Sunday, 6 December 2020

Respire - Interview + Black Line Review


2020 has been a hard year for many reasons, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. This feature focuses on both the hardships and the positive events that have shaped the year for Canadian band Respire. I caught up with them recently to ask some questions about their (very) new album Black Line and some of things that happened prior to it's release, as well as about their experiences during the year and what their plans may be for next year.


TNIO: It’s safe to say that 2020 has been a difficult year, especially with gigs and tours being put on hold due to the global pandemic. In what ways did it affect you as a band and how have you coped during this time?


Respire: We have actually been quite lucky as a band during the covid pandemic. We started production of this record in December 2019, and wrapped up the last of the tracking in early March 2020, right as things began to fall apart. We managed to go through the mixing process (which is usually pretty time-intensive for us) remotely. We were also thinking about touring Europe in summer 2020, but decided in early 2020 that we wouldn’t be able to complete the record in time, so decided not to go ahead with those plans.


We’ve also been lucky enough to mostly remain employed and/or have access to government support. We feel for all those who have had a much worse experience during this pandemic - those who have lost their jobs are struggling to afford essentials, frontline workers who are risking their lives for low wages, and those who have experienced personal tragedy.


In the space of what felt like a week earlier in the year, you announced that you had signed to release your new album ‘Black Line’ with Holy Roar Records, then for much publicised reasons you announced you were splitting with the label. What was that time like for you and were you worried about the album’s release?


It was a very strange time. We wanted this record to have wider reach upon release, so we were excited to join a label with such an incredible roster of bands and (what we thought was) a great reputation. Though the planning had been in-the-works for a while, once we announced our signing it was only a matter of days before everything broke. We were definitely riding a high until it all fell apart very quickly. 


From the beginning of this whole fiasco, we realized we were not the true victims of these circumstances. We were determined to do what’s right and try to push for a productive resolution, primarily for the victims, but also the bands under the label roster. We made a plan to demand accountability, but when that failed, we ultimately decided to step away. It was a very confusing and troubling couple of weeks. It was important for us to send the right message to our fans and new listeners, that we wouldn’t be complicit in this form of abuse and silencing. We decided immediately to halt the release of the record, to make sure we weren’t distracting from the situation with self-serving news and promo.


Not long after, you found a new home thanks to some familiar faces in the newly formed Church Road Records, who released ‘Black Line’ on vinyl (which is now onto it’s second pressing). There’s also been a subsequent tape pressing via Middle-Man Records and Zegema Beach Records. How does it feel now that ‘Black Line’ is out there and doing (really) well?


It feels great! We’re happy to work with Justine - she really was the day-to-day person we dealt with while on Holy Roar, and we knew she deserved to see this release through after all her hard work helping get it to production. We’re also happy to work with ZBR, MMR, and Narshardaa, who have been supporters and friends since the beginning of this band. It was important for us to make sure everyone could grow off this record, both for our new labels and our early supporters.


It’s always great to hear that our music is reaching new audiences and that people are excited for this record. We hope everyone is just as pleased with the final product as we are.


Following on from the previous question, given what you and society has had to deal with this year; what does the album and it’s content mean to you?


We wrote and recorded Black Line in a time of great anxiety for the future. It was 2019, well before the upheaval of 2020 would see the light of day, yet the sense of desperation, fear, pent-up anxiety and aggression was already thick in the air. Initially, when the lyrics of the album were being cemented, our attention was cast on the many uncontrolled fires devastating the world, from British Columbia in Canada to the historic bushfires of Australia. The backdrop of Black Line is the setting of these growing fires, a world where even with a climate catastrophe closer to home than ever before, our leaders continue to sow fear and division with a reactionary populist demagoguery, all for a desire to go back to some imaginary place of homogenous security. There is a great sense of loss and loss-to-come in our 21st century. As immigrants we have an acute understanding of loss, of how easily the things we are grown to rely on can be taken away from us. We wanted to use our history as a parallel, a point of reference for the future losses we all stand on the brink of suffering. Sadly, we know this has become even more relevant in 2020. It scares us at times, and worries us most of all, how prescient our message was in 2019.


t’s probably too early to ask and it’s no doubt very uncertain but what plans (if any) do you have for 2021? With a potential vaccine nearing release and approval, hopes are that things will begin to return to something near normal and gigs/festivals may be allowed to happen again. I bet you all can’t wait to get back out there?


We’d love to tour in 2021. We’re long overdue on a promise to our European friends for another visit. We’d also love to go back to Mexico, and visiting Japan and SE Asia have also been on our radar for a while. Of course, at some point we’ll have to overcome the logistical and bureaucratic hurdles to visit our neighbours to the south as well. There are a lot of places we have yet to visit, and a lot of fans we have yet to meet. We hope to be able to change this in the near future.


