Back in the UK touring their latest album Kensington Heights, Webcuts managed to square away some interview time with Constantines guitarist/vocalist Steve Lambke before their recent headline show at London’s Wilmington Arms.
Constantines – Live at the Wilmington Arms, London – 18th September 2008
You played last night with Shearwater. From where I stood both bands played a pair of excellent sets. I don’t know about you, but I found it a bit of an odd pairing, loud Canadians versus quiet Americans. Especially ones who’ve just come off from supporting Coldplay.
(laughs). We’d never played with Shearwater before, so we weren’t sure exactly what to expect, but I watched part of their set and really enjoyed it. They were quiet, but they had some loud moments for sure. We played well which was always good too…
I take it you’ve been in England a few days, how long is this tour that you’re doing?< We’ve been in the country for a week. We flew into Dublin for the first show and from there it was the End of the Road Festival in Dorset, a date in Glasgow and these two London shows. Tomorrow we leave for Paris for a few dates and that’s it, not a very long tour.
This is your second time back in the country this year. You were here a few months ago for All Tomorrow’s Parties. What did you think of it?
It was great. That whole idea of a band picking other bands and choosing what’s on the television in the rooms. We don’t know the Explosions in the Sky guys super-well but we’ve crossed paths with them over the years and they’re totally nice, sweet dudes. It was awesome to be asked to play.
You only came over for that one show, right? It seemed a long way to go to play then turn around and come back.
I know. I feel really terrible about that in the era of global warming. It seems really vain to come over and play one half hour rock show, but that’s just one of those things we’re trying to figure out the right way to do. It’s a lot of effort, personally, and a lot of effort in social consciousness. We wanted to do more shows, but it just wasn’t practical from a money point of view. For the festival we could just use their backline and their accommodation, but if we wanted to do more gigs we’d have to rent a van and rent gear and it would’ve cost us money to do it, which is unfortunate you have to end up making those decisions.
Your latest album Kensington Heights was recently released in the UK. What can you tell me about writing and recording the album. You all don’t live in Toronto anymore, right?
Yeah, that’s right. We did it in a couple of sessions of a couple of weeks, but in terms of writing, Bry would come down and we’d write for a week or a few days at a time, have a week or two to think about it and then come down again. In some ways that was a bit different, but we’ve always lived scattered about, so it wasn’t a huge change. This time around we recorded with Jeff McMurrich again who we did Tournament of Hearts with in the same studio in Toronto. It felt like a continuation of what we’d done before, and we’d never worked with the same people two albums in a row before, so that was nice to push that relationship further and see what comes of that.
Is Constantines a full-time job for you all?
Most people are kinda working a little bit, bartending jobs and that kind of stuff. It’s still everyone’s main priority right now. We cut back on the touring a little bit from what we had done through Tournament of Hearts where we just on the road all the time through North America. We’re trying to do shorter more focussed tours where we only go off for a few weeks at a time. It’s taken a bit of working out about how that will be the most effective, like the shows are better when you feel that you’re not just grinding it out for months and months on end. It can get hard to stay motivated and stay positive.?
Some of you seem to have other projects on the side. You’ve got Baby Eagle and Bry has something else right?
Yeah, we fit that around the band. For all of us there’s not great demand for that side of things and they can be just done around our schedules. Will’s (keyboards) released a record under the name Woolly Leave and I’ve released a coupled. I know Bry is working on stuff with his other band and they’ve done some recording, and same with Dallas’s (bass) band. The Constantines have almost been going ten years. It’s nice to go and do things with other people and then come back when it’s all fresh and new and fun again. You learn other things from collaborating with other people.
Speaking of collaborating, you had your little moment in the spotlight with a cover of “Islands in the Stream” that you recorded with Feist. How did you feel about all that?
It was fun. She’s awesome and we’ve known her for years, from just around Toronto and she’s still incredibly down to earth despite all the success. It was actually something we talked about for a long time and it was just a matter of schedules as she’s obviously pretty busy. “Islands in the Stream” came about because it was on a mix cd we’d play before shows in Europe and the idea to cover that song came about then. Feist was into it right away but it just took a while to actually happen. It was great fun in the studio and we were really pleased the way it came out.
There seems to be something of a Canadian brotherhood of bands, yet the Constantines appear to stand outside of that whole “Broken Social Scene Collective”. Do you consider yourselves outsiders within the Canadian music collective?
Yes and no. The Toronto scene, for lack of a better word, is very supportive, and it’s a big city but small enough that sooner or later you just get to know everybody, one way or another, you get to play shows with them or be at parties with them or whatever. I feel a part of it within that sense, I really enjoy knowing other bands and we are on the same label as Broken Social Scene but we’re coming for a different place than them, but their band started the same time our band started, so coming up they were around the same places we were.?
You’ve always been a socially aware band, but this seems to be more apparent on Kensington Heights. Especially with Bry’s lyrics and with the music. You’re not railing oult like a punk band so much anymore, and the lyrics have a more mature/more direct edge to them. There’s a few more ballad-y moments this time around.
There’s ballads, but there has been all along. I definitely feel there’s more positivity on this record, more outward joy. With Bry’s lyrics, I know in particular he’s not interested in writing songs in a place of anger anymore, that gets old for him. I think he’s very conscious of what he’s trying to say. I think there is a lot on the record that is pretty direct, written with different feelings or sentiments involved than just being a punk band.
It’s a little mystifying but also amusing at the constant Springsteen comparisons that journalists throw your way. It wasn’t until this album that I began to at least find a true Springsteen moment in “I Will Not Sing A Hateful Song”. He could probably take that as one of his own without anyone blinking.
We’re fans of Springsteen. I grew up on those records and love them and usually check out the new ones. I think the comparison is valid. Bry’s voice does sound like Springsteen and we do have an element of rock and roll, that kinda stuff. His music has always been a part of our band, even when we were more of a punk band we were into Springsteen and the Rolling Stones and those kinds of bands. It’s like the balance of those things is continually shifting and as time goes on you get into other things and try other things. I wouldn’t want to guess what we’ll sound like the future though (laughs).
“Do What You Can Do” is a fantastic album closer. Did you realise when recording the album that it would be so? Was it hard to sequence the album?
I think that was the only place the song could’ve gone on the record, and it’s one of the ones I like on the record. It sorta sums things up a bit, and when we’re ordering the album, we always think of side 1/side 2 and side 1 ends with “Time Can Be Overcome”, a slower bombastic ballad and side 2 ends with “Do What You Can Do”. We’re definitely conscious with the sequence of things and that’s the hard part, putting the right things in order so each song gets its due and is enhanced by the company it keeps around it, and sometimes with that song, it just falls into place.
So what’s next for the Constantines?
I’m not sure with the schedule of things over here, but the album came out at the end of April in North America, and there’s just been a video released for “Our Age” which is gonna come out as a 7″ later this fall. There’s more touring when we go back to the US before the end of the year, with a bit more in Canada at the start of next year, and then we’ll be back here around January/February. This is the plan for the moment. We’re trying to get over here more regular, and Arts & Crafts (record label) are good for us in terms of organising those things for a longer term vision about how we should do these things.
How are things looking for recording the next album? Have you had a chance to work on new material?
Honestly, we haven’t had time to do any of that. As we’ve said, we all live separately. Bryan got married this summer and he had a bunch of time set aside for that, but we really haven’t been writing. I know we’ll set aside time for that. There’ll be another album set for some future date, for sure.