Back in 2008, Calgary’s Women became a surprise success with the release of their gritty, art-rocking eponymous debut. Produced by eclectic pop maestro Chad VanGaalen, the album’s brittle guitars and swampy production struck a chord with fans and tastemakers alike, getting the band signed to indie heavyweight Jagjaguwar. Now, the group is preparing to release its sophomore LP, Public Strain, on September 28. While at home in Calgary, frontman Patrick Flegel answered ION’s call to discuss the new album, the critics, and why Women definitely, definitely shouldn’t be classified as lo-fi.

Did you go into recording your second album with a mapped out idea of what you wanted it to sound like, or was it more of an experimental process?

It’s kind of weird, ‘cause we intentionally experimented with things, and then ended up doing the same thing, which is pretty much setting up some kind of ideal and completely missing the mark. Sometimes it works out, like you’re happy with it. Sometimes you’re not

Was this a time that you were happy with it?
Yeah, I think so. I have a hard time listening to my own music. But yeah, I’d say I’m at peace with it, y’know?

You took quite a while recording this album I understand.

Yeah. I think we played around 200 shows and we came back to town and everyone sort of got to work and that was it. I think part of it might have had to do with the fact that I was working the graveyard shift pretty much full-time while we were tracking. Plus, it’s hard to just get any of us in the same room, so it’d be like a week on, a week off, one day here, one day there kind of thing. I don’t know what it says on the piece of paper people are getting, but I think, in my brain, it took three years. Seasons came and went and we were still recording, and then one day we decided to stop.

The album has quite a few drones and feedback jams. What inspired that?
I just like hearing one note being playing over a bunch of other notes. It sounds really good to me, just a melodic drone, like a harmony hovering above everything.

Well, at the same time the album’s got quite a few mellow, pretty moments. It sounds like you were going in a couple of different directions.
That’s something that appeals to me about recording an album over a long period of time—you’re in different moods and using different setups. Getting that kind of variation on a record is kind of cool. It really just depends on what kind of day one of us is having, as far as what’s going to happen. You never really know. Typically, if I’m just sitting there with a guitar, then I’m probably going to write a slow jam. I don’t usually, alone in our practice, just turn up an amp to 10 and freak out.

Your last album was partly recorded on boomboxes and other nonprofessional recording equipment. Did you use the same setup this time around?
We actually used a Tascam 388 8-track that Chad [VanGaalen] has for most of the record. It’s a beautiful machine, man.

Was the whole thing recorded in Chad VanGaalen’s studio?
Yeah. Well, it’s his garage. There are a bunch of machines in a garage. “Studio,” quote-unquote. Yeah, it was all recorded there. It’s two levels. Upstairs it’s all wood. The basement is all concrete and it’s very cavernous. He’s got a couple of rooms separating things, and then if you want to get some really roomy sounds we could record down in the basement.


What kind of pressure did you feel with your sophomore album after the success of your first one?
People always say this, but we’re way harder on our music than anyone else could possibly be, me in particular. The band was formed out of my frustration with bands I was playing in and bands that I would see, and so it’s pretty much trying to make the music that you wish other people were making. Which is extremely difficult, especially when you can’t really hear your own music, in a way, unless you’re extremely intoxicated. Sorry, what was the question?

Was it hard to write the album knowing you had a guaranteed audience?
Oh yeah. I’m incredibly hard on myself. What happens after it’s done—I’m actually indifferent. Someone decides to approve what you do, and then other people decide to follow suit or whatever. Everyone’s looking to the certain sources for validation, for permission to listen, y’know? So I guess if you’re lucky enough for people to decide that what you’re doing has any merit then you end on a record label like Jagjaguwar or something like that. Which is a dream come true. It’s amazing. But we never looked at those things as relevant to actually making music. It’s a by-product.

Your band has often been associated with the so-called “lo-fi movement.” How do you feel about that label?
I think it’s stupid. I just don’t think it sounds blown out at all. I mean, obviously it’s not high-end studio gear, that’s clear. But I just thought it sounded old, or home-made. Anyone who says we sound like Times New Viking doesn’t actually listen to music. I just feel like using those words, “lo-fi”—that label’s going to apply to other bands that I don’t think we sound like. I find all that stuff nauseating. But what do I think of it? I think, as we’re concerned, we have nothing to do with it.

Would you ever make a really clean-sounding recording in a hi-tech studio?
For sure. We just want it to sound a certain way. I was listening to [Wire’s] Pink Flag today—that’s an amazing recording! All that old postpunk stuff—there’s just a certain quality to everything. For whatever reason they were producing things that way. I guess the reason I’m using that as an example is because those are my favourite recordings. I relate to those sounds for whatever reason.


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