Planning anything during this pandemic has really been fool’s gold, so we’re going to wait and see how 2021 starts to shake out before we start booking anything in earnest. In the meanwhile, we’ve been working on new music, and hope to record again sometime in 2021. Hopefully we’ll get to play the songs off Black Line live before the next record is out!



Labels: Church Road Records/Middle-Man Records/Narshardaa Records/Zegema Beach Records

Formats: Vinyl/CD/Tape/Digital

Release Date: 04 Dec 2020


Tracklist:


1. Blight

2. Tempest

3. Cicatrice

4. Lost Virtue

5. Kindling

6. Embers To End

7. Flicker And Faint

8. To Our Dead Friends

9. Catacombs Part II


We all exist with hope in our hearts but sometimes life and it’s events try to quash that hope. We’re a social species and we thrive on interaction (for the most part), which is why this year has been tougher for us all. Respire’s decision to release their latest album towards the end of it seems like a master-stroke, even if not as originally planned. Their orchestral, post-rock/hardcore is a sound all of it’s own and while bands like We Came Out Like Tigers (RIP) and Dawn Ray’d have made use of strings within their music before, the flourishing sounds of violin and viola during opener ‘Blight’ point at something more rousing to come.


‘Tempest’ is Respire’s first song proper and with it you get the whole gamut, including black metal, hardcore, shoegaze and seemingly everything in between. It’s extreme yet melodic, with percussive blasts, heavy (sometimes violent) guitar work, the emotive screams of multiple voices and instrumental ambience that builds and holds drama at it’s core. The intensity of the full band experience is unmistakable on ‘Cicatrice’, which again goes in different directions with metallic hardcore riffs at one point and then the slow build of group vocals and orchestral melodies that lead to a plateau of extremity that’s angry yet controlled. The combination of musical elements really give the song a unique sound. 


As urgent and up-tempo as Black Line is, there’s still room for something more introspective and it comes in the form of ‘Lost Virtue’. Very much containing the visceral response of crust and anti-fascist music at it’s roots, this song grows in layers and textures as the spoken-word passages get faster, alongside the percussion and strings. Around the midway point saxophone joins in and signals the band’s explosion into blackened music once again. It’s kind of like two songs in one but there’s no escaping how engaging it is. From rallying, to angry, to cathartic. ‘Kindling’ provides some respite from the dissonance with bird-song and more genteel orchestral sounds that  are so well performed. All of the musicians within Respire know how to play and this whole album has been crafted with so much care and attention to detail. 


The second half of Black Line begins with the bleakness of ‘Embers To End’, which is made up of disparate screams, low growls and a heavy off-kilter display of musicianship, again majoring on black metal yet somehow ending up with an uplifting overtone thanks to the employment of more saxophone melodies, trumpet, strings and synths. Sometimes my ears fail me when trying to decipher the tones of certain instruments, so if my descriptions are wrong then I apologise. That aside, those instruments and effects really compliment then entire album instead of overpowering it. This is still very much a heavy record though. After that rollercoaster, ‘Flicker And Faint’ is a surprise thanks to it’s clean singing and stripped back make-up at first. It’s definitely more of a shoegaze song this time, but it doesn’t meander along like some do. There’s a purpose within the song just as there is with Respire. That purpose is beautiful and comforting.


From there you’re greeted by the punk-like rhythms and old-school emo/screamo of ‘To Our Dead Friends’. It’s a brief song compared to those that it follows but it’s impact is still the same. It starts off upbeat and then slows down as it progresses, becoming more heart-wrenching as it goes. So good! Album closer ‘Catacombs Part II’ comes around all too quickly and it’s mid-tempo approach seems right when bringing the record to it’s conclusion. Obviously, that’s not my only observation about it but it seems as though it’s here for Respire to rest and reflect, as much as it is for the listener. There’s no unexpected turns in the road at this point and you’re left with their best. Heart-on-the-sleeve music, sometimes emotionally frail yet mentally strong, with a message of hope and togetherness (at least to these ears anyway). I’ve gone on for far too long here, so all I’ll say in closing is give this your full attention if you haven’t already. It deserves it.


You can stream and purchase Black Line on all formats below:-



Respire - https://www.facebook.com/respirefamily/


You can also by physical copies from the labels below:-


Church Road Records - https://churchroadrecords.bandcamp.com/merch

Middle-Man Records - https://middlemanrecords.storenvy.com

Narshardaa Records - https://narshardaa.bigcartel.com/

Zegema Beach Records - http://www.zegemabeachrecords.com/


Church Road Records - https://www.facebook.com/churchroadrecords/

Middle-Man Records - https://www.facebook.com/middlemanrecords/

Narshardaa Records - https://www.facebook.com/Narshardaa-Records

Zegema Beach Records - https://www.facebook.com/zegemabeachrecords/

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