As light spring rains welcome the heat of the summer sun, I made my way to Little Italy to meet with three members of one of Montreal’s most talked about indie bands: Ought.
Ought began in 2011 when New Hampshire transplant Tim Beeler (guitar, vocals), New Jersey native Matt May (keyboards) and Australian expat Tim Keen (drums, violin) began jamming together in their apartment turned practice space on Mont-Royal. Soon thereafter, Ben Stidworthy — a friend of the trio’s roommates from Portland, Oregon — joined them on bass.
It was in that same Mont-Royal apartment that Ought played their first show as well as recorded their first EP. The name of the band emerged during these times in a moment of miscommunication when Tim Keen jokingly suggested “Art” which the members misheard as “Ought”.
“We liked it because it didn’t sound like any particular style of music and it didn’t evoke anything particular,” May explained.
Ought has previously spoken of the relationship between their music and the agitprop expression and mobilization times of the printemps érable, a time during which most members were students at McGill. Beeler studied Cultural Studies and Communications, Stidworthy majored in Religious Studies and May in Sociology and History.
“The way we’ve talked about it has generally been that the energy of it and going out on night marches and different degrees of participation,” May summed up. “I don’t think we had any strong effect on that, we didn’t, is just the easy way to say it. As people we were just part of it, when the march would come by our house we’d go out and walk with casseroles. I think the relationships that were established and again, the energy of being around a lot of people who had different ideas of what to do but had similar feelings of either outrage, frustration, anger, disappointment. That kind of tension and excitement definitely inspired us.”
Last January, Ought signed with Constellation Records and recently launched their LP More Than Any Other Day which they recorded at Hotel2Tango with sound engineer Radwan Moumneh. May recalled the excitement over signing with Constellation Records.
“I was very excited because for me they are the label, the one that I want to work with. They put out consistently good stuff, and great politics and conveniently in Montreal. Just really nice people,” he said.
These days, Ought is getting ready to go on back to back tours: a short East Coast tour followed by a US/Canada tour, a European tour and more TBA.
“We’re really excited to play a lot of shows. Part of the excitement for me is to see friends we haven’t seen in a while. We’re going to play a lot and hopefully not destroy ourselves,” said May.
He added that he very much looks forward to seeing friends along the way including members of Femmaggots.
Tim Beeler and members of Ought have been involved in community radio resulting in what Beeler calls an “organic interaction with performing live.”
Beyond Ought, each of the guys have solo or other musical projects: Beeler has a folk music solo project along with working sound at Cagibi and for the Loose-Fit collective, May has solo ambient and folk projects, Stidworthy has a pop electronic project, and Keen also plays in Mands and records bands. Keen and May started a tape label called Misery Loves Company.
Since the summer is the perfect season for guilty pleasures, I asked Ought what theirs are.
“I only have pleasures,” Stidworthy joked with a smile stretching across of his face.
Beeler named chocolate almonds which despite trying to curb sugar he gives into.
A tangent conversation brought to light Stidworthy’s guilty pleasure, Pastis, which he described as an ‘herbal bouquet’.
“It’s an anise aperitif. Anise is a seed that tastes like licorice. Pastis is the ouzo of the South of France. A lot of Mediterranean countries have their own anise drink. I get it because it tastes really nice, you drink it with water, and it’s 45%,” Stidworthy described.
“I think mine will be eating other people’s chips,” May explained. “When someone buys group chips and I end up eating almost all of them, which happens a lot. The sheer volume of chips is my guilty pleasure.”
In terms of Ought’s songwriting process Beeler described:
“Everything comes out of collaborative songwriting. I think we work best when we have a really long practice and we maybe fine-tune a couple songs we’ve been working on and then jam a lot. Songs come out of someone doing something interesting and we’ll gravitate towards it. Pretty much, everything on the record comes out of something very similar to that. The only song that is kind of an exception is ‘Around Again’ just because we wrote it two weeks before the record was recorded. The only difference is that we hadn’t played it live yet and that’s normally part of our process: playing things live quite a bit and then they’ll change. We’ve got some new stuff that we’re working on.”
In terms of what the band members musical influences and tastes are, the answers were quite varied.
May said he listens to a lot of ambient, noise, Magik Markers, Sonic Youth and all of their friends’ bands: Lungbutter, Harsh Reality, Fakes. Cymbals Eat Guitars is a band that he thinks about a lot. Stidworthy explained that he didn’t play bass seriously before Ought and so his roots are more firmly in playing the guitar, riffs, and chord progressions. For influences he named Django Reinhardt, Paul Simonon of the Clash, and Graham Coxon of Blur.
“Noel Gallagher of Oasis said that Graham Coxon is the best guitarist of that generation which is probably true, in my opinion,” Stidworthy added. “Listening to his guitar playing is what made me wanna get a Telecaster when I was a kid and started to think about ways to be weird in riff-making and chord progressions.”
As for Beeler, he humbly added: “I didn’t own an electric guitar for a very long time and the first time I had an electric guitar I played it like an acoustic guitar. I don’t think I’m very helpful as far as inserting influences around the aura surrounding our band. I really like roots, blues music and I like a lot of different things. As far as electric stuff, I like noisy melodic music, I like Sonic Youth too.”
I asked them if there are any bands that they disagree on as a band to which Stidworthy quickly answered:
Both Beeler and May gasped: “You don’t like Beyoncé!”
More Than Any Other Day is out now on Constellation Records. Ought perform Friday, June 13 at Casa del Popolo with Avec le soleil sortant de sa bouche and Harsh Reality as part of Suoni per il Popolo. Tickets cost $10 and can be purchased online.