Interview: Ronald Jean-Gilles of LAE

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Sometimes it’s the bands that fly under the radar that matter the most. Their performances and records are reverred as legend by those lucky enough to have experienced them while a large percentage of the music buying public are none the wiser. Sometimes a band gets another chance, like Montreal’s LAE. Formerly Lae-Tsue, these guys made an impressionable splash in the 90’s post-punk scene, but without the ripples spreading to further out circles. I’ll admit I was in the dark to their existance until I heard about their reformation through Earsplit PR which of course made the discovery all the more special.

It’s not a far-cry to guess that LAE are influenced by 90’s post-punk like Slint, but with their new LP Break the Clasp they bring something all their own to the table. Abrasive and enlightening all the same, this record has a sort of meticulous yet simple desperation to it that is made even better by producer Steve Austin’s (Today is the Day) vocal contributions. Ronald Jean-Gilles’ bass-work is another strong highlight that keeps the album engaging, and it was a pleasure to talk to him about some things relating to him and his band’s new record.

What lead to the reformation of LAE?

RJ: Our gear had been piling dust for a few years in Marc’s woodshop. Marc, our guitar player, never stopped playing acoustic guitar in his living room, I had been playing the stand-up bass for fun in folk and jazz projects and Stephane, the other guitar player, didn’t even have a guitar anymore. We all missed playing very loud. Every time we saw each other we kept saying that we should play music together again. One day Marc gave us a call and got us together in his woodshop and that was it. Marc had a riff that we work on and became the song ‘Reunion’. After a few jams and a few songs, we really needed a drummer. We knew Serj, a very talented multi-instrumentalist, who we had played with in the past. He’s one of the rare drummers who really understands our music.

What led you guys to record with Steve Austin? What did you think of his idea to contribute vocals to the record?

I have to admit that I didn’t know Steve, nor Today Is The Day. Marc did and made me listen to some of his work and we all agreed that he was a fit and that he could make us sound exactly the way we wanted.

It seems to me like he falls right in the mood of these songs which aren’t exactly like Today is the Day or even most of the bands he produces.

He fell in love with our music. Lack of luck, confidence or talent, I can’t really say which one; we never had a real singer in any of our previous projects. The spark happened when we left Steve alone in the studio for about an hour. That’s all he needed to come up with amazing vocals and an intense melody on the Fender Rhodes for the song ‘Broken Knee’. We all were stunned; we had just found our signer. Steve quickly became a good friend.

It sounds like the recording sessions for this record were really free and held a lot of experimentation with different instruments/effects. Is this a correct assumption or did you guys have a pretty good idea of how you wanted to present these songs?

We knew the basic bass, guitars and drums tracks even though two of the songs have improvised endings: ‘Break The Clasp’ and ‘Cold Dark Drive’. For months after the session, we drove back and forth from Montreal to Steve’s studio in Maine to work on overdubs. Some were planned, like the accordion and some guitar tracks and the rest is total experimentation with the keyboards, the trumpet, the musical saw, the back-up vocals, and even Steve’s vocals. Each song became like a buffet with parts and tracks we could choose from. I have to admit that sometimes the buffet looked more like a puzzle with extra pieces!

I hear post-rock, psychedelia, post-hardcore, and noise-rock blended together on this record. I imagine you probably get tired of people trying to classify you one way or another but would you say that the band’s influences are mutually shared for the most part?

We all pretty much come from the same background, except maybe for Steve. We were all into indie-rock in the 90’s. We always smile whenever we get labelled with a genre because most of the time we don’t necessarily identify to that or worst even know what they mean. We just play the music we’ve always played… but like to think that we’re getting better at it.

What does your rig consist of live?

I play a short scale Ampeg AMB1 bass or a fretless Fender Jazz bass depending on the song. I also have two amps linked by a footswitch. I have a SWR WorkingPro 700 bass amp and a Music Man Seventy-five bass/guitar amp. The SWR plays through an 8×10 Marshall cab, and the Music Man plays through a 4×10 Yorkville cab and another 4×10 Peavey cab. And yes… I sometimes blow all 16 speakers at the same time when I play.

What did you play on the record?

I used everything on the record.

Why?

The fretless Jazz bass is smooth and has a bold sound. I use it in songs like ‘Sexy Sadie’, ‘To Give You The Stars Above’ and ‘New Moon’ where it slides and rolls and feels like my fingers never leave the bass.
I have a love/hate relationship with the Ampeg bass. I love the way it sounds, the touch is amazing. The frets aren’t too far apart, so it almost feels like a guitar, the first instrument I learned being classical guitar, I like that. The other guys laugh at me when I say that the bass plays quick… but it’s true! The issue I have with the Ampeg bass is purely aesthetic; I don’t like its pointy head. There I said it. I wish Ampeg could make a special edition of that bass for me with a head that looks more like a Fender or something like that. Nevertheless, I like its sharpness, precision and reactivity. I use it in songs like ‘Sister’, ‘Break the Clasp’ and ‘Geisha’.

It sounds like the title track could have built off of the bass-line to some extent. Was that actually the case for that or any of the other songs on Break the Clasp?

Most of the songs on the album were written over 10 years ago. Usually, it’s either Marc who shows up with a guitar riff or I have a bass riff and we jam it for hours, weeks, months until it becomes something totally different. At the end we can’t really say who came up with what. I remember playing the first part of ‘Break The Clasp’ repeatedly until Marc found the perfect melody. What I like about this song is that it holds different ways of playing with circular repetitive basslines, straight forward melodies and bass harmonics blended in a sequence. One thing’s for sure though is that the bass is really present in certain songs like ‘Geisha’, ‘New Moon’, ‘Spare Me Logic’ and ‘Sexy Sadie’.

The cover art really stands out, as do all Sonny Kay images. What drew you to him for this record?

Sonny and Marc have been friends for years now. Marc asked him if he was interested to do the artwork for the album and he accepted. He’s a great artist.

What are your plans now that the album is done? Is LAE going to go back to being a touring entity?

We’re already working on our next EP, but yeah, we’re eager to play shows and start touring. Expect more bass and some effects, I just bought new pedals…

I want to thank Ronald for being a great interview Dave at Earsplit for coming through as always. 

You can listen to Break the Clasp in it’s entirety here:

http://thequietus.com/articles/16787-lae-break-the-clasp-album-stream

http://www.thecompoundrecs.com/

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