Jean-Philippe LamondeBird Attack Records
By Tom Liveyns on November 7th, 2016 at JH Sojo, Kesse-Lo (Leuven, Belgium)
With Remember Death, MUTE released one of the most anticipated skate punk records of the year. Lead single Fill The Void quickly became a fan favourite and it wouldn’t surprise us if the album reached a few end of year lists come December. Just like you’ve come to expect from the Québec four piece, Remember Death is a fast record with melodic songs that are packed with guitar solos. During MUTE’s European tour, we had the chance to sit down with lead singer and bassist Jean-Philippe Lamonde and talk about the band’s first release in 5 years.
ThePunkSite: Let’s start with the basics. I’m going to name a few things that are essential in a band. Can you tell us who fills that role in your band. First one: the lyricist
Jean-Philippe (bass & lead guitar): That’s either Etienne (Dionne, lead singer and drummer of the band) or me. We’re the two lead singers and we each write our own songs. So whoever sings the lead on a song wrote the song.
The muscle, the heavy lifter
I’d say me. But we all take our share, we all carry the gear. We don’t have anyone with us to do it so we all do it ourselves.
Etienne, our drummer, he’s really good at it.
The engineer, the go-to guy for repairs or technical stuff
None. We’re all really bad at it. We’d rather hire someone to do it. We spend our time rehearsing and playing our songs in stead of learning how to fix our things.
And for studio related stuff, are there things you do yourself?
Not really. When we record we work with a guy back home called Jef Fortin from the band Anonymus. He’s giving us a lot of tips and he’s mixing and tracking anything we do. We did buy some equipment for our last release to do as much preproduction as we could. We had to learn to use the things we bought and if I think about it Alex, our guitar player is the guy who really helped us out with that. But when it’s time to get into the studio we go to another guy.
There’s many sides to that. For the music, Alex and Etienne are working really hard on most parts of that. For promotion, artwork, design Etienne does most of the work; well… all of the work really (laughs). And I’m more on the business side, the numbers, the boring part.
And making sure you get paid.
Yeah, making sure we get paid and we get to the end of the year. Making sure we have enough money to make shirts, make the recording happen. That’s my part. So we all share a different part of the band’s management.
“Remember Death” has been out for about a month. How’s the reception so far?
Really, really good. Sales are great. Here in Europe and back home. We released the album and we went straight to Europe for this tour. And the reaction of the crowd at every concert has been amazing. We play 4 or 5 songs from the new album and people really seem to like it. That’s great because people know to the older stuff but if they can appreciate the new songs that’s even more fun.
Is it like playing the old hits?
Well obviously people like the old hits better. But they appreciate the new stuff as well. Especially the single we put out, Fill The Void, people know that song really well and that’s amazing. We put it in the set early, so show up early at the concert.
How was the recording and producing process for the album.
It was different in a way, we spent a lot more time together for the preproduction of the record. Like I said, we bought equipment to do that part ourselves. In the past we went to a friends place for the preproduction and we did it really fast. Now we did it again and again and again, we retracked everything: music, lyrics. That’s why it took us so long. We worked hard on fine tuning everything: notes, words and even syllables. Nothing was left apart. But we did go with the same engineer for the recording because he is the best.
So the big difference was the preproduction. Did you change anything up while recording as well?
We did. For the drums there’s no trigger, so there’s nothing artificial. When Etienne hits his tom, cymbal or kick, that’s the exact sound you hear on the record. And for the guitars, it’s the first time we used different guitars for different songs. Because songs have different vibes so we decided to try other types of guitars. We also tried different types of amps or mixes.
So you paid more attention to detail then.
Yes. A lot more.
Do you switch up guitars live as well?
No. We just use the one that we bring with us.
How did things change labelwise?
For this album we work with Bird Attack Records. We started working with them after Thunderblast was released, they released it in the States. And now for Remember Death we are working with them from the start for North America. We are working with Effervescence Records n France for Europe. And for Canada it’s us and Bird Attack, we are releasing our own album in Canada. And in Japan it’s Bells On Records who also released Thunderblast. So we pretty much stayed with the same people because we are friends with them, we love how they work and we trust them.
Bird Attack Records put out a special edition vinyl.
Yes, we try to have one for each continent. We bring them to our shows as well, we have the vinyls for our last three records. That’s something that people seem to like more and more these days. And it’s a good looking physical thing.
It’s crazy. Vinyl seems to now become a thing while it’s the oldest carrier we still use.
