Hot on the heels of their infectious new single, “Sugar Daddy”, Montreal’s trending indie-pop outfit What If Elephants are gearing up for the release of their highly anticipated new EP.
Rapid fire with Joey and Justin
|Your role in What If Elephants
|One piece of gear you can’t live without
|Apollo Twin X
|Soundtracs Solo 24-8
|Favourite band moment/accomplishment so far
|Getting Factor Juried Sound Recording
|Our performance at the 2019 Beau’s Oktoberfest festival
|Favourite “I’m in a session” meal
|Most important trait in a bandmate
|Favourite music video
|“Up&Up” by Coldplay
|“This Is America” by Childish Gambino
|If I wasn’t a musician, I’d be…
|An artist manager or filmmaker
|Sad…haha. But for real, maybe an engineer or architect
From RAC classmates to Canada’s Walk of Fame prize winners, What If Elephants members Joey and Justin have been hard at work over the last few years. Since graduating from Recording Arts Canada in 2014, the band has achieved semifinalist status four times over in the CBC Searchlight competition, has become a staple in the Canadian music festival circuit, and has performed opening slots for the likes of Milk & Bone. Their most recent releases, “Sugar Daddy” and “Guilty Pleasure”, are the leading singles off their upcoming sophomore album Relationship Status. Both tracks include contagious sing-along choruses, relatable light-hearted lyrics, and fresh pop production. RAC recently sat down with Justin and Joey to discuss their musical process and what listeners can expect next.
RAC: Hi guys! Thanks for joining us. Please introduce yourselves to our readers.
JUSTIN: Hi, Justin here! I play drums in What if Elephants. I grew up in a small town in Southwestern Ontario called Mt. Brydges, but I have lived in Montreal for the last ten years.
JOEY: I’m Joey. I sing and play guitar in What If Elephants. I grew up in Gatineau and moved to Montreal around the same time as Justin.
RAC: Your band has accomplished so much over the years. What first led you to music as a career?
JUSTIN: As a young boy playing piano and starting out on drums, I always knew that music was something that would stick with me forever. However, at the time, I had no idea how important it would become in my daily life. Music is such a beautiful thing that can inspire, reassure, comfort and encourage you in a way that’s unlike anything else. For these reasons alone, I will continue to be involved with music until the day I die.
JOEY: My brother funded a demo recording of three songs at a high-end studio in Ottawa for me when I was 14. I submitted them to a local radio station, and the music director very kindly informed me that they simply weren’t well-produced enough to make it into rotation. They kept the songs on hand for requests from my mom, though. The question “what does ‘produced’ mean?” plagued me from that point on. I began recording with a Radio Shack mic in Audacity and worked my way up from there.
RAC: Who were some of the artists that influenced you growing up? Have those influences evolved over time?
JUSTIN: I’ve had a wide range of early musical influences that have drastically changed over the years. Growing up, I became quite fond of the music I was hearing at home–music like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Michael Jackson. As I started to play music, I gravitated towards more rock/progressive music–artists like Green Day, Our Lady Peace, Matthew Good Band, Rush and Dream Theater, to name a few. Then, in my early 20s studying classical music in university, I had another shift where I started to get into jazz, bebop, and indie music with artists like Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Patrick Watson and Arcade Fire. I have a wide variety of musical influences, and to this day, I’m open and excited to hear new music of all genres.
JOEY: Wow. Justin is on top of that. My early influences were Christian rock bands such as Relient K, Newsboys, Downhere, and Audio Adrenaline, to name a few. In another category, there were also the Spice Girls and Britney Spears. I was the youngest of five kids, so I just listened to whatever my siblings listened to. As I grew older, there wasn’t much extra money to spend on music, so I mainly listened to pop or whatever else was on the radio. Some inspirations were Bruno Mars, Justin Bieber, Black Eyed Peas, and Need To Breathe, who, to this day, still put out some of my favourite music. Recently, Julia Michaels has blown me away as a writer and visionary for her own project. Ed Sheeran and Dua Lipa achieve wonders with minimalist production and strong writing, which are two traits I’m trying to sharpen in my own work.
RAC: What If Elephants has a very modern pop sound. How does the music you listen to as individuals influence the direction of your band as a whole?
