Square are an alternative/progressive rock band from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. They have released their debut album “…For Need And Love Of Bystanders” last month through Bandcamp. I had the chance to sit down with Tomas, Steven, and Max to discuss their band, influences, and future plans.
First of all, how old are you guys? You all seem very young.
S: Steven is 24, Tom is 23, and Max is 22?
M: 22 and a half.
When did your band form?
S: We have played together on and off for the last 6 years or so, but we only started playing as a band near the end of 2013. We became exclusive around May 2014 when I quit playing bass and singing for another local group.
Were you all friends prior to the formation?
S: Tom and I started playing in a progressive metal band in 2008 that lasted for about 5 years. Max and I met in high school in 2007 and I jammed with him on and off since then.
T: And Max and I bonded somewhat over Tim & Eric before that too but we became very good friends once we were already playing together.
Who or what inspired you to play?
M: I have always found guitar to be one of the most expressive instruments, and hearing other players evoke imagery and emotions in the listener is something I really find inspiring. A player who particularly inspired me to strive to adapt a certain playing style is Roine Stolt of The Flower Kings. His lead playing can be very sophisticated and emotional.
T: I don’t know who inspired me to start, but the people that keep me playing nowadays are my very encouraging friends, a few very talented local musicians, and people like Brian Blade; when you watch Brian play you can’t help but wish you were him — he’s always flying up there.
What gear do you use specifically?
S: For bass, my signal starts from my six string Ibanez SDC6 bass. It’s a budget bass, but its versatile enough and I really like the neck shape. Next I have a BOSS GT-10B multi FX processor that I use for distortion and overdrive and a DBX compressor/expander that helps me get a little more sustain from my bass. Most of my sound comes from my Sansamp RBI. It’s a DI made by Tech 21 and it’s impossible to get a bad sound out of it.
T: The album has my old Sonor Select Force kit on it with this massive 22” bass drum, but I’ve completely changed my approach since. Right now I swear by a Gretsch birch kit with a smaller bass drum and deeper shells. I’m also very happy with my Dream cymbals. In the future I’d like to incorporate a lot more texture effects like old skins on top of the drums, paperclips, splash on snare, etc. I also want to design my own sounds and buy a pad in the future! That’s something I’ve been working towards for a long time but haven’t been able to incorporate into performance yet.
M: At the time the band was formed, I was using a Roland 30-watt Cube amplifier. After a short time, it was clear this tiny box wasn’t going to cut it… After some research, I decided to splurge and buy the Fractal Audio Axe-FX II. This is where all of the guitar sounds come from on the album. As for guitars, I believe most of the album was recorded with my Fender Telecaster, and certain parts with my Schecter guitar.
Why did you choose that brand/model?
S: I chose my bass because I sat down at Axe music one day played it for about an hour. It was a spur of the moment decision, but I am really happy with it. I chose the Sansamp RBI because Geddy Lee from Rush used to use one.
T: It has a good reputation as a jazzier, more compact sound than my Sonors, but still versatile enough to do rock as far as I’ve heard so far. Dream cymbals are cheap but their sound isn’t. Very tasty.
M: The Axe-FX II has nearly every sound and effect you could want out of a processor, not to mention at a very high quality. It is really suitable for me as a guitar player because I often just like to find a preset, plug in, and play. However, it also has very in depth editing tools should I ever feel the desire to tweak some things. As for the Telecaster, there is just a sound and a playability to it that I can’t get enough of. The one I play was bought used from a friend of ours, and it has been my main instrument ever since.
What is the first concert you ever performed?
S: Our first show was halfway through 2014. Another local group, Nobody Likes Dwight, was doing a sort of reunion/breakup tour of Edmonton. They had broken up a year or so before, but they were doing a bunch of local shows as a sort of farewell.
What are some highs and lows since becoming a band?
M: I can’t speak for the other guys, but seeing the final draft of the track listing on the back cover of the album was a really cool experience for me. It was one of my biggest dreams to perform on an album, and the satisfaction really set in when I saw it come together like that.
T: Steven would work on the mix a lot by himself. There was this time when from one month to the next the mix went from draft to very polished. Hearing that change so suddenly was kind of magical. Not much for low points yet, thankfully. We haven’t been in close quarters on tour yet.
Describe the songwriting process for “For Need…” Is there a primary songwriter in the band, or is it a collaborative effort?
S: Each of us contributed 2 songs for the album. One of Max’s songs, Transportation, was split into Transportation and In a Silent Car. Each song is collaboratively written to some degree, I would say Tom’s songs were mostly done when he presented them to the band, but I think all of the songs have elements from each of us.
T: We work out the kinks together and get the mix/instrumentation sounding right. We’ve kind of revamped our process going forward though, a lot of our new stuff comes pretty organically from improvised jams. We’ll record these half hour long improvisations then use that as songwriting material. This last time a lot of the soul of the song came out during recording, I find.
We touched upon the album’s theme earlier, but I was wondering if you can elaborate for my readers. Why did you write songs about that topic in particular?
T: That’s hard to say ‘cause the decision to write about something is always so particular to a time and space and influenced by whatever is happening or whatever I’m consuming artistically at the time. I think all three of us have struggled with disconnection in a major way at some point in our lives though, which kind of pervades the songs. Melancholy is an easy place to write from. Persimmon, for example, started as a playful interpretation of a manga called Oyasumi Pun Pun but I found that the lyrics became deeply personal only after some time had passed. For me, lyrics have always just kind of happened and then meant something later. I keep a massive stockpile of text fragments, cool phrases, etc. I draw on this as a resource and kind of just let the words happen — they tend to arrange themselves anyway.
