Sunset Rubdown
New Light
by David Holmes

Over their first two albums, Sunset Rubdown recorded songs like their studio was on fire, frantically piling on as many instruments as quickly as possible and constantly switching gears mid-song at a rate of ten-riffs per minute. For the undiagnosed ADHD set who happen to also love anthropomorphism and allusions to Greek mythology, there was no better guilty pleasure. But a year ago, when I went out to Skully’s in Columbus to see the band play, I was unsure how their thrilling and maddening trips through the rabbit-holes of indie rock would translate to a live setting.

Little did I know at the time that Sunset Rubdown would be rehearsing songs for their new album, Dragonslayer, a stripped-down rock & roll album that is designed to be played and heard live. Don’t get me wrong, this is no White Stripes album; Sunset Rubdown is a five-piece and each member pushes themselves to the limit of what one musician can do without having to multi-track. But compared to their previous releases, Dragonslayer is a more visceral and upbeat affair, appealing as much to the head as to the body.

I recently caught up with multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Camilla Wynne Ingr to talk about growing up in Edmonton, the Montreal scene, and why you should go dumpster diving for your next keyboard.

The first thing that jumps out about the new album is that it’s got much more of a live-band feel than the previous releases. Was the atmosphere in the studio any different this time around?

Camilly Wynne Ingr: Well, we did it a completely different way. On the other records, we did a lot of tracking. On Random Spirit Lover, we didn’t even necessarily know where we were going with a lot of the stuff. We would just make up parts in the studio. But this time, we toured all the songs for three weeks and then we tried to record them all live off the floor. There were two that didn’t work and one that Spencer (Krug) actually wrote while we were on tour so that one was built up. But yeah, other than that, we recorded them exactly how we were playing them.

The songs on this album sound especially great in concert. Do you find that it’s easier to let loose and rock out while playing the songs live?

CWI: On our old records, we’d write songs and then not know how to play them live. Some of them we never even tried because they weren’t things we could recreate easily. But yeah, if you like a song on the record, it essentially sounds the same live. We’re really comfortable playing those.

Do you think that when you sit down to record another album you’ll do the same kind of live-band feel again?

CWI: Nope, I think we’ll do something totally different. We’re taking a little rest after this because we’ve been touring almost the whole year, so I think we’ll probably write and record a new record before we go and play anymore shows next time. Also, Spencer never likes to do the same thing twice. None of us do.

Sunset Rubdown started out as a solo venture for Spencer. How did you become involved with the band?

CWI: At that time, Sunset Rubdown had been jamming for three or four months as a three-piece. Wolf Parade was a three-piece too, and I think he just felt like he was doing something very similar to what he was already doing. So he wanted to have a girl and some different kinds of instruments. We had a mutual best friend who convinced Spencer to ask me. We didn’t really know each other and I didn’t know Mike (Doerkson) or Jordan (Robson Cramer) at all. So I rode down there with an amp in a plastic bag and it worked! We were both kind of nervous about it, I think. It’s a little bit weird to join a band with someone you don’t know.

Did the weirdness dissipate pretty quickly?

CWI: Yeah, I already was a pretty big fan. I’d heard some of Spencer’s solo recordings, and I really loved them a lot. And I’d played shows with Wolf Parade with my old band (Pony Up). So I was totally stoked on it, and Mike and Jordan are just little dolls so it was great.

I wanted to talk a little bit about the songwriting process. For example, does Spencer come to the group with a set of songs and you all add your own thing, or is the process very collaborative from the beginning?

CWI: There are exceptions to this, but in general Spencer comes in with the bones of the song, the chord progressions, and maybe lyrics. And from there, everyone starts writing their own parts. Occasionally he’ll have a riff or something he wants somebody to do, but generally everyone’s writing their own parts. The song can change from what he had quite a bit once everyone else gets a hold of it—in a good way. But yeah, Spencer’s the songwriter. He conceives of the thing as a general whole usually. We don’t have the luxury to spend a lot of time jamming and working things out, as it’s hard to get everyone together. Hopefully we will this winter.

Can you think of any specific songs that were the exception to the rule?

CWI: Well, when he wrote “December Song” for instance, he just wrote it on guitar. It was a quiet little thing. Then him and Jordan got into the studio and started playing on the bongos and samplers and came up with a really weird tribal beat, and it turned into something completely different.

You’re from Alberta. What is the music scene like there?

