, if we want to go to acoustic stuff we can because we’ve done it. We can do whatever we want. I feel like art should show different sides of an artist. You should be able to show your different spaces so to speak.

So what about as a vocalist, who are your influences?

I grew up on mostly Folk and Country. My grand father was country musician so I listened to a lot of Folk. Got into Rock Radio, growing up it was James Taylor, Jim Croce, who had beautiful voices. Its funny that later in life they played more of a role in my music inspiration. James Taylor now is probably my top three favourite singers ever, beautiful voice, beautiful song writer. Beautiful voice in the way that he can tell you a story and the way that he can lull you into feeling this warmth of his voice.

Then there is a lot of R ‘n’ B, whether it be Frank Ocean or older stuff like Donnie Hathaway or Bill Withers, old school soul. If its a good singer, its a good anything! Rhythm, singer, melody it can be applied to anything put a little distortion on it, its a Metal riff! Its one of those things where there are certain singers that I drawn to more but I never limit myself to certain genres so theres really a singer from every genre that I could name for you that’s at the top of the list. Then a lot of Rock singers as well, I love nineties Rock. Soundgarden’s Superunknown is one of my favourite albums, Chris Cornell is a monster!

What would you say is a record that you’ve been listening to over the last six months to a year?

I might catch some flack on this one, the new Justin Bieber…

No way!!

He’s winning over a lot of new people with this album but I’m big into Pop production as well. In terms of a Pop artist that has the funds and the resources to put together one of the biggest Pop albums that you can make, its Justing Bieber… He did some really cool stuff, he brought in some really good producers, he wrote specific songs with specific songwriters that were really smart. He has a more dulled down just guitar and vocal track, so he brought in Ed Sheeran to co write it. Ed Sheeran is a guitar singer, he is that type of singer so they were very smart about who they paired him up with for certain songs and certain vibes. He’s a talented kid, he catches a lot of flack but if you ever watch video footage of him in a studio he’s very talented.

Perfect thank you so much!

No worries!

 

The Contortionist are set to embark on their final tour for Language this year with Monuments out in the US imminently.