This article was originally written for Le Dépanneur magazine: a new Montreal publication dedicated to showcasing local creatives of all sorts. Read the full feature in their 1st edition, to be released October 2015.
—“You sure you don’t want a cookie?”
The two halves of Montreal-based duo Look Vibrant, Justin Lazarus and Matthew Murphy, sit side by side in their classic Plateau apartment, sinking into the living room couch with ease. Like the rest of their den’s cozy furnishings, its cushions are worn in to a level of comfort that can only be achieved with time. And as they collaboratively recount the story of how their noise-pop project came to be, it’s clear that the pair’s effortless compatibility developed in much the same way.
“We met in an acting group when we were ten years old, in a Shakespearian theatre troupe,” says Justin. “It had nothing to do with music, we were just having fun for a few years, and then we ended up going to the same high school. We started our first band there—a really shitty emo band—that ended after our first show. Then came our second band—”
“—Which was also kind of emo,” Matthew interjects.
“—Very grade ten indie-rock vibe, like Los Campesinos! or Bloc Party,” Justin continues. “We didn’t really write lyrics that were very intelligent—”
“—We were very misinformed,” jokes Matthew. “None of the lyrics made any sense for a long time.”
“—And then our third band, which we started as seniors and continued after high school, was a kind of psychedelic, sort of prog, indie-rock thing.”
Matthew moved away to Dublin, Ireland for a year to study jazz guitar at one of Berkley’s sister schools. After finding The Emerald Isle just wasn’t for him, he decided to head back to Canada and crash on Justin’s couch, who’d recently moved to Montreal to study Neuropsychology at McGill.
It was in these cozy, tight-knit conditions that the pair began recording the crackling singles they’re known for today. And unlike many fledgling acts, they already knew exactly what their project would be called.
Before Matthew started his studies in Ireland, he and Justin spent a few months busking their way through Europe together. While perusing the shelves of a record store in Milan, they overheard some heavenly R&B and asked the store owner who was playing. It was Luke Vibert, but due to the shop keeper’s heavy accent, they misheard him and the name Look Vibrant was born.
“So I started fooling around, making noisy recordings with my MacBook mic, and then we started jamming and came up with our first tune,” Matthew explains. “It was initially supposed to just be something that’s super fun and exciting, not really caring what people thought at all about it, and it was. We kind of obsessed over those first tracks for a long time and then released them on our first cassette.”
And although they’ve only just released their first EP, to say these guys are already turning heads would be an understatement. Not only have they garnered an impressive amount of buzz online for such a slim collection of releases, but they’ve also become a favourite on the festival circuit. From M for Montreal to SXSW, Look Vibrant’s graced the stages of music festivals across North America, grabbing the attention of fans and industry figures alike. In fact, POP Montreal’s co-founder Daniel Seligman has even declared that Look Vibrant “could be the greatest band in the world” and continues to be one of their biggest supporters to this day.
If you’ve ever seen them live before, it’s easy to understand the hype. Largely inspired by Montreal’s music scene around the tail end of the 2000s—when ultra energetic, performative indie rock bands like Wolf Parade, Arcade Fire, and Parlovr reigned supreme—Matthew and Justin share the same desire to put on high-energy performances that are not only impossible to ignore, but incredibly fun to watch. Essentially, they’re the antithesis of the slacker style that’s increasingly seen on Montreal’s stages and amidst its artists today.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, their ongoing enthusiasm in the face of this apathetic trend is a big reason they’ve created such a buzz, proving that although there’s always room to grow, sometimes it pays to dig your heels in when you’ve found a sound that really works.
“We’re friends with a lot of musicians from different Montreal music communities and have played shows with just about every facet of the indie music scene [here],” says Justin, “which has been great, but I wouldn’t say we currently fit into any one community perfectly. What we’re making is more a product of 2009 than now, and we’re totally content with that, but I think whatever is trendy has moved past it.”
Matthew adds: “It seems like North America in general is gearing towards a more electronic sound, which makes sense considering the times, but…”
Meanwhile, like I said, Look Vibrant’s first two singles were recorded with the mic in Matthew’s laptop. Nevertheless, while they’re clearly dedicated to preserving a part of this noisy, effervescent sound, their recently released track “Miracle” has a much cleaner production quality.
“It’s a lot more hi-fi now,” Matthew reflects. “After making those two really lo-fi cassette singles, where the aesthetic was really based on that kind of intentionally shitty sound, we wanted to make a more hi-fi record where you can hear everything really clearly.”
“Just for the sake of having more freedom to actually have intricacies that people can hear,” Justin says, “rather than it being this pure, gigantic statement that’s more about the overall impact than the individual parts.”
More than just an aesthetic choice, according to Matthew, the EP’s more clean-cut sound is also a statement. “We really wanted to show people that it was a choice to make those first cassettes as blaring and as noisy as they were — that it’s the ideas that mattered and if you want to hear those ideas, well, here they are in a very clear format.”
While it may require a closer listen, it’s clear that the ideas behind Look Vibrant’s songs run much deeper than they first appear. Being perfectionists and prone to overthinking things, both agree that their lyrics primarily deal with their own anxieties and fears. “A lot of the characters in our songs are just exaggerated versions of ourselves,” Matthew explains.
“But at the end of it all,” Justin concludes, “there’s something great about having a song that just kicks you in the jaw and puts a smile on your face.”
When asked what’s next for Look Vibrant, Justin and Matthew cheerily discuss their plans to record another EP this year. They’re still in the song-writing phase, but Matthew foresees it being a blend between the noise and the hi-fi, with a focus on finding a middle ground. And while we look forward to hearing their sound grow, Look Vibrant proves that while things inevitably change and trends come and go, sometimes what’s most important for a band is knowing what should stay the same.