Name: Fly Pan Am
Members: Roger Tellier-Craig, Jonathan Parant, J.S. Truchy, Félix Morel
Current Release: Frontera on Constellation
Recommendations: W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism by Dusan Makavejev: this movie about the controversial sexual psychoanalyst Willhem Reich is where we found our band name, but it is also a collage of disparate elements that forms a narrative, not unlike our records. / The Faust Tapes by Faust: this LP is a wild collage of jams, songs, electronic interludes and general weirdness.
If you enjoyed this interview with the members of Fly Pan Am, you can listen/read more on their Bandcamp and Facebook pages.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Félix: The four of us started jamming together around 1996 and we played our first show in the summer of 1997. We all grew up listening to punk and hardcore but also alternative, shoegaze and indie rock. It wasn’t long before our musical tastes evolved to all forms of experimental and outsider music such as Krautrock, No Wave, minimalism, industrial and noise, musique concrète, etc. The endless possibilities for new forms of rock music was what drew us to those types of composers or bands. We were all into the idea of mixing and matching musical genres that didn’t necessarily make sense.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Roger: When the band started, some of us were still learning how to play our instruments, so we were approaching things with a lot of spontaneity and naivety, as well as not really being comfortable with playing these instruments. This meant that even though we were definitely trying to channel aspects of our influences, we didn’t have the proper technical abilities to do so and the results were often unpredictable even to us. It never really quite came out sounding like what we were trying for. We were also really interested in mashing influences together in the hope that the contrasting aesthetics would generate a different kind of proposition that would somewhat blur any direct relationship to their roots. Also, the band has never really believed in originality. After all, we borrowed a phrase from Lettrist/Situationist Gil J. Wolman’s film “L’anticoncept” for the title of our second LP, “Ceux qui inventent n’ont jamais vécu (?)” - the question mark is ours. We were very interested in the idea of creating something "different" out of pre-existing material, kind of like sampling or “plunderphonics”, as well as collage, pop art, situationist “détournement”, etc. You could say we were more interested in re-contextualizing disparate source material than generating anything new from scratch, knowing that it would inevitably come out sounding different from our intentions.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Jonathan: To approach the thought of identity as a band is quite tricky, because a band is a conglomeration of individuals. We may contrast it as a concept of fission and fusion, to borrow the terms from physics. Individually, we each own ideas and attributes that we apply to our view of music composition. The relation between attributes could require us to be dissolute to break the status quo, at least partially, for brand-new qualities to emerge and to be perceived by the outside eye. To change the relation of our particular individual construct so that we may share and aggregate new ones. In other words, the identification of a band can be voiced metaphorically by a landscape. Strangely altered by different scenery simultaneously to create a shifting perception of surfaces modified by a set of weird aftershock nuances. So, we might say that for us, a definition of identity, can be an intuition of self-sabotage intimation, or subtle disintegrated links to new partial of qualities.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Roger: Definitely the technical side of things. We started the band in our early twenties while our two guitarists were still learning how to play, so when we recorded our first album it was quite a challenge for us. We were also listening to a lot of electronic and experimental music but we had absolutely no knowledge of how to make music like that, not to mention none of us even had a computer at the time. The only record during our first phase where we finally managed to integrate the kind of electronic/electroacoustic work we were aiming for was 2004’s “N’écoutez pas”, but even that just felt like a first step in the right direction at the time. After we disbanded in 2005 we went our separate ways, and all of us, except for our drummer, worked on projects that helped us more fully explore the possibilities of making music with computers. We kept in touch throughout the years and we all admired everyone’s work, so at one point the idea of making a record, now that we had grown so much individually on a technical level, just seemed like the logical thing to do, so we got back together and made “C’est ça”. This last record was definitely a challenge since we have a tendency to stack a lot of sounds on top of each other. Since drums and guitars already take up a lot of space in the frequency range this meant that there were a lot of times where we had to tweak stuff or even re-think some of our ideas in order to fit everything in.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Jonathan: If we think about the beginning of the band, you could say that our initial instrumental setup was pretty primitive. Drum, bass, and guitars. Some of us used instruments as a sheer interface for sound-making rather than as a conventional musical instrument, sometimes with a brutal and improvised performance in the hope of generating textures with bizarre harmonies and hectic noise. Learning through dense academic books about music theory was definitely not our priority at the time, which some of us kind of did over the years anyway at our own pace.
