PILATE CD release at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Tuesday (September 23). Free. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
todd clark, frontman of local pop posse Pilate, is happiest when his music sounds shitty. You'd never know it from the impeccable sparkle on his band's shimmery songs. Their epic arcs of lush melody and Clark's tendency toward aching falsetto vocals snag comparisons to tortured Britpop balladeers like Coldplay, Travis and Radiohead before Thom Yorke decided to turn pop music inside out.
But the choirboy-voiced vocalist claims his favourite tunes are the ones where the seams show, before production rounds off that edge of human error.
"The finest moments on our albums are raw and unpolished. There's something about the way it comes out the first time that's more honest," offers the New Zealand-born Clark, who first picked up a guitar as a kid cuz he wanted to be Eric Clapton, and studied classical voice at the University of Western Ontario after morphing into a musical theatre geek during his Unionville high school days. "It's like painting an original picture - if you had to go back and do it over again, it would be terrible."
Pilate's lovely new Caught By The Window (MapleMusic) disc is the follow-up to All That's Given Wasted, their 2001 indie debut EP that garnered them a cultish local fan base - during one opening slot I caught last summer, the entire audience was singing along - and caught the attention of MapleMusic honcho Kim Cooke.
It's easy to compare the two recordings, since songwriter Clark mined the same failed relationship for lyrical inspiration in both cases.
"By the time the album was done, I felt like the themes were a bit played out," he ruefully admits, "but in the end I think the idea surpasses the specific person and experience."
The shift here, he claims, is that Pilate's shed the Hamlet-worthy melancholia for a newfound tone of playful hope.
OK, but you might be wondering if the world needs another angsty indie rock boy pining away for a lost girl. Thing is, Clark's sensitive solipsism makes for some pretty gorgeous sprawling rock songs that deliver an emotional wallop. The angelic voice doesn't hurt.
Clark credits producer João Carvalho with helping him and his bandmates - OCAD art geeks bassist Ruby Bumrah, guitarist Chris Greenough and drummer Bill Keeley - play up the heartstring-yanking effect without lapsing into sickening Kenny G. territory.
"João's a sensitive guy, and one of the ideas we share about music is an appreciation of all that emotional stuff, which is tricky to pull off while avoiding that cheesy adult contemporary feel. If he wanted to make an album of 12 kick-ass rock songs and to go out for partying and beers, then I don't think he would've been the right guy. "
Carvalho, best known around town as a master mastering engineer, has a knack for tweaking pop songs into hooky perfection (check out By Divine Right's Good Morning Beautiful for proof). But Clark says their producer pal's past work wasn't what won Pilate over. Nor was it Carvalho's ability to subtly, almost subconsciously, nudge out the exact performances he wanted from the band. ("He'd suggest stuff in a roundabout way, and then you'd get there without even knowing it," Clark laughs.) It was the personal chemistry.
"He's a very gentle, thoughtful person. It's weird, because by the end it was almost like there were five people in the band, which is saying a lot because bands are so insular. You're very suspicious about who you let in."
Caught By The Window's intelligent pop sounds like the big break Pilate have been anticipating for the past four years. MapleMusic's industry clout isn't a bad thing to have on their side either, as the business-savvy Clark readily admits.
"I feel weird about any artist who has a fucking deal and spends time complaining about the industry. From the beginning, all of us in the band wanted to make music full-time. I don't know why else we'd be busting our asses and doing what we do if we weren't in it to survive.
"But it's not about having your face blown up on the side of a bus, cuz few people can actually pull that off."