Corridor Mimi band interview

Corridor and the emancipation of Mimi

We spoke with the Montreal band about their fourth album — and first in five years — and the new sounds and new personnel that came with it.

Five years plus a global pandemic is a mighty long time — but all that time between albums hasn’t slowed Corridor’s creative momentum in the slightest.

Consisting of Dominic Berthiaume (vocals/bass), Jonathan Robert (vocals/guitar, also known for his solo project Jonathan Personne), Julian Perreault (guitar), Julien Bakvis (drums) and newly minted official member Samuel Gougoux (multi-instrumentalist), Corridor have just dropped Mimi, one of the band’s tightest, strongest and most challenging projects to date. 

Released April 26, the five-piece’s fourth album is a jangly, breezy eight-song post-punk odyssey full of reverb, psychedelia and warm, dreamlike production (with a noticeably more synth-driven feel); a confident and emphatic sign of progression from its 2019 predecessor, Junior.

The band also played a sold-out show in Los Angeles in mid-March right before heading to Austin for SXSW, as well as a slot at Mexico City’s edition of the Pitchfork Music Festival the week before. While in Mexico, Corridor even opened for King Krule in Guadalajara.

For their first time performing in the country, things went pretty well for them — at least, without mentioning Berthiaume’s bout with altitude sickness upon arriving in Mexico City. 

“I had headaches and nausea. I didn’t really feel good,” he says. “But the shows were great. The Mexican crowds were really, really into it. It’s a totally different vibe than a U.S. crowd or Canadian crowd. Once you’re done playing your show, they instantly become superfans. It was the first time in my whole time in Corridor that I signed beer cans.”

Over Zoom, Berthiaume, Robert and Gougoux told me that the album has actually been finished since August 2023, with Robert saying it’s “about time” the LP made its way Earth-side. 

“It was a long process,” he continues. “Some of the ideas on this album are so old. The most exciting part is that we missed playing shows. I figured that out when we were in Mexico and L.A. three weeks ago. It was really good to get back onstage. When we released Junior, we just couldn’t play (shows). We released the album, we had two small tours right after, and then the pandemic.”

A number of musical ideas were jotted down before the band realized they only needed eight songs to form Junior’s follow-up, and focused on finishing those ones even as other songs were being written.

“At some point while writing the record, we sat together and we were like, ‘Okay, so what’s the new Corridor album? What’s the new sound?’” adds Berthiaume. 

“We narrowed it down to these eight songs that all felt great together, and represented this new sound. It felt really organic to only work on these eight songs and put the other ones in the archive bin. We might work on those songs again later, like we always do.” 

Robert was equally bullish about those eight songs. “I felt like we chose the most exciting ideas (from that time) — the stuff that was suddenly different from what we did in the past,” he says. “Not too different, but at least we felt like there was a new direction with these ideas. Some songs are a collage of three or four different ideas from different years coming together.”

One such track is “Mourir Demain”, a song built around the kind of sparkling, shimmering production you’d expect from a Beach Boys tune, all while being inspired by Robert and his partner buying life insurance, essentially planning for their own deaths. The inevitability of our own mortality looms over the song as a whole.

“I’m old enough to talk about this kind of thing (life insurance) with my girlfriend,” he says. “I was like, ‘Oh shit, man! From now on, we’re starting to organize our deaths. It can be depressing, but at the same time, I think it’s kind of ridiculous. It makes me laugh.”

“Mourir Demain” also took three years to complete, its intro written prior to Junior (somewhere between 2016 and 2018) and the final section written in 2020 during lockdown. “I think the beginning, middle and end were made in three different years,” says Robert.

The band went to a cottage in 2020 to write songs, as they couldn’t access their usual rehearsal space at Cité 2000 during that phase of the pandemic. “It’s managed by UHAUL, who were preventing us from going to the space and playing music together,” Berthiaume mentions. “We had to find a way to write music together at that time.”

With all their gear in tow, the band went to the cottage for a week to write songs together. The first song written for the album was “Porte Ouverte”, which had almost become a Jonathan Personne solo track. Robert already had the guitar and vocal melodies down before presenting it to his bandmates.

Meanwhile, “Jump Cut” was the first song they wrote and finished in one go, and it immediately felt like they were onto something. “We all felt like, ‘Oh, this song has something different from what we’ve done in the past,’” says Berthiaume. “It was clearly the model. We were like, ‘Let’s bring the same vibe (from ‘Jump Cut’) to other songs.’”

Aside from finally finishing “Mourir Demain,” among the last songs completed for the album included opening track “Phase IV,” “Chenil” and album closer “Pellicule,” though these were finished using computers rather than in-person. The very last was the fourth track “Caméra,” completed while writing songs at Robert’s cottage. “I came up with the bass line, then we all wrote around it,” Berthiaume adds.

