Gulfer. Photo by Louis-Philippe Desaulniers

Montreal DIY rockers Gulfer miss the IRL

The band is releasing a self-titled album this week.

Montreal math rock models of consistency Gulfer, like many of the rest of us, have nothing but time these days.

Over this lax summer, they took advantage of loosened restrictions to quickly wrap up their in-person band responsibilities — press photos, a music video — in advance of their eponymous third album. But time also ended up being in short supply when it came to the album’s title, which could be construed as a confident move for a band comfortable enough in their evolution to name it after themselves, but behind the scenes it was anything but.

“We could spin it that it was on purpose and it’s where we found our sound, but the real story is we had a name we were all excited about, and for reasons I can’t get into, we decided not to use the name, so we found ourselves back at square one with a deadline approaching,” explained bassist David Mitchell.

Self-titled was the best option when the dust settled, but not for lack of effort.

“We actually really tried hard to not make it self-titled,” added guitarist Joe Therriault. “I’d wake up to 160 messages on the group chat about it. But we decided it was the best we could come up with, and retroactively we feel we really found our sound on this record and the name makes sense, but it was also a practical thing.”

Don’t let the haphazard scrambling on the name fool you into thinking the contents within are similarly loose. For much of the 2010s, the quartet (which also includes vocalist/guitarist Vincent Ford and drummer Julien Daoust) has delivered the city’s most serpentine of rock anthems, full of interweaving goodness and humble intensity. Now in 2020, they’re ostensibly the last of the city’s practitioners of math rock, but instead of evolving with the times, they’ve evolved based on the music they like.

“For this one, maybe it’s the one that’s the least derivative. The first two we leaned into the emo revival type of sound and the poppier side of math rock. They still inform this record, but I think in the last couple of years Joey and Vince, who write the music, have been deep in more indie rock, slowcore and shoegaze. Maybe for the first time we’re exploring into other genres as much as DIY punk and emo. It’s the synthesis of all these influences instead of zoning in on very specific niche influences,” explained Mitchell.

“We’re a fundamentally math rock band who got super influenced by ’90s emo revival who have now become influenced by all these genres in the indie rock umbrella. I don’t know too many bands that have had that trajectory, and the end product is this record.”

Therriault concurred.

“What we got better at with this album is allowing for the diversity of music that we listen to, to actually permeate in what we were creating. I will always love emo and math rock, but I love a lot of other music, too. What we were able to do was get shoegaze and slowcore to bleed into the songwriting. We mixed it more cohesively. Having it all combine together allowed us to create something that stands apart from contemporary math rock and emo bands.”

While there aren’t many similar sounding bands in Montreal these days, Gulfer did come from the once vibrant Stack Your Roster scene. Gulfer ran the DIY label and venue out of a Mile End building. They hosted all kinds of shows, from raves to screamo to a particularly memorable Loma Prieta set. Mitchell fondly looked back on it as “a giant ashtray.”

“It was June 2016, and we were sitting around one afternoon in the space when we got a knock at the door,” Mitchell recalled. “It was two city employees who told us one of the buildings in front of us was collapsing, and we needed to get out now because if it fell and we got trapped under the rubble, we’d be fucked. They also didn’t know anyone was living there, because our landlord had it zoned as an auto-garage. That was the unceremonious end of that space. Everyone assumes it was noise, but no, we never had a noise complaint.”

While they’re happy to not live in a crumbling building anymore, they do miss the intimate shows. They feel for younger bands who’ve had their momentum halted and for kids of an impressionable age who could probably use an outlet like a rock show right about now. Much of the math and emo scene has gravitated towards Twitter, which isn’t the same.

To remind us of better days, the band also released a Live in Japan album.

“We played a bunch of sets in Japan not knowing we were being recorded, and at the end of the night someone would come up to us with a CD. And some of them were pretty good. There was one night we finished the set and we were so stoked to have the CD. The band we were touring with drove us home and put the CD in. It was cute they were feeling it,” said Therriault.

“Every time we went in a record store they’d play our music, and they even played it in between sets at one of our shows. It was a recurring theme of that trip, hearing our music everywhere we went,” said Mitchell. “Our motivation for releasing Live in Japan was to have momentum before the album. But it’s also a fun flex.” ■

Gulfer the album is out on Royal Mountain Records on Oct 16. For more, please visit the Gulfer Bandcamp page.

For more Montreal music coverage, please visit the Music section.