Striving for More, Chasing The Sun
by Brennan Risling for The Session
February 1, 2017
First impressions can never be undone. It is a unique moment in time forced into a flashed existence only to dissipate as quickly as it appeared, the creation of a new, personal universe conceived and conquered in a booming twinkling.
The Hollows in Saskatoon, on the corner of 19th street and avenue C, at one time the historic Chinese restaurant the Golden Dragon, is now a down-to-earth, refined, locally sourced restaurant with local brews on tap and vegetarian poutine, where many personal universes will be conceived and conquered this evening.
The restaurant itself retained the original furniture and aesthetic, not changing anything physical, infusing the original design with a new menu and updated outlook. The large, impressively designed, neon lit Golden Dragon sign still protrudes over the front entrance, gaping jaws at the ready, listening to voices echoing from the past. The new Hollows sign sits demurely in the window, pleasantly humming to itself, to greet people.
After listening to Mario LePage’s new project Ponteix, it is a fitting setting - and artist’s choice, I may add - for our first meeting, a band whose sound is one part familiar and one part original, a sound recognized on classic progressive and alternative rock records with a modern interpretation, creating an entirely fresh greeting - while keeping the large neon dragon.
The Saskatoon-based Fransaskois band, consisting of LePage (vocals, guitars, and synth), Adam Logan (synth and guitar) and Kyle Grimsrud-Manz (drums and samples), forge a solid, infectious sound of modern progressive rock inspiration with dancehall sensibilities. Their sound is a combination of mind and motion, intellect with a kinetic outlet, high regard composers who like to leave their homes on Saturday night.
Meeting LePage, one is impressed by his easy demeanour while talking succinctly about his musical ideas. As artists, it can be difficult to explain one’s work without coming across as pretentious and overbearing, or aloof and elitist. LePage has a casual grace and humble sensibility, a musician who is clear of focus while retaining an approachable air.
Logan’s answers are direct and clear, to the point without edge, concise in thought and articulation. His precise cadence and focus contrasts LePage’s ease in a complementary relationship, how best friends can seem to be opposites, Mutt and Jeff out on a play date.
For Ponteix, the shared songwriting and audience experience is paramount in discussing their music, writing, performance, and philosophy.
Artists across mediums, whether it be visual, musical, or performance, aim to accomplish a shared experience. As a collective, the audience will leave with a sense of a communal connectedness, iterated using various vocabulary, but sprouted from the same creative root becoming a symbiotic component of the performance.
This holistic shared experience, “as any show should be” according to Logan, is key to the philosophy and direction of Ponteix, to transcend the barrier of audience and performers, to allow their sets to be as experiential as they are musical. Logan continues, “The audience wants to feel they are involved; being propelled or pulled towards the act itself is very important and very profound.”
Part of their live show is creating a platform for giving and receiving, actively listening, shaping the experience of the audience and themselves. “We try to leave little room for clapping between songs - using ambient transitions between songs,” Lepage explains. “These allow for a larger seamless experience, a performance to be appreciated in its entirety, not meant to be broken up into separate parts.”
The pace of the show and shaping of the performance is more than (simply) playing through the songs. “It’s not a delivery response kind of thing,” explains Logan, “where it’s ‘here’s the product, I made this in my basement. I’m going to do one thing, you clap for me, and I’m going to do another, and you clap for me again.’ ”
Instead, Ponteix creates a space to take listeners along with them, to use sound and music as an authentic, transformative encounter. Experimenting with sound is vital to the Ponteix live show. “Especially if you are exiting out of a track and you start to tear apart its essential elements,” says Logan, “and carry them through in a monotonous manner, or carry the flow out in a particular tone, then the audience gets to feel like they are going for a journey with you and hear how it goes from this-to-this and that-into-that.”
The holistic shared experience is a fundamental cornerstone of the band’s live show. “The audience wants to feel they are involved, being propelled or pulled towards the act itself. It’s very important and very profound,” says Logan.
“We are all fans of ambient music,” adds Lepage “like Brian Eno and Tim Hecker, and building a story to the set was something that was encouraged at the very beginning, I’d say. The more and more we do it, the more we like it. By seeing other bands do it, we found it very interesting.”
