Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Ex Week No. 4:
Love in Outer Space with Canaille

September 13th, 2009

Today we continue our series celebrating The Ex and Getatchew Mekuria’s Canadian visit with a guest post from Zoilus contributor Chris Randle on tonight’s opening band, Toronto locals Canaille. Tomorrow, as we wave the band goodbye, I’ll complete my video retrospective on Ex-history, and struggle to represent in words the extraordinary sound and spectacle we experienced this weekend. - Carl Wilson

When Jeremy Strachan told me “I don’t really know the Ex’s music too well” and that he only recently became acquainted with the Dutch punk masters through his longstanding Getatchew Mekuria fandom, it was a surprise. Now I think it’s almost perfect. After all, it was Ethiopia’s legendary Mekuria who made the first move in this cross-cultural relationship, inviting the foreign cult band home to play with him. And although Strachan is best known from defunct hardcore outfit Rockets Red Glare and breakneck sax-and-buckets duo Feuermusik, the new-ish quintet Canaille might be his first group you can’t mosh to.

“I guess I wanted to form a group that was a little less brooding and intense, like every other band that I had been a part of,” he says. “Every band seemed to be grippingly serious about stuff. I wanted to try to write in a way that embraced different…sentiments?…And also try my hand at writing straighter jazz, which I’d never done before.”

We’re not talking about military poise, though – Strachan’s primary influence at the group’s founding was a cloaked titan from an earlier jazz era. “I downloaded two gigs of Sun Ra at one point and I was just digesting all of this stuff. Part of the reason I think I was attracted to it was this sort of mysterious, murky discography. There’s so many shitty-sounding recordings that were obviously just done in his living room…the compositions reappear again and again, but I like the quirkiness of them, I guess, that they were referencing all these different jazz traditions.”

Still, despite his ascension through the Arkestra’s “fucking endless” discography and “the exorbitant amount of money” he paid for a captivating Space Is the Place VHS at 19, Canaille have since cruised elsewhere in the universe. Strachan says: “I really like his way of orchestration. You know, he’d have a bass clarinet and a trumpet playing a harmony line while a baritone would be playing a solo and the accompaniment would just be some weird, primeval electric piano and a timpani…So I arranged a handful of Sun Ra tunes for the debut, but we don’t really play them too much anymore. Only ‘Love in Outer Space’.”

I’ve heard two songs from Potential Things, Canaille’s imminent debut, and while they bear those traces – “Vincent Massey” swings otherworldly – the musical debt is increasingly less evident. Strachan has already picked up a guitar again for a pared-down “electric” variation on the group. Apart from a small mob of Canailles and some work with the “big band” version of Feuermusik, his main project right now is the musicology PhD he just began, focused on Estonian-Canadian, John-Cage-collaborator Udo Kasemets. There may be more intuitive subjects for a musician who’s spent the last decade blurring borders between punk and jazz ; then again, considering that the 90-year-old Kasemets keeps composing new and untried pieces, there might not be. - Chris Randle

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