Interview with vocalist Max Desharnais | By Janelle Jones
Before the release of their third album, Mistakes, I called up Sonic Avenues frontman Max Desharnais to learn more about the band and their seriously fabulous record. Read on for more on this Montreal-based dirty, garage-y, power-pop four-piece.
You put out “Automatic” first.
Yeah, that was two weeks ago. That was our first single.
I can see why. That one really gets stuck in your head – in a good way!
That’s good. We wanted to keep that song fairly short and to the point. It kind of appeared out of nowhere when we were jamming. I’m like, “Whoa, I think I have something.” And it just morphed into a song and I took the idea home and there was no need to add anything. We wanna keep it simple. We like to mix it up. Some songs we like to have a more elaborate formula, throw in a big intro and then verse, transition and then back to verse, transition, then the chorus comes. But then sometimes it’s good to have the little efficient to-the-point song. On our previous record I feel like it was building up, every song was becoming a little formulaic, a little too much for my liking so on this one wanted to throw in a couple sweet and short ones. So that one and “Tired, Bored & Alone” and “Too Late” are like the same approach. It makes it fun to play too, when it’s a song like that. You don’t even think. Some songs [you’re like], “Oh God, there’s a transition coming,” there’s this and that, and so many lyrics and you have to focus. And when you focus too much, it takes a toll on the energy because you’re thinking too much, so when those songs come up I’m like yes. I can just play that song and have fun. [Laughs]
“New Vogues.” I love the way that song ends. It’s musically powerful and the vocals are strong.
I’m glad you like it. It’s funny because that one it was on the cutting board. We were gonna toss it. That was early summer I wrote it and it didn’t have lyrics right away, but I had the melody in my head, then I was like I’m not sure about this song. Then Chance, our bass player, convinced me. He’s like, “Dude, don’t give up on it. Write the words, rework the melody.” I’m like, I’ll give you guys that. We went in the studio and all those new melodies came in my head. Then that last part came out of nowhere as well. I’m like, why don’t we try a good old dirty skate-punk riff on drums just double up the snare and go nuts in the end. And that was the song.
I like the lyrics that go with it too.
That song’s very introspective. Basically the whole record I wrote a year ago, right after I went through some really rough times, break up, and all that shit. That song talks about someone feeling alienated by all the things they think they should be doing. New vogues, new fashions, new trends. People abandon their own essence to follow new leaders and then sometimes if you dumb it down, that can work with fashions as well. So basically people get brainwashed, that’s basically the message. It’s introspective because I notice that around me. I don’t wanna draw a direct parallel to my life but I’ve experienced that kind of thing. I don’t know if that’s the kind of message you got after hearing the song but that’s essentially what the song’s about.
Yeah, that whole, “My dreams, my life,” not gonna…
That’s it. That verse says, “My time, my brain, my dreams,” so basically…
“I’m not gonna waste on you. I’m gonna do my own…”
That’s it. So basically you push towards things that you think are much cooler and I’ll just sit back here and wait before you realize it’s all bullshit. It pretty much sums up the record. The moving on thing is part of basically becoming at peace with yourself again. I’m cutting the rope. You do your thing and I’m not gonna stay here.
Yeah, like “Wasted Summer.” I love your vocals… You’re singing the one line and then the “No!”
Oh yeah at the end.
I like that. [Laughs]
That’s awesome. Again, I wasn’t sure where that song could fit. Originally it was gonna end after the second long chorus, and I’m like, if we don’t do something with that song, I’m gonna toss it ‘cause it’s way too bright, too summery, and it doesn’t reflect the actual words of the song. And then one night, I’m like, “Let’s try this, let’s darken it up a little bit, make it meaner in the end.” I was always a big follower of Rikk Agnew [The Adolescents] and the early ‘80s punk and I wanted something snotty in the end. One of the things on this record, I put myself in this standpoint, not being inspired directly by people or their work, but mostly like what would that guy do here? Let’s try to do what Rikk Agnew would do. How would he think? What part would he do? This is where these parts emerge out of nowhere. Another part was in “Too Late” in the middle part when that song gets heavier, that was another Rikk Agnew-inspired moment.
Rikk was the best! So, Ken Cheppaikode [Dirtnap Records] heard what you’d done before and he got in touch with you?
Initially he heard what we did before and he helped us book some shows on the West Coast so that was our first contact with him. Even before we talked about releasing Television Youth, our second album, so we’d been in touch with him and the link here is Ian from The White Wires, who’re also on Dirtnap, but they got signed maybe a year before us and he pointed him to us. After that, once we had a couple songs for Television Youth, I sent them rough mixes, I’m like, “Remember us? We have a couple new songs. You wanna work with us?” And this is how it happened. After that, our first bass player [Jaime] had to leave the band for a career in New York, so now he’s in NYC, but it was a very friendly break. He’s one of our brothers. We love the guy. And he’s actually gonna come on tour with us to be our driver. He comes to be our babysitter. [Laughs] We need a tour manager. So Jaime left the band and we were lucky enough to find someone to replace him perfectly. We found this guy Chance through common friends of ours. And Chance not only became one of our best friends almost instantly, the guy was likeminded musically. He loves punk and he loves all the sub-genres of punk that we like as well. So it was a no-brainer. He’s got that contagious energy in him too, the guy’s stoked all the time. This is partly why I kept some of the songs on the new record ‘cause I go through phases where I like songs and then I don’t like them the week after but he’s the one that’s like, “No, trust me. Don’t give up on this song. Hold on to it.” He sees songs a different way sometimes so that’s his main contribution in the band and it makes us be a bit more productive.
What about the title? What made you call it Mistakes?
It’s very introspective. The record was written right after I went through that whole bunch of shit in my life. There’s a lot of turmoil that was caused by bad decisions and mistakes, hence the title. And the cover represents it too. It’s really kinda summery looking so basically, everything was once in place – there’s palm trees, there’s water, there’s the sun – and then once upon a time, because of mistakes, it all fell, and now it’s all at the bottom of the LP. That’s the imagery. [Laughs] We did everything ourselves except for the art and the master. We wrote, recorded, mixed it.
Is that how you did the other records too?
Yeah, but on this particular one we went to the studio to record the drums. I engineered the whole thing with the guy who runs the studio, a friend of ours. He’s nice enough to let us use all his gear, he basically lets us do whatever we want which is amazing. So we recorded drums and bass and some guitars there and then took all those tracks and came home and put them on my system and did the rest in my living room and kitchen. Like Steve Albini said, “It’s not where you do it that’s important, it’s how you do it.” My living room has amazing acoustics, so I’m like, I’m gonna do my vocals here for sure. I bought myself some really nice microphones, a nice pre-amp, I got proper studio monitors. I’m fully equipped to mix basic recordings, so – electric guitar, bass, acoustic guitar, vocals, keyboard – I can do it all myself. So basically the record got produced on my kitchen table. I put my two monitors there. I made myself a station. This is where I was working. It’s a very personal record. We made everything, which is good. I can say we’re all proud of that approach. We pulled it off. The other two records we did them all in the studio, but we engineered it. But now it was our gear we used. It was our time. We’re on no one’s clock but ours. I love working out of my kitchen. You just sit there and you get hungry you just turn around and literally make yourself a sandwich. You can drink beer and whiskey until 5 a.m. and track vocals and you don’t bother anyone. Which is what I did a lot…!