by Jack Kredell | photos by Megan Mack
Maybe I’m lazy and wasn’t doing my job but the two best shows I saw at CMJ this year were both played by an unsigned Montreal pop band called How Sad. The third best show I saw was not How Sad because I didn’t know they played a third show.
Day one I went to Banners CMJ Party at Pianos to check out a young, beautiful, and much-hyped Brooklyn psych-rock band who will remain anonymous. What happened next saw me trying to find the exit as quickly as possible because I was in the presence of musical anathema: the genre known as too cool for school. In music, as in any other form of art, if you’re not doing it for yourself you’re not doing it for anybody. So I went upstairs to check out the smaller stage and promptly found myself bobbing up and down to infectious and bittersweet pop songs, one after the other, belted out by a slightly distressed-looking singer whose arms tend to pitch upwards and hang in the air like he’s waltzing with a ghost.
How Sad are a great band because (to borrow Updike’s words on Nabokov) they play music the only way it should be played: ecstatically. A few days later I met up with singer Harris Gilbertshper before How Sad’s last CMJ show to learn more about this compelling Montreal quartet:
Jack Kredell: Can you say something about how you got started?
HG: It started out quietly about a year and a half ago as a way for us to play loft parties and have fun. We were all in different projects and we’ve all been friends for a while so it just came together. Things started to happen when people from POP Montreal saw one of our loft parties and invited us to play a few festivals across Canada. Since then we self-released an EP [Indian Summer] in September and did a little touring. We have a few more festival dates and then we’re going to work on a full length. The plan is just keep playing.
JK: So tell us about the name How Sad.
HG: It’s funny, whenever I write really happy music I usually write very sad lyrics. Everyone is always like “you guys are such a happy band,” but the music isn’t so happy if you listen. A lot of these songs were written during a difficult year for me. I was going through a break up, moving around a lot, and was homeless for a bit. Actually the song “Indian Summer” is about this time I slept on the street in New York.
JK: That sucks. Do you remember where it was?
HG: I think it was in the Lower East Side on 3 avenue and something. It’s also the name of a song by The Adicts. That song also sounds very happy when it’s actually very sad. Boy meets girl and falls in love, girl runs away. How sad. Sounding happy while not being happy.
JK: You guys remind me of Sunset Rubdown a bit.
HG: Yeah, I think for all of us Montreal has been a big influence. I moved to Montreal when I was 18. Those are the bands – Sunset Rubdown, Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade – those were my heroes at the time.
JK: I kind of hate the “what are your influences” question. I mean there are the shameful influences and then the influences you want to be your influences.
HG: As for the shameful ones, I try not to be too shameful. I listen to a lot of pop music. I really like the new Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus singles. They’re great songs written by great songwriters. Obviously there’s something there if millions of people like this music. But the biggest influence, I’d say, has been Bowie. But when it comes to influences and being influenced, especially at the level of an individual song, it’s very… schizophrenic. There aren’t a lot of instances, if any, where I can say I listened to this band and then wrote this song.
JK: There’s some danger in putting your first EP online. Has releasing it on your own worked in your favor?
HG: I don’t know. At a certain point we just wanted people to hear the music. If somebody came around and wanted to re-release it with a couple new songs I might do that. It’s always never the right time. I know people who hold onto stuff for years and then they’re releasing music they made five years ago and by then they have two more albums. So at a certain point you just have to make a call: ok, I can write more songs, I can write more music, let this stuff go and keep working.
How Sad debut EP Indian Summer is available for download here. And booking agents, if you’re listening, please snatch this band up and send them stateside so we can all have the pleasure of How Sad once again.