FADER 48: Sunset Rubdown Feature

October 23, 2007

Sunset Rubdown's recently released and excellent Random Spirit Lover [Jagjaguwar] came into our office a while back and made us wonder how Spencer Krug could be so ridiculously prolific, so we decided to go to the man himself and find out for Issue 48.

STORY Lorraine Carpenter  

Sitting on the back patio of Casa del Popolo, the indie rock venue/bar/vegetarian restaurant that serves as the hub of bohemian Montreal, Spencer Krug admits to being nervous about interviews. He then warns me that he’ll chain-smoke throughout our talk. He does.

Krug recently wrapped up recording the second album for Wolf Parade, the band that most people would say is his primary project. They’re one of the shining stars on the Sub Pop label roster and are second only to Arcade Fire in Montreal’s indie rock deluge. But the singer and keyboardist is also preparing for the October release of Random Spirit Lover, a powerful and overwhelming jumble of songs by Sunset Rubdown, his refuge from both Wolf Parade’s commercial inclinations and the grind that comes with their success.

Sunset Rubdown started as a solo outlet for Krug to indulge his overtly outré ideas, then with the album Shut Up I Am Dreaming he turned it into a full band so his fragments and figments could be fleshed out and realized live, while remaining relatively under the radar. Sunset Rubdown lacks the tension of Wolf Parade, a band driven by the battling songwriting tendencies of the impressionistic Krug and his anthemic co-vocalist Dan Boeckner. “It’s a pretty small camp that would hear any great difference between Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown. If you played them both for your great-aunt, it’s all noisy rock,” Krug confesses. “It’s weird for there to be such a huge difference in my head, but I’m so immersed in all of it, for me each has a totally different way of working.”

Krug jokes about having sought out weak-spined bandmates who would bend to his will in Sunset Rubdown, but he is far from a big ego. He looks and dresses like an unassuming bookstore clerk who could disappear into any crowd, and probably wants to. His humility borders on the absurd. “Most of the time, I can’t say that I like my lyrics. Most of the time, I hate them, but I can live with that,” he says, insisting that he’s given up trying to rival the poetry of Carey Mercer of Frog Eyes and Dan Bejar of Destroyer, his co-conspirators in a third project, the Canadian lit-rock supergroup Swan Lake. “If I listened to the first [Sunset Rubdown] record, which I don’t, there’d be things in there that I’d really cringe at and have to skip the song. I just try to make something that I would actually want to put on my CD player, which hasn’t actually happened, but one day, maybe.”

Krug’s ambition lies in the music he makes, not the arc of his career, and he’s nothing if not a hard worker. In the last five years he’s appeared on seven different records, including an upcoming Frog Eyes release. Krug co-founded the Victoria, British Columbia-based band before he switched coasts in 2001, and has never officially quit the group. “I’m just a peripheral, floating, honorary member. I can come and go as I please, which is nice,” he says.

Krug has always been defined by a certain restlessness. When he started taking piano lessons at the age of 12, he relished bashing out his own original material more than anything else. When Krug left Penticton, his small hometown in British Columbia, he drifted from Vancouver to Victoria to Calgary before settling in Montreal. He’s been there for six years now, a fact that surprises even him. Still, his need for freedom doesn’t sideline the loyalty that he feels towards people like Mercer—who was essentially his mentor—or his Sunset Rubdown bandmates, who were chosen carefully and for keeps. Multi-instrumentalist members Mike Doerksen and Jordan Robson Cramer were picked for their reputations as local weirdos willing to screw with new ideas.

They initially tried to work as a trio, but Krug felt an intangible emptiness in the group, moving him to call up Camilla Wynne Ingr, who had recently been kicked out of Montreal’s all-girl indie pop export, Pony Up. “I didn’t really know Camilla, but I knew that she had all these random toys that she liked playing—glockenspiels and little keyboards and this thing called the Q-chord—and it just seemed right,” explains Krug. “It was lucky that the first three people I asked are the same people that are still in the band. We don’t fight and everyone cares deeply for one another, and they’re good to me.”

Random Spirit Lover is the band’s second creation, pitting Krug’s acidic warble against a flighty ensemble of guitars, keyboards, rhythm and frills. It is a dizzying collection where dead birds are thrown into the air and tender stage divers fly with grace. There are unexpected experiments with what sounds like Celtic drinking music and what could be echoes of progressive disco, there are snatches of paranormal sound next to operatic gestures. Krug’s dirty secret, however, is the important role that pop plays in this challenging band and that when he’s making music, there’s an audience sitting in the back row of his mind. (This revelation is the second most surprising admission of our interview, the first being, “I fucking miss high school.”) A handful of Krug’s phantom crowd consists of musician friends whose opinion he respects, but there’s also a faceless mass that he imagines aiming something lethal at the target painted on his chest.

But Krug doesn’t recoil from his fears, instead he perversely aims his weapon right back at them. “It’s so sadistic,” he says. “On the last album, [we did] some pretty gaudy shit, really colorful, really glammy at times, and you have a little giggle when you think about how the purists aren’t gonna buy it. It’s a victory when you indulge those impulses that you know are a hard sell, and just do it for you and the band first. It’s fun to do things that you suspect only you and seven other people in the world will like. Maybe other people will come around. I don’t know.”

MP3: Winged Wicked Things

MP3: Upon Your Leopard

Wolf Parade, "I'll Believe in Anything"

Wolf Parade, "Modern World"

Posted: October 23, 2007
FADER 48: Sunset Rubdown Feature