Interview: Gulfer

A few months ago I had the pleasure of speaking with Gulfer’s Joe Therriault and David Mitchell about the band’s latest album for Topshelf Records, Third Wind. The Montreal quartet’s fourth album expands beyond their emo/math rock wizardry and dives into more textured and sometimes poppier styles (songs like “Clean,” “Cherry Seed,” and “Motive” stand out). But even still, Third Wind is a Gulfer album through and through, still exhibiting the band’s charm and songwriting prowess that’s been developed over the course of their career. Joe, David, and I talk about the origins of the record, making three music videos, the joys of making music with your friends, and more.

Third Wind is the first Gulfer album that Joseph wrote the majority of songs for – what was that experience like for you?

Joe Therriault: Yeah, majority it’s, it’s like 51% majority kind of thing, but even on the songs I took the lead on, everyone had a big input. I think it is nominally slightly more than the previous, but it still felt like everyone had their input and whatnot. 

Absolutely. What was that experience like for you being the quote unquote primary songwriter for a Third Wind

JT: Well, it never really felt like that because it was just one song at a time kind of thing. During the pandemic we’re demoing songs and on our own a lot and just sending each other songs back and forth. And there were a bunch of songs during that time that Vince had written, for example, Neighbors and Greetings and a bunch of those that ended up being coming out as EPs before or stuff that’s going to come out after. So just we ended up picking these 10 and ended up being six and four or whatever by chance. It never felt like, okay, this is an explicit “you’re doing the primary thing.” They kind of just came about organically. 

David Mitchell :I mean I think the two of them write so many songs and they all come out sort of very sporadically. I don’t think there’s a lot of rhyme or reasons. Joey was saying there’s sort of a batch that came out as singles and that harmer split before the record and there’s a whole batch that we’re finishing recording now for more splits and singles after the record. So I think, yeah, it is kind of just a coincidence that of the 10 that made it onto this record, Joey happened to have six and Vince happened to have four. I think maybe we’re using it a little bit more as some kind of narrative arc. But at the same time, I think Joey, it ties into the Third Wind thing too, really has definitely brought a fresh energy, especially in the songwriting spectrum into the band. 

And I think it makes Vince’s life easier after maybe writing songs for this band for 12 years to be like, okay, the pressure’s not exclusively on me. And also Joey’s songwriting will maybe lend a more diverse palette of influences and sounds to the band. But yeah, I don’t think it wasn’t quite as dramatic as Vince being like, ‘I am sick and tired of writing songs and this record won’t happen unless Joey steps up to the plate.’ It’s a happy mix of just mostly happenstance. But I do think all that said, there is certainly some significance to it just insofar as Joey in a bunch of different ways bringing fresh energy and inspiration to the band. 

No, that’s rad. Yeah, I can definitely hear it throughout. I loved the Self-titled album that came out in 2020 and unfortunately like many albums that were released in 2020 it seem to get lost in the shuffle of everything, not being able to tour during the pandemic all the bullshit. So I feel like a lot of people forgot what Gulfer is and how great of a band you are. So it’s awesome to come back four years later with this record. I know you guys are always writing, I mean you have splits and singles planned, but how did that time between the two full length releases affect the band’s approach to writing and influence the direction of Third Wind

JT: That’s a good question. So yeah, one element of it is even before our self-titled came out, a bunch of the songs that were ended up being on Third Wind were already written. But what did happen at one point along the writing process of this is Vince called me one day and he is like, ‘okay, what do you want to do? What are we doing for, what do we want it to sound?’ And there was kind of like for the first time an explicit discussion of, ‘Hey, the songs don’t have to have tapping. We don’t have to do any of that if you don’t want to. It can be a little more whatever.’ And I think you can kind of hear that in the record a little bit that there’s a little bit more freedom and there’s less feeling constrained. I think the big difference between the last record and this one is with the last one there was always a feeling of, ‘okay, the song has to be a Gulfer song and that means it has a certain amount of parts and it has tapping or whatever, and it has these kinds of things.’  And I think we kind put the brakes on that a little bit and opened the amount of influences that we were willing to let in and I think that informed how the record was made. 

Yeah, I do love the production on this record. I guess I didn’t either read it or get notice of it, but did you all produce it?

DM: This is the most DIY recording we’ve ever done. Probably the least expensive recording, all said and done that we’ve ever done. It was all done in our crappy little practice space and then I think in people’s houses. We tracked the entire drums and bass in a day, which was awful. It’s double the max of what I think, I don’t know, by the end of the day I was not playing very good because it was just exhausting. 

