B-Sides: Ian Ilavsky on the very first compilation of Sofa and his years running Constellation Records 

Despite Ian Ilavsky’s reputation as one of the founders of Constellation Records, his story goes back to the early 90’s. Ilavsky had moved in Montreal in 1988. The scene was just forming and Ilavsky got right into the thick of things with his band at that time – Sofa. The band had broken up in 1997, after touring all over the place, releasing several cassette albums and one 7-inch – one of the first releases on Constellation Records. And eventually becoming one of the most important acts on Canadian music scene in the 90’s. 

Recently, Constellation Records released Source Crossfire – the first ever compilation of Sofa-material. Dan Volohov of Ohm Resistance sat down with Ian Ilavsky of Constellation Records for B-Sides – the first in a series of interviews with record-label owners. In the interview for Joyzine, Ian discusses the formation of Constellation Records, years at Sofa, recording and touring as a member of A Silver Mt. Zion, ethics and aesthetics, love of vinyl and hardcore-punk.  

As mentioned earlier in this article, in September Constellation released Source Crossfire – the first compilation of Sofa’s music – on double vinyl. At the same time, while Grey was released on Constellation originally, Record and Town Unsafe came out as cassette releases only. Why did you never reissue them? Because, obviously, there are lots of releases that came out on cassettes and then got re-recorded – like the first Jawbox releases, for example.  

Well, we made the cassettes in 1995. One of them was done in early winter and one of them was done in the summer. I guess, first of all, the band ended up breaking up nine months after Grey came out. So we had done a bit of touring on the record. And we had a pretty intense life-span already for five or six years. And I think, if the band had continued…(laughter)… Then, maybe we’d go back to that cassette stuff and who knows if some of those tracks would have resurfaced again? But I think, the biggest thing was – we were writing so much and always wanted to move to the next batch of tunes. And so, when I even look back at our setlist in 1996-1997, we’re barely playing any of this cassette material anymore. It’s all new stuff that would go on to be recorded for Grey including two or three songs from the sessions that were cut from Grey.

And then, all of this was… Not before the internet but was definitely… We didn’t have a website. There was no Bandcamp. I mean, what we did… I suppose, pretty early on… In the early 2000’s or something, Brad, the singer of the band and kind of the main archivist of the band, someone who’d gone to be the visual artist, a pressor of the fine arts at Concordia University here, in the city, he bought a web-domain so-fa-dot-ca just to put the archival stuff out there. And so we did put all those songs on Soundcloud. All the cassette material – I think we even made them all downloadable. So they were there for people to grab and put on and fileshare the way they wanted. But yeah, I guess everybody sort of was moving a bit initially, in the late 90’s. And I guess, we did go back to that stuff. Also, aside from the cassettes themselves… All those cassettes were recorded live to DAT at the time. It was digital tape technology, DAT tape. And so all we have is two-track mixes. It took us a while to find those again and get our hands on the, when we wanted to sort of remaster these new collections. They do sound better now. It’s limited, what we could do with them but we were able to clean them up sonically. 

We started this conversation looking back at your past… How can you describe your artistic mentality, being a member of Sofa at that point in the mid-late 90’s, when the alternative scene in Montreal was just forming itself?

I think, different cities had a different time-span prior to the early-to-mid 90’s. Sofa, sort of formed in 1993. Early 1993. And sort of went for almost five years. I moved to Montreal in 1988. I wasn’t really doing music initially, I was a student. That didn’t last long. I started moving into music and punk-rock pretty quickly from there. But I guess… There were different scenes cycling through. Maybe in Montreal in the mid-late 80’s there was a bunch of ska going on. And also more of a garage thing going on. And a couple of bands that broke out internationally. Doughboys, who were very kind of pop-punk, as we called it. Almost skate-punk-kind-of-punk.

