12 Days of Apologies – 12. This Heart’s On Fire

This Heart’s On Fire

Justin Joffe of the NY Observer wrote a beautiful piece about Apologies to the Queen Mary. I spoke with him and my thoughts are featured in the article. Here are his thoughts on This Heart’s on Fire:

That the album ends instead with “This Heart’s on Fire” becomes an act of triumph for Mr. Boeckner, who still talks about his mother (“I am my mother’s hen, and left the body in bed all day, we don’t know what to do”) but has begun to look forward to the future. “It’s getting better all the time,” he repeats again and again, while the song builds to a final closure and he yells, with a pack of brothers behind him, “This heart’s on fire, this heart’s on fire!” Backed by Mr. Krug’s keyboard arpeggios, Arlen Thompson’s nearly heavy metal drumming, and Hadji Bakara’s textured electronics, the swell is felt just as strongly with repeated listens.

This old 2003 demo is the earliest version of ‘This Heart’s On Fire’ with just Spencer, Arlen, and Dan.

Here is the last chapter of my talk with Spencer. He also graciously emailed me how 3 of his songs from Apologies came to fruition and the inspirations behind them. I’ll eventually have all of this archived on the main ’12 Days of Apologies’ page.

Who came up with the tracklist for Apologies?

SK: To be honest I think Sub Pop had a lot to do with putting the track list together. I remember Stuart (Meyer) from Sub Pop saying ‘You Are a Runner…’ has to be first and us just being like ‘yeah we don’t care, of course’. We didn’t care back then. I can’t remember if they had an idea for the entire sequence but I definitely remember Stuart wanting that song to be first. I remember talking for a long time about the sequence for Expo 86 and for a short time on the sequence of Mount Zoomer and not talking at all about the sequence of Apologies. The first record we didn’t care. We didn’t think it was that important probably. The label just suggested a sequence and we were like, yeah. I think we liked it because it went me, Dan, me, Dan for the most part. That set this precedent for all the albums.

Apologies has you and Dan singing on each others songs, maybe doing background vocals at times as well. Was that a conscience decision?

SK: The difference between Apologies and the records that followed, and this is probably true for most bands, is that we recorded the songs after already touring the material. We wrote the songs to play live. Which is how most bands start. Then as they start making records, they start writing songs to put on records. Which is a different kind of monster that yields different results I think. When you’re recording songs that you played live a bunch of times, like all these little ideas have already come out of the woodwork. So it’s very natural just to record them. I think things like backup vocals are one of those things that develop from playing a song over and over again. Especially in a live setting, I might have been like ‘hey Dan, what’s at the end of that song, what are you singing, I’ll sing it along with you cause I’m comfortable enough with my keyboard part now that I can sing along with you’. Or what if I go ‘bop bop bop’ here, or sometimes it’s just not even discussed. If you’re playing a really great show and everyone’s getting really excited and I’m singing the end of ‘I’ll Believe in Anything’ and maybe one day Dan just starts singing along with me because it’s an exciting moment, and maybe it was never discussed. Those things then get recorded cause they’re already happening and it’s natural. When you’re recording songs you know you’re like ‘this is what I do here’ and ‘I sing this’ you put it all down and mix it and see how it sounds.

When you’re writing songs for a record, like the subsequent two records, we were writing them to record them, or writing them in the studio as we record them. Those sort of spontaneous or developed things I guess they’re less frequent and it involves more discussion to make them happen. I would have to approach the band or Dan would. There were have to be a discussion like ‘what if I sang this part here’ and therefore ‘can you teach me the words and show me the notes’ and other combinations. These are conversations that Dan and I are really bad at having with each other. It’s like peeking behind the curtain; you don’t want to ruin the magic. It’s like this weird unspoken rule, never talk about what goes on inside the machine, just let the machine run. Sometimes when we have to have those conversations, they can be quite stiff and awkward between the whole band. Not just Dan and I, but everyone. When we have to talk about the inner workings of a song. Even being like ‘what are you saying there’ for Dan or I to be like ‘what are the lyrics of this part’ is this whole like ‘ugh ok well Dan what I’m saying is..” There’s this stiffness. It’s kind of funny, we’ve always been like that. Part of ourselves is that we’re not good at sharing I guess. I mean we’re friends. We communicate about all sorts of things, just not music. I know that sounds crazy. But we talk about everything else, even our feelings. Especially our feelings if we’re having a big argument. But we don’t communicate that well about music. All we can do is just turn the machine on and let it run and see what happens. Then the next day you turn the machine on and let it run and see what happens and then at the end of the day you go ‘well that’s terrible’ or ‘that’s passable’ or ‘that’s good’.

From Spencer’s email:

Grounds for Divorce:

Thinking about any of these songs always brings me back to some place in Montreal, usually the place / time of their origin, or early stages, and for each of these four songs it’s a different place.

Grounds for Divorce, in my memory, was written by me, Dan, and Arlen, when we were jamming in my weird loft apartment above a bar called Barfly, on St. Laurent. The bar is still there. And I’m sure the lofts are probably still there as well, though I doubt they still rent out for 500 / month or whatever ridiculously low rent I was splitting with my roommate back then.

