Ought, the Montreal post-punk quartet who has garnered critical attention from their first two albums, visited Austin this week as part of the Austin City Limits Music Festival. The Daily Texan spoke with guitarist/vocalist Tim Darcy to discuss their new album, expected in early 2018.
Daily Texan: You’ve recently signed with Merge and Royal Mountain Records. What does it mean to you to sign to move from an independent label to a label that’s supporting names like Arcade Fire and Dinosaur Jr.?
Tim Darcy: It felt like a pretty organic move because Merge really has a reputation, even amongst other indie labels, of just being very artist-centered and caring about the records they put out and the people they work with, which was definitely to our experience at Constellation too. We wanted to move to a slightly bigger home for the new record; the fact that merge was excited about the album, it felt like a great fit.
DT: We’re expecting a new release from Ought in 2018. What can we expect from the album that’s going to be new or continue from your previous albums?
TD: We took more time writing this record than we have on any of the others. Also, just having the extra years on earth to take in new art. We made the first two records in a certain style, and we wanted to expand upon some of those ideas and think more about the sonic world on the record, and we’re really excited about it. There’s also some new territory that we’re really thrilled about, and we really worked to be more intentional with our influences and things we wanted to try.
DT: Can you speak to some of the influences affecting the new album?
TD: A bunch of touring took us through most of the first two records. We’re all quite engaged people and interacting with the political climate, if you will, is definitely something that’s remained part of the themes of our music. There’re also some love songs on there, I guess (chuckles)—not as straight-up as that, but there are themes of trying to find connection within a very anxious and overwhelming onslaught of just … bad news.
DT: How has the production of your music changed from your first album to now?
TD: It’s funny, in some ways this album is closest to the very first things that we recorded with the New Calm EP, in that we weren’t on a strict timeline, we were recording in our apartment so that afforded us a lot of time to experiment with tones and that sort of thing, and that was something we really wanted going into this album. It feels nice to get back to that, because we look back on those recordings we did, and we feel there’s a lot of adventure in those versions of some of the songs from the first record, and we still really love the albums we made at the Hotel2Tango studio in Montreal, but it was always more of a time constraint.
DT: How did taking a short hiatus from Ought to pursue individual projects help to improve your overall creative process?
TD: It was nice to sort of, take a minute to work on other stuff. I mean, that would happen in Montreal sometimes– we toured the first record a lot, but we would come back and people would work on other things, just to reset our brains. It was a nice fruitful period for us; Tim Keen was working in the studio, and Ben (Stidworthy) has been doing a lot of cool electronic music and that’s been working out, and it’s cool to come back and hear what everyone’s been working on, but also, it was after we had finished the new record that we kind of paused. We were kind of tinkering with it a little bit so it was kind of an exciting sense of having finished this piece of art and then getting to take our time making sure everything is perfect.
DT: How do you decide when a song or an album is finished? Do you ever want to change anything after going on tour with the new music?
TD: Totally. We’ve always felt that that is kind of inevitable, and the more time you spend with something, the more likely you won’t want to change anything, but there’s always the risk of overworking something. And sometimes, you get a magic take the first time and then if you rabbit hole and keep going, you just make it worse and worse, but we are definitely a band that benefits from refining things– even the way that we write songs, we’ll jam and then condense it by playing it again and again. But, it is kind of hard sometimes, and part of the impotence of working with a producer this time was having somebody tell us kind of brutally, “you should cut this.” Because we have looked back at old songs said, “somebody could’ve made that shorter” or whatever. It’s just honing your craft, and that’s what’s exciting about making new records.
DT: How do you collaborate with your fellow bandmates?
TD: There’s a lot of trial and error– on this album, more than any other, people came in not with so much a part that they had been working on, but we made really direct suggestions for things we wanted to try: Like, “Okay, we’re going to do a fast song with this kind of limitation,” and sometimes we would do that and it would lead us in a completely different direction, but (our producer) was really great at getting a lot of creative juices flowing and pushing our boundaries.
DT: You just got off a tour with The New Pornographers, and you’re about to begin one with Waxahachee. Is there a notable difference touring with different bands?
TD: It’s funny, the tour with the New Pornographers was half our shows, half shows with them, and that was the first opening slot we’ve ever done, so it was a different experience. Obviously, it really makes a big difference if you’re playing a room full of people who are fans of your music versus, on any given night, maybe twenty people who came specifically for you. I guess you’re trying to win them over, but you’re also trying to present your art. It was a good experience for us, and the Waxahachee tour we’re really looking forward to because Katie (Crutchfield) is amazing, and it will be cool to be touring with another merge artist before our record comes out.