The Pack a.d. on Why It's Better Live and What Makes Canada Great
Residing in Vancouver, the Pack a.d. draws a stark contrast from its Canadian musical brethren. Where most exports from our northern neighbor are of the carefully manicured pop variety (cf. New Pornographers, Destroyer and Broken Social Scene) the Pack a.d. delivers brash, visceral, blues-inflected garage rock.
The duo of Maya Miller on drums and Becky Black on guitar and vocals has released four records to date. Its two most recent albums, 2009's we kill computers and 2011's Unpersons, demonstrate a clear purpose, fiercely delivered. Its songs heave and pulse with an intensity seldom captured on record or onstage. We caught up with Black while the duo was on the road, en route to a show in support of the band Elliott Brood, whom they'll be supporting in St. Louis at the Old Rock House (1200 South Seventh St. 314-588-0505) on Wednesday, March 7.
Chris Bay: You're on the road right now?
Becky Black: We are, yep.
Where are you headed?
We're on our way to San Francisco.
San Francisco to St. Louis in five days is a lot of miles.
Yeah, well, it's a big country you've got here.
Are you guys doing this whole swing of the tour with Elliot Brood?
Yeah, we're doing the whole thing up until Washington, D.C., with them.
This isn't the most obvious pairing. How did that come about? Do your bands share management or something similar?
We have the same booking agent. We were asked if we wanted to go out on the road with them and we said, yeah, that'd be great. I thought it would be kind of a weird bill, but it's actually worked out pretty well so far. They're more rootsy, and we're rock. I kind of prefer that when there's a bill where the acts don't necessarily play the exact same kind of music.
You guys are loud and can be very intense live. Have you ever been on a bill with a band so different from your own that it just absolutely didn't work?
It's only happened a few times. In any case, where the audience is there to see another band that's not you, and if the genres do differ then, or even if they don't, there's a certain level of trying to win over the crowd and we haven't the worst time of it.
We played in a country bar that thought that we were rootsier and they were like, '"You guys are too loud, and you're driving our customers away." So we turned down a bit. We turned down everything, and they were like, "No, no, it's still too loud." And we said, "Well, we can't really turn the drums down; they're not even miked." But that happened a long time ago, and it doesn't seem to happen as much when you're playing actual rock venues.
The high-energy live show is one of the trademarks of the band. Do you feel like people are more likely to become fans after seeing you live as opposed to after hearing the record?
I think our music translates a lot better live than it does on a record, mainly because it is so simple. It's not like we're doing anything incredibly unique or groundbreaking or anything, so the record is the record. But we put everything into the performances that we can. And especially because there's only two of us and I feel like I'm the only one standing onstage, so I overcompensate by moving around as much as I can. I feel like if I'm standing in one place singing by the microphone then it's not dynamic enough. It just translates better live, than on record. Even though every time we record we attempt to make it sound as live as possible, it's still impossible to do that.
Your records do sound very live, though. It's kind of a cliché to say, "This is a live band; they're not great on record." You hear that thrown around a lot in reference to various bands. But when I've seen you guys, and when I've heard the records, the records do a really great job of translating the energy and the sound and the rawness of the live show. Is that something that you put a lot of time into? What goes into that?
Every time we go in to record, and it's been with the same engineer the last few times, we talk about what we want to get out of the record. And we usually just want it to sound really loud and heavy and as live as we can get it. It's never really that easy because you're in a room, you're not in front of people. So you're trying to emote the same way, [as when you're onstage] but you're also just trying to get a good take with everything.
And maybe it comes off live too because we don't record anything separately. We do all of the bed tracks together with me and Maya. So when it goes up in tempo or down, we kind of go together, which we do all the time because we're not really very good musicians. [Laughs] And that ends up on the record. We usually do a couple of takes and when we get one that's good enough we'll move on from there. If you spend too much time perfecting everything then I think it loses its charm.