LET'S BUILD QUIET ARMIES, FRIENDS
first, they need to re-establish the vocabulary. efrim speaks with a fiery emphasis: "how do you take something from your own small community that is by its very marginalised, for economic reasons or whatever, how do you communicate something from there without compromising your own understanding of what you are and what your community is?"
'community' is an important word in the godspeed lexicon. on the sleevenotes to 'f#a#oo', they write about, "not wanting to talk at all about structure or form, wanting only to tell this little story to the other ones...the secret communities, a picture in our heads of tons of us worldwide nodding our heads always quietly in agreement." it's clearly a move beyond hairgrip-and-fanzine notions of the underground.
"a community isn't just the people you meet at mcdonald's to have coffee with," says aidan.
"which we like to do a lot," says dave with heavy sarcasm.
efrim starts to explain: "in the most basic sense of the word it's the people you know, you work with, the people with similar pressures and struggles..."
dave: "...who are trying to build up a certain form to communicate with each other..."
aidan: "the people you love."
for a band plagued by guilt over whether they act too much in their own interests and not enough for the common good, this exchange is a vital part of the touring process. in glasgow, they've asked kindred spirits mogwai to play as unannounced support because they've never seen them live before, later getting them onstage to play on the closing track from 'f#a#oo' in an incredible noise detonation. ("that," says a glowing stuart braithwaite afterwards, "was the most fun i've had in a long time.")
yet ultimately, their community is the band, a many-headed metaphor for how convenience is not a goal. "touring with nine people - 13 on the road - is helping my social skills out," says dave, seemingly without irony. "i'm a lot more socially functional than i was."
"we're still in this phase where people are like, 'shit, i've got to run away from this as far as possible,'" admits efrim. "instincts still kick in, more frequently than they ought to, but hopefully we're nearing the end of that as a solution to the disease that ails us. which i think has a lot to do with boring stuff like low self-esteem. and rent."
so for all the vast, abstract imagery your music inspires, it all comes down to bills and self-doubt?
but there's an epicness there," stresses efrim fervently. "that's where all the big, grandiose stuff is."
EVERYBODY FLED AND THE CITY WAS OURS
it's a distinctly old-school radicalism they display - not fashion, not expendience, but actively making their lives more difficult. on the sleeve of 'f#a#oo', there's a diagram entitled 'the faulty mechanics of a ruined machine', where 'fear', 'hope', 'regret' and 'desire' link to 'continuous self-doubt', 'lack of money, resources... (helplessness)' and finally 'inescapable police car/anxiety continuum'. time to identify the phenomenon of 'sunday night driving'.
"the police we have in montreal are fucking insane," says efrim, vehemently. "sunday nights are bad because obviously if you're in a family and a job, you're not expected to be out in the street at 1am on a sunday night. when you drive past a parking lot, there are seven of them sitting like cockroaches, waiting for some sucker like you driving a beat-up old car."
aidan shakes his head. "they've bought themselves a fancy new helicopter with a spotlight on it, so they can fly around and scare little kids flipped out on acid in alleyways doing nothing.
"the police are a bunch of scared kids with guns and no idea of what the fuck they've found themselves in the middle of," sighs efrim. "most of their understanding of life has come from american television and therefore everyone is a pimp or a prostitute. everyone. you end up policing yourself in montreal, i won't drive on a sunday unless i have a very good reason, because i know chances are i'll get pulled over. when we tour america, every time we park somwhere, i'm paranoid. i'm like, 'let's look casual.' and that's learnt behaviour. if you're loitering, you're suspicious. if you park, you're dead. you go into a restroom, there's surveillance. that's eveywhere." he pauses darkly. "i really do think that's everywhere."
call it paranoia if you wish, but watching from their margins, godspeed find an uncluttered perspective. they admit that the decision to place themselves on the outside was not an easy choice, that there are sacrifices they make for refusing to play the game. in their rare postings via e-mail and record sleeve, they write of unpaid bills, broken vans, living hand-to-mouth in the "filthy, dirty" hotel2tango. even now, efrim says he's worried that by the time he returns home, he'll have been evicted.
"it's become easier in the last year and it's easy when we're on the road," he says. "it's harder than when i was getting student loans to go to school, but a lot easier than the years before them when i was sitting on my ass on welfare. well, i was not sitting on my ass. nobody on welfare sits on their ass..." there's laughter from the others. "it's not a whole lot of money now but it's better than some points in my life. it's not as good as if we all went out and got full-time jobs..." he gathers up his contempt "in the music industry."
is making this music an act of defiance?
"it's amazing to me how many people misinterpret what it is we're trying to do," says dave. "people who play the music say it's depressing, defeated music, but that's not what i get from it. it's sad, but it's throwing out triggers like hope."
it's a defiance in the face of so many threats, they decline even to begin to name them all. efrim might say, "the end of the world isn't coming, i don't think 1999 is any worse than 1952 or 1918," but their music crackles with a sense of looming apocalypse. the car's on fire, there's no driver at the wheel and the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides/and a dark wind blows", intones the voice on 'the dead flag blues'. yet there's a refusal to lie down and succumb, a fierce desire to reclaim lost ground, lost causes, lost souls. on 'slow riot for new zero kanada', 'blaise bailey finnegan III' features a field recording of a man they met on a providence sidewalk, reeling through his revenge fantasies, his wish to stockpile firearms, his state-savaging poem that announces to attack someone's mind is a social disorder".
"we were excited when we started putting music to that guy," says efrim. "taking the reactionary voice and trying to universalise a lot of the things he was talking about. i think we kind of failed, because we've had feedback saying 'what a creep'. but it's not as insane as a reaction. even though that guy is right-wing and a gun freak, he's projecting these grandiose visions of himself in the face of all that he has lived with."
"why is he dreaming of stockpiling weapons?" asks dave. "that may be an extreme reaction to living in america in 1999, but i don't think it's an uncommon desire. i can relate to a lot of those sympathies.
it's a national quirk that canada is renowned for state-sponsored radio-drama; recently, calls have been made for artists to claw back some of the airwaves' subversive power. godspeed, in their way, are broadcasting unapproved views, the words of street poets, conspiracy theorists, people with trouble on their minds and fear in their hearts. their community, perhaps.
"if you ever get into a conversation with a homeless schizophrenic on the street they usually have more to say about the unconscious reaction to living in this ridiculous power structure that most people do," says efrim. "it's laid on the table, sometimes in a metaphorical fashion, sometimes in a literal fashion, but it's confirmation that it's there in everyone. it manifests itself in different pathologies, but it's there. that's the life we live, that's what we're stuck in and it's fucking ridiculous. and that's self-evident, you know." he pauses, shrugs again. "maybe it's just being young and wanting that confirmed. maybe it's a post-adolescent crisis. but i don't think any of us are far away from feeling that we were alone in these fears and anxieties. so at this point it's really affirming to know that you are not alone."
later, in a delirious G2, the rough-scored letters flickering across the screen read 'HOPE'. it might be an order, might be an incarnation, but given the noise coming from the nine musicians onstage, it's more like a simple description. hope, contrary to rumour, does not always spring eternal. sometimes it has to drag itself from bed, pull itself together, fight to look the world in the eye. it struggles, and it sounds like this.