I don’t remember much about the making of the music, except that it was fun and that Dan and I both liked the rhythmic syncopation that was happening between his wacko guitar shots and the off-beat trills in my right hand. And I’ve always had a soft spot for that song’s dumb-dumb bass line in my left hand. The keyboard we used for that bassline was this little Yamaha thing that Arlen owned which had some cool sounds, so we ended up touring with it for years (but it was just plastic, not meant for touring), until it finally fell apart past my level of patience at an Iceland Airwaves show and I handed it to some kids in the crowd after the last song. A third key had broken off, I think… I met those kids years later, somewhere, maybe when I was back in Iceland. They said they kept the keyboard and had started a band in which it was played. I thought that was cool. Writing this down, I see now that I never actually owned the keyboard and so it wasn’t mine to give away. Sorry, Arlen.

Speaking of Arlen, and the song Grounds for Divorce, I have a specific memory of him saying to me one day: I can’t believe you put the words “Wedding Cake” into a rock song. It was neither a criticism or compliment.

The words for that song… it was about a breakup. I’m sure I’ve talked about it before. The whales and all that…

Fancy Claps:

The place this song brings me back to is our later jam space, at the 100 sided die; a huge screen printing / studio / artist workshop / show space, where I also lived at the time. I had a habit in Montreal of living in sort of big, strange and open spaces, or tiny cramped apartments. No middle ground.

Anyway, I truly have no solid memory of writing the song; not the music, not the lyrics. Maybe we were drunk. But my memory of the 100 sided die is of us recording the song with our friend Tim Kingsbury. It was a really fun afternoon. He’s a nice guy, really funny, and having that new energy in the jam room was great for us, and resurrected our faith in the song, because at that point I think we were on the brink of scrapping it. Somebody told me recently that Tim plays bass on that song, but I don’t think that’s true. In my memory he was shredding on the guitar. Doing all the finger-tapping stuff you can hear on the track. My memory, however, does not have a great track record. So you can believe what you want.

Sons and Daughters:

There is another, THIRD jam space we used in those early years – the space above the bar on the corner of Bernard and St. Laurent. It is still a jam space now, and in fact I was just there a month ago visiting my friends in the band Wintersleep. It hasn’t changed that much. Wolf Parade moved back to that space later on , but at the time of “Son’s and Daughters” it was actually Arcade Fire’s jam space / house and Win and Regine were just letting us use it for a while. I think we were between using the space above Barfly and the 100 sided die space, and just needed something temporary.

So, Arcade Fire had a piano in there and it was on that piano that I wrote the chords for “Son’s and Daughter’s”. I remember the 1st day we jammed it out… the day it became a song. There is a descending melody that happens in my right hand, it happens in the intro, and then a few times times after. Specifically I remember the moment where I realized this descending line would work on top of the main progression AND work to come out of the breakdown, which is a different chord progression, and so it could act as a sort of melodic glue to hold the parts together and make them relevant to each other. That was the moment I knew the song was a song and not just a jam. A keeper. And by the end of that rehearsal we all knew there was a new song somewhere in there.

The lyrics came after. That happens a lot.
I wrote them in my bedroom, still above the Barfly, at my piano there, like a cliche.

Dinner bells:

The memory here is not of a jam space, but of Jeanne-Mance Park, on the Plateau in Montreal. I was walking there with my friend Jenny on a fall afternoon. I told her I had some possible new lyrics for a new song. She surrendered. I recited the 1st verse. She more or less laughed and said they were corny, but also touching. I knew they were corny, yes, but I liked them anyway. And walking with her there I made the decision to use them, if for no other reason than simply BECAUSE I knew they were corny, because to not do so would be somehow cowardly, and a step towards being the kind of songwriter I didn’t want to be. I’ve written a lot of lyrics over the past decade that have been just plain embarrassing, especially having to sing them out loud to people, but I don’t regret any of them. I don’t want to play it safe. I don’t want to pose.

The music: I remember really liking the ending; Dan’s guitar lines.

When Wolf Parade signed to Sub Pop, the owner, Jonathan Poneman, told me he liked Dinner Bells. It was the only specific thing he told me about the album. He’s seen a lot. I welcomed the compliment.

Now it’s 2015 and I haven’t listened to any of these songs for a long, long time.
It’s nice to think about the old days. Another life.

Here’s the final part of my talk with Arlen. I’ll have the full version archived eventually on the ’12 Days of Apologies’ page:

That Rocket Bar show in St Louis that Spencer and Dan talked about was probably thee worst show we ever played. The place had a really weird set up to it and it had a bunch of the regulars, and they really didn’t give a shit. We played with two really bad openers and everyone was in a bad mood. We were just all super burnt out at that point. Burnt out with each other, burnt out on everything. You know playing a show that there’s no crowd; I don’t think there was any promotion or whatever. We were just super burned out. I remember we got in the van after that show and drove straight home to Montreal. Then we were in Montreal for a long time, basically waiting around for something to happen and that was pretty frustrating for us that we didn’t have any mixes and didn’t know what was really going on. There were songs that were unfinished which now I finally got the full master reels. I just got the reels last week actually.