JT:  It was a pretty unholy workload. It was very demanding on David

DM: I think it was probably waking up at one o’clock in the afternoon every day and I got to wake up at 8:00 AM to just rip all day and we’re just rushing because it’s got to get this done by the end of the day. And I think we paid sort of friend of our drummer’s a very nominal amount of money to come in with maybe a couple of drum mics and an interface and just track the drums and bass real quick in one day. And then I think the rest was kind of done in various houses. And Joey, you did guitars at your house or Vince’s?

JT: Vince and I did some guitars at my house, but the electric guitars we did at the studio also, we just set up two amps kind of facing away from each other and had a mic on each and then a mic in the room, which Vince engineered and then the acoustic guitars I did at home.

DM: But all that to say, because I think this might be the real answer to the question you were asking, we sort of all did that and none of us I think are particularly expertly trained and recording or whatever, and I remember hearing what we put together and being like, ‘oh, this sounds pretty dicey.’ And then we sent it all to Dylan from Great Grandpa and Eil Giants who also mixed the last one. And I would credit him, maybe not with the producer title, but I think his mix and his intervention just as far as taking what we did ourselves, to me at least, it was night and day between kind of the rough tracks we sent him and then the mixes he sent back. And even then, there’s a lot of back and forth from the mixes, but if anyone deserves sort of a production credit maybe beyond Vince and Joey, I think Dylan from Great Grandpa and e Giants really knocked it out of the park and really took it to a next level with his mix. 

Yeah, I think I love how the vocals sound throughout. I love how the guitars sound. I love all the different type of tones, how it sounds like songs like “Drainer” and “Cherry Seed” is super rad, but then there are songs that remind me one of the best bands of all time, in my opinion is The Sidekicks, and there’s a lot of songs on here that remind me of the pop sensibilities of The Sidekicks with stuff that Gulfer vibe “Prove” and “Talk All Night,” or I love the 180 from the last record to those songs. They’re so cool and it’s cool to hear that different side of Gulfer and then you have the bass and drum elements that show up on “Too Slow” and “Vacant Spirit” that are just super groovy. So the record juggles a lot of different influences this time around, but it still flows very seamlessly.

JT: Yeah, I think one thing that helped us a lot is during the pandemic, a lot of it was written and recorded, and so a lot of the things, either I was in my room or Vince was in his room and you’re just doing whatever. You start with an acoustic guitar and you try that and see – for example “Cherry Seed” originally I wrote on an electric guitar, but it didn’t fit. It didn’t make sense to me and it wasn’t the vibe that I wanted the song to have. And then around then Vince had written “Heart Shape” and he sent to me and it had this acoustic guitar with a chorus on it, and I was like, oh, that sounds cool. Let me try that. And so there’s that kind of bi-directional of just sending demos back and forth, but also having a lot of time to do things and because things weren’t necessarily written with the four of us together in a room at the same time where you’re like, okay, I have whatever I have at the studio, I have this electric guitar, whatever. I think that allowed us to do a lot more in terms of the arrangement that you described and also some of the production choices, like having a little bit of auto tune here and there, having more synths and keys, things that can kind of come up when you’re not on the spot writing, you have a little bit of time to demo things over. And so I think that process of demoing allowed us to bring those elements in a bit more. 

I feel like the last couple of Gulfer records with having the tapping, that math influence, I don’t want to say cluttered, but it can feel very claustrophobic at times and this record, their space and everything breathes really well and plays off of each other really well, and I just thought that was really cool throughout this record. 

JT: That totally is reflected in I think how we approach the songs too, which is I think previously, or at least for me anyways, Vince was less like this, but for me, you kind of write the guitar parts first and then the vocal kind of comes off, but it’s like it comes after, but yeah, it’s kind of claustrophobic and be really busy, whereas here we kind of wrote chords and the vocals the main thing and the rest kind of fills that out. 

DM: What a great compliment it is for you to say that being that it is our most disparate album and that it does touch on so many different things, but that somehow it also feels like our most complete and best flowing and least claustrophobic, I think. Yeah, I’m really proud of the fact that we were able to hopefully nail exploring all of those things, but also making them cohesive, and so that’s awesome to hear that you felt that way as well. 

Another thing I’ve loved in the lead up to this record is release three music videos. You don’t always see bands from this genre or this community put that much promo into the visual portion of it. You usually get one video and that’s it, whether it’s time constraints, budget constraints, et cetera. But you guys did three and they’re all unique and have different styles, and I think you picked the three best songs for those videos too. 

DM: Oh, sick. 

JT: Thank you. 

Each visual is just so unique in style, but I think those songs also do an excellent job of showcasing the different tempos and styles throughout the record too. You get a truly different Gulfer song with each visual. So what inspired to make so many videos and then while I think there’s the three best songs, why did you choose “Clean,” “Heart Shape” and “Too Slow” to be the three representations of the record before it officially releases? 

