Preoccupations on “New Material” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Preoccupations on “New Material”

Dark Crystals

Jun 05, 2018 Preoccupations Photography by Pooneh Ghana Bookmark and Share

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Preoccupations’ drummer Mike Wallace once grimaced at the suggestion that the Calgary, Alberta band was part of a new guard in the post-punk/New Wave sound. Lead vocalist, bassist, and songwriter Matt Flegel finds this amusing but doesn’t mind the association.

“If we have to get lumped into a genre, then sure, I’ll take post-punk. It’s a really vague term for a pretty broad spectrum of music. A lot of bands that don’t sound anything like each other still somehow fall into the category. I don’t know what else we would be. I usually tell the border guards that I play in a rock band”.

Preoccupations’ gait through the shadowlands they inhabit has in some ways mirrored the raw post-punk progression into New Wave. On the new, lean-cut LP, the amusingly titled New Material, an ‘80s pop glimmer layer covers the dungeon pit and laser lines of synth streak across. You can picture a snarling Pat Benatar coming out to sing on “Espionage” while the twinkling synth notes on “Antidote” point unironically to of all things, Madonna’s “Lucky Star.” This influence wasn’t incidental.

“On the road, we’re in a loud club every night, so during the day if you’re listening to anything at all it’s usually on the lighter side. I was listening to a lot of cheesy ‘80s pop like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper and doing research too, like what makes these pop songs good? Listening from that kind of perspective and thinking about it more than I would have in the past…. Maybe on the surface, it sounds a little more sparkling, a little poppier but ultimately it’s a darker recording content-wise.”

It’s true that the darkness hasn’t gone anywhere. Though the new material isn’t quite as bludgeoning as on past releases, there’s still a boogieman behind the curtains, reflected in Flegel’s vociferations of torment. With the storm of the name change from Viet Cong in their rearview and an expanded following from their thrilling dark fantasy debut as Preoccupations, you would have guessed they were heading into good times.

“I definitely had kind of a rough year…but I’m great now,” assures Flegel. “I was just bummed, but for dumb reasons. If my 15-year-old self saw me touring around Europe and playing for thousands of people some nights being depressed, he would kick the shit out of me. But being down and having an artistic outlet is lucky. I feel bad for people who [wind-up] in that state and have nowhere to siphon it.”

For Flegel, Wallace, multi-instrumentalist Scott “Monty” Monroe, and guitarist Daniel Christiansen, playing is purging, whether out on the endless stretch the road warriors blaze with their gravity bending performances or casting their dark crystals in makeshift studios along the way.

“Even though we play a lot of [our songs] every single night for months at a time, I don’t get tired of it. I still feel like we put everything we have into it. [Then there’s] a sigh of relief. You can feel like shit pre-show but at the end, we’re always energetic. Full catharsis…I enjoy that [about] playing live but I enjoy the process of creating new music more than anything. There’s some duress but compared to constantly traveling, I’m at ease just being in the studio. It’s also a good place to let out your frustrations and all the things that have been building up.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s Spring 2018 Issue (March/April/May 2018), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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