Microdot is easily the most jovial and fun band that I’ve ever interviewed. I sat down with the whole band: Bill Northcott, Rob Nay, Jen Alexander and Janus Field. During our conversation we digressed on the silliest tangents (see the bit about shrunken heads and tiny instruments) but also discussed the Winnipeg music scene and band dynamic. This is how it all went down…
Stylus: How did Microdot form?
Rob Nay: Bill and I have been playing together since 1993…Jen and Jan are engaged so…
Janus Field: It just made sense that I should join the band.
Jen Alexander: [laughs] We were playing in YOUR house!
JF: Yeah, they were playing in my basement. I was going to be at most of the shows anyway…
RN: We started officially as Microdot in February or March of 2009. At that time it was just Bill and I. We were playing some older music from bands of the past and then we started writing more songs.
Bill Northcott: We would just get together and play a lot of old stuff and write, then Rob started asking around for a drummer and then we got to know Brendan Ehinger from War Elephant?
RN: Yeah, Brendan played in a bunch of bands, like The Vagiants. He started playing drums with us in March 2009 but he got too busy with other bands so he bowed out. After this Bill asked Jen to come play the drums.
JA: I thought I could secretly figure out how to play the drums! [laughs] Bill and I had been playing together in The Angry Dragons.
BN: Then I said “Okay she knows how to keep a beat, she knows where to stop and start.” It evolved into me asking her if she wanted to play drums.
JA: And I was like: SURE. I’d been playing guitar for seventeen years, so I’ve just been pretending to play the drums.
Stylus: What are some things that you’ve noticed change in the Winnipeg music scene?
RN: I feel like there were more music venues in the ’90s.
JF: [sadly] There’s no Albert any more.
Stylus: Yeah, what do you guys think about that?
JF: It was kind of funny that the day the rapture was supposed to happen the Albert closed down instead.
Stylus: Die hard Albert fans probably thought “THIS IS WHAT THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT, THE END IS NIGH!”
RN: Yeah, some of our earlier shows were at the Albert. It does definitely impact things but there are new venues opening. A few weeks ago we played a show at that new venue on Princess. The whole dynamic of being able to hear bands has fundamentally changed with being able to listen to bands online. The CBC Radio shows Brave New Waves and Nightlines were invaluable in the 1990s for exposing us to a lot of incredible music. We also picked up on underground stuff through Much Music’s City Limits and Winnipeg public access VPW shows like Alternative Rockstand. But I think that now there are definitely a lot more avenues to discover music.
Stylus: Are you a pro digital or vinyl/ hard copy band?
BN: Sort of half and half, especially since records are available for download on things like FLAC files now so there are higher quality options. Sometimes you can’t afford the forty dollar, special import record so instead you can get it online for ten bucks.
JF: You can always buy a t-shirt from the band’s website so they’ll still get your twenty bucks that way. At least they get twenty bucks rather than a quarter of the profit they might get if you buy their stuff at HMV.
RN: Sometimes when you download say ten albums you forget what you have. When you have the hard copy it reminds you that “Oh yeah, I should listen to this.”
JF: And you’re actually connected to it physically so there’s more interaction.
RN: I think because Bill and I are a lot older-
RN:We really appreciate how hard it is to find music; it’s a lot more easily accessible now. We still mail order stuff to track down records that you can’t find in the city.
JF: Microdot has just been releasing on tape.
RN: We have one for you.
JF: Do you have a tape player?
Stylus: In my dad’s truck, it’s about a million and a half years old. Are you planning on continuing to release on tape?
BN: For Lamps Not Amps, yes. Chris Jacques did a great job; he knows how to master a tape really well.
Stylus: What was it like recording Lamps Not Amps, any stories?
RN: It was pretty laid back.
JA: They were recorded at band practice.
RN: We recorded everything live over the course of a few weeks and used the best versions. It was super simple. We’re doing more recording tomorrow.
BN: We’re going to record in a secret laboratory.
Stylus: What’s it like working with Dub Ditch Picnic?
RN: It’s super easy because I’ve known Chris for ages.
BN: I used to play in a band with him called The Incinerators in the ’90s. He then decided that he was going to start the Dub Ditch Picnic label. He asked me to send him some F.P. Tranquilizer stuff, so I sent him some Microdot stuff as well.
