O Frontera, an experimental post-rock group based in Toronto, will release their new album, “In the Arms of Stoics,” tomorrow (6 October). They’ll also play an album release show on Saturday 7 October at Toronto’s Art Square Gallery.
This unique project is an intriguing listening experience, to say the least. Its mix of styles – some folk, some classical – draws the listener in and doesn’t let go. The album also displays a fascinating variety of lyrical influences – for example, “Letter to Catherine” is inspired by the life of Irish republican Michael Collins, and as lead singer Sebastian Cushing notes below, he has been profoundly influenced by a diverse set of writers and thinkers.
We’re very pleased that Sebastian took the time to answer some of our questions about the album.
With respect to O Frontera’s very unique style of music – sometimes chamber music, sometimes pop, sometimes other styles – is this a sound toward which you’ve always striven? Or is this the musical place you’re at right now (and might change further, later)?
The sound is always changing. We started as a folk project with influences like The National and Beirut. Over time we found ourselves experimenting more and new influences like Sigur Ros, Radiohead and Philip Glass started to shape the project. As of late there have been other post-rock and electronic influences that have shaped our trajectory. It’s exciting to think about how our sound can evolve in the future.
It’s so great to hear a viola included in your instrumentation (they’re deeply underappreciated and I think their tone is a lot more versatile than that of a violin) – did you choose the instrument deliberately for the sound you’re hoping to achieve?
Initially I was looking to collaborate with someone who played violin or cello. When Emily contacted me about being a violist I decided to meet up with her to see how our sounds blended. I fell in love with the tone of the viola. As you said, it is incredibly versatile in the presence and texture it brings.
When I was listening to “They Scoff, the Broken Hearted,” I was thinking (especially toward the end) of recovering from a grief – insofar as one can; the lyrics “Hear the tick tick tick, the clock will heal your wounds / Wrap the memories in a box, don’t you know they feel like home / Revel in the storm” describe that experience to me to some extent. Was there some particular experience that inspired you to write these lyrics?
My mom passed when I was in my early 20’s and I did not take it well. Not long after I started a relationship of several years where I fell deeply in love. When that ended I was brutally devastated. I realized over time that a part of the relationship was filling the void of losing my mom. I decided to make an effort to be grateful for having these women in my life as I acknowledged the healing of my wounds would be a long-term thing. Even though my ex ended the relationship, I thought about how difficult that must have been for her. While in that head space I wrote the song.
For those of us who don’t speak Spanish, can you talk a bit about the song “Salvador”?
My grandmother lived through the Spanish civil war. She’s ninety now but I’ve always been fascinated at how vivid her memories of the war are. I decided to record some of her old war stories one day. In the song she tells the story of when she was a little girl during the war and she heard a loud sound come from the back yard of her house. She went out to see what it was and saw a large unexploded bomb sticking out of the garden. She yelled to my great-grandfather that a zeppelin had fallen from the sky. She had no idea what a bomb looked like. She finishes the song by talking about her younger brother Salvador. He died of an illness during the war. She talks about how she would sing to him because he loved her voice.
In the press materials, you mention that the life of Michael Collins was one inspiration for the album. What are some of the other people, books, etc., that provided inspiration for the songs here?
One person who’s ideas permeate the album is the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh. He is well known for his teachings on buddhist philosophy and meditation. The song “Rien Ne Se Perd” is inspired by several books I read by him particularly ‘Breath, You Are Alive.’ ‘A Fine Balance’ by Rohinton Mistry also had a huge impact on me. Characters from that book inspired some of the lyrics from “Ruins Where The Love Rung” and “Girl In Blue.”
I know that your official album release is on 7 October (the day after the album officially drops) – do you have other tour dates lined up?
No dates yet but there will be shows. We’ve already had a lot of interest to license the music. I love the idea of our music being used by other creatives so I definitely want to pursue that route. Hopefully that can lead to interest beyond Canada which could translate to shows overseas.