Modern Space is a 5 piece band out of Toronto, Canada. The group, consisting of members Sean Watson Graham (vocals) Sam Arion (guitar), Alex Laurie (guitar), Cody Steele (bass) and Tay Ewart (drums) have already shared the stage with an impressive cast of musicians including Lights, The Vaccines and Arkells. In creating their debut EP Before Sunrise the group worked with producer Tawgs Salter (Lights, Walk Off the Earth, Scott Helman, USS). At the start of this year, Modern Space were selected to be part of Spotify’s Spotlight 2016 program. The Spotlight campaign features a small group of new Canadian artists to watch, and will see the band heavily featured throughout the streaming service.
What challenges did you feel approaching “Before Sunrise”?
Sean: To be honest, I didn’t feel many challenges. I think with the EP and approaching its release, maybe a couple challenges were with solidifying how solid we are as a live band. We had a thirty day tour approaching and we wanted to make sure we were the best possible band we could be, and the tightest band. We wanted to interact with the audience on the level that the bands we were opening for were at. It took maybe twelve days into the Arkells shows, to analyze each show and not just what we were all doing, but to analyze each other. By the time we hit Calgary during the Arkells shows, we were at our best possible state and by the end of the run, I think it was the Commodore Ballroom, that was our best show to date.
How do you feel the reaction has been?
Sean: Great! All of the shows were a lot more packed than we thought. We were selling a lot of CDs and getting a lot of love on social media. It was kind of funny because we are played now on the local radio station in Toronto, 102.1 The Edge and we always get messages from friends about being played on The Edge, so just that reaction from people we know, and those we don’t know has been really warmly recieved.
The band is featured in Spotify’s Spotlight 2016 program — How have you seen that feature impact the band?
Sean: Spotify is a new platform and a growing platform and something people are turning to, to discover new music, and to be a highlighted artist is a complete honour. It has really propelled us forward. The other day we hit a million plays collectively.
Alex: It is crazy. It is like we haven’t fully grasped the impact of what Spotify is. It is on a global scale. I hadn’t seen numbers and was told we had hit 200,000 plays and you think about it. That is a big number. Then you realize that people all over the world, that you haven’t met before, heard your song. That many times. It is really crazy.
Was there anything about the process this time around that you would want to change next time?
Sean: Writing a bit more independently before writing in the studio would be nice. Maybe the next time around the songs could be with the band for a lot longer. It would be nice to have a lot more songs before taking it to the producer. Maybe work a bit more as a band in the studio would be really nice. And, just getting better and progressing creatively.
What is the hardest part of creating music?
Alex: That is doesn’t exist before you create it. That sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But, it doesn’t exist and you’re always trying to go for something new. It is a daunting thing when you are going into a new album and that you have to create something. You don’t know what it sounds like at all. You pretty much just have to make things constantly. This tour we’ve been on eight hour drives between stops and we’re on our laptops. I think that is the best way to do it; to create all the time. If you look at it like this daunting process, then that is exactly what is it. Songwriting is pretty scary.
Sean: I think the hardest part is just being tough on yourself. That is when it is good to have a producer. If you come in with something and think it is great, they will tell you if you can do better. For Rule Britannia, we had a completely different chorus.He just kept pushing us for a better lyric, a better melody. Maybe the hardest part of writing is being self-critical.
Working on tracks, are you ever surprised at how good they become? Are there any that really surprised you on the EP?
Sean: Festival Express. We didn’t have anything in mind for it. It was six hour day and then a couple things happened out of our control. I didn’t realize what we had written and he sent it to me as I was driving back. I had to stop at Tim Hortons to get some wi-fi to download it. The plug in my car didn’t work, so I had to burn that song onto a CD. The drive was two to three hours. I put the song on in a haze and I listened to the song the whole ride home. And, sometimes it takes playing it live to know that you really created something special, that you have done something good.
Can you talk a bit about the artistic growth you feel you experienced throughout the creation process?
Sean: I was really fortunate to get hooked up with a really awesome singing teacher and getting my vocals better, better range, a better sense of pitch was probably the biggest development. I am still kind of amazed at how much my voice has changed from the first song Rule Britannia, to Little Lies, which is the last song. I don’t think I could have hit any of those notes a year before.
