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PS I Love You... more

Guitar 'n' drums duo like kids in candy store using 'fancy equipment' and additional musicians to record big new album

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Photo by Vanessa Heins
Benjamin Nelson, left, and Paul Saulnier

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Photo by Vanessa Heins Benjamin Nelson, left, and Paul Saulnier

It's easy to read into the title of PS I Love You's third album, For Those Who Stay.

Paul Saulnier (vocals, guitar) and Benjamin Nelson (drums) founded their pummelling guitar 'n' drums duo -- an improbable force for two people, which is often said of duos but is rarely as true as it is in the case of PS I Love You -- in Kingston, Ont., a city in which Saulnier wasn't raised, but in which he grew up. "All my formative teenage-suburbs years were spent there," says the East Coast native. He hooked up with Nelson, and together, the pair delivered two Polaris Music Prize longlisters, 2010's Meet Me at the Muster Station and 2012's Death Dreams that set the Canadian music scene ablaze.

And then, Saulnier left home for Toronto -- he moved for love -- while Nelson stayed behind in Kingston. "I had actually already written the song before that happened," Saulnier says, referencing the title track, "but it did take on new meaning."

Actually, the entire record took on a new shape. Despite being the most well-crafted and densely textured entry in PS I Love You's catalogue, For Those Who Stay, which was released via Paper Bag Records in July, was sort of an accident.

"This isn't the album I attempted to make going into the studio," he says. "I had a bunch of songs and a vision for an album, but we ended up making these songs. This album was kind of a surprise album."

Unlike some of their contemporaries -- here's looking at you, Arcade Fire -- Saulnier and Nelson took a hard pass on a double album. "It's not practical in this day and age," Saulnier says. "I'd rather put out an extra album." (He hopes to have a follow up out next year.)

Still, the duo indulged in other ways. In a bit of poetry, Saulnier returned to Kingston to record For Those Who Stay at the Tragically Hip's famed Bathouse studio. "We took full advantage of the fancy equipment," Saulnier says, who jokes that he added 100 guitars to each song. "It was a fun process. It was a lot different from what we'd done before.

"We did waste a lot of time doing stuff we didn't use, but that was part of the fun," he adds. Some of that stuff included Saulnier running his vocals through a rotating Leslie speaker cabinet la the Beatles' Tomorrow Never Knows just because he could. "I like working in that way. I like having a lot of stuff and then whittling it down. I don't think people like working that way. Maybe I'm unfocused."

For Those Who Stay is a big record, in terms of both sound and scope. There's just more of everything -- including more players, in the forms of Tim Bruton on keyboards and Matt Rogalsky, who handled synth bass and production. The record makes use of an expanded sonic palette, as well; the more obvious influences remain intact -- the Dinosaur Jr.-sized solos, the Frank Black yelps, the Pavement-esque existential anxiety -- but there are more subtle shades of Iggy Pop ("I listen to Iggy Pop every day," Saulnier says) and Bowie.

Saulnier is a big record collector and listens to lot of music, way more than what can be imprinted into the DNA of his own work. "I collect a lot of soul music and I love to listen to a good disco record, but it doesn't inspire me to make a disco record," he says by way of example. Rather, he teases inspiration out of the nuances of his favourite records. When Saulnier says he was obsessed with Bowie during the writing of this record, it wasn't with a particular album or song. It was with his guitar style and the tones he could achieve. "But that's pretty deep and nerdy," Saulnier admits with a laugh. (Sure, but it's also what makes him one of the most-lauded guitarists in the country right now.)

Despite putting a few more kilometres between them, Saulnier says he and Nelson have become a stronger unit. "We collaborate more now. On the other two albums, I would write the songs, Ben would add drums and it would be done. For this one, Ben was there from the start. It's made the process better. It's more of a group effort." (And, as it turns out, Nelson has quite the set of pipes on him. "He's shy about it, though, which is why you still get me, singing poorly.")

PS I Love You is currently bringing For Those Who Stay out west, stopping by the Windsor Hotel on Friday. So how is this mammoth record translating live?

"Pretty poorly, but in a charming way," Saulnier says with a laugh. "They're fun to play live, but they're going to be -- not minimal, but more sparse. I was bummed we couldn't tour with a 10-piece band but I hope people think it's cool to hear the live versions. I know that I appreciate it when I band doesn't sound exactly like the record."

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 4, 2014 C1

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