Integrity. It's often the first thing to get thrown overboard on a sinking ship, and while the music industry is far from sunk, it's doubtless listing to one side. And so, as an artist, it would be tempting to play it safe, to allow oneself to be swept in the direction of the prevailing winds and, in short, to do as little as possible to rock the boat. Well, that just isn't the Mobile way.
In uncertain times, there is one thing that's certain for the members of Mobile: "We all agree that it's time to roll up our sleeves and get things done - our way," so says guitarist and principle songwriter Christian "Criq" Brais.
These five Montrealers have, despite adversity in both their personal and professional realms since the release of their popular debut, Tomorrow Starts Today, redoubled their resolve to stay true to their own musical instincts, even if it means moving away from the relative safety of known formulas and into uncharted territory. In the creation of the sophomore Tales from the City, more than ever before, they let their heart be their compass.
A newer and truer direction was critical to the evolution of Mobile. "With the first record, we were kind of at the end of the wave of this '80s pop revival scene," says Criq, "and by being tied to that in some people's minds, we lost some credibility."
Vocalist Mat Joly concurs. "Because it was our first album it sounds like a first album. And like Criq said, we were part of that wave. But we wanted to prove that we're more than just an '80s retro band, and I think in recording Tales from the City we really had our own agenda and knew exactly what we wanted to do without trying or without taking notes about what's going on in the music world these days."
And there was another significant difference. "With the first album I tried to write 12 singles," says Criq. (And write them he did, from the pumping Montreal Calling to the transporting Out of My Head to the emotive See Right Through Me to the stellar Dusting Down the Stars.) "And with Tales from the City, I tried to write an album.
"It may sound crazy, but for me it's like our first record," he continues, with obvious excitement. "On Tomorrow Starts Today we were wanting to get a record deal, and we got one. But this second album, I think it's really us, what we are. The kind of sound we were trying to achieve is there and for me it's a new start."
Apart from the clearly more unified nature of Tales from the City, the next inescapably noticeable characteristic is its urgency, a sense of songs let off a chain, disburdened of the pressure of expectation. The driving, album opening Daylight Breaks is just such a song, as is the pummeling Gravity, which forms the backbone of this expansive testament to the resolve of the human spirit. Much of Tales from the City was created during times of great personal duress (Mat weathered several family deaths over a short span of time) and professional stress (endless American label misleading and mishaps perhaps better left to memory). As such, there is a distinctly darker patina to these proceedings.
"I've been listening to a lot of soul music and trying to pick up on that darker vibe that soul music had in the late '60s and '70s, like the Staxx Records collection and Motown," explains Mat. "This is a rock record with pop elements, but also with a darker side. We got rid of the stuff from the first album that wasn't truly us, and this is really who we are."
"It's a not as polished as the first album," puts in guitarist Frank Williamson. "Nor is it as overproduced." This is echoed by bassist Dominic Viola, who also offers that, "The changes are not that radical - it's still Mobile - but it's a better, improved Mobile."
The deadly, and very appropriately titled, first single, The Killer, provides ample evidence of the new modus operandi, an exhilarating statement of intent that doesn't beat around any bushes, but rather rips them up by the roots. Which is not to say the band doesn't also show a more considered, cerebral side, as is the case on Sweet Light, which features Quebec singing and songwriting phenom Ariane Moffat. Mobile credit acclaimed producer Jeff Saltzman (The Sounds, The Killers, Fischerspooner) for helping them stay focused on the task at hand.
"Saltzman told us to think about it as if it were our last record," says Criq, "so that's the approach we took."
"He's the kind of guy who's not going to impose himself as a producer," adds Mat. "He was a bit like a bus driver: we'd tell him where to go sometimes, but he was the one doing the driving. At the same time we knew exactly where we wanted to be with this album, we had a clear vision, and I think he totally got it."
Now it's up to the rest of us to do the same thing.
"I want to hear people's reactions to the record," says Frank. "And not the fans, but people who were not fans. That's what I want to know - I want to know what the guy who hates us thinks."
For his part, Dominic says, "I have this feeling that in the past we were always on the fence in the sense that we weren't completely pop, but we weren't completely rock either, we were right in the middle. Every time people thought of us they couldn't categorize us," which in this case wasn't a good thing. "Everyone could agree that we were a good band live, but nobody could figure out what we were."
With Tales from the City the band doesn't intend to leave any margin for mischaracterization. "Instead of record reviews that are six and a half, I'd rather it be 10 or zero," asserts Dominic. "And I think that this album will achieve this."
Marry that kind of conviction to a devastating live show and an unimpeachable work ethic - this is, after all, the same band that spent three years rehearsing before they even played their first live show - and it's no wonder that the band are chafing to kick into gear and get the rock rolling as never before. Mobile are, as ever, a band on the move.