Two of the guys from Behind Sapphire, Matt and Grant, were nice enough to give their time to Ming for an interview, which I have transcribed and edited below. Check out the audio version here – there are some funny parts that made me laugh, and I wasn’t able to capture all of the humour when transcribing it.
Unfortunately neither Ming or I were able to catch them play, but I learned from the interview that they’ll be back soon enough with new material, so I can’t wait to check them out then. For now, be sure to head over to their website to check out their music.
Ming: Is this your first time playing in Ottawa?
Matt/Grant: This is our third time back.
Matt: I like Ottawa. I posted on our Facebook that I really like Ottawa, it’s beautiful here.
Ming tells the guys he didn’t know they’d play here before, and asks where they played and who they played with.
Matt: The first time we played the Rainbow, the second time we played Mercury Lounge. That was a cool space. It’s really tall and they have that red background – it’s nice. And now we’re here at Avant Garde, so it’s a new place every time.
Matt and Grant both agree that they can’t remember the guy’s name they played with at Mercury Lounge, but said “he’s a singer song writer who’s really talented”. At Rainbow, they played by themselves.
Ming then asked them how they came up with the name “Behind Sapphire” and how the band first got together.
Grant: It’s kind of interesting how we got our name “Behind Sapphire”, it’s just the weirdest thing. We were traveling, and we ended up going to the States as a small three piece, visiting some people, and playing some acoustic shows at cafes. We stopped off at this store, and we wanted to try some American milk. So we go into this little corner store looking for some milk, 2% or extra homo, trying to find the thickest milk they have. We find this label with a big blue diamond on the front, and we’re like, “that’s not a diamond, that’s a sapphire. What’s the story behind this milk? What kind of milk is this really?”. Than we thought, “hey, ‘Behind Sapphire’, that’s kind of weird.” So we ended up naming our band “Behind Sapphire”, and it just kind of moved on from there.
Ming: And how did the band get together?
Grant: Me and Matthew here, we started in high school when we were in grade 9. We went through a lot of different transitions, a lot of different genres of music, a lot of different garages, and a lot of different friends. Eventually it moved bigger and bigger and bigger, and then we ended up having our CD release about two years ago now, so the project’s been around for two steady years. It was great, we had a CD release party with sixteen horns and eight strings, and a mini choir and full band, so it was really cool. We had it in a big theater, and that was our first CD and our first release, so it was really cool. So that’s where it started.
Matt: Now we just finished recording the “Diamonds” EP, so that will be coming out very soon. We have yet to decide on an official date, but I think we’re gonna be releasing a song right away and then just kind of progress from there. It’s kind of a precursor to our next record which will come out in March. We’re really excited about both of those, they’re very different, very experimental for us, but a lot more fun and creative I think, and that’s kind of what we’re about.
Grant: Yeah, they’re very playful.
Ming than said that Behind Sapphire is somewhat comparable to We Are The City, upon which Matt and Grant stated they were really great guys, and all three agreed their new EP “High School” is a really great album.
Ming then moved on to the tour, asking the guys how long they’ve been touring as of this interview.
Grant: Well this is our third cross Canada tour, we did a three month at the beginning of this year, and then we did one in the summer. So this is our third one, and we’re going to Montreal and back. We’ve been on the road for about a week and a day now. It’s been a lot of driving. November 17th is when we left; it’s been awhile.
The interview then switched focused to the band’s musical influences, and we learn that Matt really likes Disney and Christmas music, and Grant is influenced by Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.
Matt: At the moment I’m really liking old Disney. I just bought the Aladdin soundtrack on CD at Value Village for $3 today.
Ming: Is it the original one? I was watching Aladdin last week on CBC and they changed the lyrics to some songs.
Matt: Really?! I think I got the original one, with all the kinks, and the parental advisory probably. It’s good. We were listening to that in the van today. It’s that and Christmas music a lot lately. I listen to Christmas music about two months before Christmas; I get heckled.
Ming: I think the best one to get is Charlie Browns’ Christmas.
Matt: That’s so good. The Sufjan Stevens Christmas album (“Songs for Christmas”) is really good, he’s got the five albums. They’re all really good.
Grant: I think my biggest influences are always Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. All the time, it’s always on my mind, it inspires me everyday.
Matt: We listen to a lot of indie bands as well, a lot of locals.
Ming: Are you friends with any bands in BC?