But also, the city overall was still going through the serious economic recession. Because of the political situation at that time, it was still… Very high unemployment, a pretty good welfare state, relatively speaking. So people were living a few hundred dollars per month. But the rent was very cheap. Apartments were abandoned and cheap. But also, loft-spaces – big, industrial spaces were cheap. So, it was a time when I think, a lot of people had left Montreal. Especially anglophones left. Not so much artists necessarily, but people who were just looking for work. There was a huge migration to Toronto… Mostly Toronto but also to other places, through 70’s and 80’s because of the separative politics of Quebec. The movement amongst the French-speaking population to kind of search for their power. Which was a very long-time coming and very necessary, but it scared a lot of anglophone capital. A lot of them brought the money away. It did take a toll more broadly on the economy of the city, so jobs were hard to come by. And I would say initially, in the early 90’s, there was still very much a small anglophone scene. Mixed with a much larger francophone population. I mean, Montreal always had a few hundred thousand anglophones. It’s sort of the main city in Quebec that always had an anglophone population alongside the French population. In the rest of Quebec it’s much more predominantly French-speaking. At that time, I would say, the Anglo-scene was very small and very insular.

Certainly, one of the things that started to happen in the 90’s and I think Constellation and other labels found this, at least on the music side of things – there were some of these hardliners that maybe have a lot to do with this: “What language are you singing ?”. And once we started doing this – it isn’t so much about Sofa – but within a few years, with a lot of the instrumental music it was also really interesting to me and to us to see bands that had members that were both francophone and anglophone. So for Sofa, the scene was very small. There was kind of this grunge hangover from Sub Pop and the Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins explosion. So what, at that time, was called “alternative rock” become very branded and corporate all over. There were a lot of different reference-points happening. For us, it was the first wave after hardcore that started to transform a bit. So, bands like Fugazi and bands like Polvo, a lot of Touch And Go-bands – The Jesus Lizard… There was this new wave of people who had come out of hardcore and punk and were experimenting a little bit more – not feeling constrained by a very strict genre-rules. And that’s definitely where Sofa was coming from. Those bands, like many others I had mentioned were certainly big influence on us. As was the stuff that I think similarly happened in the UK earlier, in the late 70’s-early 80’s with the first wave of post-punk. 

Yeah. People like Keith Levene or Andy Gill who grew up listening to prog-rock and found their way and model of expression from being inspired by progressive-rock tendencies. And later on that sort of new standard was taken by artists like Steve Albini or Fugazi, you’d mentioned, who’d driven it to a certain point of extreme-ness. As a guitarist, you’re not an exception. But what, according to your opinion caused this desire – to reach the point of extreme-ness?

In some ways, I think, there was also the desire to move way from… We didn’t call it “Toxic Masculinity” then, but I think, there was a desire to move away… This was happening already around Dischord and the movement from Minor Threat to Fugazi. I think, Bad Brains had an influence there as well. It was a very young-male-scene. You read histories of the early post-punk in the U.K, of the late 70’s-early 80’s, you read Viv Albertine’s memoir or whatever… And there was literally the room and space for opening up the influences. As well as the people that were allowed to participate. Although, there was still piles of sexism involved. For Sofa you mentioned, even though in some ways there was a push towards new extremes, it was less about aggression or about power…. I don’t know! It’s a very complicated question. You reference things like prog-influences melding with DIY… Untrained musicians, people who didn’t necessarily know how to read music. People who certainly, didn’t necessarily have taken music lessons, right? Just exploring. Whether these are Sonic Youth or… I think, people started wanting to get outside of genre-division. “You have to sound this way to be validated like a hardcore band,” Right? No, sir! And I think, the 90’s were a very fertile time for that.

Maybe Napster and filesharing have something to do with that. Where people could just hear more music they can afford to buy. There was a lot of tape-trading going on, still, back then. But increasingly now, people are just able to do that by sending MP3s. I remember still having a very high radar about people that were like too proficient on their instruments so there was still always that pushback on the cliché of prog-rock. But at the same time I like Tortoise – those guys could play and a lot of them were trained musicians. But they also REALLY knew how to break it down, do minimalism very well. Sofa definitely cared about being tight in the same way every hardcore-punk band did. 

