The Montreal-based band Ought is home between tours, but that doesnt mean its four members are giving each other the kind of space they crave after weeks on the road.
In fact, guitarist and vocalist Tim Beeler answers the phone for a chat with CityBeat in the apartment he shares with keyboardist Matt May and drummer Tim Keen. (Bassist Ben Stidworthy lives just down the street.) And he does so near the end of a band day spent together, handling some business and jamming.
Weve been doing these really long daytime practices, trying to write new material, Beeler says. Weve been playing the same songs for a long time.
Many of those songs make up Oughts debut album, More Than Any Other Day, released in April by the venerable Constellation Records label, which is headquartered not far from Oughts practice space in Montreals artsy Mile End neighborhood. Constellation is best known as the home of sprawling post-rock giants Godspeed You! Black Emperor, as well as free-jazz noisemakers like Colin Stetson and Matana Roberts, which makes More Than Any Other Day—an eight-song bundle of nervy indie rock—a bit of an outlier on its own label.
Across the album, recorded at Montreals Hotel2Tango studio, Ought sound more like a machine than a band, the individual parts entering from all sides, interlocking effortlessly and then chugging along in post-punk time. The rhythm section of Keen and Stidworthy is powerful and precise, and Beeler showers the songs with shards of wiry guitar while his wild-eyed yelp recalls David Byrne (a comparison hes no doubt tired of ) and Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
Tell me what to do, when to feel alive, he deadpans on The Weather Song, which burbles blithely behind its verses before blooming into the albums catchiest chorus, during which Beeler so urgently declares, I just wanna revel in your lies that he often bites off the final word of the songs signature lyric.
Beeler writes the words, but he doesnt write the songs. No individual does; every Ought song so far has been composed collectively by the band during a jam, he says. Its an integral part of how these four guys work.
I cant really envision a time when that wont be [the case], Beeler says. Were definitely a live band, and most of the energy comes from us all playing together, everybody facing each other, standing on the same carpet in the same room.
Which brings us back to Oughts band day. Turns out it was the first truly productive such day after a couple of practices that produced little, Beeler says. When youre committed to tackling the creative process as a team, those kinds of dead-ends are going to happen.
When you have four people who have good chemistry you can really go a lot of different places, but you kinda have to go some places you wouldnt necessarily want to go sometimes in order to facilitate the staying-togetherness, he says. You have to be willing to check out avenues that [your bandmates] are putting down. Its sort of like if everybodys trying to hold up an egg with four corners of a pillow. Sometimes you walk a direction you didnt really want to walk, but you do it cause youre trying to keep it all together.
Oughts origin story is rooted in Quebecs 2012 Maple Spring, in which students took to the streets to protest proposed tuition increases. It was a movement that Ought witnessed firsthand and drew inspiration from, though More Than Any Other Day is as much about what comes after the high of activism as it is about the activism itself: Today, more than any other day / I am prepared to make a decision between 2-percent and whole milk! Beeler sings on the albums title track.
Ought play Oct. 6 at Soda Bar
Coming down at the end of [the protests], youre confronted with the idea that you cant access that all the time and that that isnt a reality anymore, he says. Youre thinking about that bigger stuff but then confronting the small stuff and finding despair and anxiety in that, but also retaining a good deal of the hope and uplift and thinking about how you can tack that onto the shit.
So, the members of Ought arent marching through Montreals streets with thousands of their peers anymore, but thats OK. These days, they find hope and release and solidarity in a much smaller group. So far, theirs is a creative collective that thrives on dependence and produces not only a sturdy bond, but also music thats greater than the sum of its parts.
If there were a song that Id written on an acoustic guitar and I could play that at home or whatever, thats all well and good. But then... the time when we can all get together and play it isnt as [exciting], Beeler says. If we can only play it together, then youre excited to play every time.
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