Synths, Strings, and on the Upswing: Slacker Justice
During exams we were talking about what we were going to do when we got home and we decided to set up a studio in Brendan’s basement and spend as much time as possible in it.
Undeniably, one of the best parts of working at CFMU is having the chance to interview artists who are featured in our Top 30 charts, many of whom are young, talented, and have a lot to say (or sing, rather.) This week's Artist Sketch is certainly no exception, with their outside-the-box approach to both music and life.
Hailing from the small Ontario town of Pembroke (a population of just 14,000), guitarist and vocalist Brendan Dell and drummer Zach Medeiros form the duo that is Slacker Justice. Both now students of Guelph University, the band began during their high school years, performing covers of Nirvana and Green Day songs. While composing songs and exploring the vast genres of music humanity has to offer, they found the combination that was just right: strings and synths.
Their latest release, Cafe Disco, is proof of that, having spent time in both CFMU’s Top 5 charts and my monthly playlist.
I got to chat with Brendan and Zach about their musical influences, evolution as a band, and their latest album release.
You come from the small town of Pembroke. How did you enjoy it? Did the atmosphere encourage your pursuit of music?
We enjoyed growing up in Pembroke because, like any small town, you become familiar with a lot of the people over time and they become familiar with you. We knew most people in our high school and we were able to associate them with their interests and they were able to do the same. Everyone knew we played in a band.
Coming from Pembroke was beneficial for our growth musically because there was not a lot of other bands in the area which provided us with more opportunities that we might not have gotten in a bigger city.
At that point, we decided we didn’t want to continue being a cover band because we couldn’t see ourselves growing that way.
Being from a small town definitely encouraged our pursuit of music towards the end of high school. At that point, we had played in most of the venues around the area and became very familiar with the music scene. In our final year of high school we were writing a lot and found a sound that we thought fit us and that people gravitated towards. At that point, we decided we didn’t want to continue being a cover band because we couldn’t see ourselves growing that way.
What brought you to the University of Guelph, and how has it influenced you as a band?
B: I chose the University of Guelph because I loved the campus when I first toured it and Guelph as a city is beautiful. I toured other campuses but Guelph stuck out as a nice close community that created a sense of familiarity from being from a smaller town. Also, the program that I applied to was unique so that was a big part of it too.
Z: I decided to go to Guelph because many things about the university and town appealed to me. I was drawn to it being a big city, but feeling very much like a small town, which is something I’m used to. I also enjoy how close it is to Toronto and other cities like Kitchener/Waterloo so you can catch a concert when bands come through the GTA which is something I missed out on being from Pembroke because the next big city is Ottawa, which is an hour and a half away.
Recording was difficult as well because, for example, we didn’t want to track vocals in our dorm and disturb everyone else around.
Coming to the University of Guelph influenced us as a band because during our first year or so we were quite busy with school so it made us take a step back and really think about how we are doing things. We both lived in residence so practicing wasn’t possible, so we had to find other ways. Recording was difficult as well because, for example, we didn’t want to track vocals in our dorm and disturb everyone else around.
We took most of 2018 off to figure those things out so getting back into things has been very rewarding because we’ve found ourselves in a really good musical community in Guelph. We were able to become close friends with many of the bands from just living in res in first year.
When we decided to come back, the friends we made here have been really supportive. Our friend Gaelen and his band, London Hammer, are kind enough to give us their basement to practice and record in when we need to. Our friend Aleks, from Excuse Me., helped us mix Cafe Disco because he knows way more about that stuff than we do.
Tell us about Cafe Disco. Any special meaning behind the title?
Cafe Disco is our third release and our first in almost 3 years. Being our first release in almost 3 years it came with a weird kind of excitement, but we also wondered if people would still listen or if people had forgotten about us.
The idea for Cafe Disco came when we were back in Pembroke over holidays. During exams we were talking about what we were going to do when we got home and we decided to set up a studio in Brendan’s basement and spend as much time as possible in it. We had been doing our recording in many places over the fall semester so it was nice to have everything we needed set up in one place and it was always there when we decided to work on stuff.
Cafe Disco is the title of our favourite episode from our favourite show, The Office. Season 5 episode 27.
You’ve called your music “synth-driven”. What is it about synthesizers that capture your interest?
We’ve made synthesizers play main roles in songs as well as background roles and everything in between and not a lot of other instruments have the ability to do that
The main thing about synthesizers that captures my interest is all of the possibilities. We’ve made synthesizers play main roles in songs as well as background roles and everything in between and not a lot of other instruments have the ability to do that. We gravitate towards them because you can also take any sound and twist it however you want.
We recently start using Logic Pro to record, and that comes with a whole bunch of presets, so they can give you an idea for a sound but you can adjust any part of it, and that’s really cool to us. We incorporate MIDI instruments in our live-show as well and that benefits us a lot being a two-piece because our recorded songs wouldn’t translate well if we were missing our backing synthesizer tracks.
When we first started a band we would play covers that every other young high school band would play like Green Day and Nirvana, which were very guitar-driven bands, and as we explored more different types of music, we were exposed to artists like Twenty One Pilots and Youth Lagoon which inspired us to explore the synthesizer.
...My life experiences have definitely shaped the music that I write.
You’ve been releasing music since around 2015 but have been together for almost seven years. How has your life experiences changed your music, and vice versa?
As we get older we experience more things and learn more things and more people get introduced into your life, and I find that I’m always able to find something to write about.
If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be?
Z: If I could collab with any artist it would probably be Tyler Joseph from Twenty One Pilots or Sia. I think that both of those artists are on a completely different level and it would be really interesting to see their writing processes. Sia is such an influential person in the pop world and has a hand in so many songs on the radio and I find that super fascinating. I also find it fascinating that a solo-writer like Tyler Joseph can write number one songs and albums all by himself. Both of those artists blow me away and inspire me a lot.
WATCH: Listen to our interview with Canadian powerhouse Barenaked Ladies