Premiere + Q&A: In what seems like a bottomless pool of forceful and talented experimental pop-rock from Canada I recently discovered Montreal-based Telstar Drugs floating around on the surface. A blend of unexpected drum structures, steadily sounding (and catchy as fuck) guitar riffs, and a carefully balanced mixture of tranquility and noise they caught my attention immediately – and obsessively. I got a hold of Raff McMahan from the band, and grilled him for a bit. Here’s what he had to say and the premiere of the new song ‘Pulley‘.
Denmark says hi. Introduce yourselves, please.
Hello Denmark! I’m Raff from a band called Telstar Drugs.
What are the elements of a good song according to you?
What a tough first question! I listen to a lot of music that is pretty all over the place, so pinning down the common thread of what makes a piece of music ‘good’ for me is near impossible, but I’d say that as long as something has character and intention behind it, then you’re almost there. Whatever happens aside from that is pretty arbitrary as long as you’re in the zone while you’re fleshing it out.
How is your process with writing and recording new material? Has is changed over the years or remained the same?
Generally, for the past four years or so, we start with working out a song live and playing it a bunch of times before we record it, which has its benefits for sure. I’ll usually change what I do in a song a few times before something sticks and I can feel confident about it.
The main problem with that process is that by the time we are recording something, it’s been at least a few months, and sometimes I feel pretty out of sync with something by the time it comes out, musically and lyrically. I mean, some of the songs from Sonatine were around before our 12″ from last year came out, and I feel like I was in a whole different zone back then.
I’ve already started recording another record though, and it’s coming along quick and easy for now. We’re gonna play at least a couple new jams at our release show in a couple weeks, and then I think we’re gonna try to catch up with ourselves and go back into recording hibernation for fall and winter.
What are you most exited about with your upcoming release, ‘Sonatine’?
I’m glad it’s finally coming out! It was a hard one to finish, it felt kind of like a fitness endurance test or banging my head against a rock until it was a sculpture. I’m generally pleased with the result though and I’m excited for people to be able to hear it.
Looking back in 20 years what will you remember the best from this release?
I have no idea!
Noise or silence (just in general)?
While I was growing up I always thought about living in a bigger city, but now that I do I definitely appreciate silence more. I live in a ground floor apartment with three bars within a hundred paces. I’m a pretty light sleeper, and I have a window in my room facing an alley, so sometimes I get woken up at night by people puking or pissing or yelling in the alley, and sometimes I don’t. I’m really rolling the dice every time I go to sleep. I also live with 3 other people that are active musicians (two play in Telstar right now), and our studio is in the basement, which you have to go through my bedroom to get to. It would be nice to have more silence in my life for sure.
What is the best thing about playing music?
Oof thats another hard question. I don’t think there is a best thing about it. On one hand, everything about creating music or any art is positive. There are parts that are hard and can feel like work, yes, and parts that are easy and make you feel really good about yourself and your art, but it’s all part of the same process.
Recording or playing a good show, I feel like I’m in the same zone where I can lose that steady stream of thought and I’m just reacting to either the other players or whats been recorded. Anytime I can get there is the best thing about playing music I guess, but it’s not exclusive to an aspect of the process.
(This is us hoping) Any plans of a Europe tour anytime soon?
Haha! Maybe in like, 2025? Just kidding (kind of), I’d love to go to Europe! I hear that people are really nice to bands there, but we still haven’t even gone on tour in Canada yet in our 4-ish years of being a band. We’re all pretty home-bodied and are more interested in recording and experimenting than taking a batch of songs on tour and playing them every night for a long time. I’d imagine we’d try to play some shows outside of Montreal in 2016 when it gets warm again and we have another new record, though.
Raff’s own words about the song, ‘Pulley’:
While I was writing this one, I tried to compose it so that all the parts were kind of hovering around the main vocal melody. I feel like we’ve done a lot of songs where the vocal melody is just one among many melodies that run through the separate instruments, but I wanted the other elements to augment instead of counter the main line with this one; to be more singular instead of a sum. Theres also some Eno-ish extra percussion in the middle section that was fun to mess around with.
‘Sonatine‘ is released on Egg Paper Factory on September 15th. Get on it!