Casper Skulls Make Songs From Skeletons

Casper Skulls certainly don't shy away from the dark tones their name may suggest, but the debut album from this Toronto rock outfit shows a much deeper understanding of music. After a strong EP release, the band's debut Mercy Works shows a band not just ready to make a start in the scene, but one who will be commanding attention for years to come. We caught up with singer/guitarist/writing duo Melanie St. Pierre and Neil Bednis ahead of their November 24 show at the 27 Club to talk about how communication shaped their new album and how strings allowed them to flesh out their sound.

Ottawa Life: What did you want to change between your EP and Mercy Works?

Melanie St Pierre: We took the feeling of our sound, and made it more melodic and sentimental.

Neil Bednis: Our tastes changed a bit compared to when we started the band. Over the time we've grown as musicians and our tastes have changed. That's really worked its way into the new music.

What did Josh Korody bring to the recording process and did he bring anything out of your performances you might have missed otherwise?

Neil: I think that's important for a producer or engineer to know when to step back, it's a really good skill. There are other records where he's super involved and almost writes the songs, but he understood with us to let us do our thing.

Mel: He had good points for the process too for what to add or maybe what to take away.

How did Paul Erlichman's arrangements and the strings present on this record come about and what inspired you to include that in your sound?

Mel: After we got the idea to do it, we started looking at records that did it, so the Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen had the closest feeling to what we liked. It works out because the songs on this record are a lot sadder and more emotional. We find the strings make it more potent and bring out that emotional sadness, so it works even in the louder moments.

Things feel a little quieter and more emotional this time around, did you feel like you wanted to pull back a little to really flesh out your sound?

Neil: Putting out singles and EPs you can experiment more. This being our full-length record, it's our first statement as a band, and it will probably be our introduction to a lot of people. We felt like we wanted to make the most true impression of where we are as a band musically and mentally. We felt the songs we picked for this record are the truest representation of where and who we are right now.

Looking at a song like "Lingua Franca" were you guys really trying to explore communication as an overarching theme on this record?

Mel: A lot of our songs, even on the EP, are usually about relationships or connections with yourself or other people. I think that the full-length explores a lot of that too. The song "I Stared At 'Moses and the Burning Bush'" is a communication with yourself and how you feel about religion, if you even have a stance. There are relationships with people but also with yourself. "Lingua Franca" is definitely a love song but it's about the communication between two people. The listener can take that for whatever they want in their life, a breakup song or ending relationship and how communication affects it.

Neil: For that song too, it's a good expression for a grey area in a relationship. Even relating it back to a band, sometimes your communications great but situations arise where something happens and you have to check back in with each other. Whether communication is bad or good, it's about reconnecting and getting back on the same page.

Mel: Even the last song "Faded Self" is about being at a block because you're not communicating with yourself and having cowardice feelings. You don't want to take on something, instead of figuring out what you want and overcoming that.

With the powerful duality you have as a song writing pair, do you occasionally find it hard to keep songs focused or do you have more of a separated approach?

Neil: When we started I took more of the lead on the writing. But since the EP it's been more of a democratic process.

Mel: When we started the band, Neil was coming in from another band that he had back in Sudbury. I could hardly play my instruments then, this is all very new to me. I've been playing for the past three years. We started playing Neil's old songs to get used to working as a team, so it's interesting to see where it's come.

Neil: As a writer, I've come to trust Mel, Chris and Fraser a lot more. There's so many times where Mel brings in another part that makes my stuff better. Just being able to trust other people's visions is super important.

Mel: It makes everyone feel validated and want to work that much harder. Everyone feels invested, because it's not a one-man-show, so everyone gets a piece of the pie.