I’ve joked (pretty incessantly) that the names and faces behind Edmonton AB’s No Museums has been the best kept secret in the Canadian independent music scene, but that all changes here and now. No Museum’s Michael Betmanis broke down (not really, I just asked him) and subjected himself to some intense QBiM scrutiny for today’s edition of the Q+A:
QBiM: Hello, New Museums, what’s new in your world?
Michael Betmanis: It’s Saturday night. Just finished recording some bass lines for new songs that will hopefully show up on the next album. Played around with adding delay and flange to one of the lines. Other than that, I did some shopping at the market today – bought some cucumbers and some meat. Currently listening to The Cure, but just the early stuff – before the hair and makeup took over the music. Currently drinking an IPA.
QBiM: So here’s the million dollar Q+A question: No Museums and Twin Library are by far the most enigmatic artists Quick Before It Melts has ever covered. Will you finally reveal who you are?
MB: It’s just me. Currently. Mostly. I play guitar. I used to play the drum machine as well, but a few years back bought an actual drum kit. I’ve worked with people who are far better musicians than myself but it’s a lot of bother. A lot of projects begin with me inviting others to take part. Some of that exists and will continue to exist. But right now it’s just me. Michael – the most common name ever. In school there were always five of us.
QBiM: No Museums (and Twin Library) has been extremely prolific writing and recording music over the last few years. What is the writing and recording process like for you?
MB: When I find a block of time I work quick. But those blocks don’t come easy so I have to make the most of them. I’ll write a song on Friday night and then record it Saturday, let’s say. Writing has never been a problem – a song will start in my head and I’ll know exactly how it should sound and how I’ll record it. I don’t experiment a lot with the original vision, except out of necessity or whim. Being on my own I don’t have to demo it to a band. I can just record it exactly as I feel it should be. And that feeling does change from the initial writing to the recording. But mostly I just record the songs and they either sound exactly like I wanted or they don’t at all – in which case, I’ll either scrap it or realize that it’s great.
QBiM: Each album, while stylistically related to the others, feels like its own little creation. Is there a vault of songs that you turn to when it’s time for a new record, or does each one spring forth separately?
MB: A vault. Yes, there is a vault. I’ve been writing songs since I was 16. And while a lot of them will never see the light, there are moments of glory throughout the years. As I get ready to begin the album process I’ll always look back through the books and find some old song that never found its moment and record it as new. Or take parts of old songs and rework them into new songs.
And while I release a group of songs as an ‘album’ I don’t always think that way. Basically as soon as I get a group of songs done that I’m happy with I’ll release it. Sometimes I’ll have a forethought of creating an album a certain way – the last album (The Malcontents) was initially supposed to be an acoustic album – and it’s certainly less guitar-heavy than other albums – but things change as things change. I don’t think of my work as being album-by-album. It’s more like a long trail of smoke of where I happen to be at the time. I have a hard time even remembering which songs are on which album.
A few years back I released The Abandoned Reel album which was actually made up of songs both new and old – and I mean actually old. I took old 4-track tapes and used those as my bed tracks to record new vocals and other instruments on top. Those songs were sprinkled between brand new songs. I think every album I release includes new and old songs. The album I’m currently working on includes one song that was written in the 1990s. I’ve re-written the lyrics but the song itself is basically the same. I had just never recorded it before.
QBiM: What prompted the name change from Twin Library to No Museums? How much of a separation is there between the two?
MB: Couple reasons for the change, I suppose: There are so many bands which now use ‘Twin’ in their name. I always liked the word but it was starting to feel odd how many bands are now named ‘Twin-something’ or ‘Something-Twin’. I still like the name but I just felt like a change.
