Mathieu Ball is one of two guitarists for Montreal’s Big|Brave. The trio does not offer a bass player, however, Mat and the rest of the band build equal parts angular icicles and spring thaw that throw shadows on the shallow graves they uncover. Their latest album Ardor is dense and layered with a jazz-like feel around the edges. Scene Point Blank had the opportunity to sit down with Mat and discuss the new record, the experimental nature of the band and, of all things, Jimmy Eat World.
Scene Point Blank: Big|Brave has a huge, expansive sound. How does your home city of Montreal influence your overall sound?
Mathieu Ball: We are all Montreal natives at this point. The city proper didn’t really have an influence on the sound we were going for, or the result of the band that we are, but it’s such an open city with so many different things going on, you can always experiment and really do whatever you want to with music and easily book a show, and play with bands from a noise background, or play experimental shows, or improvisational. That’s what led us to being the band that we are now. Always being encouraged to experiment and really do whatever you wanted. You would always find an audience.
There are a lot of festivals in Montreal, but there is one that lasts a month and every night there is a show. Those were the first shows we started playing. It’s such an eclectic show and so amazing, and all under one roof, it’s a very anything goes kind of festival and leaning on the experimental side of music. You’re never really told what you’re doing is weird.
Scene Point Blank: How did Big|Brave form as a band?
Mathieu Ball: Louis and I had been friends for a while, we met at shows. Robin and I were roommates before we ever started playing music together. I don’t think our band formed in the traditional way, like you’re looking for people to make something specific. Robin and I started playing music together because we lived together. Louis started later on, and so we always went with what we had. We’re two guitar players and a drummer, and we never thought to ourselves that we would need a bass player, we weren’t looking for anything specific, we really just used what was at our disposal and did the best we could with what we had.
When we started playing music it was kind of like a minimal folk band. It evolved into what it is now. There is no way of faking that, it was over the course of 5 years. The music did what it wanted to do and it led the path and we didn’t fight it.
"It evolved into what it is now. There is no way of faking that, it was over the course of 5 years. The music did what it wanted to do and it led the path and we didn’t fight it."
Scene Point Blank: The new record Ardor is a beautiful and unsettling record with a lot of open space. What was the band’s songwriting process like when you were writing the record?
Mathieu Ball: We definitely talked about what we were doing, but I think we write music like most bands do. It’s more of a deconstruction rather than a construction of songs. Whenever the music begins to sound a bit too full, then we have to take a second and step back to see if we can make it sound less and take a different path. You can push things by doing more, but by now we have realized that by holding back might work towards our advantage. Whenever we are working on something and it begins to sound like a “band” per se, too concrete even, we start to cringe and try to fix it. Usually by doing less and peering back.
It’s really fun to play with that, because music is a sonic experience but then when you do these things with space and silence, you are using a whole different set of tools. Instead of the same tools over and over again.
Photo: Pascha Marrow
Scene Point Blank: The band made a video for the song “Sounds” and that was an art piece unto itself. Can you speak a little to the ideas behind the video?
Mathieu Ball: I think we kind of look at the band, or… well…. I like to think of the band as an art project or performance troupe more than a band sometimes. We like a lot of video art, more into video in that realm than just straight up music videos. We did that video ourselves. We have limited means when it comes to making video work, because I don’t have a very powerful computer, so we keep it simple and keeps it rendering for too long. We’re into simplicity, but when we think about making a video I always go back to video art as a reference point and have our music be the soundtrack to image rather than the image created for the music.
With the longer pieces it requires a bit of patience, and I think if you listen to 20 seconds of anything of ours, it doesn’t paint a good picture, you kind of have to sit through the whole thing. It’s like watching the first segment of a movie and deciding that you’re done with it. You need to expanse the whole thing together.
It’s a frustration where music is kind of treated as fast food now. You don’t even have to buy the record, everything is on streaming devices, and if your song is over three minutes than that’s too long and you need to move onto something else.
Scene Point Blank: There is a definite art to moving through an album rather than a single.
Mathieu Ball: I am definitely into experiencing a record in its entirety. I like songs as well, and there are ways of making it all interesting, but in terms of what we want to make: it’s a record. The songs make more sense as a record. If you walk into something in the middle you miss some, but there is a relationship between everything that is happening.
Scene Point Blank: Big|Brave is a trio of musicians, with a guest spot here and there, but you sound much bigger than just the three of you. Have you ever sat and talked about bringing in other musicians as full-time members?
Mathieu Ball: During recording on the last two records we’ve had a few guests – it’s great for the recording process – but at this point I don’t think we would ever add a bass player, they would probably be too bored playing in our band. Robin takes care of the low end and she is really happy playing one chord for 10 minutes and taking care of vocals.
I’ve been in bands where if you can’t do more, people get bored and start looking at their phones. Here, it’s surprising, we never have to ask, it’s never a battle for one of us to do more. I think if we had more people, I don’t know if it would mesh as well. But when we’re recording, it's really great to have other people to record with. What they add is pretty great.
The way we’re able to tour now with more people, everything starts costing a bit more. All that is at play when it’s just the three of us on the road. We’ll make due with just the three of us for now.
"Music is kind of treated as fast food now. You don’t even have to buy the record, everything is on streaming devices, and if your song is over three minutes than that’s too long and you need to move onto something else."
Scene Point Blank: It’s been a pretty strange time here in the US within the past year. I know that you were born and raised in Canada, do you ever find it difficult to tour in the US?
Mathieu Ball: Really for us, it’s not that far. There’s a border, but, I know some people who are like, “I’m not going to the states anymore.” And I say “fair enough.” When we go and play shows, I doubt that there are many supporters of who is currently in power. I saw this new guy that was elected in Austria. A far-right, anti-immigration guy, and we have an upcoming show in Austria here soon. And I’m like, “Fuck that, let’s cancel that show.” But we have to realize that when we go there, we’re not going to play for his followers. Wherever we go there are good people. I think it’s important to continue to do these things for like-minded people who are against all this gnarly shit that’s going on.
In Canada, it might seem nice from the outside, but there are a lot of wacky people in power. When we’ve crossed the past few times we’ve thought, “Are they going to let us through,” or “Are they going to ask us about American politics?” And they don’t…Our last few border crossings have been really smooth, like smoother than ever.
Scene Point Blank: What was the first concert you ever went to?
Mathieu Ball: It might have been a Jimmy Eat World show if you remember them. I like those first records. When I was younger I was really into those old emo bands, and I was very young.
Scene Point Blank: Are there certain musicians or artists that have influenced you?
Mathieu Ball: It’s changing quite drastically. I’m having a hard time to listen to anything I’ve listened to a long time ago. It’s getting hard to listen to straight up rock bands. I personally listen to a lot of experimental or minimalist composers. Robin listens to a lot of soul music, and Louis is into a lot of other different things. No one really listens to music that sounds like our band.
By now, we have a clear idea, but we never set to make a specific kind of music, so having all of those different influences and trying to put that into the same pot has been beneficial. It all just goes in a blender and it comes out the way that you hear it.
Scene Point Blank: If you had one record to take to the grave what would it be? You can pick two because I know how hard it it.
Mathieu Ball: It would probably be… a Fugazi album. They opened the door to feedback, and they went beyond… I would pick The Argument. I’d be happy be that one. It’s pretty eclectic.
Scene Point Blank: What is next for Big|Brave ?
Mathieu Ball: We have a month in Europe, and then two weeks in the States, and then we’re working on other stuff for tours in 2018. We definitely want to record again in the spring. I'd like to have another record out this time next year. We’re in a good place with a good support network, so it’s encouraging to keep thinking about doing this wacky thing.