Meet Men I Trust
In 2014 and 2015 (when the band only consisted of Caron and Chiriac), they released the albums Men I Trust and Headroom, respectively. Since Proulx’s incorporation into the group, they’ve released single after single that hover between the synth pop warmth of Röyksopp and the melodies of Belle & Sebastian. With the announcement of Oncle Jazz, their upcoming album that releases in a matter of days, Men I Trust have organized a robust tour throughout North America and Europe.
Undoubtedly, their biggest shows will be in April, when they perform at Coachella for the first time. While some artists may interpret this as license to enlist an army of industry professionals, Men I Trust doesn’t compromise their autonomy by shirking labels and music publishers. They demonstrate that it’s possible to maintain an unpretentious and pastoral life amidst rising acclaim. Despite the stress that can accompany a rigorous international tour schedule and finishing the last touches on their forthcoming record, Dragos and Emma are remarkably calm. Say hello to Men I Trust.
Your vocals and ephemeral melodies remind me often of Saint Etienne’s work or Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser’s work with Massive Attack. Which artists have inspired Men I Trust?
Emma Proulx: My dream used to be to sing like Whitney Houston or Celine Dion and have a super powerful voice. And so for a long time I thought I couldn’t sing, because I had no voice compared to, like, my two sisters. So, I would play music and I started helping people do harmonies in high school because I had a notion I could do it. And people would say, 'Oh your voice is soft and very nice, it doesn’t sound like you when you’re speaking—it sounds like it’s coming out of a radio.'
Dragos Chiriac: Yeah, we always have to push the mic gain. During live shows we get a lot of feedback because [Emma] sings so quietly. There’s not that much power.
Emma Proulx: But folk artists, like Lisa Hannigan, who used to sing with Damien Rice—have a very grainy and small voice. She gave me confidence because I would hear her and it would sound exactly like my kind of voice. So, she gave me confidence.
I’d love for new fans and listeners to get a better sense of your scene in, and relationship to, Montreal, which is widely-recognized as an incubator of indie pop and rock. How have the city and the various players sustained and supported a band like Men I Trust to thrive?
Emma Proulx: Financially it’s doable, because it’s cheap.
Dragos Chiriac: It’s so cheap to live there. There are lots of bands obviously, there are lots of venues where you can play.
Emma Proulx: People are supportive of each other.
Dragos Chiriac: I’d say that too. We get to make lots of friends in bands so we can play together.
Emma Proulx: And although Montreal can look like a city, if you remove all the suburbs and focus on the places where people are actually hanging out, it feels like a small city. There’s an indie band crew. And I guess everyone kind of knows each other, and that’s kind of cool!
I want to talk about the evolution of your sound, and the role Emma has played in this. I’m specifically thinking about Headroom, and the electro-baroque tracks “Sad Organ," “Space is the Place," and the Rachmaninoff-inspired choral track “Offertorio." Then we arrive to singles like “Tailwhip," “Show Me How" and recently-released “Say, Can You Hear." How did you get from A to B?
Emma Proulx: So from the outside, [these songs] all look super different from each other, but for us it’s more about having fun while making music. For Jessy and Dragos, their capacity to make music is so large they don’t have a style they haven’t heard. The format of the album allows us to go deeper and to experience a lot.
Dragos Chiriac: That’s exactly what I wanted to say. The album format allows you to make lots of crazy things because you have time to put it in motion and play with it...you can have some songs that would never stand up by themselves, but in the context of an album they make total sense. The thing is, with singles, I wouldn’t release, as you said, a Russian-inspired choral song, that would be kind of weird.
Emma Proulx: In terms of mixing and mastering, the first [Men I Trust] album is so clear it almost hurts. You can hear everything, it’s so electronic, it’s separate. And I think over time, we’ve tended to become more organic. It’s not a conscious decision.
Dragos Chiriac: The past two singles, like, “Say, Can You Hear” are more guitar-driven than our past songs. But I wouldn’t say that the next album you have to expect exactly that. But then in the album, there are lots of playful songs that sound more electronic, and others that sound more organic, more acoustic. At the end of the day, all of the songs sound like a Men I Trust song. The process that we make the songs in, the instruments we use, the techniques we use, it sounds like a Men I Trust song.
There’s definitely a consistency one can trace. That brings me into my next question, which is your process when crafting a song. There’s a seamless marriage of electronic and pop, and even harpsichords! I understand Jessy has a background in jazz guitar, and Dragos a background in classical piano. In what ways do each of you contribute to a song’s composition?
Emma Proulx: We all contribute in separate ways. Somebody has to start, so, sometimes Jessy is playing bass and drums and basic chords. Then Dragos records the project and sends it to me, and I sing on top of it all. We prefer to focus on what’s good individually, and the song appears like that. We’re lucky enough to be in agreement most of the time. We work at a distance.
