Feature: First Rate People

First Rate People: Act II

Photography by Jalani Morgan / Assistants: Lorne Bradley & Kahlil Hernandez

Have you listened to First Rate People’s (FRP) new single, You Won’t Get This Joke At All? It’s good. It’s clean, addictive and just all-around interesting musically. Its moves from a guitar and vocals-style song to a dance post-disco synth-pop sound, and then goes on to marry the two. YWGTJAA (yes, that happened) is cause for using the repeat button.

After getting a lot of attention in late 2010 and 2011, FRP was kind of quiet in the last year. I caught up with FRP songwriters Jonathan Lawless and Liam Sanagan at The Embassy Bar to hear about what they’ve been up to and what the new release means for their next phase. John’s got a mop of blonde hair, and Liam totally sort of looks like Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  While John is the arrangement guy, Liam and other bandmate Hayden are more technical of the nerds.

As one might expect, they’ve spent the last year writing, recording and producing. They’ve got a number of new tracks ready and are poised to start circulating them and playing shows. They’re at a pretty cool point in their musical development and are strategizing to play it right.

“We’re feeling it out,” Liam says. “I don’t think we want to be too premature with anything. We’re waiting for some opportunities and sussing it out as we go. We could do our own LP release at some point and I think we’ll all be happy to do it. In the meantime, we just want to put out few songs, make some videos and play some shows.”

Last year, FRP showed they’ve got the goods to make a name for themselves and that pretty much everyone who’s familiar with them knows it. When they dropped the single Girl’s Night at the beginning of 2010 and began touring with Born Ruffians, Pitchfork took notice, calling their track a “funky, flirty abstraction that floats somewhere in the space between a bouncy 1990s-style R&B tune and a swooning alt-rock ballad.”

“It was pretty weird in retrospect,” Liam says about the attention. “It was literally a pet project at the time and everyone lived in completely different cities and we were all pretty much still in school.”

Almost all the members of FRP – well, 5 of the 6 – come from Owen Sound, a small city by Georgian Bay known for producing some pretty nice people. They’re Toronto-based now, but spent a fair bit of time recording and songwriting in a cabin near Owen Sound, à la Bon Iver.

“One of my favorite things about our town musically,” says John, “is that I always felt really encouraged by people being so open to hearing new stuff. I always felt challenged and knew that they would be open to something new, or something in a new way.”

“But back in high school,” Liam continues, “you’d go to a show and there are like five screamo bands on the bill. And you’re like ‘I want to be in a band and I fucking hate this’. But people are receptive there, and growing up in that teaches you to try and be different. There is also some really cool folk stuff coming out of Owen Sound right now.”

With this new round of songwriting, FRP has been refining and pushing their sound. John feels like they are really getting good at identifying and playing to their strengths.

“In a big way we took the time to find that out,” Liam says. “To sit down as a consistent group for the first time. Everything we’d done to this point has been… really for fun. The whole thing started out with John as a fun, jokey kind of thing. And then slowly it solidified and people were like,‘What are you guys gonna do next?’ Eventually we had to make a call and say… ‘I guess we’ll just do something serious then.’”

For John, a highlight of this period of songwriting and recording has been recording and collaborating with friends and musicians from back home.

“We collaborate with a lot of people in the area,” Liam says. “One of my best friends from high school – his little sister collaborates with us in a big way. That was kind of a trip. It’s like, ‘I’ve got your little sister on my album. How do you feel about that?’”

The group is focusing next on putting together a video for one of their new tracks, likely YWGTJAA. They’re currently looking at collaborating with local artists. For John, an artist like recent OTM-feature Jared Raab would be an ideal collaborator. “Not that that’s a plea for his attention,” says John.

Liam addresses my iPhone-turned-microphone directly: “Any artists who want to reach out and work with us  — please do.”

Like a psychedelic space tiger, waiting to pounce and explode in a flurry of dance and synth, FRP are playing these next moves carefully. Particularly with regards to releasing an LP.

“We want to do everything we can,” Liam says. “Speaking from my own point of view, we’ve already done three EPs with the attitude ‘this is fun. Let’s do this, put it out, play a few shows, and it’ll be awesome.’  Making an album feels like you need to take much more time. Instead of just putting it out to your friends, you’re trying to find and build an audience. With the LP we’re going try to do something where we can realize a bit of a dream and get to the next point and maybe it’s another plateau.”

Special thanks to Studio Calavera for hosting this shoot.