In the early days, we were experiencing a sort of epiphany about creating hybridity in our music. We were really interested in the possibilities of repetitive rock and electroacoustic music channelling each other. So, we applied those proposals directly to our compositions in a very naïve way. We pretty quickly felt there were limitations to what we were setting out to do, especially with regards to live audio processing. So, we brought our 4-tracks on stage and used them a bit like you would use a pedalboard. We had pre-recorded material on tapes which we would trigger with our feet simultaneously while we were playing our instruments. Some of the 4-tracks got thrashed hard. They were triggered by our feet, hitting beer caps taped on the command buttons. Later on, we worked with some fairly new technologies like Midi Controller triggering sequences and samples. For a while, we also used filtered contact microphones hitting the inside of a vibrating mechanism on some modified electronic devices. We were trying to find the best ways to use the immediacy of electronic sound interfaces so that we could explore the musical abstractions we were interested in, hoping that our interest in hybridity would come through in our music. Nowadays, the band uses computers to the extent that one guitarist is now exclusively playing guitar samples and sequences with his MIDI controller at the cost of the disappearance of his physical guitar.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Roger: The sheer amount of possibilities that the computer offers for making sound has definitely forced us to rethink how we approach our music, both to composition and performance. For our latest project, Frontera, which was a collaboration with the dance company Animals of Distinction, we set out to use the computer to trigger sequences in a live setting. This meant that the band would be playing to a grid, following the computer. Everyone in the band is used to following our drummer, but our drummer comes from punk rock and learned how to play by being in bands, not by practicing with a metronome, so this meant that we had to approach what we were performing and composing differently. We had find a meeting point where everyone would be comfortable, while still using this opportunity as a learning experience, the first step in a new direction. We also recently did a track during lockdown called “Mirror Cracks Seeking Interiority” where we used drums recorded during the sessions for “Frontera” as the starting point. We made these loops from the drums and built the rest of the piece on the computer, adding electronics, processed guitars, and synths. Since we couldn't work together, each section was composed independently by a different member and we exchanged files over the internet.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Félix: There isn’t any specific approach in the way we collaborate with other musicians or artists, it’s a case by case basis. The song with Alexandre St-Onge on our first album was conceptual before it became musical. Our unreleased sessions with Tim Hecker and Christof Migone were spontaneous, live compositions in the studio. Frontera was the first time we composed music for something other than a new record. The multimedia aspect was interesting to us and the way it was put together was completely new for us. It started with Dana (Gingras, the choreographer) file sharing musical ideas and moods for different parts of the choreography. From there, we recorded demos, exchanged notes and tried out ideas in the same room with the dancers to see what worked or didn’t. We went back to the practice space with new notes and directions and so on and so on. The music was composed based on the choreography but it also inspired the dancers and Dana to change it a bit to follow the musical patterns and moods. It was a total collaboration between us, the dancers and Dana.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Jonathan: To answer this question as a band is almost impossible. The asymmetry of our individual lives is significant, which makes our band what it is. In terms of schedule, it is pretty basic: we fix one when we need one, usually before a show or before studio recordings. Recently we did a few residencies with Animals of Distinction for "Frontera" and we approached things differently because we were rehearsing for choreographic dance work. We were in a real-time mediation with other disciplines. We had lots of space and the sound system was usually very good. The difference was that we were surrounded. A friend of ours was the sound engineer. It’s hard to come back from such an ideal context. It’s very different from rehearsing in a small and isolated room at the end of your town.
In the spirit of the question, we inevitably separate ourselves as individuals by being in a sort of reality that cannot be totally understood by one another. While being actor and observer. Also, the fact that we are friends, means that aspects of our lives are going to blend in with us and feed into the band. We share a lot about everything. Not to take the word lightly. And obviously, we feed each other with musical ideas. We often spend time exchanging about a particular object of curiosity. Sometimes that may be very inconsequential and distant, sometimes sharp and sensational, some other times not musically oriented. Trying, as a distraction, to decode some musical entity, as well as sharing the absurd fiction of our own intimacy. So, to resume, creating and playing music together is undoubtedly an aspect of our life but not by a rigid definition. And that feeds back into each other’s lives, individually as well as for the band.