Pat Jordache + Sarah Pupo = Future Songs’ transcendental congregation
Pat Jordache: Future Songs [Apr/2011] — DIVING IN HEADLONG and figuring out your moves in mid-air seems like a key ingredient in Pat Gregoire’s creative repertoire. So it’s fitting that the cover art for the re-release of his full-length debut as Pat Jordache (yes, after the jeans) pays accidental homage to the improvisational zeal and collaborative tenacity that went into making it.
After losing the original Future Songs sessions when his laptop was stolen (on the same day he failed a driving test), Gregorie managed to rescue his homemade record (thanks, Mediafire!) and eventually turn it into a cassette tape release, which in turn convinced Constellation to remaster and reissue it. Likewise, the capturing and recurring re-creation of a photograph of Sarah Pupo’s art for the LP/CD cover image became an unintentionally epic undertaking.
Pupo’s assembled flock of abstract blobs also fits nicely with the freewheeling, kaleidoscopic, semi-slo-mo uproar that sounds like Pat Jordache. Pupo describes the image as having “these sort of humanoid figures that keep creeping into my work” via a process that allows her to operate very intuitively. “That’s when it turns out best, and it’s always kind of a combination of chance and control,” she says. “I like putting ink down on paper and having it sort of be like a lab, just adding and taking away and blotting stuff and seeing how everything reacts, and then kind of going in there and nudging it in a different direction once I see things happening.”
Gregoire craves a similar approach: “Maybe it’s just something that all artists do, but I like the idea of a creative act being a thought process unto itself, of it always being an experiment. Maybe we’re just messy people who don’t premeditate a whole lot and just do as we go.”
It’s definitely appropriate that Gregroire and Pupo’s creative sensibilities overlapped into an emblem for Future Songs. The two artists became roommates by chance when they skipped Toronto for Montréal around the same time in 2003, and they’ve lived together most of the time since, developing their respective talents—Gregoire most recently with Islands and Sister Suvi. They also crack jokes about recently bumping their marriage pact from age 50 to 60, given that they’re both now pushing 30.
They’d collaborated in the past on some poster projects, “and the occasional house cleaning,” quips Gregoire. Pupo also did the cover for the Future Songs cassette (above), which “had a very homemade operation and feel to it, with Sarah’s drawing photocopied on butcher paper—it cost about five cents a sheet and looked really sweet.” When Constellation asked for new art for the re-release, Gregoire quickly honed in on the strange humanoids that Pupo was making at the time.
“Sarah obliged and drew a bunch of them,” he says. “They started out and finished as these cutouts, with each one separate and thus arrangeable into different configurations. This seemed like a lot of creative potential at first, but it also led to infinite possibility…”
Pupo: “…and massive indecision.”
Gregoire: “Yeah, a whole lot of not shitting and not getting off the pot.”
“What happened was that it’s such a testy process to make these figures that some of them don’t turn out,” says Pupo. “I was never happy with a full sheet of them, with one drawing, so I would just cut out my favourites and I would have this whole assortment. We decided that it would be a good idea to shoot them in different amalgamations and have them as sort of moving figures.”
“So Sarah did a bunch of configurations at her studio and brought them home,” explains Gregoire. After much deliberation about the best compositions, their seemingly finished idea began to unravel a little when they were told that the resolution of their photographs wasn’t good enough. “And so began this odyssey of trying to recreate the correct placement, lighting, warmth of the shot, all that.”
Three photographers and five makeshift studio sessions later, they finally revived the version they were after—appropriately, a bigger, cleaner cut of the first low-fi attempt. The final shoot, pulled off by Pat Jordache band mate and impromptu tour documentarian Phillip Chanel, was also a bit of a gong show: “We ended up building a crazy contraption with furniture piled up into this ridiculous looking structure, and then a tripod was rigged to shoot down from directly above the cutouts,” says Gregoire. Their seven-foot-tall makeshift rig used a desk, a table retrieved from the garbage, and emptied-out record boxes, with ample weight up top to steady the off-kilter tripod.
Admittedly, Gregoire likes to wing it in good company. “I tend to have this really community-based approach, for better or for worse, of not even trying to but always ending up working with friends because of some sort of inherent cheapness or lack of professionalism, just keeping it in the family. Which is great, and it’s awesome to work with your friends, but it means that you’re always figuring it out as you go, at least a little bit. You’ve got a lot of heart, but maybe it takes you a few tries to get that right picture res.”
That said, both artists prefer to produce by the seat of their pants. “There’s usually not a plan,” says Pupo, “and often that bites me in the ass, but the work wouldn’t be the same otherwise.”
“I think there’s just a look to what you make when you’re working with your friends and it’s a community effort, versus needing to take a picture and paying someone you don’t know to do it,” says Gregoire. “It’s weird, when you farm things out and get the pro approach, rarely do you love the results, but because you paid for them, you’re committed to them. It’s never the same, and I feel like that’s sort of been a theme of the entire record: Doing it not necessarily the quickest, or the most efficient way, but the familiar one.”
In their case, Gregoire and Pupo worked with Ian Ilavsky at Constellation to evolve their 10 or so configuration ideas into coherent record art packaging. They had images of the humanoids cropped variously, some obscured into colour patterns, sometimes stacked on top of each other, “ones that acknowledged more that they were figurative, others that were more abstracted,” explains Pupo. And as for what elevated their cover choice: “I think there’s something about the gathered shapes that evokes some kind of mystery taking place. That huddle… What are they doing together? There’s something a little bit creepy and magical about it.”
“There’s probably a little bit of after-the-fact projection happening in my saying so,” says Gregoire,” but I like that it does evoke that community mentality a little.”
Pupo deadpans another joke: “Yeah, I’m the green one.”
But seriously: Pupo explains her art at the time (2010, that is) as moving away from the figurative and verging on abstraction. “Although for me it always maintains this sort of figurative or narrative bottom line, but it’s not always recognizable to other people. I was thinking a lot in my work about memory, and ghosts, and residues of actions and events, the things that are left in place after everyone’s gone. The traces of life. Like if something bad has happened in a place, how do you walk in and feel that? How would you depict such a thing? That’s kind of what my practice was circling around. So that required me to experiment with these shapes, with bodies that were more like presences.”
Pupo says she wasn’t really thinking of a specific event or situation while crafting ideas for the Future Songs cover, but she did amp up her normally sparing use of colour for Gregoire’s benefit. “I think it goes well with the music, or at least with kind of what I can hear in his music: A sort of apocalyptic psychedelia,” she says.
Her technique is pretty simple. “I work on paper a lot, not on canvas, and I use a lot of deep black or dark ink and contrast that with more vivid colours and more washiness. I lay down water on the paper, and because it has a membrane it stays in the basic shape that you lay it down in. With good watercolour paper it just sits on the surface, and it just catches all the ink, so I drop in different colours and amounts into the water and they react to each other. Or you can break open the membrane with a paintbrush and it’ll spill out and do weird things.”
The results, however, are ripe with possibility, and so Pupo has continued working a lot with this particular material technique, albeit in tandem with other experiments. “I’ve been trying to make a couple of small drawings as a ritual daily practice, still dealing with the same kind of themes, but with a sort of more journalistic or diaristic approach,” she says. “Just processing the events of my day, but not overthinking them. I like the idea of thinking through a drawing—not thinking too much about it beforehand, but having the actual making of the work be the thought process.”
Cassette cover illustration and all paintings by Sarah Pupo [#2: “Procession”; #3: “Gathering”; #4: “Untitled”; #5: “Passengers”]. Cover image by Phillip Chanel. Story by Eric Rumble. Buy Future Songs from Constellation Records.