Matt and Grant explain they know quite a few of them, including The Belle Game, Said The Whale, We Are The City, Fiddlers Green, Hey Ocean, and Rococode. They also add that they were part of the PEAK Performance Project. As Matt says, “we’re all just kind of connected in some way, shape, or form”.
Matt and Grant say they’ve never met them, thought they’ve seen Ryan Guldemond in passing.
In keeping with BC, Ming then asks what the guys would say to people that think, “oh you guys are from BC, you must have that BC sound”?
Grant: You know it’s very opposite, growing up in Vancouver. We do have a very opposite sound, but you know what, you never know what you’ll get out of BC. There are tons of different great acts coming out of BC, but they might be kind of similar, so I think we do stick out. But we don’t have a certain sound that comes from a certain country, we couldn’t really pin where we’re from, it’s not a European sound or any of those kinds of sounds.
Matt: You try not to be put into a mold, to be placed into a certain spot. We like be in different areas, try different things, just experiment. Like Grant was saying, we like to be playful, and not be held down by having to sound a certain way and to have that expectation come through in our writing. Instead of that, we just take that away, and write whatever we feel like.
Grant: On the other hand, our lyrics do kind of reflect living in BC, and the beauty of BC. BC’s our favourite province, and right below BC is Oregon, and I like the states. I think a lot of our lyrics, like in our song called “Vancouver, Baby!”, are all about Vancouver and the beauty there, and it’s pretty cool.
Ming then brings up another pretty cool topic, asking them about the time the band met Ellen DeGeneres.
Matt: We ran into her, but not spontaneously.
Grant: We knew she was coming, and we talked to her representation team. We just wanted to meet her so bad, so we put out a promo video and eventually she came up, and we were able to meet her. We played a song for her and Portia, her wife, and it was just amazing and phenomenal to meet them both. They’re the coolest couple, and they really liked us, they took our CD and stuff. So fingers crossed, and we’re kind of hush hush about it, but we’re hoping we can get on her show. Probably in the spring with our new line of yellow rubber boots we’re selling.
Ming: Were you really star struck seeing her in person?
Matt: It was interesting for me.
Grant: It’s crazy, you get nervous. Seeing Ellen DeGeneres, you’re like “whoa, this is Ellen DeGeneres”. But she’s just the coolest gal, so down to earth, so funny.
Matt: Our bass player was kind of crying, he was so happy to see her. It kind of got out of hand.
We did this video of the whole thing and I got to be in a shot with her, and stand beside her. Her body guards were there, just watching my every move, like I’m some sketchy guy. I was just so nervous, like “man what do I do, I’m standing right beside Ellen DeGeneres, this is the weirdest thing”. I was going to give her a hug too, but it never worked out, so next time when we see her, we’ll do a twirl, I’ll give her a hug.
Moving on from the cool Ellen story, Ming asks the guys about the band’s favourite songs and places to play.
Ming: Is there a favourite song you like to play, whether your own or a cover?
Grant: We were just talking about this. We enjoy playing all of our songs, our new ones too. Our last song on our first album, that’s probably one of our favourite songs to play live, “Oh Man, What A Fine Day”. We made a music video with actress Jodelle Ferland From “Twilight”, and a couple other things happened with it. So that’s a really personal song for me and Matthew, and I think we both really enjoy playing that live. Lately our favourite cover that we just love playing, and we’re honoured to play, it’s by a Christain band and it’s called “Nearer, My God, To Thee”. We just love playing that song so much, it just hits us every time, and that’s important. If we’re not getting something out of playing live, it’s almost not worth it, it becomes almost more of a job at that point. So it’s always important for us to love what we do, so that’s a really good song for us to play, and again, it’s an honour to play it.
Matt: I think that shows people watching as well, they see that you’re loving it, and in turn it helps them to really connect with you and connect with the music. I was reading an article from Dan Mangan, that he wrote for The Gaurdian in the UK, which is a pretty big paper there. He said some really good things in there about live performances and connecting with your audience and taking risks and doing all these sorts of things. We really got a lot out of it, and we’ve been thinking a lot about live performance and the atmosphere about it, and how it works. It’s always something that’s on the mind.
Ming: And is there a favourite venue you like to play at?
Grant: You know what, we’ve been talking about that lately too, and it’s kind of strange, but we just love playing all ages venues. We don’t like being limited to playing in bars, and we have a lot friends who want to see us all the time, and the people who are coming and supporting us the most are at the all ages venues. So we love performing our craft and our art at all ages venues. And these venues can range from halls to all different types of places, but if it was our favourite, it would be at a theater. We love playing in a theater siuation, with people that are open to hearing us.