DM: Well, I think we don’t really tour because it’s very difficult to get into the states without a work visa, and we’re all just sort of busy with jobs and kids and stuff. We’re just not a touring focused band, and so I think we were kind of like, well, we’re not really going to tour around this record and we’re active enough online, but it’s like, what can we do that makes sense for us to give this record as much of a push as possible? It doesn’t require us necessarily leaving home for long stretches or spending exorbitant amounts of money. It was like, well, and I think the label is kind of like, okay, well, you’re not touring and you’re not a viral sensation, so we’re investing into the band. What can you give us to help push the record? And it was like, okay, well, we can do music videos. 

I think “Heart Shape” obviously cost us nothing. It was just footage that we shot ourselves and footage that we found on our Instagram so that it was easy, convenient, fun. I love the nostalgia of the video and the silliness of the video. The other two we’re just really lucky to have a friend who has just gone above and beyond with us in the last couple of years just to do a lot with a little, if it’s budget or resources in terms of personnel or even just gear and cameras and all that kind of stuff. He’s just really passionate about helping us no matter what. So most credit to him. And then Vince also who’s kind of written the concepts and directed the concepts with Jordano Aguzzi, definitely full credit to the two of them for spearheading the “Clean” video and the “Too Slow” video. It’s harder maybe for us to comment because really Vince and Jordan’s vision on those two, but I think me and Joey have joked about this before where we’re really out of the loop on the video stuff. Vince or Jordano will kind of plan everything to a T and then the rest of the band just sort of shows up. We’re like, we have a vague idea of what’s about to happen today. We sort of half read the script (laughs).

JT: I definitely would’ve read the chat. Yeah, I remember for the last one, my girlfriend as I was leaving the house, she’s like, oh, what are you guys doing? And I was like, I don’t know. I’m going to read it on the way there (laughs).

DM: We’re to be outside for eight hours in the minus zero weather, and there’s something about a red balloon and a guy running. Yeah, 

JT: There’s a guy who’s running I think…

DM: And often we’re instructed about outfit changes, make sure to bring three different outfits with these specific vibes. 

JT: Yeah, that’s the classic Vince message: “Remember guys, three outfits.”

DM: But as far as what made us decide to pick those three songs as singles, I think with every record we’ll kind of have an open discussion where everyone, everyone in the band and maybe in the labels kind gives maybe their top three pitches for what they think the best single contenders would be. I think “Clean” is just by far the poppiest thing we’ve ever done. It’s different, but hopefully still somewhat recognizable as our band, and that felt like a really fun one to drop without announcing the records. Just like I think we really wanted to put something out in the year 2023, so that was like, okay, we’ll put it out. It’ll be like a track for the DSPs and we’ll see how people react to it without knowing the context for it, if it’s just sort of a standalone and we got a really good reaction.

A lot of the sort of impetus for “Too Slow” being the lead single with the announcement was just because we were so excited about how the music video turned out. It was actually supposed to be “Heart Shape” as the lead single, and at the absolute buzzer, I made the call to switch the two because I just wanted that “Too Slow” video to be seen as much as it possibly could have been versus kind of the no budget, fun, “Heart Shape” video – the “Too Slow” video we worked really hard on and put a lot into. And I also think “Too Slow” is such a unique track in so many ways. I was like, let’s put that out there with as much push and resources as we can because it’s its own little thing with that outro and all of the drums were kind of just electronic and it’s just, yeah, it felt like a really cool holistic overview of at least some of what we’re going for on the record, but it’s always hard to choose. There are songs that I would’ve definitely, if it was entirely up to me, I love the song “Motive. I would’ve loved for that to have been a single or I think there’s conversations to be had about a bunch of tracks on the record to be singles. 

JT: Yeah, I think it is kind of like you said, we sit down at a band practice and be like, oh, what would your top three be? And we all have our own top three and maybe there’s one or two that either all of us or three to four of us were all on the same page about. Okay, so that’s easy. Then we got a couple there, and then the last one, I remember the conversation about the video for the “Heart Shape” versus “Too Slow,” that being a part of it. I remember it’s just a conversation of kind of balancing what are we the most proud of, what kind of showcases, the variety of the record, but also what’s kind of on the poppier side that might be more initially accessible. And we just think about those things and think about what feels right.

