SOUND SEEKERS: The Ethics bring oomph to Modern Love
Scene & Heard

SOUND SEEKERS: The Ethics bring oomph to Modern Love

Sound Seekers by Fateema Sayani is published weekly at Read Fateema Sayani’s culture column in Ottawa Magazine and follow her on Twitter @fateemasayani

The Ethics are (from left): Paul Ross (drums), Marcus Ward (keys), Kevin Hersak (vocals, guitar), Matt Arnold (bass), and Jeff Gleeson (guitar, vocals)

Urban malaise, big-city alienation, and the anxiety of anonymity have been throughlines in The Ethics’ previous two albums, Even the Stars (2007) and At Cities’ End (2009). Issues of beauty, romanticism, and decline were carefully crafted in words and rhythms. The band’s sound was distinctly Ottawa, churning up vibes of national capital bands of yore: Wooden Stars, Weights & Measures and the like.

It’s third time plucky with the band’s new album What I Did for Modern Love. Make no mistake: The Ethics maintain their thread of seeking and yearning and they still play a dreamy, ponderous, Bytowncore tune, but they do it with a bit more oomph. The five-piece kicks it up on tracks such as Untouchables, Night Train, and Shadow. The songs have groove, there are foot-tappers, a bit of attitude, and even a danceable beat. This is saying a lot for the band that traffics in subtlety and mild mannerisms aimed at head and heart.

It’s a sound that’s been cultivated over years when the band formed with songwriter Kevin Hersak and guitarist Jeff Gleeson. They later brought Paul Ross (drums), Matt Arnold (bass) and Marcus Ward (keys) into the fold to round out songs and get listeners moving and thinking. It’s a perfect balance that’s slowly achieved — and makes The Ethics’ songs real brain-searing stickers.

Pathos is not easily achieved. When Hersak, Arnold, and I meet to talk scene stuff, they’re relating recording tales. For this album, the boys holed up with producer Dean Watson at Gallery Studios over Easter Weekend. They worked 18-hour days in virtual lockdown of physical space and headspace. It was the kind of thing needed to churn up emotion and coax out an authentic performance, Hersak says.

“The [vocal] booth was isolated — it felt intimate. That helped because you want to get into it when you’re singing, and not think just yet about how audiences would receive it.”

The scorecard from the marathon recording session at Gallery Studios.

Hersak also had to contend with a peanut gallery of his bandmates who sat behind the glass with a scorecard of sorts.

Matt Arnold developed a system organized by colour for the vocal takes. You would have the green take, the blue take, the yellow take and so forth set up on a grid. As Hersak did his takes, the rest of the band would make notes on what they liked about the delivery both in style (candour, character) and technicality (pitch). As you see the checks accumulate on a certain take, it becomes clear which take is the working file.

They could seem like a tough crowd, Hersak says.

“Sometimes they would be laughing on the other side of the glass. It was probably because someone farted, but I took it as them laughing at me and I tried to use that vulnerability in my delivery.”

With Meredith Luce & The Mandates. Friday, Oct. 14. 10 p.m. $10. Rainbow Bistro, 76 Murray St.

DJ/B-Boy Rise Ashen teamed up with Ottawa powwow singer Flying Down Thunder to create the album One Nation, which blends Algonquin language, chanting and a mash of Aboriginal and club music. It’s a chance to honour Aboriginal culture through collaborative composition, according to Ashen, whose previous works have touched on Afrobeat and other corners of the globe. He calls One Nation the future sound of Canada (hear snippets here). Ashen has company in that department. Ottawa DJ Crew, A Tribe Called Red, released a single earlier this summer called Northern Crew: Red Skin Girl, which was a dubstep remix of a tune by the Northern Cree Singers.
CD release party. Saturday, Oct. 15. 9 – 10 p.m., followed by a soulful global DJ set ‘til 2 a.m. Mercury Lounge, 56 ByWard Market.
Slim Moore sings a slick soul song about experiences gleaned from the east Ottawa community of Overbrook. He got his start singing in church, upped his chops in Montreal performing in bands as a teenager, then moved back to Ottawa and found his backing band the Mar-kays. See the band, which features members of hometown heroes The Souljazz Orchestra, at their CD release party Thursday, Oct. 13. Babylon, 317 Bank St.

Joe “Shithead” Keithley of DOA’s second book has the uncluttered title of Talk — Action = 0: An Illustrated History. It’s a collection of posters, album covers, and an ongoing thread covering DOAs 30-plus years of punk rock and tough talk. He’ll play a solo gig Friday, Oct. 14 at Vertigo Records (193 Rideau St). from 6-7 p.m. and a full DOA show down the street at Maverick’s (221 Rideau St.) later that evening.

Ozzy’s guitarist Gus G and his band Firewind play the first Ottawa Metal Festival, a day-long event happening Saturday, Oct. 15 on both floors of 221 Rideau Street: Café Dekcuf upstairs and Maverick’s on the ground level. Doors open at 4 p.m. Cover is $20. Full lineup here .