At the same time, what I think we all should give you and Don credit for is that kind of ethic and aesthetics you’ve cultivated. Running a label, you should be a bit “I-don’t-give-a-fuck”. That’s why, when speaking about Constellation, we don’t speak about any particular style but about ethics and aesthetics. What affected the mindset you had when forming Constellation Records? 

Before Constellation, which was ’97 – Don and I said “We should try and do something. But a little bit more structured. A DIY-institution to some degree”. And actually, what we had wanted to do was open a very small, artist friendly performance space. And we always thought, the label would evolve out of that. We would be taking shows in the performance space and maybe start selling cassettes across the bar. We had this kind of Knitting Factory-idea. Even though, none of us had ever been to New York ( laughs ). We knew The Knitting Factory was a pretty raw performance space that also had a label that was doing crazy free-jazz as well as noise rock and that was the inspiration to us.

Prior to that… I’ve spoken about the political situation in Montreal. From one perspective, which was the linguistic one, which is the cliché that people talk about at that time. It had an impact, it definitely was very true. Especially thr economic impact at that time. But also, the positives of that, on the one hand – Anglophones… Not to overdetermine the language… ‘Cause, there’s still arts founding available in Canada and we benefit from it now. I certainly would admit, Constellation, for years didn’t take any government funding but once the music industry really started shift away from album sales, which is ALL WE REALLY DO – we make records, we’re not artists’ management and we don’t click any music into ads, we don’t aggressively try to put any music in TV shows or movies – if it happens, it happens. So over the years we have realized: “Well, everybody else gets this government funding.” And at the end of the day, I’d rather see government support for the arts, than all of these other commercial things you would have to do trying to be sustainable. But there was a feeling back then – we just totally have to do it on our own. There certainly was no thought or building it around qualifying for grants and for government founding or arts founding.

But also the other really important aspect of… In Canada, at that time, Montreal was really a center of what was called “the anti-globalization movement” from back then. “The Battle of Seattle” was the best-known thing there. But sort of anti-free trade. Which was certainly a very left-wing movement, a Labor-movement but also an anti-capitalist movement. From about ‘95 onwards, those movement and those demonstrations from very hardcore anti-capitalists, both French- and English-speaking organizations in the city. But as well as that, labor movements and more socialist political movements were really trying to join forces – lots of demonstrations, lots of anti-authoritarian sort of stuff, anti-racism. They were very formative as well, at that time. So, when Constellation as a label was taking shape, there was really no question that we wanted to reflect, as best as possible, those politics which we obviously shared and through which we saw many other, much more hardcore activists who were really-really putting themselves out there. We always… I wouldn’t say questioned, but we definitely felt: “Ok! We’re gonna start this label! It’s kind of about art and about music. But we need to stay engaged as well. And we need to really respect our own political risk with that larger movement”. I mean, the reality of it was back then – an entire, really truly institutionally diverse network of indie-distributors. You know what I mean? So you definitely could really bypass the mainstream music industry.

We didn’t do any promotion or marketing of any sort for years. We just made really beautiful handmade records and word of mouth was what drove it. And really good distributors. We got really lucky working with Southern Distribution RIGHT FROM THE START. They taught us everything about what you need to do if you want to get records distributed. And also, in retrospect, even at that time, it took us a couple of years to realize how lucky we were to work with them right from the start. But they also had a really strong ethical compass. They always make sure the labels got paid. They were always the last to get paid. Both on a business front and on an ethical front, they were really-really solid. I mean, we aren’t the only label who’d benefited from them, I think. Never signed a contract with them! It was always verbal-trust-relationships. We definitely were far from their biggest label. But there were times when it was definitely tens and thousands of dollars in any month with the amount of stock flowing. So, we stayed with them till the bitter end. And unfortunately, they’re one of many distributors who’d end up shutting their doors in the mid to late 2000’s. Once the decline of CD sales in particular start to catch up to everybody. Majors first, maybe. But after a while, it really spread across indie-labels as well. And so, you saw this consolidation in distribution and there were only two or three options left about so… 

