Culture | Leaping out of the McGill bubble

Bodywash talks cream pop, melancholy, and cultural influences

Crammed into a small recording room in the CKUT Radio offices, I caught up with four of the Bodywash band members: Austin Pine on drums, Tom Gould on bass, Adam Macpherson on guitar, and Chris Steward on vocals and guitar. Rosie Long Decter, Bodywash’s vocals and synth, and a former Daily editor, was not present at the interview.

Bodywash is a group of musicians who perform in the self-invented genre of cream pop, a dreamy, synth-based version of dream pop, which was made popular by the likes of Tame Impala and The Radio Dept. Having started jamming in the basement of McGill’s Gardner Hall, the group, coming from Toronto, Malaysia, the U.S., and the UK, started out playing a few gigs to find their sound.

The end of 2015 saw a name change from the previous Cult Classic, and a newly released self-titled EP, cementing the band’s jump from small-scale group of McGill musicians to a Montreal band with an incredibly well-produced set of songs and a unique sound. Their live session for “Nothing At All” was released on February 12, and it set the stage for a successful new year for Bodywash.

As I tried to work the recording software, we chatted about “Nothing At All,” which became one of my favourite songs right after its release. The live session is set in Redpath Hall, a building steeped in history and a landmark on the McGill campus. With an emphasis on technicality and music rather than image, the inoffensive and smart backdrop proves a fitting parallel to the band’s single.

One thing that sticks out about Bodywash is how much they can riff off of each other both in the band and socially. That’s how “Nothing At All” became a synth of diverse emotional states and expressions. The single captures a quirky medium between melancholy and joy. Propelled by a strong beat, the song features drifting lyrics that sweep over you before bringing you back down with a consistent bass.

The Daily spoke to Bodywash about their new single and upcoming plans.

The McGill Daily (MD): The video you released is a live session of one of your songs, “Nothing At All.” It’s one of my favourites because of the vibe and feel of the song, and I was wondering how you reach this unique sound capturing a moment between happiness and sadness?

Chris Steward (CS): The song was born out of the graveyard of the sexual frustration that constitutes all our love lives…

Adam Macpherson (AM): But mostly Chris’s because [he] wrote it.

CS: Well, melancholy is definitely in there.

Tom Gould (TG): So much of this dreamful genre is focused around this weird juxtaposition of sad lyrics and kind of happy music.

CS: [The song] is […] drifting all the time. It’s a big propulsive rhythm section, everything else just kind of glides on top of it.

MD: One of the big bands that you are frequently compared to is Tame Impala, and I think that the sound is similar in that it’s beat-driven, very melodic, and captures that in-between feel of eclectic emotions well.

CS: We’d be lying if we said we weren’t inspired by Kevin [Parker of Tame Impala].

MD: How did you reach that ambience? Was there an actual pinpoint moment when you wrote the lyrics, and what inspiration did you take?

CS: I was basically wandering around places, mumbling [lyrics] into my phone. […] I was reading a lot of books when I was writing. I was literally alone for three months, didn’t really see anyone.

So much of [the cream pop] genre is focused around this weird juxtaposition of sad lyrics and kind of happy music.

MD: In “Nothing At All,” you avoid showing your faces and feature the process of playing the instruments and feeling the vibe instead. Was that a purposeful decision?

CS: No, not really.

TG: I just think the videographer was repulsed by us…

Austin Pine (AP): That was kind of cool, though, to just have us all in this half-circle, because we never really get to play looking at one another.

CS: Also, we’ve already showed […] our facial expressions [in other songs], at least now there will be some idea of how we play the instruments.

MD: What kind of impact do you think your music has on the McGill student population? Do you feel like it fits the McGill music scene or do you think you’re outside of that?

TG: I don’t really feel like we’re aiming at students. […] There are bands at McGill that are cool, but there isn’t really a cohesive scene.

AM: I mean, we would love to play with more McGill bands that are coming up, but right now we don’t really know [who we would play with].

TG: To the second part of your question, I would add that yeah, we’re less focused on McGill.

AP: I mean, there’s a little more room to grow in a wider community.

TG: The more shows we start getting into, the more inspiration we start to get [outside of the university environment].

CS: I think [Montreal] facilitates this sort of creative artist lifestyle. There are certain very definite preconditions for artists, which is basically a lot of cheap labour, like lots of jobs you can pick up and leave afterwards, a big student population, and lots of venues to play at.

AM: And it’s not so big that you would drown in the scene.

MD: You’re not all from Montreal, you come from diverse music scenes. I would imagine you had different experiences growing up. How do you think that’s influenced your music taste, if at all?

[Y]ou should just try and do everything. Learn how to write effectively, play your instrument, learn how everything works, but also [work on] arts and aesthetic. […] Make yourself as useful as possible.

AM:  I had a friend or two [who were] into good music, and we grew together divorced from any scene or any cultural influences, whereas for these guys I feel like [they] were more [influenced] by trends.

AP: I think just coming from a place that supports music is really important.

MD: Tell me about your introduction to music. What was the first album you bought and do you still listen to it?

AM: I think mine was […] Westlife.

TG: I remember receiving Now! 50 for Christmas one year.

AP: I feel like I got tape cassettes before anything else. I think I had Baha Men’s Who Let the Dogs Out.

CS: Mine was the first Busted album with “Year 3000” on it.

MD: Lastly, what piece of advice would you give to a young musician?

AM: I would just say listen to as much […] music as you can.

TG: Putting your money where your mouth is and actually writing as much as you can, nonstop.

AP: Practice every day. Once you get bored with what you’re doing, just try something new.

CS: I’m gonna go against all of you and say that none of that is important, you should just try and do everything. Learn how to write effectively, play your instrument, learn how everything works, but also [work on] arts and aesthetic. […] Make yourself as useful as possible.

TG: Or meet someone who’s willing to do as much as that.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.