Dragos Chiriac: We have a big Dropbox folder! We work from a distance on everything. I wouldn’t write songs with three people together. I’d rather write something and then have someone check it and move thing through...Three people together jamming, for me at least, nothing productive will emerge from that. It’s hard enough to write the song structure and have a solid chorus, let alone having everyone contribute at the same time. That’s why we start a song and then everyone will work on it afterwards.
Emma Proulx: It’s really easy to start a song, but to make it from A to Z is really hard. Because everyone has really good ideas, how do you make a good story out of it?
Do you consider many of your songs autobiographical?
Emma Proulx: Yes. We will never write about something we don’t feel deeply and directly about. So that’s why a lot of our lyrics are kind of philosophic ideas, because they convey a general feeling that we have. It’s important for us that the lyrics be timeless, so we can think about the lyrics longer than the music.
Dragos Chiriac: It’s always something that happened to us. It’s never an imaginary story or character.
Emma Proulx: It’s always true and true to us. The three of us have to feel it.
I’ve been told you recently came in possession of a house in the countryside north of Montreal, and that it’ll be also used as a studio. I’ve noticed you have an intimate relationship with nature, exemplified in your music video for “Seven." How do you imagine the countryside, and the increased isolation, to affect your music?
Emma Proulx: Honestly in real life, it’s super cool, like we’re Canadian, we’re close to nature. It’s a part of who we are. In Canada you’re always 15 minutes away from nature even in downtown Montreal. It’s a really Canadian thing to be close to nature. And we’ve always felt close to nature even when we lived in Montreal. Nature influences us because it’s free and it’s beauty.
Dragos Chiriac: It’s also more productive. There aren’t a bunch of bars nearby. But also what makes things special is if I want to see some friends I go do it on the weekends and then I plan it, cause it’s a one hour drive, and so it makes things special. But for working, [the isolation is] amazing. It’s nice because I get up early and I go to bed early, and also because the only nightlife there is, is like, Netflix (laughs). But for working it’s nice and especially too for music, you can be louder. There aren’t neighbors who give a shit.
Last year you played at Tyler, the Creator’s Camp Flog Gnaw festival in Los Angeles. What was it like performing at a hip-hop festival, and the prospect of attracting a new unsuspecting audience?
Emma Proulx: I feel like the people there were really open. It wasn’t like a closed rock festival. They are young people, they like music and they want to enjoy their time. I was like, 'Oh, we really have no reason to be there because we’re the smallest band, we’re Canadian, we’re super indie,' but everyone was super nice and, since we were first, we had a small crowd that had Men I Trust shirts. It felt just perfect. Of course we were super grateful for the opportunity. We are very lucky.
I feel like that was such a unique partnership between Tyler and you all, and it was conducted in such an informal and friendly way. Didn’t he just DM you guys?
Dragos Chiriac: Yeah, he wrote us on Instagram, because he liked one video snippet, it was just like a video snippet of a song called "Oncle Jazzzzzzz." I don’t know, I just filmed Emma in a neighborhood in Montreal. I don’t know for what reason he saw it, because he was looking for music on YouTube like anyone else, and he just wrote to us, asking when the next album is coming out and stuff like that. And one week later we had an invitation to play his festival. Now we’re talking about collaborating on that song that he found on YouTube, so, things move pretty fast, and it was all very casual. He was very kind. A good guy.
Where would you guys like to see yourselves in the next couple months, or even years? I know that’s a bit broad, but I’m curious. I understand, as a band, you’ve maintained independence, and I imagine you guys would want to keep it that way.
Dragos Chiriac: We’re not close to the idea of working with others until it’s necessary, since we’re still pretty small, and it’s still manageable. But, yeah, for the future I guess I’d want the same thing as we have now. I’m very satisfied with what we have. I don’t feel as though we deserve way more. I’m just very grateful we get to play, and there are people at our shows, even if they are small shows.
Emma Proulx: Yeah we don’t want to be big pop stars. We don’t care about these things. Just the fact that people show up to our shows...
Dragos Chiriac: Yeah!
Emma Proulx: I told Dragos the other day, 'Things are going super well—I don’t want to be a superstar,' and he was like, 'We don’t give a shit about that.' I was really happy to know that we were all on the same page. Like, we just want to do our thing and to have the same audience, and if more people like it, then that’s super cool. We’re not going to self-sabotage but it’s not like a concrete goal to conquer the world.
Dragos Chiriac: It’s not our goal. We’re already autonomous, that’s the main objective. That means we can do whatever we want.
Emma Proulx: I’m so grateful for our fanbase.
It’s rare these days to develop that kind of organic fanbase from the ground up. And you guys are playing a lot of shows! You have the proof to say, ‘we don’t need anyone else!’
Emma Proulx: I didn’t think I could do this as a living. As long as I feel that, I’m just going to be overwhelmed by what’s happening.
'Oncle Jazz' comes out in February.