Montreal rock band Wake Island tells us about their first tour outside North America, what it’s like bringing together four guys from three countries, and how the US and Canada are far more different than you’d expect.
First off, are there three of you or four of you? I’m always confused.
There’s four of us in the band. You can wave your confusion goodbye.
Where are you all from?
Nadim and I are from Lebanon. Derek, our bassist is an American from Massachusetts, and Evan is a Canadian from Ottawa.
How did you come together?
I met Nadim in Montreal shortly after immigrating there. We thought it would be fun to jam and soon enough we started toying with the idea of forming a legit band. He was taking some jazz classes at the McGill University conservatory and met Derek there. Evan later joined the band and came recommended by fellow montreal rockers.
Do your different cultural backgrounds lead to confusion, conflict?
This cultural interaction is very much at the core of the band and dictates a lot of our interactions. We really value this process very highly. In the beginnings, it was tougher as we had to adjust to each other and understand each others’ cultures and values. Some walls were punched.
As time went by, we started being inspired by these differences and incorporated elements of each others’ culture in our daily lives. We are converging more and more towards a common center. I miss the wall-punching sometimes. Maybe we should get a new member from Japan or something, mix it up a bit. Or a girl.
I know a lot of your music is about identity. Is that spearheaded by one of you specifically, or do all of you feel lost?
It’s not really a question of “feeling lost”. For Nadim and I, being Lebanese in North America definitely brought up some identity issues. It took us some time to adjust to the environment and slowly absorb the customs and values. We had to sort out the good from the bad, and decide which compromises had to be made in our own values to make for a healthy transition and a rich exchange. Even Derek, who moved from the USA, had to deal with such issues. Canada and the US are much more different than people would expect.
I remember us talking about Third Culture Kids way back when, you even wanted to name the band that. How do you see that kind of the concept influencing your work?
I’m not sure which was harder: finding a band name, or getting used to North American culture!
I really think that immersing yourself in a new culture can a have a dramatic effect on your person. The move can be very violent, in the best of ways. Learning about a new culture from the inside is quite a ride. It’s not like watching it on TV, or reading about. You experience it first-hand, you make mistakes, you behave in ways that are off putting, you discover new ways of looking at things etc… The whole process is really challenging, and that challenge has come to define our band quite substantively.
Is Montreal home? Being part of a scene and all that, does that give you the belonging you feel is lacking sometimes?
On the band side, we definitely consider ourselves Montrealers. Our origins don’t really matter in this equation. The band as an entity was born in Montreal and grew up there. As we gradually made our way in the music scene, we formed solid bonds and got inspired countless of time by people we look up to, or even by our close friends. That makes for a very intense, formative experience and it’s very difficult to consider the band anything but a Montrealer.
It most definitely influenced us as individuals and was crucial in the process of Montreal becoming “home” for us. It added this extra layer of belonging that is sometimes missing in our expat lives. Montreal definitely feels like home for me now but it took awhile for that feeling to set in. I truly feel like I belong in both places equally. That is a privilege and I feel very blessed.
You guys are currently doing a European and Lebanese tour. If I’m not mistaken, it’s the first real tour outside North America. What are you hopes for the tour?
It will indeed be the first time we play shows outside North America. We are incredibly excited about it, and trying to avoid expectations. We are going with the flow and doing our best to make the tour a successful one. Playing in Lebanon is something that’s been on our minds for a long time. This visit is like a ceremonial “Hello” and I hope that by the end of it, we’ll already be fantasizing about our next visit. Derek’s been here 4 days now and seems wooed by the place.
Playing Europe has also been on our mind, and we could not resist the opportunity to pass by on our way home. We hope to plant a few seeds over there for an eventual return next year when we release our third album.
What’s next when you’re back in Montreal?
After our European stroll, we will be back in Montreal for barely a week, playing the amazing POP MONTREAL. We will then head for the US for a month, leading up to performances at CMJ, a major festival in New York City. After that, we will start pre-production on our third album. We wrote a lot of songs for it already and are in the process of refining them.Wake Island will be playing at Metro Al Madina in Beirut on September 3rd, 2013. Find more about the event here.