Montreal’s Ought make a radical racket

Two members of this post-punk four-piece tell us about learning to love the city and drawing inspiration from the streets.



Back in April, when Ought dropped their debut record More Than Any Other Day, it made a sound that reverberated long and loud. The young Montreal four-piece, signed to Important Local Indie Label Constellation, caught the media’s attention instantly, and their album — a riotous post-punk racket recorded at Hotel2Tango by Radwan Ghazi Moumneh — has been reviewed by enough name magazines and websites to merit a Metacritic score (84, which is pretty great). Now they’re touring North America and will stop in at Casa this weekend. I spoke to them as they were emptying their fridge ahead of the tour, and overusing swimming metaphors due to the sweltering heat.

Singer/guitarist Tim Beeler, keyboardist Matt May, bassist Ben Stidworthy and drummer/violinist Tim Keen are all Americans, from as close as New Hampshire and as far as Oregon. They were McGill students who met off-campus and eventually moved in together (Stidworthy aside). The Maple Spring student strikes of 2012 was a unifying time for them, personally and musically, and it also solidified their collective bond with the city.

“It was pretty radicalizing,” says Beeler, “and definitely engendered some new ideas about community activism and community outreach. It really opened our eyes up to how we were situated in Montreal at McGill—McGill does a really effective job of bubble-izing people; the walls are tall enough that you don’t necessarily see the broader ecosystem that we’re a part of.

“It affected our music, but in an organic way. It wasn’t like we came home from the night marches and we were like, ‘Okay, we have to write rabble-rousing punk songs.’ It was more just that we took to it really strongly and earnestly, especially as Americans, never really having seen or heard of anything quite like that, and grappling with it.”

A year ago, Ought played the type of show that has traditionally scared the piss out of musicians with career aspirations: record label judgment. Having heard the band’s self-produced EP, key players from Constellation Records told Beeler that they were planning to check them out at la Brique. But having recently played the relatively, terrifyingly large la Sala Rossa, Ought played it pretty cool—even the member that the others feared would freak.

“We almost didn’t tell Ben,” says Beeler, laughing with his room/band-mates. “We were worried that he was going to get stressed out, but we told him at the practice before the show and he was actually fine.”

Now that they’re signed, graduated, on the road and otherwise unemployed, it would be easy enough for Ought to return to the States, but a fondness for Montreal and its cheap rent has moved them to stay.

“The people who stay after they’re done with school in Montreal is a very particular breed,” says May. “It’s people who are interested in trying to make it work, trying to continue with art, and people who are committed to learning French or improving their French. Also, people I’ve met who decided to stick it out seem to either last a year or two or they’re here forever. We’ll see what we are. But I hope we make it here.”

Another binding tie is the array of ongoing musical side projects they’ve got going, many of them involving Montrealers. “There’s a group of maybe 12 or so people in various incestuous forms making lots of different projects,” says May, cofounder of the Misery Loves Co. cassette label.

“The thing I really love about everybody’s side projects is they’re all so varied,” Beeler elaborates. “Matt makes ambient music and noise music and also awesome acoustic stuff under the name Terrarbor. Tim Keen also does solo stuff under the name Silk Statue; Ben makes dance music.

“We always respond to questions about influences by saying that Ought is the nexus of all our different interests.” ■
Ought play with opener Dub Thompson and guests at Casa del Popolo (4873 St-Laurent) on Sunday, July 13, 9 p.m., $10/$13