In Canada there is a city that speaks predominantly French; I’ve always found that a funny thing. Known for its architecture and European lifestyle in a country that is synonymous with snow and being mistaken as the USA, Quebec endures quietly and stylishly. It is trés chic, trés beautiful and trés unexpected.
Men I Trust crept up on us in that same quiet, stylish manner. They too are trés chic and trés beautiful, hailing from Montreal; everything that you wouldn’t associate with bands that refuse labels or management or handling. They exude an air of keeping on with keeping on.
When I caught up with Emma Proulx and Dragos Chiriac, two out of the three that comprise of Men I Trust, they were sleepy and peaceful.
“We just woke up, so we’re half human right now,” Emma tells me. “It’s not that early, we should be ashamed…”
“We had a late show a couple of days ago and we saw some friends,” Dragos explains. “So…”
These hazy French-Canadian accents are very much in keeping with the music of Men I Trust. Their sound is that same heady mix of exotic familiarity which would feel destabilising if it wasn’t so beautiful. You can listen to whole albums before you realise that you had allowed their songs to blend into one experience. Forming in 2014, the trio have travelled, rested, and are now on the cusp of a new tour.
“At the beginning it was just Jessy [Caron] and Dragos together, they were high school friends who met again at university,” Emma tells me.
“Jessy was studying jazz guitar and Dragos was doing musicology, so mixing and mastering. They started talking about making beats and they were really drawn to Daft Punk-ish music and Italo disco, and they enjoyed it so much that they kept on doing it and started the band.
“For the first one or two years it was guest singers and just the two guys together. I was one of those guests, and I suppose I was really motivated… From then on I never left the band. Maybe because I was the only one who didn’t have any other projects… I don’t know. But I’m here and it’s been three years.”
There’s an interesting dynamic in the group, and I think it comes from the friendship of its members. Does quality music get made more naturally if the members are friends first, or does the friendship come after the making of good music? I put the question to Emma.
“Both works! When you start a band, you’re a little more in harmony because you’ve tested your friendship before. We all have our horror stories about bands who were not friends… We’re really good friends in real life, it makes things a lot easier. The creative process is split in three, the sound has definitely evolved, my presence has changed something.”
Emma’s presence has indeed changed something, but it’s all for the better.
“It’s not frustrating, but it’s so often compared to what people think it is, because everyone tends to put it in relation to me,” she says discussing how the band name came about.
“It was super positive, it was the two guys together and they wanted to be called Trust, basically to have a positive name. But Trust was already taken, so they went with Men I Trust.”
The band have toured extensively, to the point where touring is synonymous with their music and image – their visuals seem always to be on the move, everywhere and nowhere at once.
“It’s easy to forget what happens, because so many things happen,” Dragos tells me.
“When you travel you try to keep a travel diary, but our travel is touring! We only really realised we toured by looking at those pictures!” Emma adds.
“All the venues look the same and you spend so much time on the road, so [by taking pictures] I can remember all the moments more clearly,” says Dragos.
He is considered in his answers and laughs at himself when I recall one of his quotes about keeping his music minimal to let the melodies tell the stories. While so many songs by Men I Trust are tracks that know themselves and are unashamed about their potential, I wondered if the minds behind the tracks were as self-as- sured, particularly on such a gruelling tour schedule. Does touring affect their creativity?
“For me, touring means I definitely have less time to write music,” says Dragos. “I have enough time to write lyrics, but it’s hard to be in the car and make a music project… There’s so much ambient noise and it’s harder to concentrate. Touring also influenced our song-writing when we were back home too, because all of the shows you play let you see how differ- ent crowds react to different songs. When we started touring we had lots of dreamy, very slow songs and ever since that time we started making more guitar-driven songs, more upbeat like ‘Say, Can You Hear’ and ‘Seven’. They’re the ones that are the most uplifting and fun to play live. When people go out and see your show it’s fun if part of the set is introspective and intimate, but at the same time you also need to have some uplifting songs because people are there to have a good time and dance.”
“I think everything that you go through in life is going to impact you in a different way,” says Emma. “It’s personal for everyone, but touring for me has been about looking at different landscapes and environments that inspire me… Being less in the studio and more in venues, our reflexes are different… More show-driven. But I think it gives a good balance.”
