MEMPHIS CD release at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), Friday (October 29). $8. 416-596-1908. Rating: NNNNN
Memphis is a tale of two boys in two cities - neither of which, oddly enough, is the Tennessee town Elvis called home.
Once upon a time, two aspiring actors headed to New York City to see if they could hack it in the arts without selling their souls or serving martinis to snobs.
They ended up hanging out in a freezing loft in Williamsburg - before it became the enclave of post-punk upstarts in roller skates that we currently know and love - writing songs to keep warm.
One, an ex-Torontonian named Torquil Campbell, who lived in the loft with the pre-famous Yeah Yeah Yeahs, scored roles in procedural network dramas, paid bills by doing cartoon voices and scored a record deal with his other band, dreamy popsters Stars. The other, North Carolina-bred Chris Dumont, worked a Central Park carousel and ended up teaching performers at the Met how to fight.
When the City of Dreams cliché soured, Campbell headed to misty Vancouver, where he entertained hippies doing al fresco Shakespeare with the Bard on the Beach troupe. Dumont escaped the urban jungle to join him, and only there, claims Campbell, was Memphis born.
"This record is a love letter to Vancouver, and the document of a friendship," he declares. "I have to be somewhere beautiful to make a record. The first Stars record was weird cuz we made it in Williamsburg, which is the ugliest place on earth. It was fuckin' horrendous, but the album reflected the beauty we'd seen in New York.
"Memphis is hugely different for me. It's a happy accident, all about summers spent together. We put out an EP the first year I was there, and over the next few summers Chris came to live in Vancouver. We'd ride our bikes, smoke weed and eat salad. All that bird stuff and shit some people don't like on the record is us sticking the microphone out the window, cuz we wanted to aurally capture our experience."
The album, called I Dreamed We Fell Apart (Paper Bag), reflects that chilled-out, pot-hazed, riding-through-the- suburbs hippie mentality. With washy guitars, dreamy horns, subtle programmed beats and really nice acoustic guitar hooks, it's like a less bummed-out Nick Drake drinking iced tea with the Delgados.
Yes, there are still dark moments. The jazz-inflected Nada stemmed from NYC post-9/11, and a track called East Van is less about tripping over dead junkies in the street and more about the striking contrasts of the Vancouver landscape. And stuff like the aforementioned bird noises and the gentle patter of falling rain may be better suited to meditation tapes than to stereo play (unless you're really stoned). But the album does reflect the genuinely unself-conscious vibe of two buddies hangin' out.
That might be cuz Campbell's co-conspirator didn't really plan on putting it out.
"I was just trying to entertain myself," offers Dumont over the phone from his Brooklyn home base. "I was trying to make a musical collage of my life at the time. Once the record's out, it's almost devastating. All of a sudden people are expressing their own opinions about it, and I don't know how to deal with that. The record thing is much more Torq's motivation - he likes to be out there. I much prefer sitting in my apartment."
Now that Memphis has made it out into the world, though, Dumont says he has no regrets.
"Sure, there are a lot of sloppy mistakes, things that bother me on one level, but I don't like to mess with them. It's like a memory, like looking back at a photo album or reading your diary after the fact. You go back and it lets you relive the experience."
Aw. It's totally like Stand By Me.