Interviews, Ottawa Revue — November 12, 2013 at 9:46 pm

Conversation (and existential despair) with Paterson Hall

by

Hello, meet the sprightly gang of sonic messengers that is Paterson Hall. Before I get into this, I’d like to share a few extraneous nuggets from my recent conversation with the band, which endeared them to me greatly:

“One of my favourite things to do in life is to just imagine people as apes. The grocery store is the best place. The produce aisle.”

“Morals don’t exist when you’re trying to get on the bus.”

“The Korg is an extension of his body. It’s a Korgan!”

“Did you know peanuts are actually beans?”

*****

PATERSON HALL is a band based in Ottawa whose practice space is an elaborately decorated unfinished basement on the edge of the Byward Market. They let me come hang out one evening and we sat in a circle on an ornately patterned area rug. “It’s a bit dungeony,” they’d warned, but I thought it was cozy.

PH1

There are six people in this band, but their individual styles and energies blend together so well that they sound like one giant, whirling musical entity. I think they can read each other’s minds.

Together, Josh White (guitar/vocals), Adam Finlay (bass), Jesse Harding (guitar/vocals), Patrick Bonne (keys/synthesizer), Kelsey Miki (vocals/percussion), and Alexandre Pilon (drums) deliver a nifty collection of aural delights. Carefully crafted lyrics populate songs composed of persistent grooves, layers of ambient twinkles and drones, heavy freak-outs, and precise drops into gentle interludes. Vocals are shared, passed back and forth, shouted and crooned. Paterson Hall sounds the way things appear when you look through a magnifying glass, pull it away from your subject, tilt it around at different angles, and then place it back down into focus again. Know what I mean?

Here is a unique and original question: Who are you and what kind of music do you make?

Josh: Hi! We’re Paterson Hall. And we play, um… hmm. We play… well, what I always think with choosing a “genre” is that it can almost be misleading…

Adam: I guess it’s kind of like, labels are fine, but it’s not up to us to decide what they are.

Josh: It’s just music that we care about, with which we attempt to communicate something.

How did this whole thing come about? Were you friends who became band mates, or band mates who became friends?

Adam: Dude. That was a real thing. Alex and I made contact with Josh through being in the same program, and then there was a party, and Josh was drunkenly wailing at us about being in a band, cornered Alex and asked him what he played…

Alex: He pretty much screamed it at me. It wasn’t really a question.

Josh: Jesse, Pat, and I have been playing together since we were – pffffft – fourteen, and we basically moved to Ottawa together with the purpose of continuing to play music. We tried some people out, but nothing worked super well until we got Kelsey. Then what we needed was a rhythm section, and when I found out these guys existed in my program I was like, this could be even more perfect, because they played Pokemon in lectures… and they were two friends. And then it worked out amazingly well, incredibly well. We jammed for the first time and it was synergy, it was perfect.

Adam: I remember being totally intimidated and scared shitless walking into the basement the first time, because Alex and I had known each other from before but only ever had a few half-assed projects that never really panned out, and then Josh invited us over and we walked into this room just completely filled with gear. But then after one or two jams we started to come over just to hang out as well as to do music.

Josh: I’ve never played music without Pat and Jesse. We’ve been doing our songs against each other for a long time, so that dynamic goes back really far. And Pat is like this machine that we’ve crafted to play on our songs – like, Pat cannot not be in our band, because if Pat for some reason was like “Fuck you guys, I hate you!” and left the band, we’d be FUCKED. We couldn’t get another keyboard player. I don’t know why we gel so well, we don’t even listen to the same stuff. I think it’s more the type of people we are.

So what kind music do you listen to? What have you been listening to lately? What are you inspired by, etc.?

Josh: I’ve expanded my musical tastes a lot this year, basically because of Adam…

Kelsey: Danny Brown!

Josh: Yeah, Danny Brown! I’ve been listening to a lot of Danny Brown. But I think a lot of my influences that come out in my songwriting are what I was listening to when I started writing songs…which was basically like, Modest Mouse, bands kinda like that.

Adam: I like to imagine that we’re like this big disgusting bulbous Venn diagram that just goes in all directions, so it’s like different shaped bubbles that all more-or-less overlap in certain areas, one of which would be like that whole 90s and 2000s alternative thing.

Pat: I can’t really speak for anyone else, but personally my biggest influences would actually be in a lot of electronic music, and like a lot of ambient, mellow, relaxing stuff, like Boards of Canada or Com Truise. I have a thing with melodies and that’s what I like doing, and that kind of stuff really hits me when I listen to it.

Josh: I find that what I take from music and put into my own is less what it sounds like, and more what’s behind it, the attitude and the reasons that people are doing it – which you can gather kind of from what they’re doing and when they’re doing it and how they’re doing it. My stuff doesn’t sound a lot like what I’m listening to, I don’t think.

Pat: But it’s perhaps coming from a similar place. Or a comparable place, at least.

Adam: I think that if you had to draw a link between it, that’s about as close as you can get. There’s often no logical connection between what I listen to and what we play.

Pat: Thinking about the music you listen to and the way that it inspires the music you produce – I think you can compare that to almost anything, sort of, in life. Like the things that you take in, and the way that you react to them and the way you develop yourself based on what you’re experiencing and the things you grow to value… I think it’s similar to music in that it’s not a direct input-output machine that your brain is, it’s more like, you take in this whole foggy phantasm that is your sensory experience, and then your mind is processing that…

Josh: And then it manifests in different ways.

You should name your next album “Foggy Phantasm”.

Josh: Yes! That’s it!

My own introduction to Paterson Hall took place earlier this year, at a show at the Shanghai with Hungry Animals. It was TOTALLY packed and sweaty, and I actually couldn’t even see you guys because I got stuck near the back. Anyway, you’ve played a bunch of shows since then – were there any that were particularly memorable or ridiculous or just really awesome or really terrible? 