DM: Yeah, the weird reality about the modern era of music is that those tracks that you pick a singles are going to get double triple ten times more plays and listens than the ninth track on the record, if you go back to Dog Bless, “Fading” has 20 times more plays than whatever the last track on the record is. So it becomes this weird strategic thing. It’s like these are songs maybe because of playlists or algorithms or whatever are songs that might just get considerable more attention than maybe the seven other songs on the record combined. So it’s like, what songs do we want that if people don’t actually end up hearing the rest of the record, maybe on a playlist or on an algorithm or whatever, at least they’ll hear maybe one or two of the singles. So it becomes this really strategic, almost long-term decision in the DSP arena of just being realistic and being like, well, a lot of people might not sit through the whole record, but they might catch “Clean” by happenstance, and what songs do we want those songs to be? And I think, yeah, skewing short and poppy –  I think that was kind of our rationale. 

Yeah, I know I saw the tweet the other day of “Heart Shape” being the favorite song the band has ever released. 

DM: That was just me. I can’t speak on behalf of the rest of the band. (Laughs)

I mean, it’s up there for sure. I think it perfectly exemplifies what this album is about, and you kind of mentioned it, but what’s cool about this record is when I listened to all 10 tracks, I feel like you could get a bunch of different answers of people saying a different one’s their favorite track off the record. I don’t think there’s just a clear cut favorite, and I think that’s really cool. I think that shows staying power with a record when any of the 10 tracks could be someone’s favorite track. 

DM: Yeah. It’s funny because when I tweeted that and to date “Heart Shape” is my favorite song we’ve ever released, but in two weeks, in three weeks, it’ll be “Motive.” “Motive” will be my favorite track we’ve ever released. So yeah, I just have this deep emotional connection to “Motive.” There’s something that song makes me feel that maybe nothing we’ve ever no other Gulfer song makes me feel. I don’t know what it is about it. I don’t know if I’m the only one who feels that way, but we played it for the first time in probably over a year, the other day at band practice. I was just, just a dopamine, absolute rush of dopamine. So that’s the one for me. I’m like “Motive” all the way. What about you, Joey? What’s your favorite track on the record? 

JT: It’s hard to say. I love “Motive” too. The second half the production on it with the acoustic guitars and the lap steel and stuff. I really love how that came together and that kind more just the simple melody kind of catchy, the slacker bit there. I love how that sounds. So that’s up there for me, I think “Heart Shape” is a big one because it’s how when Vince sent me that he was kind of like, does this make sense song? What do you think? And I was like, yeah, this rocks, let’s go. And then that also that made me feel like, oh, that means something like “Cherry Seed.” We could take it in this direction. So that song to me is a turning point in a way that it represented so that has a special spot for me too.

Yeah, I think the record has no weaknesses. I was saying the second half of this record is just beautiful music. It’s awesome. Yeah, “Motive” is amazing. And it’s like track seven. It’s perfect deep cut area right there to be an all time fan favorite, I think. 

JT: Oh hell yeah. 

DM: Yeah, it’s a big compliment because I feel like it’s hard to make a back half of a record be as lit as the first half. So that’s a big compliment. 

Yeah, I’m a big side B guy, always been like that. That’s where you find the best songs from any band I think. So to wrap up – what defines success for Gulfer in 2024?

JT: Think the thing for me is really simple is the thing that I like doing about being Gulfer is writing songs with my friends and having, knowing that, okay, whatever. I’m like, whatever you have in your head or whatever, you sit down record on your phone where you’re recording your computer, whatever you have someone to send that to and they’re going to listen to it already. That’s crazy. You know what I mean? Most people don’t have that. Everyone loves to play music and they record a little thing and having people to send it to someone who’s like, oh, let’s work on this together already. That’s the best thing. Everything on top of that to me is gravy. 

DM: Yeah, there’s no stakes for Gulfer in 2024. There’s no aspirations of success or touring. I mean, it would be nice for Topshelf to break even on the release and sell some records. That’d be cool. I am not going to lie and say it would be awesome to get some nice reviews and stuff. And I’m also a bit of a freak for stats, so if we can get some good Spotify stats, I’m pretty obsessive about checking that kind of stuff. So yeah, maybe on the flip to Joey’s really soft, friendly, pleasant answer, I’m like, oh, well, another Pitchfork review would be great. And some streams and some big shot editorial playlists and a lot of record sales. And yeah, hopefully some shows, at least in the areas we can go to without a visa like Eastern Canada, hopefully we’ll play a couple shows this summer. We’re working on a handful of shows this summer, hopefully that come through. That’ll be a fun weekend or two with the buds. So a record’s always fun to have an excuse to do that. It’s like, oh, well, we have to go out to Toronto and Quebec City, we have this album.  So yeah, having a nice little summer of a weekend here and there playing shows with my friends is a nice byproduct of having the record out. But yeah, all that kind of stuff that is immediately tangible that we don’t necessarily have to run out and chase and sort of seeing the results of that. But nothing beyond that.