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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

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Craig Silliphant
Published Thursday May 28, 05:48 pm
Tyson McShane mines his family’s past for latest SD,M album

Photo Credit: Photo by Gary Colwell


Friday 29


In May of 1968, France teetered horrifyingly on the edge of full-scale civil war, marked by demonstrations, occupations and strikes. It was a frighteningly violent time for the country, but it also inspired some brilliant artistic expression.

For a brief period, the economy ground to a halt and the government ceased operating, with President Charles de Gaulle evacuating the country in secret for a few hours. The ripples are still felt today, a watershed moment in the fabric of French society.

That fateful month, a Saskatchewan man named Kim McShane was spending post-university time in Europe and found himself living in France. While he didn’t really think of himself as a photographer, he happened to take pictures of the unrest he was seeing as he wandered through a divided Paris. Those photos have resurfaced as the inspiration for the new Slow Down, Molasses album, Burnt Black Cars, thanks to McShane’s son Tyson, the driving force behind SD,M.

When we started writing the record,” says the younger McShane, “my parents were moving out of their house, the house I grew up in, and I kept remembering that once in a while my dad would show us slides. I started scanning these photos — it was his 70th birthday a while ago, and my brothers and I blew up a couple of the photos and framed them.

It’s really interesting and exciting to me because my dad’s a really low-key fellow — he’s the last guy who would be trumpeting himself as a photographer or even as a teacher. It was inspiring to me, probably because I do write songs and I’m more vocal. He took these cool photos but he never really told anybody, never hung them on the wall. Now they’re hanging on the wall.”

While Burnt Black Cars is a concept album that focuses on May of 1968, it goes well beyond that to explore other themes. By trade, McShane’s an urban designer, working in the realm of neighbourhoods and public space, which gives him a deep interest in cities and the conflict within them that can spur change in society.

We started writing the record a few years ago now, while there were student protests in Montréal and Idle No More,” he says. “It was obvious that there was a desire for something different in North America especially, but also worldwide. It was kind of an interesting, inspiring thing to think back to those photos — and especially thinking of it in terms of my day-job.”

It’s fitting that on an album about change, Slow Down, Molasses also continue to sonically explore change themselves. As you might gather from the name, they started out as bit of a slowcore band, with whispering vocals and quiet acoustic arrangements. They’ve been wandering away from that over the years, and Burnt Black Cars finds them sounding like a very different band. McShane has been steadily moving towards the music that inspired him when he was younger: shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine and Sianspheric.

Previously, I think I was always trying too hard to write songs, instead of doing what comes naturally, which is turning on my delay pedals and playing two or three chords,” he says, “finding things that move and have structure but are still coded in that overwhelming wall-of-sound sort of thing.”

The title track could be an audio metaphor for this idea. The guitars give manifestation to the mental image of a dissenter throwing a Molotov cocktail; the arm cocks back as the guitar strum is the throwing of the bottle, the chord rings out as the makeshift bomb sails through the air, and the guitar hits an abrupt stop with waves of reverb and feedback crashing, the deafening sound of the fiery explosion itself.

If there’s anywhere where the music and the lyrics line up, that’s definitely one of the songs,” says McShane. “It was more deliberate. It’s a lot of slow, repetitive, calm moments, and then exploding moments. Everything calms down and then it gets tense and builds and builds, until I’m literally banging my guitar on my amp, creating feedback noises.

Capturing that tension is something I love in music, and more and more I’ve been listening to stuff where it’s more tense and whatnot, but balancing it out. All those shoegaze songs are huge pop songs under those waves of vagueness.”

In terms of the narrative on a concept album of sort-of protest songs like this, one has to be careful when writing lyrics — because it’s really easy to dive into melodrama and hypocrisy, or jump up on a soapbox. McShane is quick to admit that he’s not a social scientist and has no interest in telling a linear story, so he wisely skirts around that whole mess. Like his father’s photographs, McShane is simply trying to capture instants in time.

I’ve never been a narrative songwriter. I’ve never been necessarily attracted to the storytellers. I love some of that stuff, but the stuff that always catches me lyrically is catching little moments and sketches and snippets of things. I always tend to write, not in terms of setting the stage and then moving to this and then to that, but more about those ephemeral moments.”

Catching these moments gives the record a lot more depth, because it goes beyond writing about France in 1968 and pushes into the idea that day-to-day life must go on while the world changes in crazy ways. We all live our little lives while hurricanes batter cities or riots erupt in the streets. Burnt Black Cars is not about the incident; it’s about moments in our lives.

They still had to go to work and make supper, even though there was this huge event,” McShane explains. “[My dad] was telling me these stories where it was just like, ‘the cops told me I couldn’t go for lunch at the place I go for lunch every day, because the street was being torn up and there was a car on fire.’ All these iconic things happen, but we still just keep going, and people keep having their lives happen.”

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