Matt: Back home we played a place called the St James Hall, it’s this old church that has that really beautiful sound to it. It’s really unique, it’s got that arch; it’s really cool.
Grant: Yeah it’s a beautiful cathedral. It’s a really great venue in Vancouver. Patrick Watson played there, a lot of people play there.
Ming tells the guys he’s seen Patrick Watson played at Pop Montreal in 2010 for Sacred Sunday at Ukrainian Federation, medieval music blew him away; he says he got his autograph and almost had a heart attack. Matt and Grant agree that’s he’s a crazy musician and a cool guy, who also happens to have hairy hands and the funniest, pirate-like laugh.
Ming then asks the guys about the band’s future plans.
Ming: What’s coming up after your tour is done? You mentioned the new album, is there anything else?
Matt: We’ll be touring the States for the first time in March and April, for a two month tour, and then we come back through Canada. And last September we toured China for the first time.
Ming: How was that?
Matt: It was phenomenal, a really good experience. We learned a lot, played a lot of shows, met a lot of people. It was really good to connect with that and see how with music, language barriers aside, people can really connect with it regardless. We played theater shows when we went there, and just the applause and the people that would come talk to us after, it was one of the coolest things for us.
Ming: Did you get to go to Hong Kong or what this mostly in China?
Matt explains they were mostly in mainland China, around Shanghai, but that next time, they hope to do Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, and a few more places around there, then pop over to Japan. Ming says he’s been to Hong Kong before, and tells the guys they should take him with them, but not in the summer. Matt and Grant agree it’d be way too hot in the summer, and tell Ming they’ll smuggle as many people as they can to Hong Kong.
Matt then continues to talk about some of Behind Sapphire’s plans for the future.
Matt: We’ll tour the next album continuously. Maybe get signed, that’s kind of the plan. Just look out, we’re coming for you.
Ming: Last question – what’s your favourite form of music – CDs, LPs, cassette tapes, mp3s, 8-tracks?
Grant: Personally for me, I love LPs, and I collect a lot of them. I like 33 rpms, but I love 78 rpms, but they discontinued those a long time ago, they’re just a one track kind of disc. I have a lot of old record players, like gramophone style, and I have this portable one that me and my sister always take to the ocean to this pier, and we wind up this record player and just play whatever 78 I have, and we just jump off this pier into the ocean over and over again. And I have this really sweet track that goes “I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts”. I have that on 78, and that was just my favourite thing. So I love LPs, and it’s just a phenomenal thing, and a really weird thing, that it’s still semi in style, but I’m glad, because I love LPs.
Matt: I don’t say this a lot, but I really love, and I miss, cassettes. We don’t have them any more, and I don’t have very many of them, but I had this old cassette player when I was a kid, and – this is going to sound kind of chessy and maybe cliche – but I had Tom Cochrane’s “Life as a Highway”, and I listened to that over and over as a kid, in car rides when we drove to Alberta. I’d just listen to that the whole time. I miss that actually, I miss cassettes.
Grant: You know what, I miss them too. My mom had Sarah McLachlan, her “Angel album, and she has the prettiest voice.
After informing us the song “Angel” is on her album “Surfacing”, Ming he tells us about the time he met her.
Ming: Canada Day a few years ago, I got my media pass and went to Parliament Hill. I saw Stephan Harper and wasn’t sure if I wanted to take pictures of him, and then up comes Sarah McLachlan. I freaked out, because she was in the media pit area talking to CTV. And, being me, I have five of my Sarah McLachlan albums, and I got them signed.
Matt and Grant applaud Ming and agree that that’s really awesome.
Ming: I had eight albums, and I had to decide what to get signed and what not to get signed. While she was signed, I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t know what to say. Someone else was getting something signed too, and after we were both like, “omg, I can’t believe we just did this”.
More applause from Matt and Grant, then Matt asks about the commercials she’s in with the animals. Neither Grant nor Ming seem to know what he’s talking about, which surprises me, so here’s your answer Matt: it is Sarah McLachlan in the commercials. They’re the really sad commercials for the SPCA where everyone has to change the channel when they come on.
After this, Ming wraps up the interviews with thank yous, and the boys thank him as well and tell him it was a pleasure meeting him. Then Behind Sapphire played an amazing set at Avant Garde.
On behalf of Ming, thanks Matt and Grant for the interview!
Transcribed and edited by Emily Robertson of Audiocassettetape Productions.