Shapes and Sizes: Out of Victoria’s “velvet rut”

Shapes and Sizes left quaint Victoria to settle into metropolitan Montreal. As the only Canadian band signed to Sufjan Stevens’ Asthmatic Kitty Records, Shapes and Sizes write layered progressions that jostle the listener outside of normative conceptions of genre. Caila Thompson-Harnett, Nathan Gage, Rory Seydel, and John Crellin led the way at Montreal’s Sala Rossa with new a-tonal progressions that demonstrated compositional complexity. The band played a number of tracks from their latest (third) record, “Candle to Your Eyes”, which abandons the formal aesthetics of both their self-titled release and “Split Lips, Winning Hips, A Shiner,” and opts for poetic explorations of love, memory, and mortality. Caila and I then got to chatting about parks, loneliness, and the “velvet rut” of Victoria.

Q: What is your day job?

A: I’m a housekeeper. I’m like a 1990s Mexican housekeeper working in Texas. That’s me. In Montreal.

Q: Favorite Montreal picnic spot?

A: Um, I don’t know. I like the garbage park on Van Horne and St. Urbain, like right by the train tracks. I really like that one. I also like the train tracks behind De Gaspe and St. Viateur. I like that area a lot. I’m not a big picnic person though. (chuckles)

Q: Would you describe your music as utopian or dystopian?

A: I’ve never ever thought about this and it’s kind of a heavy question. I guess (pauses), I think at a point where utopian and dystopian meet, so somewhere in the middle.

Q: Favorite author?

A: Right now, Henry Miller.

Q: Do you draw influence from other art movements or mediums?

A: I get really inspired by paintings when I get to see paintings. I’m really into impressionism, but I know it’s not really cool (laughs). I also really like Rembrandt.

Q: If you could be any fictional character, who would you be?

A: I think it would be pretty sweet to be the girl in West Side Story. I can’t remember her name, but the girl in the gang. They’re always kinda shooing her away, but she ends up helping out in the end. That would be pretty cool.

Q: The recordings from the latest record seem more subdued – do you find the creative process was different this time around?

A: Um, yeah. We didn’t do as much arranging and writing in the studio this time. Also though–we sort of–at least I–the songs that I wrote–I focused a lot more on crafting them. I feel like I was a lot more critical when writing these songs, and wanted to make songs that were more fluid and perhaps relied less on stopping and starting. They came from a bit of a calmer, darker space perhaps. Lonelier maybe.

Q: Do you find that creativity takes different forms in Think About Life and in dance music?

A: Yeah, definitely. Think About Life kind of has a bit of a mandate, and I don’t mean that in a negative way at all. We want to make music that people can dance to and we’ve always done that. Not to say that they don’t have slower songs as well because they have a few, but its always got like a physical presence to it. Whereas when writing my own music–I haven’t decided what I’m doing yet, so sometimes I like to write really upbeat songs, but I also like to write really slow and dramatic songs too. It’s less decided I guess at the moment. The processes are totally different because Think About Life uses a lot of computers.

Q: Shapes and Sizes use a lot of electronic sounds too…

A: Yeah, I mean the last record–we have two composers and very, very trained musicians in the band, so a lot of it was arranged, written, and composed and played, so we did a lot of editing. The last record was a lot of editing, but we don’t use digital sounds besides the synth and now we have a drum pad, and we don’t usually record to click tracks or anything, so it’s less in the grid format. I’m starting to learn more about recording thanks to Think About Life, and my own need to start recording my own music. I think that I would like to use click tracks for pretty much everything, just so I have the capability to use different methods. You know, you can record to a click track, which means you can bring tracks home and record things in other places and different mediums.

Q: How does Montreal compare to Victoria?

A: Montreal is my favorite city in North America, hands down. I really like it. I’ve been to the States a lot and I’ve been, of course, across Canada quite a bit, and in Montreal I feel the freedom to walk the streets and be myself. It feels relatively safe, there are nooks and crannies for everybody, and people like music here, or something, it’s important. It’s part of the city. I think it’s Quebec too. People are really into music in Quebec, and there are different values. I love Toronto too, but I just realized that it’s really centered around buying stuff and there is so much more variety there for commercial stuff. Montreal doesn’t have that real financial, business center feel to it. I feel a lot more free here. Victoria is great, but it’s tiny and you live on an island and, you know, it takes a lot of money and quite a bit of time to get anywhere because you have to take a boat. It’s very beautiful, but sheltered. The “velvet rut” is Victoria: It’s so cushy, but you’re in a rut.

Q: Do you find that cities foster communication of exacerbate loneliness?

A: I would say, being a fairly solitary person, I would say both, and particularly with Montreal. When I first got here I was really alone, and I still feel alone all the time, even though I’ve made a lot of friends and everything. There is a certain “go, go, go” attitude here, or anywhere in cities. I’ve never lived in the country. I don’t know if it would be any different. I think I would feel the least lonely if I lived by myself.

Q: What word do you find most accurately describes the indie scene today?

A: Confused, I guess. It’s not indie. I mean there is indie. Everyone is “indie.” Everyone is doing things themselves, which is awesome. I think that’s great, but it’s also a genre now, so it’s confusing.

Q: Food of choice?

A: Pasta (laughs). I like pasta with butter and garlic, and some fried zucchini, asparagus, and tomato.

Q: With pesto?

A: No pesto.

For the latest on Shapes and Sizes:

Split Lips Winning Hips a Shiner

Candle to Your Eyes