Talk about wasting no time: Montreal duo Wake Island haven’t even officially released their sophomore album OUT (but they will on April 29), and they haven’t even wrapped up their tour (which will take them through Montreal, Toronto and Europe in April and May), but they’re already planning their next record.
Philippe Manasseh and Nadim Maghzal took some time to answer a few questions about the electronic-rock genre, their upcoming release, how their live shows are entirely unique, and why “The Other End” is so poignant.
Raz Mataz Magazine (RMM): You describe yourselves as a “Lebanese electronic rock duo in Montreal.” How did you two come together?
Wake Island (WI): We were both born and raised in Lebanon and moved to Montreal at the age of 18 to go to school. We didn’t know each other in Lebanon, we actually met in Montreal a couple of years after settling in; this was around 2004. We started playing music together shortly thereafter but it took a few years before Wake Island happened.
RMM: Your music mixes synthetics with rock really well. Why do you think these genres pair so well together?
WI: Rock is essentially a pretty open genre and its evolution over the years has been driven by the integration of textures, rhythms, song structures and aesthetics from other genres. The inclusion of synthetic and electronic music in rock has been going on for decades and we’re part of this movement in a way. Much like rock music, electronic music is, in my opinion, also extremely open with lots of unexplored potential and I believe that the openness of these two genres is what makes them pair well together. You can create new sounds, textures and feelings by taking elements from rock and mixing them with electronic elements and vice versa. We find this process extremely exciting.
RMM: You’re also about to release a new album. How was the writing and recording for this, compared to last year’s Live Home Sessions?
WI: Actually, the album was written and recorded before we started doing the Live Home Sessions. In a way, the latter were experimental sessions that allowed us to figure out how to perform the music from our album live. Our direction became very clear at the end of recording OUT, our new album which will be released in the end of April. We realized that we had written a rock album that included lots of electronic and synthetic elements. The tracks on this record mostly consist of structured songs that mix a substantial amount of traditional rock sounds (acoustic drums, guitars, electric bass and analog synths) with pure electronic synths, drum beats and textures. After the album was done, we spent a full year figuring out an exciting approach that allows us to actually perform these songs live as a two-piece using a combination of software/hardware and few instruments (vocals, guitar, synths and drum machines). By literally jamming out our new songs in the Live Home Sessions, we quickly realized that the energy and soul contained within the structured “rock” songs we had written for the album would translate really well live as more open and improvised electronic jams where each performance is unique and different.
RMM: You also released a wonderfully triply video for “The Other End.” How did the idea for the video come about and why did you want to shoot it in this way?
WI: We had actually set out to film and record many tracks of the album live as we perform them. “The Other End” video that we released was part of this series of “live” performances. The idea was to pretty much stick a phone with a camera in the room, hit record and perform the song. That’s it, no fluff. We decided to shoot it this way to capture the raw vibe of the performance, but also to give our listeners a “live” version of the song that complements the recorded track, which will be released pretty soon. After filming the performance, Phil actually applied his video and graphic skills to make the video trippy and fun to watch.
RMM: “The Other End” was also recorded in Beirut. How did being in that city impact your writing/recording of the song?
WI: “The Other End” is a song about breaking free. Free from paralyzing personality traits that prevent you from moving forward; Free from toxic cultural pressures and stereotypes; Free from all the lies. It’s about finally deciding to be who you want to be and not caring about what anyone has to say about it. It’s an essential, hard fight against your instincts. Growing up in Lebanon, we felt that many of those cultural pressures had a strong hold on our progress.
Shooting this song in Lebanon was, therefore, very important to us. It was at the same time an act of defiance, and one of reconciliation. It was important for us to reconnect with Lebanon in a positive, inspiring way. No grudges, only love. The house we shot the song in has quite a bit of significance. It is located in the heart of Beirut, being pulled by two forces: On one side lies one of the most important and symbolic religious centres of Beirut; on the other is the district of Gemmayze, a traditional neighbourhood turned into the heart of the Beirut night life and debauchery. This quite nicely mirrors the subject of the song.
RMM: You’re currently in the midst of a tour that will take you to the UK. What do you like about performing live? How does your live show differ from what fans hear on a recording?
WI: The spring touring that we have lined up is extremely exciting because we really love performing live. Playing shows and connecting directly with the audience is where it’s at for us. With this new electronic direction we’re currently exploring live, we designed our set in a way that includes a substantial amount of variables. This means that every performance of the same track is unique and different from other performances but it also means that there’s lots of room for mistakes and fuck ups. In other words, it is pretty challenging to play this music live and I believe that this is how we ensure that it remains exciting for us as performers and for the audience. In the early process of adapting our album to the stage, we deliberately took many radical decisions and set ourselves lots of constraints especially with regards to sampling; that is, what’s coming out of the speakers has to be mostly performed and the use of sampling has to be done in an interactive way. We realized very quickly that given our personalities, playing back most of our album tracks live using a sampler and adding a few instruments on top was going to get us bored very quickly on stage, so we opted for an electronic approach that is unique to us, where we find ourselves performing our instruments and software in a very interactive way.
RMM: What’s next for Wake Island?
WI: We have a couple of long tours lined-up for this year and we really hope to add more dates and tours as we go because we really love performing live and travelling. We’ll have a little bit of down time this summer in between tours (July-August) during which we plan to isolate ourselves and write/record new jams. We are actually very excited to lay down some new tracks that are reflective of our more improvised live electronic sound.
Get more on Wake Island at www.wakeislandmusic.com.