Each Song Is a Thought, Flying Across the Ocean for Do Make Say Think's Charles Spearin

Photo: Norman Wong

Charles Spearin discusses the themes and processes behind Do Make Say Think's latest album Stubborn Persistent Illusions.

Do Make Say Think

Stubborn Persistent Illusions

Label: Constellation
Release Date: 2017-05-19

Do Make Say Think's (DMST) latest album Stubborn Persistent Illusions was constructed in a flurry of musical activity by Toronto's post-rock experimental band and berthed at the edge of an emotional ocean, a crow circling above.

In its conception, recording process and execution, it is an expedition. Charles Spearin, Justin Small, James Payment, David Mitchell, and Ohad Benchetrit recorded the album at the same time Spearin co-produced albums with other artists, and recorded with Broken Social Scene on their latest album, while the other members of DMST worked on other projects and soundtracks.

"We had it in mind from the very beginning to have a sense of narrative for the record," Spearin tells PopMatters. "All of our other albums have had a story-quality to them. We wanted to take that further on this record by having recurring themes. We tried a lot of potential storylines ... we ended up settling on the story based on the Buddhist poem."

Spearin finds the arts and music communities of Toronto especially stimulating when working out aural ideas. "There is so much great music. The best thing is that people really encourage each other to be experimental. It's not competitive ... for the most part." Spearin described a music co-op called The TRANZAC, a venue that features "bizarre nights of free jazz" and other events.

"The Woodchoppers Association ... is this guy Dave Clark from Toronto. It's been running for years and years, and it's once a month, anyone can come, and they do this big improv free-for-all. Dave will stand up there waving his arms and pointing at people and encouraging certain melodies to the forefront. But the whole thing is improvised. Sometimes it's absolutely transcendent and incredible," he paused, "sometimes it's just squonks and squeaks, and nobody listens to each other." Spearin noted that improvisation played a large part in DMST's recent album, the band chopped out and shaped raw tunes that made up the vessel of the album, working out the frame, rigging, and sails of their general story.

While the theme and affect of the album is derived from the poetic line "Be like the ship captain watching her crow fly," the structure is a gloss on Modest Mussorgsky's suite Pictures at an Exhibition, a composition about Mussorgsky attending his dear friend painter Viktor Hartmann's memorial art exhibition, after the artist's death. "So, it starts with this trumpet line, then it goes to this musical description of the painting then back to the trumpet line," he continued that each piece of music represented a painting, moving back and forth from the trumpet line to the fuller pieces until the final painting titled The Gates of Kiev. "And the music just gets bigger and bigger, and you think this must be some incredible painting and then you realize he's no longer writing about paintings but the love of his friend. It's the most beautiful simple way of presenting a musical narrative. So we were looking for something along those lines."

Spearin is no stranger to circuitous routes to sonic results. In 2007 and 2008 while being a stay-at-home dad, he recorded interviews with his neighbors. "I spent a lot of time on the front porch with my kids. I got to talk to my neighbors a lot. And the idea of making music out of the melodies of speech was something I had been toying with for a long time. My neighbors are interesting people ... and they said really nice things and they sang them in a way." The resultant album The Happiness Project features the most melodious bits of the interviews set to music, the speaker's harmony accentuated by musical lines underneath their stories and musings, breaking down the demarcation between speech and music. The attentiveness to sound and texture present in that album can also be heard in tracks like "Schlomo's Son" and "Bound" on Stubborn Persistent Illusions.






'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.


JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.


​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.


Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times


Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.


How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.


Hip-Hop's Raashan Ahmad Talks About His Place in 'The Sun'

On his latest work,The Sun, rapper Raashan Ahmad brings his irrepressible charisma to this set of Afrobeat-influenced hip-hop.


Between the Buried and Me's Baby Pictures Star in 'The Silent Circus'

The Silent Circus shows Between the Buried and Me developing towards the progressive metal titans they would eventually become.


The Chad Taylor Trio Get Funky and Fiery on 'The Daily Biological'

A nimble jazz power trio of drums, tenor sax, and piano, the Chad Taylor Trio is free and fun, funky and fiery on The Daily Biological.


Vistas' 'Everything Changes in the End' Is Catchy and Fun Guitar Rock

Vistas' debut, Everything Changes in the End, features bright rock music that pulls influences from power-pop and indie rock.


In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?


Maestro Gamin and Aeks' Latest EP Delivers LA Hip-Hop Cool (premiere + interview)

MaestroAeks' Sapodigo is a collection of blunted hip-hop tunes, sometimes nudging a fulsome boom-bap and other times trading on laid-back, mellow grooves.


Soul Blues' Sugaray Rayford Delivers a "Homemade Disaster" (premiere + Q&A)

What was going to be a year of touring and building Sugaray Rayford's fanbase has turned into a year of staying home and reaching out to fans from his Arizona home.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.