The following article appears in the November 4-17th issue of prairie dog magazine.
Nerds Will Bounce
by Gillian Mahoney
Technically complex pop music often gets a bad rap. For many of us, it conjures up images of ’70s prog rockers dressed in hideous capes and satin pants, wailing away on self-indulgent guitar solos.
But Vancouver band SSRIs are proof that you can have serious musical chops and still write songs that are fun to listen to.
On their first full-length release, Effeminate Godzilla-Sized Windchimes, the self-described “noise pop” group experiments with seemingly disparate elements and fuses them together in a novel way: jagged riffing gives way to delicate melodies (“Making Sense”) and intricate arrangements (“Weathered Floor”) are performed with a punk rock-style intensity.
Over coffee on a typically grey Vancouver afternoon, the co-founders of SSRIs — Elliot Langford (guitar/vocals/synths) and Jo Hirabayashi (keyboard/guitar/vocals) — discuss the band’s approach.
According to Langford, it’s important the songs translate live.
“I want a show to be a whole bunch of people dancing and getting out a whole bunch of energy and have it be this fun, cathartic, visceral experience,” says Langford. “Not this sterile thing where people check out the accuracy of my picking on guitar.”
“But feel free to check out his picking,” laughs Hirabayashi.
Langford and Hirabayashi both honed their skills studying jazz performance at Vancouver Community College (guitar and piano respectively) and the training is evident in their music — whether it’s the rapid ascending and descending patterns on a track like “You and I” or the shifting time signatures.
But don’t assume they sit around spinning fusion albums all day. The band’s influences run the gamut from The Beatles to Aphex Twin to The Blood Brothers.
Though they’ve heard the label “prog” attached to their sound, the band doesn’t feel it’s an accurate description. For them, the prog rock tradition is one that places the musician on a pedestal — a convention that makes them cringe.
“We don’t want that divide of virtuoso musician on stage and ‘bow down and worship me as I shred!’ Anything that could maybe bring about that sort of thing, we try to mock or make fun of with things that are kind of random and noisy,” says Langford.
Hirabayashi nods. “It’s music first when it comes to doing technical stuff.”
In conversation, the guys crack jokes easily. And they obviously enjoy a good play on words (witness the song title “Ayn Randy”).
Then there’s the album cover featuring an orange cat surrounded by bok choy and other fresh produce.
It makes you wonder: is this a conscious attempt to not take themselves too seriously?
“Fundamentally, playing music is a funny thing to do,” says Hirabayashi. “You have to have a bit of a lighthearted approach. But I mean, I take it totally seriously too! It’s not like I just think it’s clowning around. “Ayn Randy” is a very serious song too, as much as it’s a funny jab at a philosopher.”
Though SSRIs formed four years ago, their current lineup is only two years old. Hirbayashi says the addition of bassist Aaron McKinney and drummer Tony Dallas spurred them to evolve as a band.
They credit Dallas with pushing them in a more “bombastic” direction, sonically, and McKinney with providing much-needed expertise on how to organize cross-Canada tours. (The band has traveled to Montreal and back twice.)
This time around, they’re hitting the road on a one-week tour to Winnipeg and back, which includes a stop in Regina on November 5.
When this writer suggested the SSRIs have the qualities to attract two distinct audiences — music geeks who appreciate technique and people who just want to rock out — Langford grins.
“Yeah, we’re both of those ourselves… music nerds and enjoyers of jumping around. So [we’re] trying to be a jumping-around band for music nerds!”
Gillian Mahoney once was a Regina journalist; she’s now wandered West.