Thematically, Mimi touches on themes of life, death, aging and other such topics related to the significant changes Corridor’s members have experienced in their personal lives since Junior (Robert, for example, became a father to a little girl during that time).

The album has been described by the band as being about “getting older” and “figuring out new parts of life.” More specifically, Robert says the topics of conversation with friends have slowly changed. 

“Life insurance, kids’ stuff, trying to find a new place, how to get rid of rats,” he says with a laugh. Robert has also moved to a new neighbourhood with his young family after previously living in Mile End, and is now living, hilariously, near a swingers club. (“I want what’s best for my daughter,” he says jokingly.)

Mimi also marks the first Corridor recording to include multi-instrumentalist Samuel Gougoux, who graduated from a touring member to an official one. He’s worked with Robert on previous Jonathan Personne releases, and “thinks” he passed by the studio while Junior was being made. (“Played some bongos!” says Berthiaume as others laugh).

“They let me have a big part of the creative space, too,” Gougoux says. “Doing demos at home on the computer, that’s one of the parts I’m more confident with. Also knowing what it’s like to do it live, all together, that kind of directed where I felt it could go.”

“Started from the bongos, now we here!” Robert interjects.

Mimi sees Corridor expanding their musical palette, too: for example, the bleepy-bloopy intro on “Mon Argent” paired with a pulsating drum machine loop is a very interesting touch. More atmospheric, psychedelic sonic textures can be heard throughout the album, especially on songs like “Phase IV,” “Caméra” and “Jump Cut.” 

Such textures are partly the result of Gougoux’s involvement, as he tells us himself. “What’s nice about the way we did it, taking our time, is that we could actually put it in the mix before going to the studio,” he says. “We knew we wanted to make space for that.

“Sometimes, it’s the kind of stuff you just add at the end, like, ‘Oh, it would be nice to have this little texture.’ But then it was just part of the recording, and we knew it would be a big part of the songs.”

The process of making the album was also more relaxed than Junior, where they set themselves a hard deadline to complete it so Sub Pop would release it by the end of 2019 (they only had three songs written when the label informed them of the deadline for their masters).

This sense of urgency also stemmed from the excitement from having just signed to Sub Pop — the first francophone Quebec band to do so, and first Montreal band on the famed Seattle label’s roster since Wolf Parade.

“We wrote seven songs in two months,” says Berthiaume. “Then we went into the studio for a month and a half or so, and then it was done. It was the fastest process ever.”

The effect of the slower, less intense pace of making Mimi on the finished product made for a different experience for the band (they try a different approach with each album cycle), and one Robert describes as being “a reaction” to Junior’s process.

“I feel like I maybe want to go back in the middle (of those two processes) for the next one!”, he says laughing. “I think it’s important to put yourself in some kind of a danger zone every time you record a new album. Great things come out of it.”

On May 9, the band will kick off a series of European tour dates, with Quebec shows coming in October (first in Quebec City, then here at le National two days later) preceded by a festival appearance at le Festif! in Baie-Saint-Paul. They’ll head back across the pond in November to tour France.

Their October 4 gig at le National will also be their first Montreal show since November 2021, when they played at the Fairmount Theatre during a brief period where COVID restrictions were eased before we were all locked down yet again. 

“Hometown shows are always something special,” says Berthiaume. “It’s when we play the longest, too. Whenever we tour or travel, it’s always 50-minute to one-hour sets. When we play Montreal, we always allow ourselves to play an hour and 15 or an hour and 20.” 

Mimi, by the way, is named after Robert’s cat, but the album’s artwork, which depicts a hilariously scrunchy-faced feline, isn’t a caricature of his kitty. Instead, it’s pulled from a meme that became a running gag within the band, just as their previous albums’ titles have also come from inside jokes.

“Even the cover of the album is a running gag that stayed,” says Robert. “We had a SoundCloud playlist where we used to put our demos. The main picture was that meme of an ugly old cat. He looked tired, exhausted and dirty. It just made us laugh. When it makes us laugh, it’s usually a good thing.”

Following resistance from their manager about using the meme as their album cover, Robert decided to draw it himself. His bandmates approved of it, though their manager remained unconvinced. “Even Sub Pop wasn’t sure about it,” Robert admits.

According to the band, the cat’s name is Snowball and lives in North Carolina, and they sought permission from Snowball’s owner to use their likeness, much to her excitement. “She’s stoked about it, like ‘Yeah! My cat’s on an album cover!’” Robert says. ■

For more on Corridor, please visit their Bandcamp.

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