What seems to be on this missing reel that Dan and Spencer talked about already, which was reel 4, it was tied in with ‘You are a Runner…’. When we wrote that song, Spencer, and me then everyone came in the session and we played it for them and people were people were stoked on it. Then Dan came up with a guitar part. Later on in the night, if this serves my memory right since some of it just feels like a weird dream at this point, like did this actually happen? Or is this just some weird imprint. This kind of fog of my memory was that time that Isaac decided it was margarita night. There was some bar that was just down the street from the recording studio and he started ordering pitchers of margaritas with like all the fixings and bringing them to the studio and drinking them. And then he decided that, you know, he was feeling pretty good. That’s when we did a take of ‘You Are A Runner…’ basically he told Spencer and me ‘get in the room and do that jam’ and that he was going to do his thing over top. That’s when Isaac did this dub style toasting like King Tubby and it was like a 20 minute long dub reggae session. That happened, and I don’t know if there was a mix made of it or anything like that. So sadly that reel that had that 20 minute long Isaac jam on it disappeared. Never to be seen again.

We recorded a version of ‘Shine A Light’ in Portland and that was actually our favorite take of any of the songs in that session. It was the only one we didn’t do to a click track, we just got to do it as we are. So that track never made it when we went to go mix the album, it was never transferred from the tapes digitally. So that’s why we had to re-record that song. I always though that version of ‘Shine A Light’ was on that missing reel and that’s why it never got transferred because that reel got deep sixed. We got 4 of the reels transferred. The reels are actually labeled and I got 1,2,3 and 5. There’s no 4. That song called ‘the bus song’ is actually on one of the 4 reels I recently got. But I think the Isaac version of ‘You Are A Runner…’ is really the only thing on that missing reel. We ended up getting, for stuff that got unfinished, a version of Killing Armies, the Bus song, Shine A Light, and Fancy Claps. Killing Armies never ended up getting finished, ‘Bus Song’ never got finished, and Fancy Claps we re-recorded in Montreal in the 100 Sided Die, our old jam space. Shine a Light we did the same, and We Built Another World. Which ended up being that the tempo was too fast for Dan to sing. He wasn’t happy with the vocal take and we brought it to where we were mixing and listening back and tried to rerecord the vocals and realized it was recorded probably 25% too fast. So we re-recorded it so Dan could sing over it. We were kind of finishing stuff a little in the studio when we were mixing Apologies. I think Spencer did something with the keyboards to ‘I’ll Believe in Anything’, possibly rerecording them.

The funny thing about the rerecording is that we did most of the record in this really nice studio with nice gear, recording on a 2” tape deck. And then Shine a Light, Fancy Claps, and We Built Another World were recorded in the cheapest way, in a jam space on a laptop with like an 8 channel cheap sound card, with whatever mics we could beg, borrow, and steal at the time. I think the drums had maybe 2 mics. A kick drum mic and overhead. Shine A Light, which ends up being like whatever, like used on TV and stuff like that. The version of Shine A Light that I recently got back is an unfinished version with no vocals. It’s just an orphaned version, which is kinda sad. Same with Killing Armies, the only version that ever got made is the original EP one. There is no studio version of that. There is one finished song on the real we just got back which is ‘Snakes on a Ladder’, that has vocals and everything cause it didn’t have many tracks on it. We actually have that which is kind of cool. That’s got Spencer doing piano and me playing like percussion, like timpani. It’s a little short song, only a minute.

I’m really amazing that people still enjoy listening to Apologies and still enjoy our band. It’s really touching that people have put so much effort into the project you’re doing. Appreciating the record. Again the most amazing thing about Apologies is that it actually ended up getting made. I’ve made a few records since and been involved in a few records, and that one was the most chaotic I’ve ever been involved with. From the very beginning, getting in the van and driving 3000 km to the West coast, it was a crazy process and I’m just amazed we got it made and people enjoyed it. It’s a testament to the songs; they’re great songs, and it just worked.


This one created by Hadji’s step-dad has over 2 Million views!

The one and only time Wolf Parade performed on late night tv!


This amazing cover that Dan and Operators did with Japandroids is seriously great:

Illustrations, photos and a fan art

Illustration by Jack Fallows

" Left the body in the bed all day, they don't know what to do."#artist #draw #intaglio #wolfparade #drawing

A photo posted by Calvin V (@calvin_reclassified) on

This heart's on fire

A photo posted by @onisiforou on

This heart's on fire. #cheshiremoon #sacredheart #oregoncountryside

A photo posted by Rena Claire Hartman Rothauge (@heart_r) on

#love #radiation #heart #sky #blue #clouds #iPhone #iphoneonly #iphoneography

A photo posted by simple (@simplebill) on

This great photo by Wesley Kirk. See more of his photos at http://thevisionbeautiful.com/


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