Published Aug 24, 2019Montreal's McGill University has often been regarded as a breeding ground for the city's renowned music scene, thanks to the success of bands like Arcade Fire and Busty and the Bass. However, members of the up-and-coming dream pop act Bodywash didn't quite see it that way.
Formed in 2014 by the duo of now-McGill graduates Rosie Long Decter and Chris Steward, the band took shape thanks to a practice space located in the basement of Long Decter's on-campus residence. Without that room to create music, Bodywash would never have evolved into what it is now — and yet, the band's members feel the school didn't provide much more than that.
"I wouldn't say McGill is the best environment for starting a band," says Long Decter. "I found it to be a pretty cold and isolating place; it's definitely not a school that encourages creativity in its students. But Montreal is such a great city for music that once you start getting into it, even at McGill, there are so many venues and communities you can explore."
"It's easy to cherry pick successful bands that happen to be McGill alumni, but the reality is that managing the McGill workload alongside being in a band is tough," adds Steward. "Add a job into that equation and it becomes very easy to burn out."
Bodywash very nearly burned out making their debut album, Comforter. Following up 2015's eponymous EP (which they describe as simply "a snapshot of one moment," essentially the autumn of that year), they began writing the album in 2016 while they were still studying, and only finished recording one year ago. Releasing the album required another year, far exceeding any expectations back when they began.
"Certainly making an album of this scope — logistically and stylistically — was totally inconceivable back in 2015," says Steward. "If we'd known how long it was going to take, we probably would have given up before even starting."
"But we were in school when we started it, and went through a lot of changes as a band while we were making it, so I'm also not surprised it took as long as it did," says Long Decter.
The duo only finished the album when they ran out of both money and time. Who knows how long they would have kept tinkering if they had unlimited funds and no deadline?
"Because we kept writing new songs and deciding to add them to the record, there were so many recording sessions," explains Long Decter. "Eventually we hit a point where it felt like we'd been working on it for long enough, and we had a set of songs that made sense as one album. The last one we recorded was the title track in March of 2018. I remember texting our engineer, Nigel Ward, to tell him we had a new song to record and he just responded by calling us 'maniacs.'"
Surrounding themselves with people who could help steer them in the right direction was imperative for Bodywash. When it came time for the mixing process they hired two familiar names in their music scene: Taylor Smith and Austin Tufts, from the experimental pop group, Braids — not to mention former McGill students themselves.
"Despite our often ridiculous demands, they never at any point complained or cut any corners, and were constantly committed to taking our ideas and just making them sound… better in every way," says Steward. "Whether this was re-recording my crappy software synth lines with actual vintage synths or accommodating that extra multi-track, they really understood how much these songs meant to us and did everything to further our vision for the album."
"We were super nit-picky about the mixes, and Taylor and Austin really took the time to sit down with us and go through our pages of notes; they essentially translated our vision for the album through the mixing process," says Long Decter. "I think it became a much bigger job for them than they anticipated when they agreed to do it, but they were really patient with us, and we could feel that they cared about the songs and the album. We're super grateful for all the guidance they gave us.
Comforter was undoubtedly a labour of love for the duo — and it sounds like it too. Melding the blurred lines between dream pop and shoegaze, the album is a seamless amalgamation of celestial melodies, balmy textures and ambitious left-turns (see: the title track's blissed-out IDM). Naturally, it evokes a sense of soothing, much like its suggestive title.
"That's definitely the feeling we were going for," says Long Decter. "I think the title is, on the one hand, a reference to the idea of dream pop and shoegaze as being these enveloping, comforting genres. But, on the other hand, maybe it questions what it means to be someone's 'comforter.' When does comfort become complacency? When are you enabling a bad dynamic without trying to change it? For me, that's what the song 'Comforter' is about, and it felt like a good way to frame the album."
Now a five-piece (including guitarist Rian Adamian, drummer Ryan White and bassist Tom Gould), Bodywash are the latest in a string of Montreal artists to have their music released on Luminelle Recordings, the boutique label operated by Chris Cantalini, founder of the taste-making Gorilla vs. Bear music blog. Having previously released records by fellow Montréalais Helena Deland, Anemone and MUNYA, Bodywash felt more than honoured being welcomed into the family.
"It still hasn't properly dawned on me," says Steward. "I'll listen to some of the mixes [Chris] makes and hear our songs artfully blended into those by artists like Erika de Casier and Carla dal Forno, who are pretty much my favourites right now. It means a lot to be part of a label that shares our taste in music yet doesn't try to mould us into any specific image."
Comforter is out August 30.