As we journey through the waters of life, we navigate toward our hopes and dreams. Life can be topsy turvy for a time, but ultimately we keep the horizon in view and travel ever onward. Exit 451 puts this life voyage into a musical ebb and flow.
“Seek it all and follow your calling” says “Where the Sea Meets the Sky.” We do our best to steer clear of turbulent waters. And yet, the most beautiful moments of life sometimes require that we face the storms head on. “Western Child” with its childbirth references, calls us to “give like never before” saying “it’s time to free some of my love.”
The Fall 2010 debut ‘The Sea above the Sky’ blends widely popular Duran Duran / Tears for Fears new wave elements with quirkier Queen style funk rock sounds. Weaving ambient and experimental threads into the retro fabric, Exit 451 creates a unique modern day pop rock sound.
Based in Montreal, Canada, Exit 451 consists primarily of brothers Alain (guitars, keyboards, piano, arrangements) and Martin Avon (bass, arrangements) and JP Alepins (lyrics, vocals, piano). To capture the essence of their debut album, the trio recorded ‘The Sea above the Sky’ during a one-month closed retreat at Studio 451.
For the album, Steve Nistor (Daniel Lanois’ tour drummer) recorded all drum and percussion tracks. Two drum kits were used, one of which was Jeremy Gara’s (Arcade Fire) C&C kit which Gara graciously lent to the band for the recording sessions. Pierre Marchand (Sarah McLachlan’s producer) also contributed to the recording, lending his vintage guitars and amps to the band. Out of the 12 complete songs recorded, 10 were carefully chosen for the album.
JP Alepins spoke to Resonance about the album’s essence and the meaning behind, ‘The Sea above the Sky.’
MC: For your latest album production, you hired Mark Howard whose method is said to “capture the musician’s essence and spontaneity by destabilizing him on every take.” Please share how the recording of this album was a new experience for Exit 451.
JP: As we’ve been running a professional recording studio since 2004 (www.studio451.ca), we’ve been much more in contact with the technical side of music for a while (which is very important indeed). However, we had lost something along the way. Mark Howard contributed to put back this ‘rock and roll’ attitude in the way we make music. Only a couple of takes were necessary to nail down the tracks (even some one-takes!) and we were not keen on editions. This rush of adrenaline made us perform even better, as if it was the last time, every time.
MC: It’s definitely important to catch that live quality.
The album’s title ‘The Sea above the Sky’ immediately has me thinking of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. This doesn’t involve the search for an elusive green flash at the final moment of sunset, does it? Tell us more about the inspiration behind this poetic title.
JP: This is a very clever interpretation. Although the three of us have our own interpretations, I can only talk about mine. To me, ‘The Sea Above the Sky’ represents this infinite space beyond measure in which we live our beautiful but frail existences; it is also a poetic (and oceanic) evocation of a quest that will never end, a ship lost in a sea of unanswered questions.
MC: That’s certainly something to ponder.
The three of you worked to reopen a famous Montreal recording studio under the new name, The Bank Studio 451. Today it is one of the best recording facilities in North America. Why was that such an important undertaking for you?
We’ve put a lot in this studio, even a little bit of blood I’m sure! It was indeed a huge challenge and it still is. The recording industry has gone through major changes since the end of the last millennium but we keep on believing that a real studio with real analog equipment is the only way to make real good music. Lately, I’ve gotten the feeling that musicians and producers are coming back to that. Although it’s a lot of work, we feel blessed to have a ‘home’ for our band. That’s where the Exit 451 band name came from.
MC: Yes, in 2008 Exit 451 was formed, and you set out to “work on the album of your dreams.” What qualities were envisioned in that dream album?
JP: [We envisioned] an album made of real performances, with a vintage sound and where the uncanny and the pop co-exist.
MC: So you wanted to put forth your individual sound, but also create something widely appealing. That’s a great thing to strive for.
How has ‘The Sea above the Sky’ fulfilled those expectations, either with its quality or with the listeners’ response to it?
JP: Both. We’re very proud of it; we wouldn’t change anything on it. Obviously, we won’t make the same album twice but this one surely captures a feeling of simplicity and spontaneity that will be hard to re-create. We were in our own bubble while recording ‘The Sea above the Sky’ and I believe it shows on the recording. The public and media’s response to it, especially from radio stations, was very encouraging for a first effort.
MC: This album has running themes of dedication and sometimes desperation. “Where the Sea Meets the Sky” asks, “Will you ever come back to me?” “Face of Maya” says, “I want you to stay in my life.” And “Morning Star” has my favorite line, “Now that you’ve gone away from me, your light still shines to me.” In a cynical age where love relationships are expected to be transient or at best, pathways to inevitable heartache, what sustains your hope in devotion?
JP: You’re absolutely right.
Devotion. To someone, to an idea, to a belief. Theses lyrics cover a certain period in my life where I was looking for all kinds of ‘ultimate feelings.’ They were the fuel I needed to move forward I suppose. I still believe that building and cultivating significant relationships (of any kind) is one of the most important things in life.
MC: Agreed. I’d say you’re hardly alone in that sentiment, which becomes more evident with life experience.
Brothers Alain and Martin Avon have been on the music scene since the early 90s, having founded the popular underground band, Imaginary Steps. How would you say the consumer’s attitude has transitioned over the past couple decades and how have you adjusted to that shift?
JP: Well, everything is on the web now and it simply gives more options for musicians to promote their music. Although it seems easier nowadays, nothing has really changed; you’ve still got to find your niche and it still takes hard work, talent and a little bit of luck.
MC: Speaking of those elements for success, I read that you had a video contest for your single, “You Exist.” I love Chaz Fatur’s vision to include three societal members who need better affirmation of their existence: a misunderstood teen, a neglected homeless man, and an underappreciated housewife. Tell us a bit more about Fatur’s vision and what led you to select his idea as the ultimate contest winner. When can we expect the video to be released?
JP: Fatur’s sensitivity was the main reason why we picked his script. We wanted someone who could really capture the essence and the nuances of the song. Also, we didn’t necessarily want to appear in the video so his scenario was perfect for us. As for the release, we’re waiting for funding but it’s a priority for us. We’ll shoot as soon as possible.
MC: Other future plans for Exit 451?
JP: Playing shows, writing new material, keep promoting the band… we’ll keep you posted! You can find all the latest news on the band at www.exit451.ca or on Facebook.
MC: Fantastic. Anything else you’d like to add?
JP: I forgot to mention that ‘The Sea above the Sky’ is on sale on all digital outlets worldwide and physically at www.exit451.ca – Cheers !
Hear clips of Exit 451’s ‘The Sea above the Sky’ here.