Don’t bore us with a chorus

The nuanced rock of Hook & Eye

Well this isn’t how music interviews usually go. Usually it’s pretty straightforward: Call the artist. Talk about influences. Listen to them tell you that their latest work is “their best yet.” Hang up. Rinse repeat. But when we reach Hook & Eye founder Jeff MacLeod to talk about his band’s wonderfully dreary debut EP North St. he insists the band sounds nothing like the songs he’s put to wax. “We’re more like Fugazi than Songs: Ohia” he says. “We don’t want to play these super-moody seven-minute songs at like Broken City. I mean we’re playing with a math-metal band at the Palomino tonight [Friday March 8].

“People think I only listen to dark sad music. But I’m totally the opposite — I’m kind of a spazz” he adds. “We have a sort of Touch and Go aesthetic. We have weird time signatures. It’s heavy. There’s lots of screaming.”

Yet such descriptors betray North St. ’s rangy cerebral songs which could easily be the slowcore brethren of MacLeod’s former band The Cape May. Or the Red House Painters at their bleakest. Or Mineral when they lock onto EndSerenading ’s meandering guitar passages. So no it doesn’t quite sound like End Hits .

So then how does the band reconcile its current noisier direction with North St. ’s wintry post-folk? “Well that’s how Hook & Eye got started” says MacLeod. “It’s a record about loss and trying to let go of loss. I had some relationships end. I was going back to school at the time [and my life was changing].”

But the plan wasn’t initially to document those changes. Rather while hanging out at friend (and ex-Cape May singer) Clinton St. John’s studio MacLeod had a burst of artistic inspiration that led to North St. ’s formation. “Clinton and I were just hanging out and thinking we should record these songs” he says. “So we immediately recorded everything in two days — we were kind of drunk when we were playing these songs. It was free and open.

“With some bands I’ve been in we’d work on a song for a month. We’d roll every decision over and over. But when we were recording North St. I was writing lyrics on the spot in the studio. It’s a perfect document of that weekend and there’s no editing. That’s what I love about it: It’s genuine. Some of the lyrics are so obvious they’re embarrassing. But I didn’t go back and change anything.”

Yet while Hook & Eye’s aesthetic has changed since their inaugural weekend MacLeod still hasn’t lost the inspiration that led to the band’s creation — he says that he “hadn’t written much in the last three years but all of a sudden I had 20 songs.” Now he’s taking 14 of those tracks to The Hive a Vancouver-area recording studio to record an LP in earnest.

His songwriting approach too has changed since his days with The Cape May: With Hook & Eye he says he’s not gunning for music-industry stardom. Quite the opposite in fact. He’s aiming to write songs that’ll blow away his bandmates and perhaps most importantly himself.

“It’s really really hard to make music that you love. And it’s difficult to create a complete song or a finished idea. I mean I listen to parts of Cape May’s first record and I get furious with how terrible it is” he admits. “I like records that last — and I’m not saying that my record is going to be timeless but I’m trying to make songs that’ll last for me.”

We ask for clarification. “Well it’s not like I hate fun or anything. But listening to like Fugazi’s End Hits it transports me to being 19 and wide-eyed walking around Portland” he says. “And you have to climb into their music — it’s not given to you. Some songs are structured so obviously like there’s regulated intervals of chorus or hooks. I mean I don’t write like that.”

Which drills right down to Hook & Eye’s aesthetic whether he’s playing blown-out post-hardcore or crushing sadcore: He wants to make music that’s complex. That needs to be unpacked. And that delivers nuance far beyond first listen.

“Like what did Steven Tyler always say? ‘Don’t bore us give us a chorus?’ Man what an asshole!” he says with a laugh. “I’m patient with mood and I don’t rush things to get a point across.”