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Certainly Sir
Music that'll speak to you the day after

"Watch the sky recede/ and clear out for the storm," sings Michael Brodeur on "Sweet Time" the first track off Certainly, Sir's first full length release Mugic, out April 2nd on Spoilt Records/ Pussyfoot Records. As Certainly, Sir, Brodeur and Nick Hubben have cleared a space for themselves within independent pop and electronic music - drawing in a storm of disparate elements and inspiration to create a landscape of songs very much their own. Certainly, Sir's blend of catchy pop melodies, brilliant instrumentation and incisive lyrics are all at play in their field of electronic rhythmic texture and loops of captured sound. Yet even as it revels in its influences, Certainly, Sir is hard at work to subvert the very patterns their songs are grounded in - turning pop songs into intricate, eloquent explorations of sound and voice. Mugic finds Nick and Brodeur emerging from their continuing process of writing, recording and performing, as a band open to whatever storm of inspiration might come their way.

I recently had the chance to meet up with Nick and Brodeur, and their friend Katie Gleeson, at the James's Gate Pub on a rare snowy evening in Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood of Boston. Nick (also of The Ivory Coast) and Brodeur (formerly of The Wicked Farleys and editor of BOTH magazine) chatted with me about Certainly, Sir's beginnings, the process of making Mugic, and their ongoing process of self-translation.

In the bedroom

Mugic has a distinctly organic feel to it - each of the eleven songs function discretely while also referencing and building off each other as the album unfolds. This seems to reflect the way Certainly, Sir came about. When the two lived down the street from one another in Allston, Nick would slip Brodeur burned CDs of loops when they would meet on the subway. Brodeur would begin to work out vocals and lyrics based on these short loops.

"I had this one song lying around that I hadn't done anything with," said Brodeur, over the din of the James's Gate. "We ended up recording it in his kitchen and then fucking with the drums a little bit…. it was just off the cuff - it just happened and we were like, well, we could probably do the same thing with stuff on [Nick's] computer." The two began getting together on Saturday mornings in Nick's apartment above a ball bearing factory in Allston. With Nick handling most of the rhythm and Brodeur the vocals and lyrics, songs began to emerge from the errata collected in Nick's Pro Tools sound files. While the pair played and arranged most all the pieces that found their way into these songs, they also took full advantage of whoever might be hanging around Nick's apartment. As Brodeur explained, "it'd be hard to say who's on there 'cause I'm sure there's like the ghost of different people all over the thing." Vanessa Downing (formerly of the Wicked Farleys and currently with Rosa Chance Well) contributed vocals on one song, Ken Bernard (also of the Farleys) played drums that appear on a few songs, and the members of Rock City Dance Crew (RC/DC) helped out with handclaps.

"It's almost like the song is there and we're totally guessing about how to get to it," said Brodeur of the process of working on these songs. Huddled in front of Nick's Macintosh G3, the pair spent hours pouring over their nascent batch of songs. "It hard to rock out on Pro Tools," Nick said of the spent splicing together ten second loops of sound. He then quickly corrected himself. " No…it's hard to rock out on Pro Tools and then be like , 'okay that was good ,now we're done.' It takes hours before you can hit the space bar and be like, 'yeah okay.' But when that happens it's really freaking satisfying. That's why I do it - cause [when we're finished] it's like 'can I make something cooler than that?'"

The songwriting process was one of constant revision - reworking the songs as new ideas revealed themselves from what was already laid down. "I'll know a loop that I've had on my computer for six months so well," Nick said gesturing across the table to Brodeur." And he'll sing on it…and I'm like, 'what the fuck did he just do…you asshole, how did you just make that into the coolest song I've heard?'" While the vocals brought a new dimension to the rhythm, Nick's loops established a form within which Brodeur worked melodically and lyrically. "I'll eventually come up with some sort of rhythmic schema, plugging in words, seeing what the words have in common with each other." Brodeur explained of his writing process. "A lot of the situations that come out of the songs are based on what phrases jump into the rhythm. A lot of the rhythms are based on the situations, now that I think about it…. I mean the sad songs are sad because the phrases that fit into the melody that I had happened to be sad phrases. The themes are very much generated by the music, and then the music is generated by that."

For me it is no problem

After the better part of a year, Nick and Brodeur burned a collection of three or four songs that they gave to friends. People they played it for loved what they were doing and Certainly, Sir put together a six song EP, entitled For Me It Is No Problem in the Spring of 2001. These songs form the spine of what would eventually become Mugic. Accompany the CD/r was a simple black and white booklet containing lyrics - and a photograph for the instrumental track - that gave the project a distinctly literary feel. Evoking the pair's interest in typography and graphic design - as well as Brodeur's pursuits as a poet and editor - the album's conceptual design developed the band's slant on their "electronic" music. While suffused with samples and loops of percussion and recorded in a Pro Tools environment, Certainly, Sir has a truly analog feel about it - an immediacy and openness missing from much electronic music. As Nick put it, he and Brodeur wanted to "maintain some sense of personality in there [so] you can tell there are people responsible for it." For Me It Is No Problem, both in its recording and presentation, was meant to let listeners into the music. "When I think of electronic albums I don't think they're being very generous with what they're telling you." explained Brodeur. "As free as electronic music is it seems to withhold a lot. It doesn't want to be your friend at all. It's there, it'll dance with you, but you're not going to see it the next day. I wanted [our record] to be something where the book offered you into the songs."

