Canyons are willing to get up, about and all crazy in a live setting most of the time (as are most bands on the Modular label), but the last year has seen a different type of performance from them as a group. Throughout this year, the outfit has performed 100 Million Nights – a slightly more immersive collaboration – with artist Daniel Boyd at various festivals around the country in 2013. They’ll continue to perform the project through to the middle of this year with the latest performance to happen at the upcoming Sydney Festival. Ryan Grieve from the duo chatted to Philippe Perez about the collaboration.
Can you tell me how your collaboration with Daniel Boyd came about?
We’ve been friends for a few years. We also had mutual friends and were fans of each other’s work in general. Last year Dan asked if we’d write some music to a new piece he had been working on for his upcoming submission which is a video piece called Dark Matter. I scored music for that work.
We went down to check out the exhibition and it was in this blackened out room. It had four projectors happening at once on each wall and the ceiling of each room. We saw that, and we decided it would be a good thing to do [in front of a live audience].
I’m assuming that the ideas between Canyons and Dan for this piece at Sydney Festival expanded from the Dark Matter collaboration. How large and grand did you want to make the project?
I think we did that to make the visuals one of the more important parts [of the project]. It was kind of as big a part of the music and the band whilst the performance was happening. I think it needs to, in the context of the live show; the visuals need to be a certain type of size. We wanted them to just really dwarf us as we are playing – just to get meaning to come across as it should.
There are times when the visuals come to the forefront of the show and other times the music is prominent. The essence of it is to try and make it a real true collaboration.
How did you two collaborate? Did you have input in the visuals and did Daniel have input in terms of the music?
We both absolutely trusted what each other would be able to come up with. When we would begin a piece, it would start with a little bit of music that’d be sent to Dan though. We would say “this is what we’re thinking of” and he’d work from there. It would work vice versa too – Dan would send something to us too in the form of a video and we’d play off of that in a way.
In that sense we felt it was a true collaboration. There wasn’t one party dictating anything to another at all.
There sounds like there was inspiration coming both ways.
Absolutely. It was a satisfying way to work.
I saw a video online about the project where it was mentioned that the experience of 100 Million Nights made you think about writing different as Canyons. Can you explain how it made you think differently about writing music?
For this project we, as a band, had consciously went into it writing music in an immediate way. We tried to write it ‘as-live’ as possible. Playing off each other in a jam was a common thing that we would do. For us, sometimes when we write music for our own albums it doesn’t work out that way.
In that sense it was very different to write music for this [100 Million Nights] as opposed to how we may write for anything else. We didn’t overthink anything either. We sort of just went with it really and said to ourselves: “This works. Let’s not question it at all. Let’s go with this and get the immediate energy from the moods that we’re in at the moment inspired from the visuals”.
In that sense, were you surprised by what came out musically via that process? Were you surprised by which chords and sounds you came up with?
We probably became a little… well indulgent isn’t the right word – but we were aware of the luxuries we had. One of the pieces goes for 11 or 12 minutes and you really can’t do that if you’re writing a song for radio or whatever.
We didn’t have to think about traditional song structures for 100 Million Nights. There is one piece that has no drums and there are just chimes and sounds with atmospheric mood. We really loved conveying that because it was free form and just so different. Then there is also – in an opposite end of the scale to that – we have bits of music that are rigid and programmed, sequenced in an uptempo industrial way.
We can let all that go as long or as short as we want. So that in a sense definitely changed the way we would write. It was great and liberating for us.
Would I be right in thinking that every performance of 100 Million Nights has been a different experience? Would I be right in thinking that?
Yes, very much, very much. It’s a little strange sometimes. We played as part of Melbourne Music Week not too long ago and the thing that we’ve noticed with all the shows that we’ve done so far is that the visual element makes the crowd stand and stare pretty much the whole time. Normally with a normal live show people are dancing around and moving around. There’s more of a party atmosphere.
I suppose people are more engaged with these shows that we’ve done for 100 Million Nights and it could feel a little awkward when we perform. People are illuminated by the visuals too so you notice the sea of faces staring as well. It’s a little weird sometimes, which is a little funny I suppose.
I suppose it’s a ‘mood’ kind of thing for an audience to be like that. I gather that this collaboration is intended to be a more immersive experience. Is that the intention?
Yeah that was the goal. The goal definitely wasn’t to have people staring at us though! It is a sensory overload, but it isn’t really an overload. Actually it’s supposed to be an experience type of thing that isn’t so throwaway, maybe. There are spiritual themes that run through the pieces and things like that. We hopefully resonate with people at a deeper level than a sugary pop song from a band.
It’s a great thing that the audience are being so engaged, in fact. I feel like that the music is really going ‘in’ and people are connecting with it I guess. It’s just different because normally if we are DJing or playing with a live band at a festival, people are partying and enjoying themselves, which is also great too because it’s a relaxed, good-time energised vibe. This is sort of something that we’re doing without lyrics or words too, which is really nice and gives it a even more intense immersive experience.
How much do you think these run of dates will inspire future works for you as a musician?
It has to influence what we’re doing. It’s quite rhythmic, this project. I’m a drummer first and foremost and it’s been a good excuse to make things a bit more rhythmic and allowing more things have emphasis on the drums, which could be a big thing on the next Canyons record.
I’ve been working a lot with drums and percussion lately as well. I’ve always been into that and into recording drums and percussion and stuff. But I think now I’m into that, and that has to do with that show. It’s a little bit hard to inarticulate that into words, but I hope you know what I mean!
Are there plans after Sydney Festival to perform this particular show?
Yeah, we’re doing the Perth Festival in February, which is great, and there are talks of taking it overseas in the next year. We’re just sorting out the details with all of that.
The concept behind it was making it grand like we’ve previously mentioned in this chat. We felt it was important to do it on a stage that was a certain size with a certain attention and focus around. We’ve been lucky to be play at such great festivals and organisations. For us anyway, we’ve been loving to just play at the pick of the good artistic events like MONA FOMA and Melbourne Music Week that happen around the country. [Playing with] stuff that’s not just there because they’re hot on the charts now is something we love too. Everyone with substance is appreciative by the audience, and we appreciate that back when we perform.
I’m not dissing those larger-scale events at all, it just feels there is more integrity surrounding these [recent] events that we’ve played 100 Million Nights rather than the major festivals that are around because it’s such a giant business in general. I actually feel that has a given negative effect on the industry.
For us, we just feel we’ve been fortunate that we’ve been involved with great people and great festivals.
Catch 100 Million Nights as part of Sydney Festival. Playing at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall on January 21. Also playing at Chevron Gardens on February 11 as part of Perth Festival. http://100millionnights.com/