Published Feb 23, 2007Success can be a blessing and a curse. When a band hits a creative apex when they actually accomplish what they set out to do where do they go from here? Although Toronto, Ontarios Do Make Say Think issued their self-titled debut nine years ago, they seemed to hit this wall with their critically acclaimed fourth album, Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn. That albums triptych of crashing post-rock influenced guitars, jazz-inflected drums and driving tempo felt as if the band finally had reached their creative purpose.
As multi-instrumentalist Ohad Benchetrit explains, "We really loved our fourth record, and we thought it really nailed the slow progression of the band stylistically. Theres a stylistic evolution that started with Goodbye Enemy Airship The Landlord Is Dead and then to & Yet & Yet and Winter Hymn just kind of solidified, Yeah, these are the structures of songs we make without even trying. We could make that record again, but it wouldnt feel like we were doing anything new or exciting and it wouldnt have felt good. We really wanted to try new stuff.
The key to change lay in the addition of something that is usually strictly verboten in post-rock: vocals. According to bassist Charles Spearin, "There are a lot of bands out there who have bad lyrics in their songs and we really didnt want to do that, especially since we created something that we think is pretty precious to us. The music that we make has become really important so we didnt want to just add vocals for the sake of vocals. But its not just vocals that signal a change on their newest album, You, Youre A History In Rust. With a greater focus on acoustic guitars, its the perfect counterpoint to Winter Hymns claustrophobia. But the vocals on "A With Living and "In Mind really capture the new angle of DMST.
Yet asking an instrumental band, as one, to write lyrics and sing means you have to teach the old dog some new tricks. The process, Spearin notes, was not that much a leap. "We kind of wrote the vocals the same way we write the music. There was kind of a jam where we would write it and then pass it around basically myself, Ohad and Justin [Small] and wed say Well, this feels a little funny and how about this?
Once the band was comfortable with the lyrics, they invited in local collaborators Tony Dekker of Great Lake Swimmers and Alex Lukashevsky. "Mainly, we admire them greatly as lyricists and as singers, Spearin explains. "Also, to kind of act as editors because if they can read our lyrics and say Hey, this isnt bad, then thats the last little hurdle of courage that we needed. And Alex helped quite a bit in jamming out the lyrics more. And then Tony came in again and changed a word or two here or there, so the whole thing really was a big collaborative effort.
The results on "A With Living are an absolute revelation for DMST. Lukashevskys distinctive accent and style intertwines perfectly with Dekkers melodic drawl. The music is perfectly attuned to the slight changes in emotion in the delivery and the two dont feel like separate beasts clamouring for control, but two halves of a perfect circle. Its as if DMST has just added another instrument to their repertoire. Its still a slow introduction vocals only take up about five minutes of a nine-minute track. For the most accessible and pop-oriented track that DMST have ever tried, theres the other vocal track, "In Mind, which features no collaborators and is pure DMST. Benchetrit explains, "The second song on the album with lyrics doesnt have any guest vocalists because we wanted to make sure that we didnt feel that we had to farm it out. Its not like Yeah, we cant do this ourselves so therefore were going to find people who can. So, In Mind was just us so we could feel comfortable with the idea that we could still do this ourselves if we have too.
Finally, if theres any talk of sacrilege because of the shift to include vocals, the band certainly dont care. "We dont work with producers or engineers, we work with ourselves, Spearin says. "We invite people to play on the record, but basically, we were doing the shit from the very beginning with our own equipment and with our own hands this whole time. No doubt, theres a sound that comes out of habits or patterns but every time we find a pattern we usually try to break it.