Also, I started to feel that people were expecting something from the Twin Library name and were responding accordingly. With each new album I’d get the same amount of radio play and the same blogs/publications would respond. So it was a bit of an experiment – could I release music under a new name and would people respond differently to it, if they didn’t know of the previous band name? I’m still not sure. Looking back at all the albums I’ve put out there isn’t a clear answer as to why some albums get played on radio and some don’t, or why some publications loved certain albums but then don’t even respond to the latest one. There’s just too much music out there, I guess, and maybe it’s really just about timing than anything else.
Essentially there’s no difference between the two bands. In my head there was a Twin Library sound and the first No Museums album (I Was A Worker) moved away from that. But it’ll move back because I haven’t changed any more than the regular change that time insists on. At one point I was releasing albums under the name The Public Library. And I felt that the sound changed with Twin Library. Maybe it did. But maybe it was just subtle.
QBiM: I’ve never been to your hometown of Edmonton AB. Tell me the best and worst thing about it.
MB: Ha! I’m from Vancouver. I moved to Edmonton in 2008. In Vancouver I always made music but it wasn’t until Edmonton that I started to get serious and realize that I could send CDs to radio stations and they would play them, and that publications – online and print – have space to fill. Edmonton made me work. But Vancouver is still my brain home.
The best thing about Edmonton is that people try. And they make it work. They aren’t content to sit back and let the city work for them – they work to make the city. There is a creativity here and a sense that things can get done. It’s not a large city (unless you count the horrible sprawl) so you tend to recognize people a lot and become aware who’s doing what and that people actually want to support each other.
Winters are the worst. Not the depth of them but the length. It’s just true. It’s one reason people leave – especially once they get a taste of opportunity or success elsewhere. At some point it just makes sense to move somewhere larger where there are more people and four seasons. I totally understand that.
QBiM: Last year Twin Library covered Platinum Blonde’s “Doesn’t Really Matter” for Quick Before It Melts’ DOMINIONATED compilation, and No Museums is going to be on this year’s edition (don’t tell what the song is yet, it’s a secret!); is there such a thing as a “great Canadian song” and if so, which one would you name?
MB: I don’t have any idea of what a “great Canadian song” would be. But I once read a book about Canadian films. It argued that our films are directly influenced by the land, the distance, and the space between us. It’s such a large country with so few people and cities. When it takes hours just to drive to another reasonably sized city, there is such a great sense of distance and isolation (not always a bad thing). Perhaps music works the same way. There may not be any great songs about Edmonton directly – the way that there will always be songs about New York, say – but there are probably countless songs about the land and the weather and the feelings that are provoked by living here.
QBiM: When did you first discover music, and what was the record/song?
MB: In grade 7 I had a good friend who was a year old than me, so he was already in high school. Through him I was introduced to The Clash, The Sex Pistols, other punks bands which had language-warning stickers on their covers, which was all so much more interesting than the Bryan Adams and Platinum Blonde (yeah, I know) that I had previously been listening to.
In Vancouver there was a fantastic show called Soundproof which just played ‘alternative’ videos for a couple hours late on Friday nights. This led me to The Smiths, The Jesus and Mary Chain, New Order, R.E.M., and all that stuff. Basically all the music I still listen to.
QBiM: What is your greatest fear?
MB: All my archived four-track tapes get erased & my hard drives fail. My Bandcamp account gets deleted and every CD I’ve ever sent out mysteriously corrupts itself.
QBiM: What’s your most cherished possession?
MB: Fuzz pedal.
QBiM: First record you ever bought with your own money:
MB: I joined the Columbia Record House thing and I got a million tapes in the mail. But the first time I remember taking the bus downtown was to buy The Cure’s Head On The Door cassette. Or maybe Give ‘Em Enough Rope by The Clash.
QBiM: First concert you ever went to:
MB: U2. On the Joshua Tree tour. And I haven’t listened to them since.
QBiM: What’s your most favourite sound? What sound do you hate?
MB: Favourite: Wall of sound. Hate: Anything funky.
QBiM: Anything else to declare?
MB: I have nothing to declare, officer.Tags: No Museums, Twin Library