What: Operators with Doomsquad
Where: Upstairs Cabaret, 15 Bastion Sq.
When: Thursday, June 6, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $18.50 at Eventbrite.ca and Lyle’s Place
It took nearly 20 years and as many albums for Dan Boeckner to find the sweet spot where the music he envisioned during the writing process wound up being the music he recorded during studio sessions. But he found it on Radiant Dawn, the new recording from his Montreal synth-rock trio, Operators.
“I pushed my songwriting forward, and the sonics being used,” Boeckner said during a recent tour stop in Edmonton. “This record is the closest I think I’ve gotten . . . how I wanted the record to sound and how it turned out sort of balanced out, which is a pretty rare thing. It pushed me forward into a new chapter of writing.”
Boeckner and his bandmates in Operators — keyboardist Devojka and drummer Sam Brown — released Radiant Dawn on May 31 after a year-long process that was interrupted by recording sessions for the new album from indie rockers Wolf Parade, one of Boeckner’s many other projects.
With a schedule that keeps him on the road for months at a time, Boeckner was forced to write some of the hazy, harrowing lyrics to Radiant Dawn during time off from Wolf Parade’s sessions at Ladysmith recording studio Risque Disque, a converted stone house built to look like a church.
The setting wound up being the perfect location for a songwriting session, Boeckner said. “It was really isolated, but really cool. That environment rubbed off on both projects.”
Boeckner, 41, was raised in Lake Cowichan, but hasn’t lived on Vancouver Island for some time. The lure of the Island remains strong, however.
He worked with director Panos Cosmatos on his acclaimed 2018 film Mandy, the Nicolas Cage revenge fantasy that drew raves for its visual panache. Boeckner and Cosmatos, who was raised in Victoria, are longtime friends, and the director hired Boeckner to co-write the song Amulet of the Weeping Maze for the film’s cult leader character, Jeremiah Sand, a failed musician played by Linus Roche.
The cult leader named his followers Children of the New Dawn, which inspired the title for the new Operators album. “Panos and I experienced Vancouver Island on the same wavelength,” Boeckner said with a laugh.
“Living in that place in your formative years gives you a certain perspective on life. It’s hard to explain, but it was a very trippy place to grow up, in a lot of ways. It’s naturally beautiful, but there’s an underlying darkness on the Island that was easy to tap into.”
Film buffs will recall the tag line from Mandy about the “cosmic darkness” of Cage’s character, a line said in real life by Boeckner’s father to Cosmatos. At the time, the director was making weird videos for Victoria band Atlas Strategic, Boeckner’s earliest musical incarnation, and the thought apparently stayed with him.
When it came time to use it in a film, Mandy — set in woods not unlike areas on the outskirts of Victoria — was an obvious choice.
Radiant Dawn further explores the idea of the darkness that permeates otherwise pretty cities such as Victoria. “For me, Radiant Dawn is the clearest expression I’ve been able to come up with for that feeling. I was happy to be able to get it down in a way that seemed coherent.”
The sound design of the album was paired with a strong visual element. The band’s album art and psychedelic videos recall the grainy VHS era, inspired by everything from Twin Peaks and late-night programming during the early 1980s to cheesy Yugoslavian travel videos. The two components of Radiant Dawn “are supposed to act like a dream,” Boeckner said. “It’s a world for the songs to live in.”
The world Boeckner lives in has roots in several parts of the world, including the U.S., Europe and Southeast Asia. But he is struck by the commonalities. Boeckner and his friends often felt alone during their youth in Victoria, which can be an unforgiving place for artists on the edge. Today, he has come to terms with his hometown, with help from like-minded fans.
“I had a long talk with some fans who came out to our show in Minneapolis and one of them, who grew up outside of the city, told me that Radiant Dawn sounded like winter in that part of the world, that fogged-out strangeness when everything is indistinct. I like that. I like that people can take that and apply it to their own experience.”