Alex: With the artistic growth, being in the band and it being our first EP, the first song established the sound and the basis for it and all five of us sort of had gotten into the groove of things from playing together so much. Now I find myself writing in a complete different way. I especially have a completely different approach to the guitar than when I first joined the band, just because of the way we all work together. You sort of grow into it, in a different way than I would have without the band. It is something that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Are there any risks you feel you took on the EP?
Sean: No, I think that we just did the exact style we wanted to do. Maybe a risk would have been writing the songs for ourselves instead of other people. I think the biggest thing you can do is write songs for yourself and not for other people. It’s not a popularity contest. You have to listen to the songs a million times and play them a million times and if you are doing it for anyone other than yourself, then it would probably just suck.
What expectations do you have for yourself when you’re creating music?
Alex: I always want to outdo the last thing I did, as far as creating. Maybe it is not the best, but I will create something and I’d listen to it for a bit and a week later feel it is not good enough. That is what I try to do when I am creating; always do better than the last thing. That is something I am anxious about, getting stuck at a level and hitting a plateau. But, when you’re writing all the time, you just progress naturally anyways.
Sean: Going back to Little Lies, that was the last song for the record and it was actually done before we finished the other tunes and we just decided it would be good to have a more mellow tune. Going back into the studio I just had this really high expectation that a great song would be written and I’m going to have to do something that was as good as that. I think that created a bit of writers block because you spent the whole day trying to come up with the right lyrics and melody. Tawgs Salter said he was going to send my the instrumental but if I didn’t have anything within a couple hours, we would just cut it as is and we should be happy with the six songs we had. So, I went back to the hotel, jumped in the pool and lounged around and it wasn’t until I went outside in the parking lot, lit up a cigarette, and got in my head that it came. I think it is because I didn’t feel pressure and expectations for myself and was totally relaxed. Having too high of expectations was a negative thing.
What elements make a good song?
Alex: A good groove. As long as it is not in a ballad, than you don’t really need that, but a good foundation as far as rhythmic value goes, is really important. Especially with this band. We always go off on a drum beat and its really effective to do it. People like dancing and that rhythm. A good song has a really good sound and groove, drum and bass and good lyrics. We all believe in good lyrics and strive for those.
At this point, what do you value most about your experience in music?
Alex: One of them is getting to travel to different places you’re playing. I knew I would be a musician and playing music, but I never thought this would actually happen. Then, you see yourself driving through the mountains and there’s these huge things in front of you and realize that music got you here. And, getting to meet so many people and your favourite bands. Just getting to share the experience with more people than you ever thought possible is such a wonderful thing. When you learn to play guitar at the age of twelve, who would have thought, you know?
Sean: I’m totally in sync with what Alex is saying. It gets kind of boring when you’re stuck in the same town, the same city. To be able to get out and meet people that if we hadn’t gone on this trip, we wouldn’t have met. The good thing about playing shows and after you’re done, it breaks the ice between two people. They can come up to you and say “great show” and whatever and from there you can kind of become friends. There isn’t that tension as if you were just hanging out at a bar and don’t have something to say. That is why after shows we always go into the crowd or hang out at the merch table and meet as many people as we can. Chilling with the Arkells was super cool.
What are you looking forward to most this year, 2016?
Alex: I would really like to play some music festivals this year this summer. We hope it will be a year of touring, a year of improving as a band, a year of writing new songs and releasing a couple of music videos.
Sean: And to build on that, just seeing where “Before Sunrise” goes. Seeing what the reception is and where that goes and what we develop as sound as future sound and direction. A lot happens in a year. This time last year, we weren’t even playing shows really. It would be nice to go on a summer tour. The winter touring is sort of gruelling.
Who was the last person, or what was the last thing, to really inspire you?
Alex: I just read No One Here Gets Out Alive, the biography of Jim Morrison, for like the third time. I constantly read it because it always gets me excited to travel and write. I think even just hanging out with the Arkells, watching them play. I think that is a good goal to get to, if we could be like that, and get to our third album. That was pretty inspirational to see how great the Arkells were and know that we could do something that great, in our own way. Seeing that there is a next level.
Sean: The last thing that inspired me in a big way was David Bowie’s last album, just before he passed away. Seeing such an artistic venture that was and the circumstances surrounding him were really inspiring and what you can do with a piece of art. How much you can really explore; it was a reminder that music has no limits. That was really inspiring for me, as someone who wants to do a lot with music and move forward all the time. It was a really inspiring thing.
Do you have any final thoughts?
Alex: Look out for some more music videos and tour dates!
+ Debbie Fettback
Photo: Debbie Fettback