Brodeur and Nick estimate that they only made about two hundred copies of For Me It Is No Problem, a quarter of which were given away to friends. The record received startling recognition despite this sparse production - finding outlets and praise with an assortment of people and venues. During their recent tour, The Dismemberment Plan often played the record between sets. It appeared in CMJ's 'Essentials' and on a SPIN magazine syndicated radio program. Forty-five copies ended up being sold through Urban Outfitters thanks to a friend who worked for a promotion company. Certainly, Sir are as surprised as anyone about the acclaim that their little CD/r received and still wonder exactly how various copies found their way into so many different hands. While continuing to work toward an expanded collection of songs to be put out on Spoilt Records/ Pussyfoot Records, based in London, with album art and design by The Designer's Republic, they were also busy working on a live incarnation of their project.

Being directly translated

The movement from a collection of sound files so intertwined that Certainly, Sir themselves have a hard time discerning where all the sounds came from, to a fully functioning rock band, could have been a daunting one. But Nick and Brodeur approached it with the same good humor and willingness to experiment that infuses their recorded work. They put together a live band and played around Boston, DC and just recently New York City at Brownies and in Hoboken at Maxwell's. (They also have a tour scheduled for this summer in England.) Aided by their friends Ken, Vanessa, and David Miller Norton (of Bash Bazouk and webmaster of Baked Bean, a website for Boston's music scene), Brodeur and Nick are enjoying the challenge of taking their songs in new directions. "Thankfully it's been all good," said Nick of the process of drawing other's more fully into their project. "Their interpretations are fun…. It's a different thing and we respect that it's a different thing - they want to be more involved….The last few songs we've tried to work out have come together really quickly and that's really satisfying. It's really fun to trust other people."

Brodeur and Nick reference the liberating aspects of working as a pair even as they enjoy developing the project into the context of a full band. Often, they said, a band can get into a lot of red tape and get to a point where each member has lost track of where their vision and contributions fit in. "But with two people… its supposed to be like a conversation," said Brodeur. "A lot of two person bands… are good in that way - you can hear both people going, but no matter how many people they had joining in on it, there was still something distinct about what was going on with the sound. Gastr Del Sol is perfect like that. You knew what David Grubbs was doing and you knew what Jim O'Rourke was doing, even though they had like ten other musicians on there. It's like they are being directly quoted or something."

Sade left it on the table

Certainly, Sir's new release is a carefully quoted and beautifully rendered glimpse into the sensibilities and talents of its creators. Mugic presents a coherent, fluid series of songs that each mark out their own distinct territory amidst the record's whole. Many of the songs take on the pop-song tropes of love - unrequited, failed, confounded and overwhelming. In "Mercury" the persona finds himself succumbing to love at its most elemental - "Love is never up to me/ cause it goes through my blood like mercury." "How You Been" finds the singer lamenting "this bed won't fit us both now/ but the door is just your size." In "It's Not Love (My Bad)" the object of questionable affection is bitingly presented with the bitterly sweetened lines "This is an apology/ It is not me saying I won't go/ My bad / Oh about my "I love you"/ apparently I don't."

The songs are by turns sweet and caustic, heartfelt and sarcastic. Many of the songs take what seems one thing and reveal it to be quite its opposite. The decision to move into familiar musical territory and turn it inside out is quite conscious on the part of Nick and Brodeur. "If I'm listening to a loop that sounds like Sade left it on the table and we found it and we're like "yeah!" - then I feel an obligation to go in there and do something that Sade would never do." said Brodeur, as the juke box blared, and snow continued to fall outside the pub. "You've have an expectation in a type of song, and the best thing that can happen when you expect something, is to get something else. Most of the time"

Certainly, Sir's Mugic is an exciting record that sounds at once familiar and yet distinctly fresh and new. Brodeur's vocals carry a conscious and consistent voice throughout the progression of the songs. They are at once personal and open while remaining somewhat obscured behind the carefully wrought situations, word play, and metaphor. Nick's operation of the amalgam of textures and loops, moogs and keyboards that pour throughout the record is as much a joy to listen to casually as it is to try to peer into the mesh of sound to pick out that one piece you think you've heard before. The combination of Nick's manipulation of rhythm and Brodeur's wielding of melody and line draw the listener into the record without ever giving too much away, or losing its edge of mysterium . "Don't stay/ long enough/ to be taken from/ the vacant,/ dimly lit,/ lot of my heart," Brodeur sings on the closing track of the record. "It a bad neighborhood," he sings, but we think maybe we'll stick around to see what else might come around after dark.

(for information on Certainly, Sir, visit www.certainly-sir.com.)

--Colin Cheney


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