Being one of the founders of the label, you could not only deal with typical label-related stuff – put the releases together, interact with distributors and so on. But also, contribute as engineers – like you did with Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s  F♯ A♯ ∞ or contribute as a guitar-player – like you did with Esmerine – without being particularly involved in that project. Do all of these cases presuppose the same mindset as if you’re in the band, from a creative standpoint or does it still differ? 

The biggest period where I felt why my role in a band and my role at Constellation were sort of integrated was with A Silver Mt. Zion. Because that band actually really toured a lot. We toured a lot in Europe, we toured a lot in North America, a couple of times as well. And that was from about 2002 to 2008. So for those six years, I was rehearsing with that band pretty much full-time. And I would say we were on tour probably a couple of months every year. Not all the time because a couple of those years GodSpeed You! Black Emperor were still active, until 2003 and everybody in that band had their things going on as well. But it was kind of the primary thing. We made records every year or two, every year and a half. To some extent, there were times when I would be on tour with A Silver Mt. Zion, whether we were doing interviews with zines or our German distributors would come to one of our shows, and of course then I would talk music industry or distribution with them. 

So there was a little bit of myself being an ambassador for the label, just for the function of being in a city we otherwise wouldn’t be visiting. And these are two different things – that’s for sure! Since then, since 2008, since I stopped playing with A Silver Mt. Zion, the label has been full-time, and the little things I do here and there that are really fun. But I just don’t have much time to do them – whether it’s a little bit of engineering, a little bit of production, playing a little bit on the albums you’ve mentioned. But no, I would say for the last 20 years, I really feel like… And that’s also the period which we were faced with “What does the label need to do?!” taking into account HOW THE INTERNET HAS CHANGED EVERYTHING. Word of mouth is a different dynamic now than it was. And you need to feed it for it to expand. And we also really have tried to just continue to put out A LOT of records every year. 

With the pandemic aside, we probably average 8 or 10 albums per year through all that period. And prior to that we were doing maybe four to six, so there are lots and lots of opportunities there. And because most of the artists we work with don’t really have managers, they don’t have a team – it’s just Constellation. It’s pretty much there – their gateway to any part of the music-industry. They’re mostly self-managed and they’re obviously broadly sharing our ethical and political framework for engaging with the industry. Even though, we have a pretty small footprint when it comes to promotion and breaking artists – that’s not what we really do, we do provide a lot of kind of quasi-management type-of-support for artists, even though we don’t monetize that. 

We don’t make any money doing that, as if we wanted to. But those can become like… They’re fairly rich relationships. We’re thinking about a lot of things beyond what we really need to be focusing on, which is making records and getting them out. So there’re lots of little creative pathways to go just beyond just making records and getting them distributed. Whether it’s sometimes being in a studio with artists or thinking about other aspects of their ethical and visual identity and how they want that to get out into the world. 

It’s interesting that you mentioned visual identity. It was said a number of times that being one of the founders of Sofa, you spent a lot of time ritualistically watching Wings of Desire and Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia. What effect did they have on you at that point, and how is it reflected in what you’ve been doing musically? 

I have to credit Brad Todd, the singer and the person responsible for all the artwork for the reissue here – Grey plus all the cassette material that’s happening – and the one who designed most of our posters and so on. Among many other things, he definitely introduced me to those and a few other big names in arthouse film. We also both absolutely bonded over Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. So with Wings of Desire I was aware of it largely because: “Oh, yeah! That’s the movie Nick Cave appears in!” But yeah, I think in Sofa there was a very shared sensibility around the disenchantment of the world. We had a lot of dark-humor but also a real love for that kind of hardcore romanticism. 

