Exclusive interview with Godspeed You! Black Emperor

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by Trevor Greenway on May 5, 2011

Godspeed You! Black Emperor live on stage in Rupert, Quebec

Wow, Rupert, Quebec, you really have no idea what hit you. Let me tell you. Or perhaps you should hear it from the journalist who traveled all the way from his Boston music mag to the tiny little community centre nestled in the Rupert Hills, just to hear one of the most important bands of our time: Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

The rock journalist was wandering around the packed hall, dumbfounded at the fact that such a huge and important band was playing in such a small place – and for no money at all.

For those of you who have no idea who this band is, let’s just think for a second where the musical world would be without Montreal’s Godspeed: There might be no Arcade Fire – or at least no paved road for them to walk on.

And the entire Montreal indie rock surge that took over the airwaves and iPods of the college twenty-somethings throughout most of the mid to late 2000s probably wouldn’t have surfaced without the work Godspeed put into the Montreal scene in the 1990s.

And still, the progressive experimental rock band surpasses any of its successors. Godspeed is what Arcade Fire would be if it had wings – dark, beautiful wings that span forever. Godspeed is no ordinary band, but more of an artistic entity, and for much of their career that spanned from 1994-2003 they have played by their own rules – giving no media interviews, handing out no press passes or photos and swimming against the mainstream current – this band truly lives in the shadows.

If you have ever seen the movie, 28 Days Later, you have been infected with the band’s dreary, pessimistic vision. The eerie, post-apocalyptic opening seen in the movie is driven by Godspeed’s dark and seemingly hopeless tune, “East Hastings.”

So why would such a huge band, that has played to thousands in stadiums across Europe and North America, opt to playing at the Rupert Community Centre for the end of their reunion tour that followed an eight-year hiatus? And a benefit for the Rupert Community Centre to boot? Because the guy who pricks you in Wakefield, also bangs on the drums for the band. That’s right; acupuncturist Bruce Cawdron is Godspeed’s drummer.

“Well, because Rupert is my ‘hood and Godspeed is a guaranteed sellout show,” said Cawdron, explaining why the octet played the Rupert fundraiser, during an exclusive interview with the Low Down.

“When you are in a band for so many years, a band that is respected and has toured all over the world, you really just want to play in your hometown and play for your friends.”

Although Cawdron has played to thousands all across the world without letting the nerves get the best of him, the Rupert gig was much different. He said he was very nervous at the April 26 show, because he was playing for his neighbours.

If there were any nerves bouncing around on stage, the 300-strong audience sure didn’t notice. We were all transfixed on the band – whether it was guitarist David Bryant violating his instrument with a screwdriver or Cawdron’s sledgehammer drumming from his feet, none of us could look away.

The band’s 45-minute jams seemed unreal at times. It was difficult to know which sound was coming from where. I was just waiting for the group to combust spontaneously on stage – but even that wouldn’t have seemed out of the ordinary at this show. We were all on Mars – together – and it was magnificent.

There were times when it seemed as if the community centre was about to collapse from below. The entire stage looked like it was on fire at one point, as the band’s projectionist, Karl Lemieux, spliced together horrid visions of fire, steam, smoke and industrial waste during what seemed like a never-ending story of melancholy and hopelessness.

It wasn’t a typical Godspeed show, either, as there were many non-fans at the show – and that was the point of it all, says Cawdron.

“There were people that that were four (years old) and 84,” he said, speaking from the next tour stop, Montreal. “It was nice and intimate.”

Nadine Doolittle and Tim Butler were among those non-fans who were completely blown away by the show. Unaware of who Godspeed was, the long-time Rupert couple quickly learned just how lucky they were. Doolittle’s eyes were close to popping out of her skull, while her hubby couldn’t stop smiling. They even bought the band’s tour poster because it said “Athens, Greece and Rupert, Quebec.”

The show seemed to flash by in minutes, but the band played an epic two-and-a-half hours, just as solid as they did it 10 years ago. This band proved that not all reunion tours are about cash and fighting the onslaught of getting older.

The Rupert benefit concert brought in close to $4,000 for the Rupert Community Centre. The Godspeed tour has now wrapped up, but there is more in store for the band. Cawdron confirmed that the band is recording new material and that a new album is in the works. Live video of the show below.