RN: Chris is doing a really good job of sending tapes out to different areas as well. He sent out a copy to WFMU radio station in New Jersey and they ended up picking us as an artist of the day. We were pretty excited about that. Chris has put out a lot weird noisy stuff, a real eclectic mix of artists.
JF: I’ve actually been really pissed off that Greg MacPherson is on the cover of the Uniter and Uptown. Good for him, but he’s been on the cover before. Tim Hoover is a man about town, he’s a fantastic gentlemen and a great DJ. We’ve all had a good night while he was spinning. He should have been on the cover.
RN: Yeah, Mammoth Cave is doing a 7” compilation called Bloodstains. He’s done a few already, splitting up each geographical region in Canada. Each band contributes a minute long song so they can as much bands possible on a 7”. Microdot and The Angry Dragons are on the prairie edition. Also, Atomic Don and the Black Sunrise which is the band that these three play in [indicates his Microdot counterparts] are also on it.
JA: And F.P. Tranquilizer!
RN: And F.P. Tranquilizer which is Bill’s solo project.
JF: Speaking of that, have you heard “Crispy Big Ones” by F.P. Tranquilizer?
Stylus: No I haven’t yet.
JF: Not only is it a good song, but it’s possibly one of the greatest songs EVER written!
Stylus: Oh My gosh, I’ll give it a listen. What do you guys to for kicks?
Microdot: Band practice [all laugh]
Stylus: Are all your band practices productive?
JF: Just the other day Atomic Don ended up playing about an hour and a half of Ramones and Misfits covers.
Stylus: That’s what you guys do for kicks? That’s awesome.
JF: With Atomic Don it’s either that or we play Hawkwind except we’re on less drugs maybe. But with Microdot, it’s all about the fuckin’ Space Smurfs.
Stylus: Space Smurfs?
Stylus: The vocals on the first four tracks of Lamps Not Amps kind of remind me of Shane McGowan.
RN: Well Bill and I do the singing. The first four tracks are a mixture of us singing, we’ve never thought of that!
JA: Maybe there’s a leprechaun living in the first four tracks of Lamps Not Amps!
Stylus: So would you describe your sound as Space Smurf/ Leprechauns?
JA: [laughs] Yeah!
JF: And old technology.
JF: I’d like to see us all dress up as Smurf characters.
JA: We should dress up as Smurfs for our next show.
BN: We should consult a witch doctor and get ourselves shrunken.
Stylus: And play tiny instruments?
RN: Yeah, we could do that.
Stylus: The song “Tepee in the Forest,” what’s that about?
BN: Well that’s a whole other story.
BN: My girlfriend’s mom wrote out three song titles and she told me to write songs about them. “Tepee in the Forest” was one of them. That one was inspired by these coasters that she had with trees on them, that’s how she thought of it. One of her other suggestions was “Groovy Good Times.” Those songs are all available online.
Stylus: Would you guys be open to having a suggestion box for names of songs?
Stylus: What’s your song writing dynamic like?
RN: Bill does about two thirds of the stuff and I do about a third. We come up with stuff on our own and then bring it into practice then everybody adds their own individual parts. In this process the music becomes generally much louder which is a quality we like. We make, to a certain extent, pop songs and we like layering effects. We have an affinity for very noisy pop.
BN: I use to think that there had to be some kind of meaning behind lyrics but I realized that lyrics don’t have to make sense at all. So I started writing more and more nonsense.
Stylus: Have you noticed any fads or trends in the Winnipeg music scene?
JF: I have nothing positive to say about this, I don’t want to make enemies.
JF: Certainly a lot of people are going in the same direction and make reference to the same points. But I don’t really appreciate that especially if I don’t like what they’re referencing. When I’m playing with Microdot no one ever says, “This is supposed to sound like a Husker Dü song.” It’s just like writing a tag on a video, something like, “If you enjoy this then you should also enjoy THIS.” I just think to myself “YOU WISH!” I find it more interesting when bands say they DON’T want to sound like another band. For example, I’m glad we don’t sound like the Hold Steady!
Stylus: Please feel free to talk about any of your pet peeves with Stylus!
JA: Where is Kevin the Duck!?
Microdot’s latest release Lamps Not Amps is available on Dub Ditch Picnic.