Name: Casper Skulls
Members: Neil Bednis; Melanie St-Pierre; Fraser McClean; Aurora Bangarth
Occupation: Singer, guitarist (Bednis, St-Pierre), bassist (McClean), drummer (Bangarth)
Current release: Casper Skulls have just released their new song "The Mouth". It is the third single taken off their upcoming third album Knows Know Kindness, out November 12th 2021 via Next Door.
If you enjoyed this interview with Casper Skulls, visit their official homepage for more information. The band are also on Facebook, Instagram, and twitter.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
Mel: I can draw inspiration in many different ways. Reading books is a big inspiration for me, especially poetry because it’s more in the realm of how I like to write lyrics.
“The Mouth” in particular reads a lot like poetry which can make talking about an experience more enticing. I love to think of the song titles first before I even write the lyrics. It gives me amazing prompts that draw inspiration from what I associate the meaning for the title behind. It can write a whole song without me even realizing it.
NB: I usually get the impulse to create by listening to other artists. Anytime I listen to Bill Callahan in particular I get really inspired to start writing.
AB: I’m not sure there’s something specific that triggers the impulse for me. Often it’s just that something randomly pops into my head, so I go play it and then, if I like it, either take a voice memo or transcribe it. Or other times there’s no impulse, it’s just the time to write as a group so we get to work.
FM: It can come from anywhere, any time for me so I try to be ready for it and have an instrument and my phone around at all times if I can help it. Dreams are a big one for me, and I’ve also had lots of riffs and ideas come from being in a lucid state before fully waking up in the morning.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
Mel: For this record I kinda knew what the direction would be after writing the first song, but for our next record I want to be a bit more free about it. As much as I really enjoyed the story telling of this record I also want to detach a bit next time and just make some really great striking songs and let the meaning trickle out over time.
NB: Usually Mel or I have some sort of loose structure with a melody and chord progression and then the band does the heavy lifting from there. A lot of the best parts of our songs come from just trying a bunch of different ideas and all of us agreeing on the best one.
AB: Most of my musical ideas are small fragments, whether with Casper Skulls or other projects. Maybe it’s because I’m a drummer, often working with songs that already have some harmonic structure and melody by the time I’m contributing to them. I’m not sure I’d call it either planning or chance. More making decisions about what would fit well and be musically interesting.
On our song “Tommy” the viola part (written for my best friend Allison Stewart who played it on the album) was written well after we’d already been playing the song live for months and had already recorded most of it. It was originally going to be a trumpet part, but once we had that partially-recorded version of the song to refer to, we decided that viola would be a better fit.
FM: Ideally I like to fill in on a mostly completed song when collaborating, and I like to be able to present mostly finished works to band members to fill in on.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
Mel: I don’t need too much research since the songs are pretty personal this time around but doing a quick Google on a visual or something that I’m including in the lyrics, just to be able to elaborate better, is always helpful.
NB: If Mel is writing the song, I usually prepare by writing my part with just her and me. It usually takes me a while to write something that I like, and I don’t want to waste the other band members' time by not having any ideas.
A great example of this is the song “Thesis”. I had sat down and written all my parts for the song ahead of time with Mel which made writing the song with the full band a lot more pleasant for me.
AB: I have a tool box of musical ideas stored up that I try out with songs Mel and Neil have brought to the group.
The drum part in “Knows No Kindness” was something I’d been messing around with on my own for ages that just seemed to fit well with the song, so we went with it. But other times I’m trying out ideas on the fly in rehearsal. I’ll ask Mel and Neil to loop the verse for example, so I can try different ideas overtop. There are a LOT of reject drum parts for “Rose of Jericho” that never made it out of the rehearsal space!
FM: Doing demos is a huge part for me personally, so that I can have something to carry around and listen to at different times of day and in different environments to think about new parts, parts to get rid of and different ideas for arrangements.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
NB: Aurora and I will usually make coffee before practice. Coffee is extremely important for me to get in the mood to write or rehearse.
AB: Absolutely agree with Neil. Caffeine is our creative life blood. I try to make sure I’ve warmed up fully before a writing session too, rudiments and such, to make sure that my hands are as ready as they can be technically to let whatever pops into my head come out.
You don’t want to hear me try to play “Ouija” if I haven’t warmed up properly!
Mel: I can’t have caffeine so I can’t be with the gang here (laughs). But I do enjoy putting on my essential oil diffuser, sprawling all my books and writing material out and having one of my decaf tea concoctions while I go for it.
FM: Some water is nice
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
Mel: I always write the first line last. It’s weird. I always have to come back to it. I’ll write the chorus lyrics first usually. I’ll know when a verse sounds like a second verse, or ‘this is a verse that should happen later on after a chorus.’ The first lines of a song are the scariest. It’s the first impression of a song and I am hyper aware of that everytime.
NB: Usually writing starts with a chord progression followed by a melody. The difficulty varies song to song. Some songs pour out of us in one rehearsal and others we labour over for months.
AB: I’m rarely the one contributing the first note, but in those cases it’s generally not a situation where I’ve sat down and specifically tried to write something. More often I get an idea randomly, sing it to myself, and then run to an instrument to play it before I forget.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
Mel: Sometimes thinking too hard about the lyrics is not a good thing. I’ll rewrite a lot until I’m happy with it or think it’s giving the most honest representation of meaning, but sometimes you have to put down the pen and trust yourself. I go back to a lot of earlier rough draft lyrics because of this. What had originally come out first organically might be coming from an unconscious place and that over time can lead to some crazy realizations for yourself.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
Mel: For me, I love really poetic lyrics. I don’t always want to know what the artist is saying with their lyrics and maybe think “damn that sounds so cool, I wonder what that is about”. I really like reading lyrics to albums so I always think of that while writing them.