We are brought back to that question of landscapes and geography that initially haunted my thoughts about the music of Men I Trust, and that haunts their visuals. Images that are beautiful to the absolute extreme, enough to become otherworldly, accompany the songs expertly. Look- ing at the sound and visuals together, one understands what Dragos means when he describes song-writing as “making a movie in your head”; as something totally experiential.
From dusty wide vistas to blue lakes, the pictures mark the chameleonic and adapt- able tendencies of Men I Trust. From melodic beachy, dreamy pop to harder, more guitar- driven, rhythmic sounds, no two tracks sound the same, and yet, they blend into a sonic landscape just like the ones that Emma stands in front of in their pictures. It’s the ultimate maximalist product from a complete minimalist output – not drowning the sound out with technique, but instead having it deafening in its mastery.
“We try to say the most with the least,” Dragos says. “That’s just a general quality of poetry.”
And do they want people to feel emotional about their creations?
“Yes and no, because emotional has a lot of different meanings,” Emma tells me. “When you’re younger you tend to listen to over romantic music, very sad music or…”
“Self-destructive music?” chimes Dragos.
“Yeah, or intense,” she replies. “I think with the feedback that I have from our music that makes us really happy is that it comforts people, but it’s not destructive. Larger than in the moment. We really think about the lyrics, they’re really important to us. That’s what makes us proud. We try to make it as mean- ingful as possible and that’s the passion we have.”
And where do these lyrics come from?
“It’s usually either what we live, or some- thing that happens to us,” answers Dragos. “The lyrics are more like ideas and we’re in a conversation with the listener asking, ‘Hey, what do you think about this idea?’, that’s how I see it.”
Men I Trust don’t use management or labels, but instead are totally self-contained in their dealings. I believe that this contributes to the raw tightness of their sound, their confidence in their playing and the slight irony in their title. We could live without their music and they accept that, but the world would be worse off without them. without. Without cliché, their belief in their art carried them through every separate occasion in which external forces told them to give up.
“At the beginning we needed help from people, but no one was interested in signing our band,” Dragos tells me. “We talked with a couple of industry people, and they didn’t think there was any commercial potential. So, we had to learn how to do every- thing ourselves, and once you do something once, twice, three times, it starts to get pretty easy… It’s not a big deal, and the liberty you have in doing your own stuff is the best. Also, the thing with a label, we like being able to do a song or an album and release it when we want, not to be slowed down by a team. We just put it out.”
We are living in a time when many artists feel they must allow their talent to be handled and managed for it to be validated. I ask Emma and Dragos if they felt that their decision not to seek management or a label was rebellious.
“I would say, thinking back about those days when we were struggling, we felt a little rebellious, but it’s not the main reason. It’s for creative freedom,” says Emma.
“It’s fun to have our own stuff and go at our own pace,” adds Dragos. “We don’t do our own press any more, we used to, now we pretty much just answer emails to people who connect with us, like you did! We just answer emails and do our music.”
Something that I find staggering to wrap my head around is that Men I Trust released two albums before establishing a large fan-base. This would be impossible with- out their mindset and decisions to opt-out of external pressures; it takes a certain level of gumption, confidence, self-belief.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” Emma laughs. “The freedom is nice, but it’s a lot of work… If you’re really motivated it’s a very good way to do your thing. You don’t need to be surrounded by a huge team.”
“Consistency is the most important,” Dragos says. “If you’re a band starting off, don’t focus straight away on releasing a whole album. It takes a lot of experience to do that.”
And what then about releasing their albums – wasn’t that particularly daunting, without being sure that other people would enjoy them?
“What is a shame with an album [being released too soon] is that you don’t have an audience already, or people waiting for an album,” says Dragos. “So, you can put so much effort into a project, you can almost go crazy doing that full time, with your head just in that…”
I ask if they had any advice for musicians currently in the position they found them- selves in before. The answer was in the same chic, minimal, beautiful way that seems to come so naturally to both. There was a tenderness in the way that Emma spoke about Dragos’s perseverance that betrayed her complete trust in her band-mates talent and ability. He laughed, but it was there, and it was mutual.
“People’s plan B become their plan A,” Emma tells me. “Everyone around Dragos had a plan B but he didn’t, and he was in deep shit… He had no money, but he said the only way he’d survive is this, and he was so motivated. Just have a plan A, and if you can’t eat one morning then maybe try figure out things, but stick to it as much as you can, even if it’s hard.”