CWI: I would barely know anymore. I’ve lived in Montreal for just shy of a decade now. But every time I do go home, there are always really good bands there. One of my favorite Canadian rappers, Cadence Weapon, is from there and he just got named the poet laureate of Edmonton. But I always see shows whenever I go home and the music scene there is super-fun. Whenever I go up to Edmonton, there are really small, intense shows, kids just playing their hearts out on really small stages—tons of kids. There have always been really enthusiastic people there into music because it’s small and a lot of bands don’t come there. There’s a lot of involvement in the scene and in trying to make it good because it doesn’t come ready-made like in a big city.

In terms of musical style, how would you say it differs from Montreal?

CWI: That is hard to say. I think there’s a lot more going on in Montreal than I realize. I don’t think you could say we have a specific sound as a city. There’s so many different things going on. For a while, the trend was a lot of big orchestrated things, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore.

Do you think the music is getting a lot more stripped-down?

CWI: Yeah, probably. I think that’s just natural. You go in one direction and then you sway back to the other.

Speaking of Montreal, there have been a lot of cities over the years with renowned music scenes, but few have produced so much collaboration between bands. Is there anything about the culture of the city that engenders such a sense of camaraderie?

CWI: I never ever felt that there was a sense of competition here. No one ever seems to be out to be successful. The fact that it happened to some people seemed like a happy accident. There have been a lot of new people showing up, but a couple years ago it seemed like a really small scene. The population of Montreal, first of all, isn’t huge, but then if you narrow it down to Anglophones, it’s even smaller. It was a pretty small scene and everyone was friends so it seemed natural to collaborate. And everyone just tends to have a lot of free time here. It’s a pretty cheap place to live so you can concentrate on art and not have to work very much and worry about paying your rent.

Sounds like a pretty great place to live.

CWI: It is, but I haven’t been here much in the past year.

Do you miss it?

CWI: Yeah totally. I don’t wanna go on tour! (laughs)

Do you think bands are just as supportive of one another today as they were maybe a few years ago when the Montreal scene was just coming into existence?

CWI: I hope so and I think so. We have some friends who have a relatively new band here, the Witchies, who we took on tour. So yeah, absolutely, the scene is really supportive. They play lots of shows, they have a big fanbase, but they don’t have a record label yet. Yeah, you know what? It is a great scene here. There are lots of good bands that aren’t known anywhere else yet.

Can you name any other bands under-the-radar in Montreal???

CWI: We took Elfin Saddle out and they’re really good. They’re on Constellation.

In Sunset Rubdown and your last band, Pony Up, you’ve really embraced a “Jane-of-all-trades” role. What is it that you enjoy about being a go-to musician for a number of different instruments?

CWI: Well, I don’t have to be really good at any of them! (laughs). Basically I think I’m going to be paring down after this next tour. Our set-up is really huge, and I think we have too much stuff. I think I would be a lot happier with less things. But I do like having instruments that no one else has.

What’s your favorite instrument right now?

CWI: Spencer found me this really great keyboard in the garbage. It’s bigger than anything I’ve ever had. It’s a Yamaha PS2, I think. It’s awesome. It’s got this really sucky sound, but it’s big so I can do more stuff with it.

Were you pretty involved in playing music growing up?

CWI: I took classical guitar lessons and I used to organize shows. I didn’t actually start playing in bands until I got to Montreal.

So pretty much everyone in the band is listed as a keyboardist and a percussionist of some kind. How do you decide who plays what on each song?

CWI: That’s a good question. Jordan mostly plays drums and keyboards, But he’s super-good at Guns N’ Roses–style hooks and licks and solos. So when we’re looking for something epic like that, he gets up and takes the guitar. And Mike’s a bit of a looser drummer. He’s also a pretty good bass player. Now we have three people who can sub on the bass and the drums. Spencer and I don’t really move around very much.

You already alluded to this, but with the members of your band involved in so many other projects, is it hard to get everyone in the same room and the same time?

CWI: Yes and no. It should be, but this year we declared it the “Sunset Rubdown year,” so Spencer took some time off from Wolf Parade. And the boys weren’t really working on their solo projects. We had this year planned out since the beginning. But in general, when everyone’s doing their own stuff, it is a little bit more complicated to try and squeeze in jamming and recording.

Are you working on anything outside of the band right now?

CWI: It’s been such a busy year that there hasn’t really been time to think about anything else.

Do you ever want to start a new project where you’re the primary songwriter?

CWI: I do like that idea. It’s a been of a scary idea as well to me, but we’ll see.