I spoke to Halifax band In Flight safety in advance of their Montreal show about their recently released album, Conversationalist.
Rachel Levine (RL): This band has undergone a few changes to its line up. Who is on the new album and who plays with the band these days?
John Mulane (JM): The band has gone on with two of the original members, me and Glen [Nicolson]. We bring people from Halifax community to fill out the show. At the moment, we have Chris Pennell from Joel Plaskett’s band and Jon Samuel, the guitarist from Wintersleep. We’re a staple in the Halifax scene so its great to have these kind of contacts. We had Chris play most of the bass on the new album. The album was a team effort. Glen and I produce the record, but we bring in people where there was a need. We can’t play the bass really well, so we call Chris in and he added his own flair to it.
RL: Congrats on the new album. It’s been a few years since you’ve released anything (2009 – We are an Empire My Dear) and I imagine there’s a lot of excitement around it. Can you tell me what got you guys started on writing it? How would you work on it? I read it came from “conversations” – can you tell me a bit more about this?
JM: Yeah, it’s true. We had a long-term relationship with the four us, Dan, Glen, and Brad, We toured Europe and were burnt out. We did it without taking time off. At some point, we asked, are we going to make another record or not. Life was so much easier if we didn’t make a record. It’s hard work and you want it to be good. It’s a blessing and a curse. We decided to make a record, but it took a long time. We had a bunch of songs demo-ed, 50 ideas sketched out, but there was no record there. And that was the moment I gave Glen a call and told him we didn’t have anything. He was shocked and thought we were done. We had a talk about how we had to start again. We started working again in 2012. We set aside time to play music, and it wasn’t as regimented. We needed to not be that regimented. We hung out and listened to records we were influenced by and started fleshing out ideas. It was all kind of random, except for the songs that were pillars for the beginning: Tie a String, Animals, and Destroy. Those have been around for a long time and we bought them forward, but rewrote, modernized, and redrafted them.
RL: The album seems forward-looking and upbeat, yet you talk about introversion being influential in the album’s development. How do you use a more introspective and introverted approach to create music? Animals is an upbeat song, very orchestral. Would you say this is a development from your last album?
JM: I think I was tired of mellow mid-tempo songs that build into a crescendo. I’ve done that so much. Some of the bands like Wilco, and Beach Boys — we got into that stuff and not begin so dour. I wanted to have a record that has a kind of presence and joy. I knew it would sound like In Flight safety, but I wanted some whimsical elements. For example, Stockholm, Glen and I thought it was ridiculous. Our version of ridiculous is so unadventurous. We left every single adventurous thing we came up with on the album. We’re not into jazz. We’re not into R and B, and we had to find a bit of that.
RL: Are there any songs on the album of particular meaning to you? Can you walk me through the creation of a song. I really like the feel of Destroy because it reminds me a lot of ’90s sounds as it goes between stronger guitars and then lets up for vocals but with speed and lightness). Stockholm has great changes, and again I love the speed and also the ’90s feel, while Blue Flares is more moody. That one’s great too.
JM: Blue Flares is one of my favorite songs we’ve ever done. Why? I think because were able to do a song that didn’t do a crazy crescendo. Glen doesn’t have any jump fills. It’s something simple and rhythmic. There’s a bit of a bridge towards the end. The lyrics were fun to come up with. I’d always had this line about running with the bulls. That stuck, and I looked back on what that line meant. The sentiment on that song was being stranded somewhere and sending up signals.
RL: You played at SXSW this year and toured in the spring. How did that go? Did you bring out the new material? What was it like to bring the new material to an audience?
JM: We’ve gone to a few one offs here and there. I guess we’re getting a great response. It’s been encouraging. Two years on and off recording and playing some shows. In September we’re off to Europe.
RL: I read you write music for films too. Do you think you bring this sensibility to the songs on Conversationalist? Has it changed how you work as a songwriter?
JM: I don’t think it’s a different mind. For us, the In Flight Safety songs are cinematic, for better or worse. Songs are designed to be listened to, not accosting. I’ll hear a new song on the radio that’s very wordy and poetic and pseudo-poetic. I don’t like that. I like more participatory music where you find yourself in there. There’s a lot of that in keeping with score music. You can’t have a lot of parts that stick out of the story and don’t serve the story. It would be too much. In Flight Safety has a lot in common with film score, a little more background, but more participatory, and not so much in your face.
In Flight Safety released Conversationalists on September 9.