Besides the experiential live performances, the group’s philosophy is one of discovery and struggle. This is not the type of struggle to ensue audiences storming the streets to riot or smash public property. Instead it is the inner-struggles of self-discovery and personal identity, trying to find one’s true self among the cacophony of societal chatter and cultural norms. Everyday there are struggles that need attention that can change people profoundly.
The name Ponteix itself comes from a small village in southern Saskatchewan. “They are French surrounded by English,” says Lepage, “holding their own and fighting their own.” A Francophone community fighting to keep its culture and identity in a largely English-speaking, English-cultured province.
“It’s an everlasting story trying to figure out who you are and what you’re about.”
As a band, Ponteix is finding and defining their sound, adding their individual musical voices and influences to work cohesively and unified while, to borrow a great adage from the music hub of Austin, to ‘stay weird.’ “We are still trying to identify how we all write and how it’s like a cohesive streamlined experience,” says Logan.
The idea of personal struggle is evident in the track “Chasing the Sun,” a tune initially pontificating the narrator’s struggle of finding a place in the world, of never settling or being comfortable.
From the onset the narrator seems confident stating, I will not hide / I will fight to survive, then quickly takes a true T.S. Eliot ‘J. Alfred Prufrock’ turn by saying but there’s always something there right behind me that I’m running from / maybe it’s the man I’m scared, that I’m scared to become / and I’m always trying to find satisfaction but it never comes.
Listeners have an immediate sense of the narrator’s emotional duality, like trying to look comfortable at a family dinner while wearing a gaudy, itchy, too small sweater made for you as a present from your favourite aunt.
Lyrically, Lepage creates a story, guiding listeners through this emotional voyage, creating another character as a guide, “Boy when I was young / I was chasing the sun.” This new voice offers advice saying “you’re never gonna lose your mind / you’re never gonna live your life / you’re never gonna lose your head / if you don’t try / if you don’t try,” the anaphoric phrase becoming a mantra of hope, a beacon of light turning one away from an emotionally jagged, rocky shore.
The tune is groovy and hypnotic, danceable and meaningful, a diary you find in a box of old books in the attic that has a mix tape of favourite mid-‘80s Euro-pop, alt. rock and resurgent funk taped to it with brittle, unevenly torn masking tape.
Directed, shot, and edited by Montreal-based filmmaker Nichola Marakas, the video for “Chasing the Sun” is a crowning achievement for any band, let alone an independent, Fransaskois band. Filmed in Montreal, with live performance footage shot outdoors under a beautiful Saskatchewan sky, it is a twelve minute epic following characters as they work their way through their different struggles, trying to find balance, sharing different perspectives on same stories.
Inspired by Kayne West’s short film “Runaway,” Chasing the Sun is an immersive experience, melding cinema and music without one genre interfering or colliding with the other. Short scenes and artistic shots are put together, around, and in-between the track, the video not being an afterthought and the song not losing its importance. Much like their
audiences, the video is a symbiotic experience of mutual inspirations.
The process of creating the video speaks to the quality, and eagerness, of support Ponteix receives from professionals in the industry. Marakas had filmed a Ponteix performance at a Montreal music festival and the next day, over bagels, Lepage simply asked if Marakas would shoot a video for them.
“He seemed very enchanted with our music and how we made it,” says Lepage. Marakas quickly accepted as long as he had “carte blanche’, a creative blank canvas to develop his ideas. Lepage said yes and allowed Marakas to pick his song of choice.
Ponteix obviously trusted Marakas’ abilities as a filmmaker. “He didn’t show us anything until the very end. He paid his way out to Saskatchewan to film the little bits that we’re in, (and) filmed the rest in Montreal with one camera.”
“He is an extremely underrated filmmaker in Montreal,” Logan notes. “He is constantly working on other projects like ours - short story, 12 to 15 minute long music videos. He is currently working on a series to pitch to a major streaming service.”
When asked to describe their sound, Logan and Lepage make random hand slaps and frenetic gestures. “Can you quote that?” Laughter ensues as various combinations of gestures and facial expressions can adequately describe the band’s “sound”. With a band of three songwriters and skilled musicians, Ponteix is growing as they create, letting each other’s voices shape and control the sound, allowing each member to experiment and influence the music.
Given the progressive, folk, rock centred sound, Logan describes Ponteix as “A sparkly, earthy MDMA experience. You are a product of everything that you listen to, and that can be a huge range of different things.”
