Listen to this track by Hamilton Ontario psych-pop outfit with post-punk overtones the Foreign Films, a vehicle for the songwriting of former Flux A.D member Bill Majoros. It’s “Fire From Spark” as taken from the Foreign Films EP, a herald to the upcoming full length album currently in production as of this writing.
If one can pin a key musical arc onto the best of music from the Twenty-first century so far, it would be that the divisions between genres and eras of pop music have become very, very fuzzy indeed. This is perfectly illustrated by the Foreign Films, a concern that shares a family tree with acts who are pushing the pop envelope including Feist, Great Lake Swimmers, and Holy Fuck.
Putting new meaning to the word ‘pop gems’, the facets which you get on multiple listens to the EP reveals the influences of post-punk, ’60s girl group sounds, and pop-psychedelic excursions, just to start with.
I spoke with Bill Majoros, the central figure to the Foreign Films in all of the band’s incarnations on record and on stage. We talked via email about connections with pop music past, about crafting a sound as personal soundtrack to one’s experience, and about what the seemingly disparate worlds of classic soul music and modern indie music have in common.
The Delete Bin: There’s a real classic pop feel with your stuff, particularly on the single ‘Fire From Spark’ that seems to be pulling from the same places as The Shangri-Las ‘Leader of the Pack’ and The Stones’ “She’s A Rainbow”, yet also sounds thoroughly modern. Was there a sense of connectedness to these earlier pop eras as you laid down this song, and the other tracks for the EP?
Bill Majoros: Yes! I think the best songs are somehow classic and modern at the same time, deeply personal and yet universal. Connecting the dots from the past to the future with heart and soul. I aspire to this. Having said that,writing and recording for me is very subconscious. Like flying a kite in a lightening storm hoping to be hit by an idea. I love the unknown and like to experiment with sound. I also like the idea of timeless songs that transcend genre.
In terms of classic pop, I love the Burt Bacharach/George Martin/Phil Spector/Brian Wilson style production; Technicolor pop mini-symphonies. The “boom-boom-boom” of the Shangri-Las is very cool! If some of that comes through in a fresh way, fantastic! “She’s a Rainbow” is such a beautiful song on a subconscious level. I guess these things bleed through. Let it bleed (laughs)! David Bowie’s Berlin records inspire me in this way (too). For me music is an inter-connected road leading to uncharted territory. It’s the sense of adventure,wonder and the unknown that keeps things exciting for me!
The songs I write have become the soundtrack to my life. There’s little bits of the past, present and elements that look towards the future. I’ve traveled a fair amount as a musician; all the miles under the wheels, the ghost towns, the big cities, the people and places. It all becomes part of a musical subplot. Fact and fiction blur.Vintage and futuristic sounds blend. I hope to create something I can call my own in the mix; something personal! I very much hope others will like it too, Haha!!
DB: How does this song “Fire From Spark” play into this sense of connectedness?
BM: “Fire From Spark” was written in Austin Texas (as) a Canadian in the heart of America. I think a good songwriter must be willing to write their life story, even in a very abstract way. In places like that you can’t help but feel a sense connectedness to all kinds of amazing music. I felt that growing up in Hamilton, and Newfoundland as well!
I’ve also had the privilege to know and work with some great producers over the years; Carl Jennings, Mike Keire, Dan Lanois. All of these ultra-talented guys have a great sense of music history in a modern context.This plays a part as far as sonics go.
DB: I’m hearing a female voice on the track. Who else plays on this track with you?
BM: On “Fire From Spark” it’s Kori Pop. On “City Of Bright Light” it’s Alex McMaster who also plays cello on the record. Both are dear friends, and great talents. Other friends chime in with background vocals throughout the record. Marie Avery sings a beautiful soft focus, post modern ’50s part in the song “A Message”. I love vocal harmony and how it can bring a song to life!
DB: The Foreign Films is not a band per se, but more of a moniker under which the songs are being presented. What made you decide to take that road as opposed to forming a new band, or going solo under your own name?
