Heady and ensconsed in a thickly artistic and principally operated, philosophical world, Ryan Lenssen comes to the table relaxed and ‘as is’. We’re off the record, and dialogue is a comfortable free-flow between us. We agree we both like interviews this way. Of a special crop, Lennsman is outspoken – a veritable nonstop train of expression. Not only is he thoughtful, educated and intelligent, but he is also a willing representative for his large, playful, slightly offbeat Canadian liquid-pop crew, The Most Serene Republic.
Signed to the Arts & Crafts family (Broken Social Scene, Feist, Apostle of Hustle) in 2005, The Most Serene Republic was the label’s first band signing unrelated to Broken Social Scene. Since then they’ve toured with BSS, Metric, The Strokes and more.The Most Serene Republic’s latest album, …And the Ever Expanding Universe became available via Arts & Crafts in July of 2009.
In 15 minutes or so, I scrawled 4 nearly illegible pages – front and back – from our dialogue, doing my best to document the golden nuggets and to absorb the huge philosophical hurricane of discourse that blew about in our conversation.
After cordial hellos and unpublishable gossips, here’s about how it went:
LW: Your name! (The Most Serene Republic is a reference to Venice as a crowned republic under the Doges during the years 697 to 1797.) Have you ever been to Venice?
RL: No, my parents went to Venice. They couldn’t help themselves from taking ridiculous pictures next to landmarks and touristy things and buying hilarious t-shirts to sport.
I came up with the band name when I was in university. I was bored in music class -just doodling. My professor mentioned a place that sounded like an artist’s utopia. Imagine a god-infused place only they replaced god with the pinnacle of humanity. It sounds like a better time, like a great place.
- At this point there was some brief talk of the high romantic Russian composers, followed by a fleeting moment of chaos as an ‘almost-emergency’ occurred in the Arts & Crafts office in Toronto where Ryan was on the line. The frenzy rapidly settled and our interview resumed.
LW: The Most Serene Republic has 7 members. How did you all come together?
RL: Adrian and I first started with Adam and Nick. We were hoping anyone would help. It was kind of a first come – first served basis of involvement. We took who we could get. Kind of like Junkyard Wars. You know, when the pros get thrown into the junkyard and have to make a hovercraft? And every once in a while some parts need to be swapped out. Adrian and I have always held a central ideal based on romantic and pre-20′s thinking. We still hold onto it. Some people don’t have it. Some do. It comes out in people slowly over time. And some do have it in a different shade or color, so we squeeze the grapes and then move on to a new vintage next year. With each new member, we make the most of what they have to offer – always through the prism of TMSR – and what emerges is a rainbow.
LW: You’ve toured with Broken Social Scene and you have a number of releases on Arts & Crafts. What has that been like for you? Are you all able to be band full time? Do you do outside work?
RL: TMSR never tried to be a commercial success. Ever ever ever. We’ve been only honest.
But I do have a hot new opposite project coming up – a secret – that outta make the money pour down on my face! I can’t tell you about it. It’s a secret. Purely for money. I’m currently spearheading a buzz for it. Hopefully it’ll be out late this year or early next year. You’ll see. Other jobs, well, production, and I do other rough jobs for money. But being in TMSR helps us all to continue to make honest artistic manifestations of our personalities.
LW: What projects have you been producing?
RL: Oh, I produced all our records except the latest – that was Dave Newfeld (BSS). Right now we’re working on an EP. That’s the way we’ve done it: an album, an EP, album, EP… it’s kind of like having a meal and then going for the leftovers, a meal, leftovers etc… We did Underwater (Underwater Cinematographer ), a full length, and then we followed that up with Phages. Then we came back with Population …. It’s like having KFC for dinner, then digipop, KFC, leftovers and jello. …And the Ever Expanding Universe strayed from our usual sound. Dave produced that with us. But there’s a new EP coming up that I’m producing. So the stereotype will be fulfilled but we’re still constantly changing. In any case, the upcoming EP will be more like what people expect our sound to be.
LW: What was your experience like working with Dave Newfeld on the latest record?
RL: It was an incredible experience working with Dave. He’s a man who sees me in a different way. We’re friends. And we’re really lucky to work together. It was like a vacation. Dave is a great sculptor. And through the process of recording the album, he became almost a member of the band.
LW: What are your live shows like?
RL: I guess our live shows have been confusing, really. Before Population, we’d get on stage and play mostly Phages songs. We were stupid and self indulgent. People would try to dance to it and it would look like they were having seizures. Generally, we tend to cater to music heads more than just here-to-have-a-good-time people. We want to bring fun as well as darkness.
LW:You’ve been classified as ‘baroque pop’ as well as ‘indie rock.’ How do you describe the music and what influences your style?
RL: Baroque pop – I’ll take that as a compliment. It reminds me of The Association. I love those bands. We actually wanted to distill that flavor into the new record. I don’t even know what indie rock is. I don’t know, I love classical music, hard pop jazz and early 60′s pop. Those 3 combined make for a happy Ryan + interested listeners.
LW: I read somewhere that you’re obsessed with musical history…
RL: Ah, yes, well, how would I start? There’s a romance of time in the broken lens of history. Take Bach, for example – nobody even cared about him or what he was doing when he was alive. And he was blind?! Amazing! There are so many of them: Henry Purcell, Haydn, Handel, Rachmaninoff, every time with each of them, there was a step forward. Just as doctors trying to cure cancer, artists are trying to cure their souls. I guess in that way we’re narcissistic. When bees pollinate flowers, the benefit is honey. Artists narcissistically go for healing and we get music as the product.
In today’s music, the influence and the drive are so different. So much is based on sex or the power ladder or on being rich. Back then, it wasn’t like that – except maybe for Wagner – but you gotta give him credit for it! Now, amidst true genius, you get a bunch of panhandlers. It’s like a SlapChop – the first one is amazing…the ones that follow are fine. Truly amazing music has the power to take you off your feet to another realm, to amplify emotions or take them away completely.
LW: Absolutely. Ryan, it’s been so nice to talk to you. I can’t wait till we meet in person.
RL: Yes, take care. Thank you.
…stay tuned for The Most Serene Republic’s live Luxury Wafers Session!