Listeners of the new EP “J’Orage” will be introduced to a neo-progressive, ambient rock, ethereal toned sound,
mellow with purpose, driving yet casual. Each song is richly arranged and shares common tonal elements with diverse execution and original lines.
“Ghosts” opens with a swell of synth, syncopated rhythms, and a compound time signature/mixed meter feel. Vocally, there is a lush melody line braving extended interval jumps and differing accentuation. Riffy guitar with sparse fills and ambient keyboard layer and build to a dynamic ending crescendo of sound and music, a halftime-feel outro that would make Emerson Lake and Palmer and Pink Floyd proud.
“J’Orage” starts with a solid bass, tambourine, hand clap sample which stops mid-phrase for two silent seconds for the Radiohead-meets-Mike-Oldfield tune, with a smooth, well-balanced bass line. Lush synth sounds introduce “Beat” with a swaying, sweeping, harmonized vocal line. This track is Vangelis playing with Pat Metheny in their version of a funky dance band.
As a bilingual group, Lepage finds that both French and English audiences have been receptive to their music, the preconceived idea of language or cultural barriers not being an issue. Ponteix has played from Montreal to Victoria, playing English songs to French audiences and French songs to English audiences to enthusiastic responses.
Discussing being a bilingual performing group, Lepage says, “There’s been no language barrier for us. People from Montreal fear coming out here, but I see it as an advantage. I feel blessed to be able to do that - having the opportunities given to us whether on the French side or the English side. It has been part of why we have been able to do everything we have done this year, the fact we were bilingual.”
Besides playing shows across Canada, Ponteix has performed at professional conferences such as Canada Music Week, and music festivals such as Les Francofolies and mainstage at the iconic Ness Creek Festival. Ponteix has received funding and support from the Saskatchewan Arts Board, Conseil culterel fransaskois, Musicaction and Creative Saskatchewan and are thankful for the industry support to help them realize their artistic endeavours.
A personal highlight is the upcoming opening spot for Holy F*CK, a band that Lepage and Logan list as an important influence, along with other progressive artists and composers such as Brian Eno, Nicolas Jaar and Radiohead. When asked if they could open for any band, Lepage admits, albeit reluctantly, that Radiohead would be a dream gig. “It might be kind of taboo as a lot of people would want to open for them,” says Lepage, “but it would be awesome just to get to meet and know those guys.”
The idea of inner-struggle and personal development is carried over into the title of the EP, J’Orage. From French to English, J’Orage translates to “I Storm”, a title chosen to describe how Lepage feels life works. “Things are going good for a while, then things start tensioning up, then suddenly everything feels like it is wrong, destroyed. Eventually, you know, the sun comes up, the storm dissipates, and it all goes back. But it is always in the clouds, and it’s going to happen again.”
The theme of “storming against the struggle” continues lyrically and thematically throughout the record. As some bands may discuss struggle in a political, historical, or ideological manner, Ponteix focuses inwards, exploring the ongoing, personal struggles that occupy people’s time, the small victories or major losses. As Lepage puts it, “The songs all have this willingness to live and explore how life really works, how we interact with everyday things and how it affects us, that everyday area of our lives.”
Ponteix has been careful with their branding, having the look of their live videos and website have a similar aesthetic while retaining an independent creative style. “I think it’s very important to have a cohesive proposition, that the emotion that you get while looking at the art is the same emotion or feeling you get while listening to the music,” Lepage says. “I’m very much about collaborating,” Lepage continues, “seeing how other people interpret a piece of art that is already made in another discipline. Whether it be music, or video, or visual, they can all explain the same emotion in different ways.”
Demo recording for a new full length album begun in December, with all new songs being written during the winter. Songwriting will be a combination of in-studio and prepared writing, using sounds and ideas created in the studio and placed on appropriate songs. The song list will be dependent on the decision to print a vinyl release or stick with digital formats.
From there, however, the band is open to releasing the album as the sounds lead them, whether it be one album, or many, allowing the organic process of writing and recording help dictate the final outcome of the album’s presentation. “I’m debating releasing something totally different than an album, like releasing three EPs in the span of a year to get more dialogue about what we are doing,” says Lepage. “It really depends how the songs pan out. If it feels more (like) an album start to finish, we’re not going to break that. But if ‘these four songs’ could be put into compartments and released as a concept EP…we will go with the flow and see what happens.”