BM: I think of songs like little movies in my mind. The Foreign Films sum up that idea. It just felt more artistic to me, more interesting. In a way I do have a band, but the line-up has the freedom to change. I have a core of good friends and musicians I work with; Jon Daly, Erin Aurich on violin, Dave King, etc.
Overall, it’s a solo record. I write the songs, play guitar, drums, keys, sing, etc. But all in all, I love working with other musicians! I think it brings more depth,variety, and emotion to the tunes. Solo records can be lonely. You need a little help from your friends and people to have pints with after the session haha!!
DB: This project gives you quite a bit of creative freedom at all stages of the process. What are some of the ways that you keep yourself from becoming too insular creatively?
BM: I think the key is to bring in guest musicians. Even if it’s a solo project and I play a bunch of instruments, it’s vital for me to have emotional/musical feedback from other players who I respect and trust. I also like to work with a co-producer. This pushes me and helps give some objectivity. It’s easy to get lost in a “dream world” of song (laughs)! That’s not such a bad thing, but you don’t want to be too insular.
It’s also a cool thing for me to use players from various generations. I love to mix up the musical context and juxtapose sound and ideas. I’m very lucky to be able to work with guys from new bands like Huron or Sandman Viper Command then have people like Brian Griffith (Willie Nelson, Dan Lanois) or Kim DesChamps (Blue Rodeo, Cowboy Junkies) bring years of amazing playing to a given track!
DB: In your former band Flux AD, You’d worked with Julie Fader who’s gone on to do some great work with Great Lake Swimmers, and with Sarah Harmer. And Graham Walsh of Holy Fuck is a Flux AD Alumni, too. This is not to mention other projects you yourself have been involved with. All of this represents a pretty wide stylistic showing as far as genres go. Would you say that you and other musicians on local scenes in Canada are more empowered to follow a wider range of stylistic paths than in past eras?
BM: We live in a strange, ever-changing information age. I think this may give artists more creative latitude than past eras. On my last Foreign Films record Distant Star I felt great stylistic freedom. On the new record,as a songwriter, even more so. Having said that, the origin of rock and roll was an explosion of blues, country, gospel and jazz colliding across cultures in the first place!
Brilliant Canadians like Joni Mitchell, or Neil Young were stylistic shapeshifters since day one. I think you have to create your own musical freedom and your own voice as an artist. It’s more a personal state of mind, I think; emotional substance over style. That’s what creates the style. The great challenge as a songwriter is to tell his or her personal truth. It could be with 808 grooves, or a piano and vocal. It’s about telling your story in an emotional, creative way. When all is said and done, we are storytellers aiming at the heart.
DB: You’ve been listening to a lot of Northern Soul, and Chess blues recently, which in speaking with a lot of indie musicians lately is not uncommon. What is the tie between indie music today and soul and blues of the past?
BM: Great question!
I’m always working on new song ideas and enjoy a great deal of modern music but yes, I do love vintage soul music. I’ve also been into a all kinds of ’60s, ’70s British and French pop/psych rock of late, too. I’m a record collector, always on the look out for cool stuff, old and new!
On a musical and sonic level, great soul has amazing groove and feel. You can hear the ebb and flow of time, the interplay of musicians, the dark, beautiful sounds of the instruments, the atmosphere, and the genius songwriting! It’s beyond words. That’s the magic! The very best indie music hits me in the heart the same way. There’s an emotional and creative thread of continuity. Great music helps us make sense of the world, or can help us escape it for a while. We’re just humans with ears and hearts. Music that speaks with truth, and soul helps us get through life!
DB: When you play live, what can audiences expect to see in terms of set-up and arrangements of the songs?
BM: I use a traditional rock band set up, plus a cello. I play my trusty old Rickenbacker guitar! We may add horns live to reflect some of the tracks on the full length record. I love playing and hope to get out on the road more this year! I was in England and France last fall, it would be great to tour Europe as well as North America.There’s nothing like the energy of a great show!
For tour information, and for news on the next full-length album by the Foreign Films coming out later in the year, check out The Foreign Films official website.
For even more information about Bill, and about the Foreign Films, be sure to investigate The Foreign Films on MySpace.