You released “What We Started” in April. How did the pandemic affect your plans to promote the album?
At first, we considered delaying the release. We had a bunch of shows planned including the album release at the iconic Black Sheep Inn, just outside of Ottawa. In the end, we decided to go ahead and release the album with the understanding that there were a lot of unknowns. We hoped that people would have more time to listen to the music and hopefully provide a bit of escape during this difficult time. In the end, the biggest challenges include the lack of in-studio radio, which is important when releasing a new album as well as the ability to do interviews. Also, trying to introduce the album without playing live shows. We experimented with online shows, but the technology isn’t there yet. We want good sound, but there is no way to guarantee that with online-live shows and we found that pre-recorded shows don’t have the interaction with the audience. As we reflect on it, we made the right decision for us, although it was certainly challenging.
Can you tell us about the writing and recording process? How did you connect with Sune Rose Wagner to produce the album and what was it like working with him?
Both of us in Paragon Cause are big fans of The Raveonettes. Sune Rose is one of our favorite songwriters and musicians. We just reached out to him on Twitter. He wrote back and we gave him a few demos to listen to and he liked them. It all happened very quickly. Before we knew it, he was at our private studio in Ottawa. Things went so well during the first sessions, so he drove back from New York 2 weeks later and we recorded more music, which turned into What We Started. He also came back in January of this year and we recorded another album for release in 2021.
We didn’t know what to expect at first, but the three of us get along very well and have a very similar style of songwriting and production. We rarely talk in the studio while recording, we just play and record and move very quickly, we kind of read each other’s minds. We all quickly developed a trust in each other as well as an understanding of how we all work. Usually, one of us will write a guitar progression, a riff, or a melody. We rarely have a fully formed song unless we write it the night before. Michelle will often improvise and come up with a melody and lyrics on the spot. She works very fast. Sune will typically then come up with some drums and perhaps a bassline. Then, we just start recording and building a song from the ground up. We rarely have a full demo, we love the spontaneity of the recording process. We don’t like to make complicated demos as we find you spend too much time trying to recreate the demo in the studio and then end up creating something boring. Once we record the basics of the track, we talk about, discuss what we want and what kind of song we want it to be. That’s when we add our little embellishments. Sune Rose will often challenge us as well, he will say, go listen to The Ramones, Bananarama, and Richie Valens then write a new song.
We are all really good friends now. Sune is a musical genius. It’s incredible what he hears in music. We have been working on some new stuff as well, via 4600km social distancing.
Is there a story behind the album title, “What We Started”?
We don’t like to think of our music as concept albums, but I suppose they are. We work on everything, from the title to the sounds, to the lyrics and feel to ensure we capture the whole story. We view the package as a complete art piece, the music, visuals, sounds, and lyrics, hence why we also released a graphic novel with this album. We have a very specific idea of what we want to accomplish with each set of songs. They all have a common theme, even though they may sound quite different. The idea for What We Started was really a meditation on the diversity of women who have come forward with stories of abuse, rape, and domestic violence. What We Started refers to the movement by women to come forward and fight back, the “We” being women. “We” started a movement that is the next step in the evolution of the feminist movement. We wanted each song to have a different vibe, a different feel, and message, in which it represents the diversity of the women and the stories they tell. There are no stereotypical women – it affects many women in many different ways. Silent Prayer is about stalking, Without You is about leaving an abusive relationship, See You Suffer is about women as a collective viewing the lack of action towards abusers, Fantasize is about being stuck in a relationship and never leaving.
The first single from the album was “Lost Cause”. What was the inspiration for that song?
Michelle wrote a melody a year ago that had the line, “What We Started” in it. That melody was the synth lead riff/hook in Lost Cause that starts the song. Michelle wrote that song in private and was one of the fully written songs we had. It was inspired by hearing stories from the trials of individuals such as Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, the women involved in the Jian Gohmeshi trial as well as many others. The scars remain, but you should have to pay, more than them was the key line in the song and represents the overall theme of the album. It wasn’t meant to be a retro synth-wave song, it just sounded right that way. The goal was to create a chant, an anthem for women.
Michelle was playing that song in the basement while Sune Rose and I (Jay) were out. We walked into the studio and heard Michelle singing and playing that song and we knew it was special. She almost didn’t play it for us again. But, we just started recording and finished the song in about 2 hours. It just produced itself it was so great. It’s very powerful.
What can you tell our readers about the making of the video for Lost Cause?
We had a few ideas for that song. Initially, we wrote a whole story that we wanted to turn into an animation.
We talked with a company from Ottawa, Cloud in the Sky Studios, who were amazing. They are creative and talented, not to mention professional. We sent them our idea for a simple, but powerful, video and they ran with it and created something truly unique. We rented a small space in Ottawa (Cinqhole) and set up the TV and lights. It was somewhat inspired by the song Nothing Shocking by Jane’s Addiction. The idea of, “The TV got them images, nothing shocking” spoke to us. The team from the studio found the news clips and we had some specific props we wanted in the video that provided illusions to cases of domestic violence in Canada. Our big concern was being exploitive, we wanted it to feel real without capitalizing on pain. Michelle’s two daughters are included at the end of the video, which was also important. To have the next generation of women singing along. The song had such a retro feel, we also just went full retro with it, that part was an aesthetic choice. Again, we wanted the message to be as clear as day. When we showed it to Sune, he said he usually hates videos, but that he loved it and we should be proud.
I understand there is a comic book attached to the album. What can you tell us about that?
We wrote a whole story that was supposed to be the video for Lost Cause. It was pretty dark and we thought it may be a bit too much, both in production costs and its message, so we decided to use the storyboard and create the comic. It takes influences from Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond The Black Rainbow, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, and Cronenberg’s Videodrome. We realized there was no way we could make it, so we created a short graphic novel instead. We wanted it to be somewhat abstract with a bit of an open-ended ending. Maybe someday we will actually make the animation. It is basically about women, past and present, rising up against those that put them down. But in the end, will it change things? We don’t know the answer to that.
If you could connect with another music icon via tweet, who would it be and why?
Oddly enough, we connected with 2 more of our musical influences and inspirations, so stay tuned for 2021. But, for Jamie, it would be Geoff Barlow of Portishead. We have communicated on Twitter but have yet to convince him to work with us. For Michelle it would be Taylor Swift or Katy Perry, so she can record a song for her daughters.
What is happening next in Paragon Cause’s world?
It sounds cliché, but lots of exciting things on the horizon. We recorded a new album for 2021 with Sune Rose. We worked together as a three-piece, written, performed, and produced together. Sune took a more active role as well. He sings on the album and it’s amazing. We are also working with some other artists as we eluded to earlier. That’ll have to wait and be a surprise. We have some fun music coming down the pipe.
We love recording so once this stupid COVID19 is over, we will probably hook up with Sune again and do some more music. We love recording. We hope to begin helping local artists with recording and production as well.