Tarkovsky is probably the perfect example, along with Wim Wenders. Kind of nostalgic sentimentality, a hardcore, pretty edgy version of it with very little salvation. Whether it’s literature or film or other music that we also like there’s a bleak worldwide that focuses your emotions on what you need to survive and the importance of holding a few people close, or holding a few feelings and a few aesthetics or sensibilities close. 

I mean, with Sofa for all those years, it was absolutely all that we did, all that we lived for. And this was all in the context of never getting out of the city. We just played shows in Montreal all the time, any time we could. We spent four to five days per week in the rehearsal space. We were all working shit jobs – a lot of us were working overnight shifts at factories and hotels, stuff like that. Like bands have done for generations. You start living that way, even though you know you’re in this completely tiny scene and it’s the same thirty or forty people that are coming to your shows year after year. But just doing it, living that way, you of course feel it: this solidarity with all these great figures you admire and read about, who, of course, consume themselves in the artmaking.

That’s what young people do. I feel very lucky that I failed out of school and did this instead. And extremely lucky that Constellation which always, since the beginning, the idea was to do something for the local scene. To think, 25 years later that we’re still doing it and we have a small international following of what the label does – it was never part of the plan. We got very lucky as well, being a part of a particular zeitgeist, you were mentioning, by the late 90’s when we and a couple of other labels had stood for something that was happening in Montreal and also happening to some other cities. Whether people reductively called it “post-rock” or whether there was kind of deeper sense of something that Constellation was doing along with other labels that was more then just aesthetics. 

Like you say, it had to do with ethical and political horizons. It was trying to hold fast for certain things we had obsessed over as well. Like the early Rough Trade shop and communists organizations, and labels like Dischord that also had a pretty strong ethical and political horizon, as well as a geographical mandate which was something really important to us as well – to really document our own scene and region. And to also really try to work with artists on our own: printers, small-scale producers to make the packages themselves, to make actual jackets and so on. Having the real workshops, we spent all our time doing it through those early years making records. Obviously from five to six years in, pressing quantity started to go up and you spend a lot more time on your computer and email, managing inventory and stuff. But really, in the early years we were folding and gluing and dissembling records and touching every single one of them. There was never “Press the record and have it delivered straight to the distributor!”. 

In fact, most of the things we make we still make that way. We’re not literally holding and gluing them. But we definitely bring all parts in here. We still have a big house and we have people that assemble the records. So, there’s a lot of quality-control and we can source pieces from different places. 

But you started in the late 90’s and right from the beginning you established the quality-standard for all the Constellation releases. Vinyl, particular packaging… I mean, I know a lot of stories when artists, releasing their records in the 90’s used to pay for the vinyl from their own pocket because labels refused to do it…What made you to put your releases out on this particular format? 

We were vinyl-listeners in the first place. Don and I both… When we started Constellation, we weren’t teenagers! We were in our late 20’s-early 30’s already. We had both grown up in the 80’s… Sure, we probably bought something on cassettes if we just didn’t have the money, but we both grew up in pre-CD-era, Don a little bit more then me, and when CDs first came out – they were very expensive. The machines were super-expansive and actually, initially it was only the big stuff that was coming out on CDs! The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, all the major labels were reissuing this stuff and charging 35 dollars at this point. So I have vinyl! That’s what I bought! I grew up in Winnipeg, a small city in the center of Canada where there’s 5 to 6 hundred thousand people. Kind of in the middle of the nowhere, quite far away from any of the major cities. But we still had four or five pretty good record stores. You could buy a record from 10 to 12 dollars back then. And that’s what I had! And that’s certainly what Don had.

