It's been a long six years since the Canadian nerd-rockers' last album (and first major one on their own), which is why they spend our 20 Questions talking about everything from Stravinsky to Deep Space Nine, Kid A to Royal Canadian Navy Ship's Team Diver Coveralls.
It's been over six years since the last Most Serene Republic album proper, which is the kind of statement that seems to carry the typical critical arc of a band seeking redemption ("Now they're back and better than ever, guys!"), but when you get right down to it, the six years between the group's heavily melodic 2009 set ... And the Ever Expanding Universe and this year's long-overdue Mediac were filled with a strange bit of turmoil.
For one, the band, who had the distinction of being the first band signed to Canadian powerhouse label Arts & Crafts that didn't have a direct connection to Broken Social Scene, were no longer with the label by 2013. In fact, when I interviewed Social Scene's Kevin Drew about it sometime after, a heavy bit of regret hung his voice, not only because the label was celebrating its 10th anniversary without TMSR, but also because the group couldn't join due to music mastermind Ryan Lenssen being in the Canadian Army. Although the band put out a set of early works in 2011 and an EP the year before that, the quirky Canadian art-rockers remained largely quiet for years on end, still enjoying a quiet cult audience, but largely seeming content to be out of the spotlight.
All of that changed, of course, with Mediac, which is perhaps their most explicitly "referential" album yet. At times, they reference their own nerdy selves, like how singer Adrian Jewett spends a portion of "Capitalist Waltz" making the phrase "I'll advertise for you" sound like an alluring come-on (and, to his credit, in an app-driven, "exposure"-friendly world, it really works). On other songs like "The Feels", the band pleads for drugs and seemingly acknowledges fuck-ups of the past, but then make their most explicit Radiohead allusions yet, bot h with Jewett's ascending Yorke-like vocal lines, as well as the lyric "Put the boy on medication / Shut him up," which sounds like it came right out of OK Computer.
After years of somewhat introverted (but nonetheless fascinating) experiments, it feels like the band is looser than before, but not as explicitly poppy as they were on Universe: just, really, more themselves than ever. They answer to no one except themselves, and they're thrilled at the prospect. So to help celebrate Mediac's release, the band sat down to answer PopMatters' 20 Questions, here making reference to everything from Stravinsky to Deep Space Nine, Kid A to Royal Canadian Navy Ship's Team Diver Coveralls.
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1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Ryan Lenssen: Big Hero 6 and Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel.
Adrian Jewett: Cloud Atlas. That was a great film adapted from an amazing book.
2. The fictional character most like you?
Ryan: I wish I was More like Jean Luc Picard, but I'm afraid I'm more of a cross between Worf (in the Deep Space Nine years), Riker, and Data, but not their best parts. Worf for his want to serve but also for his grumpiness, Data for his want to be normal but awkwardness, and Riker because I love me a good lean.
Adrian: Odysseus, because everyday is such a difficult voyage with only little moments of joy; but I know I will eventually get home and kill those suitors, and hang all my wife's maids from the rafters of my dining hall.
3. The greatest album, ever?
Ryan: Radiohead 's Kid A.
Adrian: Kid A: pretty spotless in the gloom department. In the joy department, A Charlie Brown Christmas by the timeless and Italian-American, Vince Guaraldi.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Ryan: Star Trek, however, I like to have some space cowboy fun too. It doesn't have to be so binary!
Adrian: Star Trek is better than Star Wars because the former can hold an intellectual conversation, while the latter is more sci-fi tricks and how many distorted genital-looking aliens can one director cram into one canteen or Jabba du Hutt's palace. Ha Ha Ha Ha, Ho Ho Ho Ho.
5. Your ideal brain food?
Ryan: Time up at the cottage, or at sea.
Adrian: Creative sustenance? Whatever happens to be in my icebox. If you mean drugs used to make music, you just end up lying to yourself. Telling yourself that your music comes from an authentic place. Wrong. You're just high, and not the 100% you necessary for the best shit.
6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?
Ryan: I'm proud of my service to my country. It's a completely different experience than making music. I believe that Canada is a template for what the future world should look like, and that needs to be protected and promoted.
Adrian: I'm proud of being alive, because that is the hardest thing to sustain.
7. You want to be remembered for ...?
Ryan: To be remembered isn't always a good thing, but if I am I want to be remembered as someone who was flawed, but worked very hard, was kind, and tried his best to take care of his own. By that I mean family, friends, music, and profession.
Adrian: I want to be remembered for being a very mentally unstable but brilliant artist who made some of the most beauteous music and writing ever created, not only in Canada, but internationally. It's been my aspiration since high school, and it's too late now to return the grandeur, even though I've tried.