Describe the recording process. How long did it take to record? Any interesting stories to tell from inside the studio?
S: The album took a long time to record and mix. We recorded demos and bedtracks all throughout 2014. Most of the keyboard parts were programmed or recorded while the songs were being written. Tom recorded drums in fall of 2014 at Great Dane Recording Studios. We had 6 songs at the time and Tom recorded a seventh song that he was working on with Max (Fingers In The Dirt). Once we had the drum tracks, Max and I started recording the guitars and bass for the first six songs at my home studio. It’s not so much a studio, as it is a spare bedroom with a little bit of room treatment, but it has enough treatment that we were able to get a pretty dead sound out of the room. I work a 2 weeks on, 1 week off shift, so Max and I would record for a few days on my week off and then I would mix and listen while I was at work. The vocals were recorded last and they took a long time to get right. I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to practice when I was on shift, so it would take me a long time to get good takes when I had time at home.
None of us are trained audio engineers and it involved a lot of trial and error. I would typically do a couple mixes each night and then listen to them throughout the day. Tom and I started with some mixing background from our previous projects, but there was still a huge learning curve for both of us to do an album, even one as short as Bystanders. Tom would probably say that I mixed the album, but Tom was an asset. He was the second set of ears for me during recording. He has a really good ear and knows a lot about mixing, so he’s really easy to work with. Also, I was always able to rely on him to come up with creative ways to make the arrangements more interesting, which made mixing a lot easier.
T: Steven’s the one who’s got the actual process down. I can be too impatient to sit down and mix something from bottom up. I love helping with fine carving though. I think we both approach mixing as the final approach of songwriting though, a lot of higher level stuff still changes when we bounce a mix between us.
M: During the recording of the outro solo to “Fingers in the Dirt,” Tom had me sitting cross-legged on the floor as he lit candles around me and the room. It was perfect for setting the mood and getting me into the headspace to play a soulful guitar solo. It is a solo I am pretty proud of, and one of my favorite moments on the album.
Huge shoutout to Steven’s mom for all the cookies and snacks while I was upstairs recording guitars.
Did you learn anything about each other or about music in general while recording?
T: Respect and compromise. Artistic vision is such a volatile thing – you don’t want to sell yourself short but unless everyone sees eye to eye, your ideas will definitely go through permutations that might rub you the wrong way. The three of us have very different aims and influences. At worst, it can be a lot of foot in mouth moments, at best, it could be a very interesting fusion of very diverse influences. We’re working towards that latter.
What do you do in your free time?
S: Write and record music.
T: Most of my free time is spent either drumming or writing new stuff or mixing something that’s been in the works. But otherwise… I just like to go and be a goof on the town, grab drinks, sit in strange places, and pick up garbage for a laugh.
M: I leave a guitar at almost every place that I spend a lot of time at so I can always pick it up and play. I have been really into acoustic guitars lately, and hope to incorporate it into our music in some capacity in the future. Other than that… the same things Tom mentioned. Outside of the band, we are all friends and get along pretty well… I like spending time with these guys.
What are your hobbies besides music?
T: Writing, weightlifting, biking or maybe playing some games. It’s sad to say but between school and music I don’t get up to all that much more.
M: Board games, card games, drinking games, ball games, the good ol’ hockey games, The Hunger Games. Rubik’s Cubes.
What are you currently listening to?
S: Jack Garrat
T: In the last year my taste has kind of exploded so it changes literally from day to day, but some of the ones that have stuck around lately the most are Gardens & Villa, Death Grips, the ilys, Toro Y Moi, Tobacco/Black Moth Super Rainbow, The Books/Zammuto, Brian Blade, Thundercat, Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar, Mouse on Mars, Autechre, Nobukazu Takemura, and a very good local fusion act called High Tides. I could probably go on for ages though. But basically I’m drawing a lot on electronic, r&b, hip-hop, jazz and experimental at the moment.
M: Random Access Memories by Daft Punk has been playing a lot for me ever since I heard it in a friends car coming home from a road trip.
Have you discovered any new albums or bands recently?
T: Google Viper The Rapper.
S: Jack Garrat is pretty cool.
M: Recently I have really begun to understand the value of a groove, and musicality as opposed to technical ability. As a direct result of this, I am getting into music that I never thought I would listen to. This consists of a lot of rap, hip-hop, soul, funk. Some artists that have been new to me are George Duke, Daft Punk, Rage Against the Machine, Mac DeMarco, Death Grips, Childish Gambino. I still make time to listen to my old favorites among those new ones: Rush, Steven Wilson, Frank Zappa, Devin Townsend, Opeth, Beardfish.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Why?
S: Edmonton to see the guys in the band ❤
T: Steven works out of town so we don’t see him as often as we want to. As for me, some kind of unadulterated wilderness, at least once. Mexico’s Zone of Silence sounds cool. I’m drawn to deserts for some reason. It would be very cool to go to a really good dark sky reserve one day too, cause if there’s a better answer than the wilderness, its outer space. Steven’s answer is really sweet though. I’d like to travel into his heart.
M: I’ve always felt a calling to spend some time in the U.K. for some reason… and I wouldn’t mind going back to Vancouver. Tom and I were there a little while ago to see a Death Grips show. And Tom, I’d suggest packing for cold weather on your trip.
And to sum up: Is there any news you’d like to share about upcoming projects or tours?
S: Tom just released an awesome EP. His moniker is Goodnight, St. Idiot.
T: Haha nice plug! We’re just working on the next record. Our schedules make gigging a little difficult so I anticipate we’ll just be hanging around Alberta for a little while. But once we get a little more stuff and our schedules open up we’d love to take it on the road.
Thanks guys for setting some time aside and talking about your band!