Interview with Wes McClintock

Your captivating new album Open Dream pursues a more electronic-minded production, compared to the more rock stylings of your first album, No Service. What inspired you to pursue this aesthetic?

For the past few years I’ve been deeply entrenched in the land of synthesizers.  I’m constantly blown away with the endless sounds they can make and have a bit of an addiction to buying any software synth that is available. Last year I purchased a hardware synth as well and the learning never stops. My goal for this album was to blend the stringed instruments that I’m more familiar with and newer electronic sounds in the hopes they compliment each other. Some of my favourite music blend these worlds together seamlessly so I knew it could be done. 

Your wife, Lyra Howell, designed the album’s beautiful cover art. What was the creative process like for that? Was the artwork made specifically for the album, or was it a previously made piece?

When I met Lyra she used to have full walls of her apartment plastered with sprawling art in this style.  I would get lost in all of the connected drawings and always found something new the longer I looked at it.  I always thought it would make for an amazing album cover and realized this would be a great project to join forces and create something together.  She worked tirelessly on this piece and wanted the artwork to relate to the themes of the album.  She had me print up all of my lyrics and took what she could to make an outstanding piece of art.  I’ve always loved curling up with a vinyl that also has amazing artwork so I can get lost in the art while I listen to the music.  We have done that ritual together with this album and it was a really special moment for both of us.

You’ve described the album as “very personal,” and being crafted over the pandemic. I imagine a lot of emotions went into it. Is there a particular theme within the album that you intended to get across?

Honestly the theme kind of unfolded as I wrote it.  At first my goal was to gather old songs and ideas to see if they could be put together in the same project.  After I had all twelve I realized a theme had pieced itself together.  I wrote about a lot of things that matter to me and as each song bled into the next it felt like the theme was life itself.  I wrote about trying to be creative in a money oriented world, being addicted to technology, being strapped to a job you don’t care about, falling in love, escaping cities, not understanding religion, lying to each other, capitalism and death. 

When I sat down to write lyrics so much ended up coming out of me that pieced together this album.  Another theme that popped up is, is this the way it has to be? Do I have to struggle to be an artist? Do I have to stay strapped to a job that I have no connection with? Do we have to lie to each other? Do I have to stay in a city that wants me out?  So many emotions came out during this process that are very true to who I am, that’s why I feel it’s a personal album. 

What’s your favorite venue to perform at?

There is a place in Toronto called The Horseshoe Tavern which has been a staple in the Toronto music scene for a very long time.  I think it’s maybe one of two places left on Queen street that isn’t a fast-fashion store or condo.  This place had a history you could feel as soon as you walked in the doors and I never played a bad show there.  There was always an amazing crowd that gave you all the energy you needed to play a well and feel loved while you do it.  

Do you have a specific process or ritual when creating new music?

This project was the thing that forced me into finding my process. I always write on my acoustic guitar, it’s the easiest way for me to come up with ideas.

I just play around with chord progressions and if something sounds good I immediately record it as ideas can disappear fast. I then start humming melodies around these chords until I’ve found something that works. The lyrics come last as I write the words according to my melody. I feel my writing grew with this album as I never used to spend so much time finding the melody and would often write words to match the chords which was less interesting. Also, by spending so much time with each track I could always find parts that were less interesting and change them as soon as I felt bored.

Any favorite artists or albums you’re listening to at the moment?

I’m always going through older music that I may have missed while listening to new stuff to see what’s happening now.  For old stuff I’m suddenly really liking Tears for Fears which was a band I never gave much notice to in the past.  Also lots of Tangerine Dream as they have so many albums and every one feels like a journey. As for new stuff, I’m a huge fan of everything Cass McCombs and Bibio has always been a huge inspiration as he writes, records and plays everything himself. 

If you could collaborate with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be?

It would have to be Peter Gabriel.  I really love his work, and of all my heroes he seems to be a pretty decent guy.  I like the new music he makes along with his old and love the fact he keeps making music and touring. 

What do you find is the most satisfying part of being an artist?

It’s always the making of something that is most satisfying.  Even when I was banging my head against the wall running into my vocal booth take after take and still not getting results I was happy with.  The day in and day out of making this album was the most satisfying experience of my life when things actually started to work.  When I finally drew the line and said the album was finished I was at somewhat of a loss.  Only when I started writing new songs and recording again did I feel I was where I was supposed to be, everything else feels like filler.

What is the biggest challenge you find in today’s music industry?

Getting people to take a moment to listen.  There is so much music out there and it seems like people are in a hurry to choke down “content” and get to the next piece of “content” before even digesting what they just consumed.  Everyone is in a race to catch listeners attention before they get bored and move onto the next artist which is a bad mindset to create art with.  Making any kind of living with music has never been easy but the current model seems to be broken beyond repair if artists are getting percentages of cents for streams. 

It was important for me to put this album on vinyl as I see endless value with an active listening experience.  People used to only be able to listen to what albums they could afford which meant you would listen to some albums hundreds of times and really understand the whole work.  This single culture we find ourselves in promotes a passive listening experience because we are always wondering what we aren’t listening to instead of cherishing what we are.  I’m not sure what the answer is but for me it means supporting the artists I love by buying their music and listening start to finish.  I love albums so much. 

What’s upcoming for the project?

I’m currently in the midst of promoting the album as best I can.  I’ve released one animated music video for the single Falling and am planning to release more in the coming months.  If things go well I plan on assembling a band to play these songs live. 

Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound, which was formed in 2006. Previously, I wrote for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine.

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