The Bokononists are the kind of band that you only need to hear once before you’ve decided you love them. I was fortunate enough to see them play during Canadian Music Week this year, though I was sad to miss their North by Northeast set.
Still, I was lucky enough to catch the Winnipeg foursome for a phone interview in early July. We chatted about their new record, life on the road, and. . . cats. . . ? Either way, what resulted was one of the best interviews I’ve ever had the fortune to be a part of, with some of the nicest and funniest guys in Winnipeg.
Raz Mataz Magazine (RMM): You’re currently recording your next album – how’s that coming along?
Bobby Desjarlais: It’s going very well. We’re just, we’re actually working on it right now. We’re just working out the kinks in the songs. The little kinks that don’t seem to flow well. So we’re just doing our pre-production right now.
Johnny Calderon: We’re just getting the toppings on; we’re just garnishing all the songs. We’re all happy with everything, but there are just a few [parts where we need to] come in here, come in there. . . .
Bobby: The details. . . .
Johnny: Yeah, the details. . . . Everything’s fantastic. We’re just putting the sprinkles on top.
Bobby: We’re doing a lot more drugs!
Bobby: We’re not actually doing drugs. . . . Just the sounds, really. Changing the tones of things. We were pretty guitar-rock on our last album, and now, Rene especially is getting into –
René Campbell: – weird scales. We’re adding a lot of weird notes.
Johnny: We found a river and René found the craziest fish and now he’s just taking the scales. . . .
RMM: Was the process for this record different from previous albums? And what makes it work so well for you?
René: We recorded the last record live off the floor, except for the vocals, we did tracks for the vocals. But, this record is not going to be like that at all. We were kind of pressed for time last time, and this time we have a lot more time.
RMM: What’s the dynamic when you write an album? Does one person write more then bring it to the group, or do you write together?
René: We all write together and separately. I don’t think we really write for albums. We write all the time, and we piece certain moods and certain things together. We try to make it sound cohesive for albums. It’s kind of like putting out a little essay. So we try and make it as cohesive as we can, but a lot of the time the songs are all over the place.
RMM: You’ve done a lot of touring lately. Do you prefer being on stage or in the studio? Why?
Bobby: On stage.
Jed Desilets: On stage.
Johnny: On stage.
René: On stage.
Johnny: That’s what we do, and that’s what we live for. Getting the old songs out for people, for their ears, that’s awesome and that’s great work and I love doing that, too, but I think what gets us going is just getting on stage and doing what we do.
René: It’s like Bobby said after practice: Playing music is one of the few things that can just shut off your thinking. You just do. And that’s what we love to do.
RMM: Do you perform differently if you’re on stage, as opposed to recording, or vice versa?
Johnny: There is a hugely, crazy different process. It’s more getting it right to bring out the way we want to hear it. But, on stage, that’s the way we do it and we just ride it.
René: Totally different process. . . . A lot less thinking [on stage].
Johnny: There’s a lot of thinking when you need to think, but when you can just fly on stage, that’s when it really comes out. There’s other stuff to do when you need it all polished for people [to listen to].
RMM: What’s been your favourite venue or performance so far?
René: I think the last few that we played in Toronto went really well. The Bovine Sex Club during Canadian Music Week was really fun. And there’s a local festival in Winnipeg that we played called the Rainbow Trout Music Festival. And we headlined Saturday night there, and that was one of my all-time favourites. It was outside.
Bobby: Yeah, I second the Rainbow Trout Music Festival.
Bobby: Being busy.
Jed: Coming home, that’s my favourite part, after spending 30 hours in the van.
Bobby: It’s a beautiful thing!
RMM: So do you guys take the van to all your shows? Or just the closer ones?
Bobby: As long as Jed fixes it. . . . Jed is also, by the way, an amazing mechanic – top in the city, so as long as we go out with a van, we know that Jed can bring us back. The poor fucker’s gotta fix it every five minutes, but. . . .
Johnny: Even if we can get half way there, we can still make it home.
René: Having a mechanic who is a drummer is pretty much the best thing.
RMM: So do you find that, being on the road in a confined space together, helps you guys as a band, or does it kind of create a bit of friction?
René: It definitely helps us. I have great moments with these guys together and separately when we’re touring. Those wouldn’t happen if we stayed here in Winnipeg. It’s a different vibe when you’re not in your comfort zone, not in your normal surroundings.
Johnny: It’s like taking an indoor cat outside in the winter. . . . You know what, it’s like taking a couple of cats outside in the winter, and then just kind of letting them go around, and if they don’t fucking eat each others’ fur off of themselves or eat each other, then everything’s cool. And you know, we keep coming back, fur intact. . . .
René: And the claws rarely come out. . . . [laughs]
Johnny: Exactly the claws rarely do come out. . . . [laughs]
Bobby: I think we’ve become more comfortable on the road. We know we need each other on the road. We don’t need each other when we’re home. . . .
RMM: You know, it’s a really weird analogy, but I think it actually works. . . .
Johnny: It makes sense, doesn’t it?!
RMM: It does. . . .
Johnny: I don’t even like cats!
René: You like one cat.
Johnny: That’s true, I do like one cat. Her name is Angel and I love her and I live with her now. I call her Angelcakes. . . .
RMM: I read somewhere that the name, The Bokononists, comes from Cat’s Cradle. And it’s based on the notion that harmless untruths could better society. Where do you guys stand on that idea?
Johnny: I think it’s more personal. Like, if you just believe lies that will make you happy that’s cool. And I think everyone can subscribe to that.
René: I think everyone does.
Johnny: And everyone does, for sure.
René: I kind of think that people subscribe to that, whether or not they think they do.
Bobby: We’re also not completely connected to the name. It’s just a name, but it seems to be. . . it’s hard to pronounce. Everyone says it different and we kind of like that.
Johnny: Yeah. But once you know it, you don’t forget it!
René: It’s a good book! You can download the audiobook – it’s on iTunes, I think.
For more on the Bokononists, visit their Facebook page. And listen to their single, ‘Fascists Live in Black Hotels’, below!