gulfer montreal band

Montreal band Gulfer come back from the brink with their new album Third Wind

An interview with the emo/math rock heroes about how exploring new sounds on their latest LP reinvigorated the band.

Gulfer have spent nearly a decade molding themselves into perhaps Montreal’s biggest emo/math rock success story. 

Their fourth album, Third Wind (released via Topshelf Records), shows the band building upon that sound while leaning toward more melodic indie rock. Guitarist/vocalist Joey Therriault and bassist/vocalist Dave Mitchell are very happy with the finished product. “It’s the most excited I’ve been for a record of ours to come out,” Therriault says.

Though many of Third Wind’s songs were written during the pandemic, Therriault — who joined Gulfer in 2016 — doesn’t consider it a “pandemic record.” “The only way I think the pandemic had an impact on it is maybe that we were writing from home a little bit more,” says Therriault. “There was a lot more demoing, and songs came to the band a little bit more realized than they did in the past.”

Therriault didn’t start becoming a key member of the band’s songwriting process until their 2020 self-titled album, writing half of that LP (he only wrote one song for its predecessor, 2018’s Dog Bless). Third Wind has his fingerprints all over the finished product — this is the first Gulfer album where Therriault is truly at the forefront as both a singer and songwriter, having written a majority of the album himself.

For a band known partly for their complex song structures, Midwest emo-ish guitar noodling and unorthodox time signatures, a stronger focus on verse-chorus-verse-chorus structures than their earlier material is hugely evident on Third Wind.

“I’m so engrossed in it that it’s hard for me to step out and think about it,” Therriault says, “but when an outside party is like, ‘There’s a way more traditional song structure and focus on choruses,’ that’s a really interesting development for us as a band.”

Gulfer’s 2020 LP was self-titled due to the band not being able to agree on a name. When asked why Third Wind was such an easy title to land on by comparison, Mitchell says it was a reflection of the band’s overarching narrative. In late 2015, two members of Gulfer left abruptly, followed by Mitchell going on an extensive tour with another band he was in. “There was this period where we weren’t sure if or how we would continue on as a band,” he says.

That was when the band suddenly landed an opportunity to open for PUP for their album launch in Toronto, as well as a European tour offer including a placement at a British festival. After Therriault and Daoust filled the vacant slots, Gulfer were back in business. This was the band’s “second wind,” as it were.

“For a number of reasons, two years ago, we were thinking of calling it quits or taking a break,” adds Mitchell (who also works for Blue Skies Turn Black). “Then we got another crazy tour offer that we felt like we couldn’t pass up. (We thought,) ‘Let’s do this tour, then maybe we’ll take a break after that.’

“All of a sudden, we have this whole record written and recorded. We haven’t really thought about taking a break in any capacity since. These songs felt like they inadvertently gave the band a third wind — a third boost of energy, a third identity, a third raison d’être. I thought it was really important to communicate that in the album title, because it felt really significant and important to me.”

“Motive” was the first song Therriault wrote for the album, written during the first day of COVID lockdown. Though they’d written songs after that which had been released sooner, the band wanted to treat “Motive” with more care, as it had shapeshifted greatly since it was first put to paper. “It was written, but it wasn’t written,” says Therriault. “It had to be taken apart and put back together.”

Other songs like “Clean” and “Cherry Seed” came together relatively fast, while “No Brainer” and “Talk All Night” were among the last tunes written for the album. The band even went up to Therriault’s cottage in Kazabazua (north of Gatineau) to cut some of the tracks for an album that winds up sounding a bit closer to Weezer and Yo La Tengo than to American Football or TTNG. (“Our label keeps calling it shoegaze!” says Mitchell.)

However one chooses to classify the tracks on Third Wind, Mitchell sees Therriault and Ford as taking influence from artists outside the emo/math rock sphere for this album. “As we progress, we’re doing a more and more interesting job of finding that unique voice of blending the mathy emo stuff and the indie rock stuff,” he continues. 

“It’s really exciting. I can’t think of many other bands who come from that kind of math rock/emo world who are able to maintain that identity while still eliciting comparisons to Yo La Tengo. It’s pretty damn cool if we can pull that off.”

Perhaps it’s fitting that their newer material leans further away from complex noodling and more toward straightforward song structures, as Therriault has said in previous interviews that he feels Gulfer “stick out like a sore thumb” in the Montreal music scene. Given how this city has typically been far more of an indie rock hotbed than an emo one, it’s easy to feel that way when it seems like so few other local bands are making the same kind of music compared with a city like Chicago or Philadelphia.

“This might be a weird thing to say, but I don’t even know if we fit in the genre we’re in,” Mitchell says. “Our two songwriters (are) maybe more informed by shoegaze, slacker rock, slowcore and indie rock, versus a lot of emo bands who just love Modern Baseball. Certainly in Montreal, I don’t think we fit in. But when I think about it, there are only a handful of bands in the world that I even think we fit in with sonically.”

As far as how much Third Wind represents the band’s evolution compared with their 2015 debut, Therriault — who wasn’t in the band for that first album — sees that growth as coming partly through the album’s production and sonic arrangements.

“We’re doing a lot of things that were not done on any previous Gulfer record,” he says. “Using Auto-Tune, the way we layer harmonies. Acoustic guitar’s a big one on this. Vocal effects, pitching things, running them backwards and synth. A lot of things we never really made room for, because the songs were previously really dense. Here, we let things be a little bit more spacey.”

Though the band members have work and family priorities — not to mention financial constraints and a lack of energy to travel in vans and sleep on floors at their age — that make it more difficult to tour, Mitchell and Therriault look back fondly on when Gulfer toured Japan in 2018.

“I don’t know if it’s the biggest draw (we’ve had) necessarily, but I remember being blown away by the number of people who knew our music and were showing up there,” says Therriault. 

With regards to plans for 2024, the band intends on recording “a bunch” of new material. This is in keeping with the band’s prolific nature, as they’d started their 2020 self-titled album while still finishing 2018’s Dog Bless

“If you can imagine the shift from the previous record to this one, (the new songs) are even further sonically,” says Therriault. “But it’s still a mixed bag. There’s a bit of everything on there. (We’ll) record that, and then just keep writing more.” ■

Gulfer launch Third Wind with openers Spite House and Dresser at la Sotterenea (4848 St-Laurent, basement) on Saturday, April 6, 8:30 p.m., $16.57

This article was originally published in the Feb. 2024 issue of Cult MTL.

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