“So, this is where the magic happens,” says a clean-bearded man opening up some warehouse doors. He is David Palumbo, bassist/vocalist for Montreal’s experimental post-rock group, Atsuko Chiba. We walk down a short hallway with Karim Lakhdar (the lead vocalist/ and a guitar/synth player of Atsuko Chiba) and Mothland label co-founder, Philippe Larocque, towards another set of doors.
As they open, a vast studio space comes into our vision—filled with guitars, amps, mixers, microphones, a drum set, notebooks (probably full of song ideas), and a rack with two newer band t-shirt designs. This is Room 11, the second home of Atsuko Chiba members, where they rehearse, experiment, and create some of the most thought-provoking music to come out of Eastern Canada.
Their latest album, Water, It Feels Like It’s Growing has been making waves on North American radio, including landing a spot on the NACC Top 5 College Radio charts. It feels like this twisting experimental rock chimera of a band is finally getting the recognition they deserve. Though, they never got into this to grab recognition.
“I agree that Water is our most accessible album,” says guitarist Kevin McDonald, at a Mothland party weeks prior. “But we definitely know that we are a niche band.”
There are a few tour posters and a pile of road cases shaped like an “L” on the floor of Room 11 and I count close to 25 cases of gear. You see, in a few minutes we will be piling into the band tour van, on our way to Atsuko Chiba’s next gig in Quebec City, for the Le Phoque Off festival.
“It’s pretty insane that we are taking this much gear for a 25 minute set, but hey, that’s part of the Atusko lifestyle,” says drummer and projectionist, Anthony Piazza, who the band commonly refers to as “Pia.”
The drive is a quick one and I hear a few tour stories from their time hopping between the States, like the one about Atsuko members meeting two “really high guys” and being invited into their apartment to make dinner. As we listen to The Rolling Stones, I also learn about “The Room,” an inside joke when the band members metaphorically make characters they’ve met on tour meet. It’s surreal and satirical, but an excellent way to kill a few hours on the road.
Atsuko Chiba uses projections when they play live, like many psychedelic music groups, but the difference is they program and sequence them live as well. Pia, Palumbo, and guitar/synth player, Eric Schafhauser all trigger the visuals and lights. It’s really a wonder to see live. Each member has to be so in tune with one another as there’s about a million different sounds consuming the room during a song like “Link.”
At one point during the Le Phoque Off show, McDonald’s guitar cuts out during a transitory interlude. I think to myself, “This is it, they have to restart,” and interrupt the soundscape. But no. They all motion to one another to extend a certain noisy instrumental, making the transition seamless. Of course, this band has been around for a decade at least. And with this much gear to set up and play with, they’ve run into about every problem in the book and know how to keep the intensity going.
“Water, It Feels Like It’s Growing”
The show in the Le Pantoum first floor is wild and vivid. Atusko opens the show with their trip-hop meets prog rock track “Quick Infant Guilt,” immediately grabbing the attention of Le Phoque Off concert goers, Heavy synthesizers, and Rage Against the Machine-esque vocals, it feels like Run The Jewels fronting the heavier parts of The Weather Report with a bit of The Mars Volta. Just primo stuff.
They then play a few numbers off of Water and end with the very doom heavy outro of the title track. The whole gig is fantastic, but over too soon, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Hearing chatter along the crowd, I hear that they are left craving more, and perhaps that’s the point. Atsuko Chiba don’t get to play “Shook (I’m Often) which seems to be the most popular on Water, so we will just have to wait for that.
But worry not. If you missed Le Phoque Off and have been devouring the new record on loop like myself, Atsuko Chiba’s album release show is March 10th. We wait in anticipation.