Green and Gold were 2013’s breakout band of the year, no question about it. They’re one of the best live acts this city has seen in years, they play a staggering number of shows, and their album, The Body Knows, is by many people’s opinion, the album of the year. Big words, for a province that churns out 200 albums a year, and The Body Knows really is an instant St. John’s classic. These eight songs are carefully constructed and do everything right. And this sound: the local music scene has been needing this sound, exactly this sound.
The Overcast: If I made you pick a favourite song off the album, which would you pick? Any reason why?
Len O’Neill: I’d probably go with the title track. For me, the song is the most obvious reference to the music that happened to affect and influence me the most — a lot of the Canadiana/indie rock that was produced in the last decade. Lyrically, (I hope?) this song tries to scratch at themes of interconnectedness, wakefulness (madness?) and the latent power of intuition, which I’d argue informed the the musical choices on the record, its production, and the artwork that accompanies it.
And if I let you pick another favourite?
“Night Rainbows.” It’s really fun to play. I like uplifting music. It’s nice to jump while singing every once in a while. “Those Deviant Kids” is also a blast. I get to noodle on the guitar, and it makes me feel alright about having spent so much time in bars.
Is there a song on here that’s a little different for you, or that you questioned including?
“Sunny Nothing” almost didn’t make the cut. It didn’t feel finished to me. It felt like a sappy acoustic sort of song, and though I liked the lyrics it didn’t feel as strong as the other songs. In hindsight, I think I just feel more vulnerable singing that song. I wrote it in one sitting after having a really strange/existentially bleak walk around the east side of downtown. Not that that’s a common thing or anything. It was just a weird day.
Which one of these songs came out the hardest or was the longest in the crafting? Why?
“Night Rainbows” was a completely different song about two years ago. It had the same verse, though played on piano, but had a whole different chorus and this long, extended outro that we now play as a bridge in an unrecorded song. It was inspired by Bon Iver and The Postal Service and was super airy. When Steve (Doyle) and I were arranging it, the verse was the only thing that was working. It didn’t feel like the chords should change, so we just tried a buildup sort of thing with the same progression. The old chorus was super cheesy and clearly lifted from a Bon Iver song. The hook/riff came later, after having demo’d the song , while I was filling in the gaps on a computer. It was nice to find.
Share a random fact about one of your songs on this album, or the album itself.
The intro to “The Body Knows” was originally a different track called “White Blue Black” that was composed in a different key on an acoustic guitar that was super processed. I scored a short film and used it in a pretty heart-wrenching scene, but unfortunately, the film never made it to the Nickel. We wanted to come up with something to open shows, so I suggested White Blue Black, and changed the key so it would work with The Body Knows. We originally planned on recording them as separate tracks, but didn’t have the time while producing the record. We recorded it as one song, and Georgie Newman brought it to life with his keen studio wizardry. Now I can’t imagine the song or record without it.
Name one influence on your approach to songwriting – whether it be a musician or a goal you have in crafting a song.
Well. I’ve been really influenced by Hey Rosetta!’s approach of seeking to bring the emotional content of lyrics to life with “natural” chord progressions and a dramatic use of tension and release. But I think everyone has been influenced by that. It’s hard not to be. It’s even harder to pull it off as well as they do.
What’s a new album you’ve been loving lately?
I’ve been listening to the Wunderstrands record while typing this up. It’s dreamy. Beautiful. Nostalgic. My kind of drony. And there’s a killer Victor Lewis cover on there. It’s called “Annalisa.” “You” is super sweet too. I also have been listening to the new Dog Day record. I really like “Sandwiches” and “Before Us.”
And if I lit your album collection on fire, what’s one album you’d think to save first?
I actually don’t have many physical records. It’s something I’ve been just starting to get into. I’d probably try and save “Fear Fun” by Father John Misty. He’s become somewhat of a weirdo religious figure to me, and I’ve connected with nearly every song on that record. It also has that super intense “novel” in the liner notes which I haven’t read yet. If you burned it I wouldn’t ever get around to reading it. I’d be mad at you and kindly ask that you replace my 5-album collection.
There are many ways to evaluate a song. But for you, what’s one trait that makes a great song a great song? Name a song you love that fits that bill.
If I knew the answer to that question I’d probably have a lot more money. Maybe. Or maybe just more good songs. I think there’s a certain “rightness” that songs can have if you let them unfold into themselves and stop trying to write them. But I think that’s really hard to do. And I don’t really know if it’s true. Some people talk of songs or melodies or poems or paintings as “just being out there” and that you have to pluck them out of air or wait for them to come to you as you work. It’s a little hokey, but there may be something to it. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right. On the other hand, Abbey Road is pretty scattered and that feels right. Maybe ideas can become right when you get used to them, and what you think is “right” right now could be just the grammar of the conventions of the style you’re working in. I’m not even sure if I can talk about this. What’s that Costello quote? “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture?” Yeah. Anyway. I think a great song is “Soda Pop Rock” by Thom Coombes. I cover that song all the time. I love the arrangement on Slow Motion Pictures.
Other than music, name something else you love.
My family are the epitome of “best kind,” and all the people around me are almost too lovely to handle. But they’re not things now are they? I suppose I became kind of obsessed with bell pepper bisque soups over Christmas. I’m also pretty sure that my most of my personality is based on The Simpsons in some way. It’s the only thing I can ever quote. I actually didn’t even know that Elvis Costello said the thing I referenced earlier. I had to look it up. I love skateboarding too, though I don’t get out that much any more. I heard [The Shins’ song] “Caring is Creepy” in Transworld’s 2002 video “In Bloom” and it turned me on to listening to all the new music that would eventually inspire me to make music myself. My friends and I used to make videos together, which totally fostered in me a love of producing things with my pals. It was pretty easy to move from skateboarding all the time to making music all the time.
Photo Credit: Graham Kennedy