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The new program
Certainly, Sir take indie electronic
Related Links

+ Certainly, Sir's official Web site

Previously in the Phoenix

+ The age of Certainty

This Saturday, the local trio Certainly, Sir will mark the release of their second album the way most local artists celebrate a new release: with a local show at a local club — T.T. the Bear’s Place — featuring some of their favorite locals as openers. What’s different about this show, and unfortunate, is that TAN, which came out on November 23, isn’t technically available in the US: it’s on the Japanese label Rallye, as is the band’s 2002 album Mugic. There is a 2004 EP, For Claire, available on iTunes; it was originally released by Palm Beats. This from a band who were invited to join the Promise Ring on their farewell tour, who early on had international DJ phenom Howie B itching to sign them, and who had no trouble getting Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard to lend a cameo vocal to TAN. But then, for Certainly, Sir, who grew out of the Boston indie underground of the ’90s to become one of the city’s premier electronic acts, it’s all par for the course.

The story goes something like this. Michael Brodeur, singer/guitarist for the Wicked Farleys, and bassist Nick "Klaus" Hubben, of the similarly styled Ivory Coast, were "good acquaintances" when the indie-guitar boom bottomed out in the late ’90s. "We weren’t best of friends by any means," Hubben says over dinner with Brodeur and drummer Jeff Galusha (ex–Vehicle Birth). "But he was living three blocks from me, and we knew each other through the Farleys and Ivory Coast." Hubben had gotten more into synths and electronics as the IC came to a close and was recording "a lot of instrumental stuff" in his room. "I really felt like it was something that I needed to be doing." Brodeur was penning material on acoustic guitar that "never made sense for the Farleys." A tentative partnership was born.

"We’d get together every weekend," Hubben recalls. "He brought in songs, we’d record them . . . "

"And," Brodeur interjects, "they would turn out nothing like I’d originally written. We’d start with acoustic guitar, throw an SK-1 electronic beat over it, and the guitar would eventually disappear."

"Well, it was more than that," says Hubben, the producer/engineer half of the duo. "It was built up in Pro-Tools and, it is true, we never really heard the acoustic guitar again."

Like a lot of indie refugees, Hubben and Brodeur weren’t shy about indulging their passion for electronica. But they weren’t ready to abandon pop altogether, or Brodeur’s guitar for that matter, even though they’d been contacted by a representative from Howie B’s label in England. "It was an exciting time because we were like, ‘Howie B!’, Hubben recalls. "And that seemed like the right avenue, or at least an avenue, for what we were trying to do."

But as Brodeur details, "There was this slow realization that nothing was going to happen over there. I went to London for a week, and it just turned into us going out at three in the morning to hang out at some bar where Howie B was DJing. He was a wreck. He was absolutely smashed. He had just gotten off a plane. He threw up as soon as he walked into the bar. And he was just leaning on me saying, ‘ "The Vacant Lot of My Heart," man, I love that song.’ I was like, okay, I guess this is positive if he remembers any of it. But no decisions were made, and by the time I got back, I had a bad idea about how things were going to go."

Hubben and Brodeur had gotten off to a quick start, but even they seem to acknowledge that that they needed more time to develop as a band. An old Palm Pictures Web bio for the For Claire 12-inch boasts that the disc’s three tracks will "instantly be providing the soundtrack to lounges all over the country" and refers to their style as "downtempo." It’s not a misleading way to describe Brodeur’s soft-sung delivery, or the unobtrusive click of Hubben’s rhythm tracks, which are more often than not bolstered by little more than stray washes of synth chords. Electronica subgenres were, at the time, proliferating like flu strains in the US. The effect was fairly deadly.

Brodeur, who still looks every bit the scruffy indie-rocker, agrees. "I think what turns people off to electronic music is that there are so many little subgenres. Is it trance, house, IDM, or what?"

"If it’s a choice between rock and electronic, we’re more electronic," Hubben says. "But we’re riding the line. And we’ve been riding the line for a long time. At some point, I guess, someone’s going to label us as something. But for now I think we’re just comfortable on that line, wherever that is."

"The easiest way to put it for me is that I had gotten out of the Farleys, which was six years of discordant crazy shit," Brodeur continues. "Our goal at practice was to come up with the most difficult way to do things. It worked for years and years. But when I got out of the Farleys, all the music I had grown up listening to — Lisa Lisa, Madonna, Wham, and all of that — came back to me and I realized that I had the option of making music like that."

Out in Seattle, meanwhile, Gibbard had taken a break from Death Cab to work on a side project that would evolve into the Postal Service. Certainly, Sir were still in flux, changing line-ups from show to show, and expanding, at one point including as many as eight people on stage, while Hubben did his best to work out the technical end. For a time, Kristina Johnson and Scott Craggs of Roh Delikat became integral to the live show, adding guitar and percussion. All three now agree that it wasn’t until they pared down to a trio with Galusha on drums that the chemistry felt right.

"We’ve been able to scale way down because Jeff is such a dynamic drummer," Hubben explains. "And I just brought in a small modular synth to try to get away from the computer. Because, honestly, it’s utterly impossible to rock out on the computer.

Certainly, Sir + Chan Vangaalen + Haley Bonar + Eject | T.T. the Bear’s Place, 10 Brookline St, Cambridge | Dec 3 | 617.492.BEAR

Issue Date: December 2 - 8, 2005
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