Smokes band

Photo by Jean Cousin

Montreal band Smokes on releasing a record during a pandemic

We spoke to members of the band about Our Power and how they’re dealing with the impact of COVID-19.

It’s an unprecedented time for live music — in that there isn’t any. Musicians everywhere are grounded, but despite the cancellation of their spring/summer tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Montreal band Smokes are releasing their new record Our Power as planned.

I connected with violinist Patrick Cruvellier and singer Nick Maas yesterday to ask them about how they’re doing and what their hopes are for this album.

Lorraine Carpenter: How have you guys been handling this pandemic situation, as a band?

Patrick Cruvellier: It’s obviously not an easy situation, but we’ve been making the most of it. Thankfully we’re all safe and holed up at our apartments with our families. We won’t be doing any shows leading up to the release of the record, but at the same time it forced us to simplify everything and focus on what’s important: the music itself and the people that created it. We’re proud of this record, and we’re excited to get it out there and let people listen to it. 

LC: What are your thoughts about the impact of this on the local scene?

PC: It’s tough for everyone right now. A lot of musicians rely on tour revenues to pay the bills, and small venues and promoters that have been a key part of the local scene here for ages are going to be hit hard. A bunch of local venues have closed over the last few years, so this isn’t good news. At the same time, there’s a DIY ethos that runs deep in Montreal creative communities, so people will find paths forward. We’re all in this together, and the most important thing right now is for everyone to stay safe.

LC: Your bio mentions the influence of Nick’s challenges and “fractured identity” on this record — could you elaborate on this?

Nick Maas: To be honest, that bit from the bio is a little outdated, and more accurately characterizes the last record and that period of my life. It was a hard time for me after a big shift, and a lot of those songs were expressions of certain dark feelings and obsessions. “Our Power” is about the ability and decision to move on from a traumatic experience, if possible, and use it to really turn your own life around. I’m lucky that the stuff that happened to me didn’t leave deeper scars, and I’ve been able to find the love around me and fight to keep it close.

At that time, too, and to a certain extent still, I’ve struggled with my sexuality — I’m gay — so issues stemming from that sort of compound things and also find their way into the music. This record is really about me doing my best to leave these insecurities behind and make positive changes in my life, relating to how I see myself, feelings of pride and self-worth and fighting feelings of shame or guilt, unfortunately. These have always been themes in our music, but the songs were there for me when I needed them. I can’t argue with that.

Our Power by Montreal band Smokes
Cover art for Our Power by Montreal band Smokes

LC: Is there anything that you guys did differently with this record that you’re particularly proud of?

NM: We tried to have a thinner, more intimate sound. Well certainly for the guitars. Less big and in your face. I really like that, and the more chill, relaxed songs are my favorites on this album. I feel like exploring that down the road. I like when we leave a lot of space for each other, and no one wants to fill it because it’s the space that we like so much! Those moments of tension, or rising beauty, are when I still get chills, or I feel like we’re all on the same wavelength or something. But I’m always proud of the band, and our friends Patrick McDowall, who has recorded, mixed and produced almost everything we’ve done, and David Kleiser, who has created the visual aesthetics and worlds for all our records.

LC: What are your hopes for this record given the current situation?

NM: We hope people will check it out if they have the time and feel like listening to new music! We’re extremely proud of this record, these songs and the message behind it all. We probably won’t be able to tour any time soon, and that’s just fine. We’ll just keep jamming here and start working on some new material. We’re so happy to put this one out into the world! It’s very close to my heart. ■

Listen to and consider buying Our Power by Montreal band Smokes here.

For more music coverage, please visit the Music section.

To read the latest issue of Cult MTL, click here.

Additionally, to vote for your favourite Montreal people and things in the Best of MTL readers poll, click here.