SONY DSCJosh: Oh my god, every single one, there’s something to say.

Pat: Some of them were amazingly disastrous. What about the one at that place in Nepean?

Josh: The Brass Monkey! That one was terrible because Kelsey wasn’t there, and then we were like uhhhh we’ll do it anyway… and then it was just awful.

Alex: It was like hilariously bad.

Josh: Never playing without all members again! But then on the opposite end of the spectrum, I’d say our last show at Raw Sugar was probably one of the best.

Alex: And the drums didn’t drown everything out since I was in my own little isolated alcove.

Adam: I feel like it was a perfect kind of send off almost. It was finally kind of like, okay, we can put away the café shows. That last show was over capacity, and it was enough to make us realize that even though we’ve gotten comfortable selling out small places, it’s time to bite the bullet and start being another opener.

Pat: I think what was also important about that show was that it was fully our product. We organized the show, we booked the venue, we gathered the bands. And I think that’s a really important thing for us, to have that self-momentum, where you don’t have to rely on or piggyback on other bands. It’s a really empowering thing.

You have a show coming up on November 15th with two other bands: Groenland, from Montreal, and Pony Girl, from Ottawa. Explain why everyone should attend, using three examples from the text, with full sentences and proper citations.

Josh: That’s pretty friggin’ funny. Now I’m under pressure. Now I feel academic pressure…

Kelsey: Well it’s a big one, because it’s our first one with Spectrasonic. So that’s a pretty huge deal.

Josh: Plus both Groenland and Pony Girl are awesome bands.

Adam: We’ll also be playing some new material, which is exciting. We’ve started to pick up a lot of momentum and we’ve hit a point where we can afford to cut a bunch of familiar songs and have a set that’s almost entirely brand new. It’s really cool for us, it feels good to be aware of the progress we’re making. It feels good to push things and see how people react, and it comes full circle when people give us feedback about what they like and don’t like.

Would you rather visit Greenland or meet a pony dressed as a girl?

Josh: OH MEET A PONY DRESSED AS A GIRL. No question.

Adam: I think it’d maybe depend on where I was in my life at the time…

Josh: For me it’s a pony any time.

What about a girl dressed as a pony though?

Alex: What about Greenland dressed as a pony?

What if you went to Greenland and the whole population was just ponies and girls?

Pat: That’s not what Greenland is. I was so terribly mislead!

Kelsey: Cancel the flights.

How do you feel about Ottawa’s music scene? Who are some of your favourite local bands?

Josh: Favourite local band is Pith and the Parenchymas. Favourite band is Pith and the Parenchymas. Also, well, Kalle Matteson we have a hometown connection with, and their guitarist Rory actually recorded us, which was awesome. He’s a hilarious dude. Organ Eyes! Organ Eyes are fucking great. Hungry Animals. Roberta Bondar.

Adam: You’ve gotta look for it, but once you find it, there’s a lot of great stuff in Ottawa.

Pat: You just have to dig for it.

What’s the deal with this release you’re supposed to have coming out soon?

Josh: It’s a little bit up in the air, we’re just getting it mastered now. We’re hoping to get it out as soon as possible, basically.

Adam: It’s gone through so many iterations. We don’t even know anymore. It’s just gonna come out.

What kind of format will it be?

Josh: Definitely nothing physical in terms of vinyl or CD. Just a digital release. We just want to get it out to as many people as possible.

Adam: The original idea was to have it accompanied by a physical release that wasn’t a CD or anything, just like a download code accompanied by a collection of art or something.

What kind of activity is your music best suited to accompany?

Adam: SEX

Josh: Two things. Not that! Two things: either listening to it being performed and participating in it in a very active way, or just listening to it by yourself. Those two extremes, I think. That’s how I listen to music, anyway, and that’s what I’m putting into it.

Pat: I think elevators and sports bar bathrooms are our target means of delivery…

Jesse: Headphones. By yourself.

Josh: It’s feely music! It’s supposed to make you feel.

What is the best post-practice snack?

Everyone shouting simultaneously: Kraft Dinner! Or Pizza. Potato wedges! Ohhhh potato wedges. Or trail mix! Colorado Style trail mix.

That’s interesting! What’s in Colorado Style trail mix?

Josh: It’s got…raisins? Cashews, sunflower seeds maybe? Those little things…

Alex: Sunflower kernels.

Adam: Yeah you don’t eat them! You always leave them all in the bottom of the bowl!

Josh: ‘Cause they’re too small!

What did you dress up as for Halloween this year? 

Kelsey: We didn’t even dress up this year…

Pat: I worked. I was gonna dress up as Waldo though.

Alex: I was going to be John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, but it was too much effort. Well, actually, it was just really cold out, and I didn’t feel like wearing a coat over the suit, so then I just didn’t wear the suit.

Adam: I didn’t do mine because I would’ve hated myself and it would’ve been awful explaining it to people all night. I was gonna dress up as a toonie, and “be the change I want to see in the world”…

Okay, last one. How often do you think about the immensity of the universe, the fragility of our tiny existence, and the ultimate futility of it all?

Josh: I never don’t think of that! Seriously, every other thought I have…

Pat: It’s true actually. I can agree with that.

Alex: Yeah… yeah.

Josh: It’s my favourite, favourite thing.

Pat: No one put you here specifically to do anything, so really you can just do what you want.

Alex: Nothing matters. Everything fades.

Josh: Everything fades. One time I was having a really bad day and I said that, and I was being serious.

Adam: We all laughed, and then Josh went in his room and cried.

Josh: I was talking about my pants.

Paterson Hall plays on Friday, November 15th at Zaphod Beeblebrox. More details here.

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