It’s something you can collect. There’s a lot more space do to something with the artwork. It’s an amazing product, I really love it.
The artwork for the album is out of the ordinary as far as typical punk rock artwork goes.
Etienne does the artwork and the design and he works really hard on it. We believe that it’s a piece of art, it is a piece of art. It’s all natural, there’s no computer design. It’s just pictures and it’s crazy beautiful.
How did you come up with the idea?
It was Etienne’s idea, because he does all the designs for the band. Going through the lyrics for the album, death seemed to be in most of our songs. So we came up with the title for the album and then he was looking for Death itself. He found that lady in the street actually. He was walking in the streets of Québec city and he was looking for someone, a mix of the Great Ripper, Santa Muerte and a character from David Lynch’s Lost Highway and he found that lady and he just asked her if he could take her picture for the artwork of the album and she said yes. Now she’s on every poster we do and she’s in our videoclip for Fill The Void too. We try to do things better than everyone else. That’s what we do.
Did she like the result?
Yes, she really appreciates it and she’s been to every event we did ever since Etienne met her. She’s happy with it and that’s cool because she’s a nice person.
That’s a good story. Another question I prepared circles back to the last point you made. The general theme throughout the album is Death. But it’s not a concept album, it just happens to be the theme of the songs, do I summarise this correctly?
Yes. After writing the songs we realised that it was the common subject of most of the songs. We worked on the album over the last 5 or 6 years. We collected ideas, stories, touring stories, events in our life, everything that could become a theme for a song. And on this album it all came back to death. At the same time Alex our guitar player is a pretty dark individual so when we listen to the music and Etienne and I write lyrics, we are attracted to this mood and to this vibe in the music. So we keep that vibe. And death is pretty dark obviously.
The video for Fill The Void ties in perfectly with the artwork as well, so it looks liked it was a well planned thing.
The idea for the artwork came first, but we knew we wanted to release a video as well. So it came pretty natural use the same imagery as well.
You seem to have a trademark on releasing great singles before the album drops. I wasn’t sure “Bates Motel” could be topped but “Fill the Void” is amazing once again. Do you know what the single is going to be when you write the songs?
No, but there are some characteristics that we want to keep in mind. First of all, the song has to be not too long and not too short. Around 3 minutes would be ideal. We also want the song to give an idea of what MUTE is, it needs to be fast, it needs good solos, catchy chorusses. And that song came out on top.
Another song on “Remember Death” is called “A Mirage of Safety”, it covers the hot topic of refugees and political or moral issues related to it. Can you explain what the song’s about.
Well, Etienne wrote that song so I can’t really elaborate on it. All I can say is that it was written before everything happened. As strange as it seems, it was written well before all the stuff that’s happening now.
What’s on your bucket list of places or festivals you want to play someday?
We want to come back to Groezrock as soon as possible. We played it in 2010 and it was amazing, it was crazy. Other than that, as far as places go we really want to play Australia because it’s far and it’s amazing. Indonesia, China might be great too. There are a lot of places, people keep writing us and we want to go everywhere. That’s the reason why we do this thing. We want to travel the world and spread the word as much as we can.
The Fest maybe at some point. From what we’ve heard it’s a great festival.
I’ve heard in some recent interviews that punk rock is gaining popularity again. I’m not really sure if I agree, but how do you see this?
The only thing I can say is: everywhere we go, people are coming. There are a lot of people coming to the shows. We meet a lot of people. Is it gaining popularity? That’s hard to say because I’m not everywhere at the same time. In Québec where we’re from it’s going good, there are a lot of new bands and packed shows every week so it’s perfect.
Do you see a difference in the different parts of the world you play?
Oh yeah. People are different from one country to another. It’s totally different to play here in Belgium than it is to play in Germany, Italy, France or Spain. And that’s miles away from what it is in Japan or South America, or Québec even. Reactions are different everywhere. But still people come to the show and they have fun in their own way. That’s great.
Can we do a few short ones to wrap up the interview?
What’s your favourite release of 2016?
I really enjoyed the new Belvedere album so let’s go with that one. I love those guys and I love their music.
Which Mute song do you love to play live the most?
Bates Motel. It’s a fun song to play. I get to sing, Etienne gets to sing.
What’s your favourite Mute lyric?
Burning Wreck from the album The Raven. Etienne did a crazy job on all songs he wrote, but this one kind of stands out to me.
Is there anything else you want to plug or put out there?
We have a few shows coming up in Canada so people can always check out our website for our touring schedule.
Great! Thanks a lot for the chat and congrats on “Remember Death”.