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Courtesy We Honest Men

Matthew Gagnon of We Honest Men talks U of C GIG club and making set lists

By Gurman Sahota, March 14 2017 —

When two University of Calgary Battle of the Bands rivals came together, We Honest Men was formed. With influences from a variety of sources, the band’s music is a mix of indie rock with a heavy dash of ‘90s alternative. The group features Matthew Gagnon, Andrew Young, Miguel Torres, Milan Vettese and Manuel Roldan. With a show coming up on April 14 at the Blind Beggar Pub, the Gauntlet sat down with Gagnon — who plays rhythm guitar, bass and vocals — to talk about gigs, set lists and musical relationships.

The Gauntlet: How did We Honest Men form?

Matthew Gagnon: It started last year, but the way we all got to know each other was years ago [when] there was a Battle of the Bands. I was in a different band called Spiderman’s Cavalry and there was another band called Bear Fight — we were all friends and part of the [U of C Guys/Girls Into Guitar (GIG)] club. After the years [went] by, the bands split up. We all loved playing music and we all hung out — three out of the five members are from Bear Fight. They added me and one of my friends into the mix.

G: How does the band come up with songs?

MG: Sometimes, we’ll just be like, ‘all right, we should write a song’ — some person will have a riff written, me and one other person will write lyrics or someone else will write lyrics. It really depends. One person can really bring a song to the group. The way it works is almost like a democratic decision where one person will put forward an idea and then everyone will tweak it until it sounds like We Honest Men.

G: How do you come up with set lists?

MG: We only know x-amount of songs and we only have a 45-minute set. We all sit down and write out the set list and this is the way we’ll play it. We change instruments sometimes, we try to keep it within the realm of a theme. We try to plan out the emotions that we try to tell in each show. The songs themselves are pretty dynamic, so it’s important to place them next to different songs. It’s important that we really consider the emotions that we’re evoking in the audience when we’re playing our music.

G: Why do you go back to Battle of the Bands?

MG: We started at Battle of the Bands. We actually didn’t do a lot of shows prior to this year. It’s this year that we’ve been doing it once a month, almost a little bit more and I personally [think it’s] a lot of great exposure and self serving. To me, the GIG club — the club that puts [Battle of the Bands] on — was like our home in university. That was our community. I want to support that community in every way we can. There’s almost a sense of duty [to support the club], also I enjoy doing it. It’s cool though, because I get to play with a room full of my friends. It’s neat.

G: What future endeavours are planned for the band? Would you guys ever record something?

MG: This past year, we did some scratch tracks. We’ve been kind of slacking on the mixing though, because we’re all perfectionists and we keep tweaking. We have one song that is predominantly done, but we can’t for the life of us just agree on the very final things. We want to record an EP, we want to get it out this year possibly. And then just doing more shows as much as possible. As far as the direction goes, it’s still up in the air.

G: Have you come across any challenges since this is a band predominantly made up of university students?

MG: Especially when we started out with five people, it’s hard to get five people in a room together, even just for two hours a day. One of our members, he’s a PhD candidate, so that keeps him very busy but he still makes time for the band. All of us also work and have other obligations. That was probably our biggest hurdle, just getting into the room.

Bands are a lot like dating. When you enter a band, you’re pretty much entering a dating relationship where it’s like, ‘all right, we need to physically meet this amount of space in a time frame, we need to communicate our needs and wants, we need to make sure everyone is feeling heard and their emotions are considered in this relationship.’ Once I started personally treating it more like a relationship — a romantic one — that’s when I noticed there’s a shift and it kind of got better. It’s weird because it’s both treating it like a romantic relationship and a business relationship at the same time. It’s a really weird mix and that’s a challenge to do. You don’t mix business and pleasure. But when your music is a very pleasurable thing to do, I really enjoy it.

G: Does the audience factor into the shows?

MG: With the band, we do take into consideration the audience we’re speaking to. But for the most part, I know when I go into a show, it’s a very self serving thing. When I’m playing music, I look for what sounds good for me, what am I comfortable singing, how am I going to display the emotion that I am trying to convey. If people don’t like it, that’s fine, it’s like a relationship, they’re not always going to work. But it doesn’t mean it’s bad, it means they just don’t like who I am, that’s fine. It’s very hard because you want to stay true to yourself and I think that’s the biggest thing, we’re trying to really nail down what is our sound, what are the things we’re comfortable playing — it just happens that people seem to like us. It’s nice. It just feels lucky. We’ll talk about an idea we want to convey and then we’ll use music to convey that idea.

Honestly, when I started out, I just wanted people to see us once. But I’ve been really happy and kind of blown away with the how supportive our friends and our fans have been. And just coming out to these shows, especially since this year we’ve been having a show a month, it’s almost demanding. We’re just really stoked that people feel motivated enough to come listen to our music. It’s really cool. It seems really genuine that they actually are enjoying themselves and enjoying the time they have. I feel really thankful.

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