Constellation started in 1997. Indie-rock in the U.S. and I suppose probably in the UK as well – that’s the whole world that kept vinyl alive! So, we were not innovating in that sense. For us, it was a no brainer but also what the good indie labels did! All the Touch and Go labels and Dischord, Merge [Records] – they were all doing vinyl. And vinyl was the stuff you’d sell at no-margin. We made no money selling vinyl, ’cause, that’s how you priced it back then. Vinyl was cheaper than CDs for the customer. And that also was the ethical thing that preceded us, something that very much came out of this U.S. indie scene that I think was already… I read and I’m sure you’ve read the same thing: by the late 80’s, all these vinyl-plants were desperate for business because majors were no longer pressing vinyl. And then, it’s indie labels that kind of allowed those to survive. All these indie labels that all of a sudden could get a 7-inch or 10-inch or 12-inch done pretty cheap. That whole story had already been going at least 10 years before we started and then, we spent a lot of those early years trying to find the vinyl plants that could still make good-sounding vinyl, because one thing we definitely cared a lot about back then too was we wanted the vinyl to sound good. Don and I always both had good turntables and probably the biggest struggle in the yearly years was realizing that the cheapest plants were not making the best-sounding vinyl. We cared about capturing the sounds these bands have been working pretty hard to put on tape. We moved to 180-gram vinyl pretty early on, within about 5 or 6 years. And we have always pressed vinyl. Whatever it sounds best, even if it’s way more costly, and we rarely make very much money on vinyl. GodSpeed! Black Emperor-record because it does so much vinyl at this point. And we charge more now than we used to, like everybody does – there’s no choice. You just can’t entirely give it away the way we used to when we used to sell CD and vinyl-reissues for about 3 to 1, 4 to 1, 5 to 1 CD to vinyl! Even for a band like GodSpeed! or a band like A Silver Mt. Zion or a band like Do Make Say Think – bands that would sell a few thousand records, we sold a lot of CDs. And the CDs were very cheap to make back then. By that time we were making CDs full, in paper-packaging and the rest, for 2 bucks. And we were able to get back our whole-sale price on those – that was like 9 dollars. That was what the margin was. And so far, as we were making money as the label, it was coming from CD sales for those 7 to 8 years. 

After the breakup of Sofa you changed your artistic focus. Such projects of yours as Re: or Sackville focused more on atmospheric landscapes than on dynamic changes and the expressivity. Previously, you could combine these polarities. What caused that shift into more atmospheric side? 

I actually think I always was interested in that prior to Sofa. I definitely was. When I was a teenager, still growing up in Winnipeg, I was into art-rock like The Smiths and Talking Heads, I was a bit into Fugazi, I wasn’t deep into punk. I didn’t grow up as a hardcore-punk at all. I was probably more into art-rock, including some prog-stuff but also including a lot of British music at that time. But I also was really into things like The The, Matt Johnson, the whole early electronic-element thing. I was a fan of Joy Division, less of New Order, but certainly liked the first New Order record. But I think there was so much music I was discovering and excited about in the 90’s… And that’s maybe one of the clichés about post-rock is like that melding of certain kinds of rock structures or even a kind of punk, and noise, sensibility with increasingly accessible technologies of making music with the computer-based sound software. 

All the stuff that GodSpeed! and Sofa and many of the bands had recorded on Constellation in the early years, that was all going to 8-track, 16-track, 24-track tape. We all started little studios here buying up all these tape-decks that were also, just like how the majors changed from vinyl they also changed from analog tape. They were the ones who could afford to spend insane amounts of money on the early Pro-Tools and early digital recording systems. So we were snapping the tape-decks up for cheap. But I think, with Sackville… I never thought of myself as a guitar-player! And I didn’t play guitar before Sofa. And then, besides doing a bit of support-role in A Silver Mt.Zion, playing, I would say, arguably a bit more rhythm-guitar for that band and really feeling much more… My role was just kind of more anchor, the back of the sound. Efrim’s lead guitar and violins could really do their thing. Guitar was not a passion of mine. But playing in Sofa and using guitar as a noise-instrument, I obviously started getting into playing it as well. But I had terrible technique. I never took a lesson. It hurt me to play guitar, my hand position was awful! I was definitely interested in soundscape type-of-stuff, textual stuff. I like to think that the two Re: albums have a certain amount of creativity. 

