The Mission District: Pop Goes Your Guilt
It's been already two years since celeb blogger Perez Hilton ranked The Mission District as one of his favourite Canadian bands and since then, the pop fivesome from Montreal has wasted little time cultivating their sound and their career.
Here's the low-down on their last 24 months in the pop lane: after the Perez frenzy, they befriended a music label junior scout in Austin at the South by Southwest Music Conference after playing the M for Montreal showcase, landed a record deal with Virgin Records UK and recorded their first full-length album both in London and in the English countryside.
Then, they got their debut single (bubblegum hit So Over You, off the aptly-titled So Over You EP) remixed by electropop wonderboys Starsmith and Frankmusik, and played for thousands around Canada, Britain and Ireland, first by supporting Simple Plan in the UK, then by selling out venues on their own. For David Rancourt (vocals), Antoine Rochette (keys and bass), Rob Rousseau (guitars), Travis Barfoot (guitars) and Mike Hand (drums), the last months on the touring circuit have been about taking photos with sweaty fans, updating the band's Twitter too often and partying with their buddies The New Cities.
Finally home for the holidays, David and Antoine met up with us over coffee to gossip about the new album, guilty pleasures and the production style of Britney Spears.
What did you two grow up listening to?
Antoine: I grew up listening to a lot of jazz music; my dad was a drummer. When I was 13, I started by playing guitar but after a year I really got into music theory and arrangements. I wasn't playing that much, which explains why I'm not a good technical musician. I'm just really into the theory. I was listening to a lot a lot of European jazz and modern classical music, from the 20s to the 60s. Stuff like Steve Wright, Stockhausen, Charles Ives; all of these cool classical guys that basically invented electronic music.
David: We grew up two doors down from each other in Greenfield Park, in the suburbs of Montreal. He was a nerdy teenager. When I was little, I listened to Michael Jackson and Madonna. For me, it all started when I was a drummer in a ska band. I was really into ska, reggae and two-tone, then I got into punk and from there it evolved into The Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode and New Order. Weezer's Pinkerton was an album that changed a lot for me. It's basically heart-on-your-sleeve, power-pop that hadn't really been done that way before. It just connected with a whole generation.
A: Weezer was one of the first bands I heard doing catchy pop music that wasn't cheesy. You didn't have to feel guilty about listening to it. There was something raw about it that was really cool. It was one of those first pop-writing bands that I got into.
Just a few years ago, The Mission District was still playing indie rock. Now for your first full-length, Youth Games, you've become a full-on pop band. How did that happen?
D: I think we were tired of writing moody songs and we wanted to write some catchier pop songs. We eventually just got a pop vibe and that's the vibe we wanted for this record.
A: What was happening with pop music was exciting and I surprised myself by getting into all this pop stuff. I started digging the production style of Britney Spears' last two albums. A few years ago,
I would have never listened to that. To be honest, it's a conscious choice; we actually want to make a living out of this. We don't want to just have jobs and play a show once in a while on the weekend. We want to do this for a living. I'm sorry, but playing pop songs on a stage is so much more fun than playing indie.
D: The indie crowd just stands there with their arms crossed.
A: Because now when we play, the kids are screaming our lyrics and dancing. It is amazing and we have such a good time on stage.
But your fans must have changed from back then to now?
D: They're a lot younger. I also think that the younger generation are less limited in their tastes. They have fewer barriers between musical styles.
A: It's the iPod generation. You can have all this music and go from one song to the next. It's a bit scattered but it's interesting.
What do you think about The Mission District being a sort of guilty pleasure for some of your fans?
D: The thing for us, and why we gravitate towards the UK, is that the concept of having a guilty pleasure isn't quite as common there. You could look at someone's playlist and on it you'd find The xx and Rhianna and it's not a big deal. I find that in North America you have to be cool with your music tastes and even your guilty pleasures. In the UK, people don't understand the term «guilty pleasure».
A: A lot of people will probably hate me for saying this but, honestly, that Taylor Swift album, everyone just seems to dig it. My dad bought it. Good, clever, pop songwriting works for all generations.
D: And your dad is a jazz snob.
A: We're also into the last John Mayer album. I know, I'm not supposed to say stuff like that but John Mayer and Taylor Swift: fantastic records.
They're popular for a reason, right? You just feel guilty about saying it.
A: I don't feel guilty any more. I'm over that. Too bad if I'm not cool, I just like a bit of everything!
Do you think that people are listening to more pop?
D: I think it's about cycles. I think music goes through a moody or rebellious time and then people want to escape to have fun. The 80s was such a great decade for pop music because it had that kind of playful and quirky escapism and it was a break from the pressures of the decade before.
A: Right now is the perfect time for pop music.
You guys have garnered a lot of attention in UK compared to North America. Is pop music really that much more popular in the UK?
D: I think that the UK had this wave of indie guitar bands for so long and, talking to people in London, they're fed up of hearing the same Franz Ferdinand rip offs over and over again. They want something a little more fun. Over the past year, pop music has taken over in the UK, both on a commercial level and an indie level. So we just connected to that scene that's going on in the UK. A few years ago, everything was exploding out of Montreal and people here have I don't want to say «been in a vault», because that's not totally fair ... but over the past year the pop music scene in the UK has been really vibrant.
How did you come about to work with producer Andy Green [Keane, Go: Audio, The Feeling] on your first full-length album?
D: One of the main things about Andy was that he was very practical about the music. I mean, he's done some big records and he was into our music. We had a conversation with him and he basically said he was really feeling it, so we bounced ideas around. I think that was a big part of it, if you're working with a producer that's just assigned by the label, he won't be feeling it.
A: Also we're really into his aesthetics. He's got that nice, clean pro- duction sound and we felt we needed that for where we wanted to go.
D: You can produce pop in many ways, but for us, as a starting point, we wanted slick production. We wanted a record that could fit in a John Hughes movie. We wanted to do a really fun, youthful, pop record that kind of captured that sort of teen angst. That's where we wanted to start off as a first record; that's the vibe we were going for.
When and where did you write the album?
D: The record was actually written a couple years ago when we lived in Toronto. It was largely about a bunch of guys just taking this chance and leaving everything we had here in Montreal for a few months. We had a producer that believed in us but we didn't have a record deal at the time so we took a chance to go make a record.
A: We were kind of starting a new life, it was exciting.
So after Toronto and London, what's it like for The Mission District back home in Montreal?
D: We haven't had as much press in Montreal as in the UK or even in Toronto. So for us we're just getting started here once again. I understand in a way because we are not a typical band from Montreal. If we were from California or London, I don't think we'd be that uncommon. I guess we're not fitting in with the typical Montreal scene, but I'm OK with that. I love Montreal for that.
A: The only thing I want, honestly, from Montreal is that at some point certain people would recognize that even if pop music is not the music they usually listen to, that the songs are not bad. Why would you not listen to a band, because they're not dressed a certain way?
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