Photo by Jenna Ledger
The music of Montreal post-punk act Ought isn’t known for its conceptual stability. Their first two albums—2014’s More Than Any Other Day and 2015’s Sun Coming Down—had more to do with considered existential anxiety than the sort emotional volatility characterizing many of the band’s less clever contemporaries. There’s an ornate dirtiness to their music, and while words like “thorny,” “wild,” or “agitated” come to mind, none of them really do it justice. Ultimately, that refusal to be pinned down almost works as a unifying concept.
Their most recent album—February’s Room Inside the World, on Merge—saw Ought departing from the gritty, live quality of those early records and teaming with veteran producer Nicholas Vernhes, known for his work with Animal Collective, Deerhunter, and The War on Drugs. But rather than sink into sterility, the band reinvigorated their music with additional instrumentation—including a 70-piece choir, on “Desire”—and some of their sharpest songwriting to date.
Ahead of Ought’s performance at Hopscotch on Saturday, September 8, we spoke to frontman Tim Darcy about the band’s creative process and what it means to make political music in 2018.
You've said you think about Ought’s most recent album as having more of a studio sound than the first two. How did you guys achieve that sound without compromising the live, raucous energy you’re known for?
We still ended up doing a fair bit of things live, and I think that really helped maintain that energy. We went in feeling like we were game for anything, thinking we might go track by track and really break every element down. We did a pretty extensive demo-ing process, home-recording all the songs. In some cases, we did like three versions before we went in with Nicholas. I think it’s totally case by case. For us, working with Nicholas was a really good fit, because he was excited about the record. He got the band.
So Nicholas was wrapped up in that process of maintaining the energy?
Yeah, for sure. I think a different producer could’ve boxed things off more. Obviously, he knows how to make a studio record, and that was something that we wanted, having done two extremely live records. I think we found a really nice balance. Having someone who’s a little bit more like, “Oh hey, let’s try this,” or who just grabs some random thing—that type of energy is much more akin to the world of live performance. We don’t really go home and come back with riffs; we’re always jamming, and out of these long jams will come a little pocket of an idea that we then play through [in] all these different manifestations.Read More