Working with Adan [Evens], he kind of came more from a prog and art-music background. I think I came a bit more from a rhythmic and noisy-textural background. Sackville, I think, was a bit more… They asked me to join. It was a band that had different members at different times with the core of Gabriel Levine, who was the chief-songwriter alongside with Geneviève Heistek and there were different people that played second-guitar, drums, bass and so on. With Sackville everybody was doing other things. So doing Sackville mostly on the recording side, I made a record and an EP playing in that band. But we didn’t tour much! We did bits of local shows, we’d go down into the North-East of the U.S. once or twice. But nobody was trying to make that their main thing. Sometimes, I even forget that I played in that band (laughs). A Silver Mt.Zion was really my one stretch of really being in a touring band. When we really went around, played lots of cities, did tours in a van…

At the same time, you didn’t have a particular “role” in that band. Yes, you’d been mostly guitar-player but you also have credits as a vocalist and organ-player. I’ve always thought of A Silver Mt.Zion as about a collective of thinkers. It started as a trio and eventually turned into an orchestra. What was it like for you working with these people and writing music with them? 

That’s a very interesting… It started with Efrim’s idea and desire to make something smaller than GodSpeed! at that time. And the first record obviously resonates in that way, even the second record, to some extent! Born into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upward still has barely any drums on it – that’s the record he asked myself, Jessica [Moss] and Beckie [Foon] to join to expand the instrumental palette. But I think part of it was that he really wanted to position A Silver Mt. Zion to potentially get on the road. And I think he knew that even keeping it minimal it would be good to have a couple of other players. I remember the first tour we did was after Born into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upward came out and we toured as a six-piece with no-drums. It was more of an early Kranky kind of sound. I mean it was really slow, with intertwining lines. 

It was definitely really Efrim’s emergence as a lyricist and as a vocalist and wanting to be more punk-rock again so I was there for the transformation of the band. Towards a different way of embodying a collective. Also including much more communication with the audience – not just through lyrics and group-singing, we would engage the audience between songs. We would talk, we would either joke with the audience on stage or Efrim would sometimes go on… He was definitely being true to his persona. Because, with GodSpeed! the thing was – they never said a word, ever and you could never really see the band. Everybody was kind of sitting with their heads down and it was all about projections, it was all about this huge multimedia experience. But very much the suppression on purpose, the kind of suppression of any kind of personality. Right on the side with “We don’t do interviews!”, “We’re not gonna pose for photos!”. So Mt.Zion held on to a lot of the same principles but we were much more open. We tried to be more generous in a way and I think, the three members from Mt.Zion – Sophie, Efrim and Thierry, the original three who made the first Mt.Zion record, obviously to some extent craved that as well. They were looking for something less heavy in a way. A certain kind of heaviness comes from GodSpeed! continuingly reasserting what they wanted to do. A kind of anonymous shadow-y presence. I loved it! It was a really difficult band to be in, with strong, difficult personalities. People for whom leaving their bedrooms didn’t actually come that naturally. So, I don’t think we were natural performers in any way. 

That’s another reason, I think, why being in a semi-circle and really singing with each other, having every song as an opportunity for everybody to join it was a real way for us to consolidate the energy that then made us feel comfortable. To actually be on stage. There are definitely bands people loved or hated. And people who loved it, they got that sense that we were pretty awkward and pretty clunky but pretty authentic. For better or for worse. 


Sofa’s Source Crossfire is out now, via Constellation Records.

You can check the recent material from B-Sides series – interview with Joe Carducci of SST Records here.

Interview by Dan Volohov

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