The same organic mindset is used in songwriting as well, with Lepage writing in either English or French. At the moment, the songs are approximately 70% Francophone and 30% Anglophone. Lyrically, the songwriting process does not start with a preconceived notion of language one way or another, the gestation period where everything is forming between conception and birth developing as it will, becoming the being it was meant to be.
Future touring dates include a trip out to Montreal in February, with extended summer tour plans in the works. The next step is to begin European performances, with a focus on France. “I’ve been to France a few times with another artist that I compose for, and he’s been doing well out there,” notes Lepage.
When discussing the differences between French and English audiences, Lepage comments, “The French are very lyric-driven. If you listen to a French album, the lyrics are very loud and the words are put together mathematically, with big imagery and big use of words - a story.”
Having a Fransaskois band heading to France is a bold step for an independent group, but could open the doors for other Fransaskois performers or like-minded groups. Logan says, “As it stands now, we are just musicians passing through; but that’s how it starts.”
“The interest is there,” says Lepage. “People are so in love with culture and music and it is so encouraging to see that. I feel very excited about it!”
In two years Ponteix would like to have a team to keep them creating and performing music full-time, “to get connected with enough people sharing the same feeling,” says Lepage.
The conversation leads to European markets and other notable Canadian artists, such as Feist, Hawksley Workman, and Danko Jones, who have not only written and recorded in Europe but developed strong followings there as well. Would Ponteix consider becoming ex-patriots for their art, establishing a home base in another country and returning to Canada to tour and perform?
“I love living out here, I love living in the country. I love living in a town of one hundred people,” says Lepage. “I love living in St. Denis, but I am looking forward to being part of different music scenes, wherever that may be.”
We discuss how Saskatchewan musicians carry their respective scenes with them, as a badge of pride and proof of resilience. No matter how far a Saskatchewan band may tour, they present themselves not just as a Canadian band, but a Saskatchewan band. “To understand where you come from, you have to leave your home…but I love living here,” comments Lepage.
Ponteix has found eager and encouraging audiences across Canada, citing Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal as highlights. Logan noted, “In Montreal there is a bit more of a gel happening. We already know the groups, and once you know them it helps you to feel like you are already there.”
“Being there five times this year,” continues Lepage, “helps you to be part of the scene.”
During the conversation, Logan and Lepage take time to point out the music playing over the restaurant speakers, such as Beach House and Mac DeMarco, making editorial comments and personal observations. Musicians make the most interesting music fans, and Lepage and Logan are not exceptions to this rule, discussing their personal musical tastes, musical quirks, and mini-debating over the songwriting quality with a dash of music history.
Before leaving for the night, an employee of the restaurant comes to our table and asks, “Are you in a band?” stating that he saw them play recently and loved the show. Lepage, Logan, and the employee chat at the table about music, upcoming shows, past experiences, the new EP, and the forthcoming album. And here, this moment epitomizes the hoped-for shared experience, the reward for the struggle, a random meeting in a restaurant where fan influences band and band influences fan, and one reacts to the other in a gentle ebb and flow of call and response.
On our way out Logan and Lepage offer pleasantries and casual conversation, as eased and poised as from the start, eager to rehearse for an upcoming opening slot. As we pull away, the neon dragon slouches down and the sign gently hums.
Ponteix is nominated in seven categories for the national celebration Le Gala des prix Trille Or: Best Discovery, Export West (artist from Western Canada having the most success outside of their region), Best Songwriter (Mario LePage), Best EP, Best Group, Best Visual Design (graphic designer Stephanie Kuse) and Best Website.
To follow the band’s next steps, including upcoming shows, visit www.ponteixmusic.net.
Photos by Martine Sansoucy
Brennan “The Riz” Risling is a prolific multi-genre songwriter, lyricist, writer, and bassist for “Demolition Rock” sensation Ultimate Power Duo. A staple of the Saskatoon music scene, he has toured extensively across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. The Riz is also the composer and saxophone player for R. Muttering, an avant-garde soundscape improvisational electro-acoustic performance art and recording group. Besides his Bachelor of Music in Music Education (B. Mus. (Mus. Ed.) / B. Ed. (Mus.)) from the University of Saskatchewan, he has amazing comic and vinyl collections.