Brighter sound covers for still-bleak heart on band's most recent full-length
Preoccupations' most recent album, the inauspiciously named New Material, is, at times, musically brighter, with tracks like the glimmering “Disarray” introducing a bit of sunshine into the post-punk crew's previously overcast output. According to singer Matt Flegel, however, it's a bit of a parlor trick.
“We kind of fooled people into thinking that they're listening to something a little bit brighter, something a little more eye-catching,” said Flegel, who joins his bandmates at the Basement on Saturday, Dec. 1, part of a co-headlining tour with the similarly minded Detroit group Protomartyr. “Then you start listening to the words and realize that it's some of the bleakest stuff that we've ever made.”
“Everything is falling apart/And we all have confessions to make,” Flegel sings atop a bubbling bassline on “Solace,” which offers none. “And all the things that you've ever loved/Effectively will never be spoken of again.”
“I was going through a rough time, so I was using writing as an outlet, and I think a lot of personal stuff I had written down to just kind of get it out of my brain ended up making its way into the lyrics,” Flegel said. “If there's any relation anyone sees to the state of world, I don't think any of that was intentional. It was definitely a little bit more inward looking than outward looking, for sure.”
Not that even Flegel always has the clearest idea what he's singing on record. He said many of his lyrics begin as voice memos recorded in the wee hours, often while inebriated, and are then translated to the page months later. Additionally, his words are often blurred or obscured by the music, which can make it a challenge when he revisits older albums in an attempt to remember what precisely he's supposed to be singing. “I've forgotten my lyrics before … and gone to lyrics.com or wherever the hell it is, which is pretty embarrassing,” he said, and laughed.
Rather than retreating to a studio for prolonged recording sessions, Preoccupations captured New Material at a range of unusual locales, including an Airbnb rental in Los Angeles, a 100-year-old schoolhouse in small-town British Columbia and a sunny Mexican beach resort, among other stops. “It made no sense,” Flegel said of the time spent recording in Mexico. “We weren't hanging on the beach like we should've been. We were in a room with the blinds drawn.”
Part of the decision to record piecemeal was the bandmates' insistence on shaking up routine, embracing an experimental streak that bleeds into tracks like “Antidote,” which begins as a straightforward, driving rocker before breaking rank near its midpoint, giving way to three minutes of clattering, off-tempo noise-rock.
“I just got bored with it and wanted to do a drastic right turn,” Flegel said. “I love tinkering in the studio. … A lot of the songs start with us fucking around in the studio trying to make sounds that don't sound like anything else, which is hard in this day and age because everything has been done.”