The lesser-known kin of Godspeed You! Black Emperor enjoys flying under the radar
When buzz is capital in the indie music scene, it's hard for a band to simply exist without expectations. Those few artists who desire and manage to escape the spotlight usually see an inverse effect as mystery and anonymity outweighs buzz of any other kind. But for a band like Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, or Thee Silver Mt. Zion, and sometimes just Silver Mt. Zion, staying right below the surface is just as liberating as breaking through or staying buried deep. This inevitably finds Efrim Menuck repeatedly explaining how Silver Mt. Zion is a point of reference for band members who often venture to other points of interest, most notably Godspeed You! Black Emperor which shares the majority of Zion's members. Silver Mt. Zion plays Gasa Gasa on Sunday.
Menuck's matter-of-fact reminders are a bit jarring in context of Godspeed You!, a band who took nearly a decade-long hiatus until 2012's 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! saw widespread acclaim and top spots on numerous year-end lists. Yet it's clear traditional measures of success aren't of main import for Menuck, who was vocal about the band's rejection of the 2012 Polaris Music Prize. The $30,000 award was donated to charity, and Menuck explained it was about maintaining integrity and calling out a music industry that's always been at odds with his projects. No wonder he refers to Silver Mt. Zion as a more relaxed act and a more unified group. "Silver Mt. Zion has a lot less external and internal pressure," he says. It's free of hardheads, mostly unlike Godspeed You!, he adds.
Silver Mt. Zion has been the more consistent outfit for Menuck both in studio and on stage, which inversely influence one another. "It's all the product of us playing together in a room," he says. That collaboration has yielded seven studio albums, with Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything released this year. Menuck says the band's just gotten noisier over the years, but there's an accessibility that's always remained among the complex, textural compositions often baring names that somehow feel shorter than the track lengths. It shares that epic folk rock element that made early Arcade Fire records so powerful.
But Silver Mt. Zion is more steadfast than its fellow Canadians, which have moved farther away from that shared characteristic with each subsequent release. Menuck doesn't hide that Silver Mt. Zion goes mostly unchanged from album to album. It's not a conscious effort but a natural desire to keep doing what works. One example is Menuck's preferred production methods, which he considers old fashioned. It's certainly different enough from richly (and often overly) produced modern records. Menuck admits there are a few things he once considered music-making taboo that don't feel as wrong now, but he isn't comfortable with production trends. "In 2014, there's a way a record sounds," he explains. "There's something weird about the way we sound. That's okay."
It may not be entirely fair to call Silver Mt. Zion a voluntary outcast, but Menuck throws around phrases like "in our own corner" that paint a content picture. It's a group that's been allowed to thrive on its own terms and become a stronger marker of artistic identity than its more notable kin. It's the result of a more fluid group who, as Menuck claims, can pick up after not playing together for a while and get back to it with ease and enjoyment. Such relaxed terms can't as easily be applied to groups who enjoy the attention while at the mercy of the influential powers that be. Opting to stay out of that may look like a sacrifice to the starry-eyed, but it's business as usual for Silver Mt. Zion. "We're not shooting for the stars," Menuck says. "People either get what we're doing, or they don't."