Fly Pan Am’s startling and singular sound

An interview with the veteran Montreal experimental band about their new album C’est Ça and more.

The members of Fly Pan Am can and do talk enthusiastically about music for hours. Amongst Roger Tellier-Craig, Jonathan Parant, Jean-Sébastien Truchy and Felix Morel, there is a veritable four-volume encyclopedia of information about every imaginable artist, label, genre and subgenre, no form too foreign, no pop too popular, no band too obscure. On this occasion, our chat unfolds in the lazy heat of an August evening over beers in the backyard of their east Montreal studio.

“I’ve been listening to the new Grimes,” Tellier-Craig announces: “It’s kind of terrible, but I like it.” Truchy is telling me about the new Low album: “It’s pretty gnarly,” he concludes. The conversation moves boisterously from King Crimson — “Robert Fripp is full of soul and fucking like…” Parant trails off, shaking his head in wonderment — to Autechre: “The sounds are nice, but you’re in for a long, long ride.” “Maybe it’s just an AI now, Autechre,” Parant hypothesizes. “It creates an algorithm and we need to acknowledge its creativity.” “Dude, it’s not AI, it’s AE!” Tellier-Craig quips on cue.

Their unique kind of Québécois wit and wordplay is on full display on their new album, C’est Ça, in song titles like “Avant-gardez vous” and “Each Ether,” as is their diverse collective musical influence and taste. This record, their first together in 14 years, spans the gamut of shoegaze, experimental electronics, techno, even shades of black metal.

“I started listening to a lot of shoegaze again,” says Tellier-Craig, “and then I started listening to a lot of early post-rock. Bands like Seefeel and Bark Psychosis and stuff like that.” “And I wanted to use my guitar to trigger MIDI,” Parant adds. “We were using four tracks like an effects pedal.” Truchy’s anguished screams in the otherwise serene “One Hit Wonder” arrested me on first listen, I admit. “I’m happy that people are surprised,” Truchy claims. “I scream a lot. That’s what I do when I shower.”

“We kind of take for granted that whatever it is we do, it’s always going to be a little bit off,” explains Tellier-Craig. “We combine our different influences together. We know they don’t really make sense together, but that’s how we work.” How do they define C’est Ça’s startling and singular sound? “It’s a rock album,” Truchy insists.

Although the foursome hasn’t worked together in over a decade, they never officially disbanded. There was no falling out, and this is not a reunion. “We’ve been friends all these years,” says Parant. That friendship is evident in the support they’ve shown for one another, as members went off in different directions. When they collectively decided to reunite and write another chapter in Fly Pan Am’s history, it all happened naturally, says Tellier-Craig.

“The recording was really quick. We went in the studio and recorded the tracks live — guitar, drum, bass. Then we took all of that and I fucked with the guitar, processed the shit out of my guitar sound, and we each did our own things. We overdubbed a bunch of stuff on top of that, and then we went back six months later and mixed with Radwan [Ghazi Moumneh, studio engineer at Hotel2Tango].” Truchy concurs: “Once we started making sense of what we were going to write, it came together really fast.”

Audiences are certainly responding. JR Moores of The Quietus calls C’est Ça “chockfull of ideas and in a constant state of flux.” “Their sound is alive,” writes Will Coma in Tiny Mix Tapes: “It’s a flash of spinning light, sequin-skimming-paw-flex plush and the good kind of queasy.”

I ask what the crowds are like at their recent gigs. “They’re older,” jokes Truchy, before Morel interjects: “There seem to be younger people and the people who grew up with us. There are really younger people who discovered us like a year after our last album. On Facebook, there’s a lot of ‘come play here’ and ‘come to my country,’ which is a nice complement.” Truchy likes the gratification of playing to “younger people who’ve just heard our records and never thought they’d see us live.”

In addition to a proper tour planned for 2020, Fly Pan Am are playing a handful of album release shows, as well as scoring the choreographer Dana Gingras’s FRONTERA, a contemporary dance piece to be staged Dec. 4–7 at Théâtre Maisonneuve. “I saw La La La Human Steps in that room, with Kevin Shields doing some soundtrack stuff,” says Tellier-Craig, “so I’m pretty stoked to play there.”

As the sun slowly sets and the alcohol begins to induce a fuzzy state of reflection, I think to myself that if Quebec is a nation, Fly Pan Am is a national treasure. Our talk returns to the idea of time: specifically, what it’s like to come back together after so much of it has passed. They all agree that C’est Ça is their definitive statement to date. “It’s taken us 15 years to make this record,” opines Parant wistfully. Truchy agrees: “Everything we’ve done separately has allowed us to come into the band and not just suggest it but do it because we have the experience. Now we can mix all these voices.” ■