JUSTIN: As a band, we all have a very diverse collection of musical influences, and we can bring these together to create an original sound that doesn’t draw too much from one style. Lately, I’ve been inspired by artists like Leon Bridges, who are able to fuse traditional rock and R&B drum grooves with more modern pop-sounding electronic drum tones, at the same time adding a thicker rhythmic density like you might hear from artists like Caribou or in other modern pop production.
JOEY: Couldn’t agree more with Justin myself!
RAC: Super cool. How did you guys meet?
JUSTIN: Back in 2011, Joey and I met studying music production at RAC; we actually sat beside each other on the very first day and have been great friends ever since. While at RAC, we started playing and recording music that Joey was writing and released a couple of EPs under Joey’s name. Not long after the first EP, we found Alanna Martin to join us on keyboards and vocals. Shortly after that, we had Éric Létourneau join us on the bass. In 2014, we officially started What If Elephants. After writing, recording, and touring for a few years, Eric decided to pursue other endeavours and left the band. We played a few shows with Collin Steinz (of Flara K) in late 2018. We fell in love with him and convinced him to join us on bass.
RAC: Tell us about the musical process for your new single and upcoming release.
JOEY: Back in 2017, we started recording an album. Probably five or six months in, I realized that a lot of the songs just weren’t strong enough for me to justify putting them out there, especially with the cost and work of promoting a release properly. It was hard to justify putting so much work into 11 songs that would only buzz for about a month due to our funding limitations and then leave us preparing for another release. That led us to the idea to release a spaced string of singles and really take some time to just network and collaborate with other artists while touring and applying for grants with what we had. With our 4th single release, “ETA”, we were granted the FACTOR Juried Sound Recording grant, with which we felt we could not only achieve a great collaborative recording but also market properly to get the music out to an audience that makes sense. I did a lot of co-writing in all that time, and nothing makes me happier than bringing more people in on a project, so this EP features four of those collaborators: Flara K, Bayla, Namelle, and Maya Malkin.
RAC: What is your absolute favourite part about creating music?
JUSTIN: I love both the recording process and performing live. There’s something so magical about capturing a moment in a recording and finding creative ways to capture it, like preamp choice or microphone position. Performing live is unlike anything else. The feeling you get after finishing a set on stage in front of adoring fans is electric!
JOEY: I feel much the same as Justin. I would add that I’m not a fan of rehearsal. I love live shows because each one is uniquely unpredictable. Likewise, I love recording because once you record a song, you can move on to create the next new thing. Of course, rehearsal is necessary, but I don’t like repeating myself.
RAC: Is there anyone special that helped you out on your artistic journey?
JOEY: My brother got me started in music. He funded my first EP and encouraged me in my journey of self-producing music when I was a teenager. Later on, I reconnected with my friend Tokyo Speirs whom I had met when I was probably nine or ten years old. We had both continued pursuing production, and Tokyo has had a huge impact on my craft as a producer, encouraging curiosity in my approach as well as growing care for attention to detail. There are countless more people to go on this list, but these two represent a major influence on my path.
RAC: What’s the long-term goal?
JUSTIN: I love pushing myself both creatively and technically. I strive to find new ways to incorporate different or non-traditional rhythms into accessible music to create something new. The same goes for live performances. I like to find new ways of incorporating electronic production elements into a traditional drum kit configuration with the help of samplers and triggers.
JOEY: My main goal is to get better at creating stories and experiences that can make a moment more magical or positive for someone. I’ve always been a big-picture-oriented person. I really care about each detail for the sake of storytelling: the content and the delivery.
RAC: So, 2021, what can we expect next from What If Elephants?
JUSTIN: Right now, we are sitting on a seven-track EP that is release-ready, but we’re also working on promotional materials like videos, practicing our live set and everything that goes along with that. We try to bring a high production value to our live concert experience for our fans. We have a programmed light show and refined and extended versions of our music. That is what we have been working on lately. Despite the fact that live concerts are not really a thing these days because of COVID, we want to be ready to hit the stage as soon as it’s safe to do so!
JOEY: In 2021, you will see all seven track releases tied together with a really nostalgic album cover. We’re very excited to share it all with you. Our latest release is, “Guilty Pleasure”, featuring Flara K!
Illustration by Malaika Astorga