Symphony Orchestra (Max Turnbull of Badge Époque Ensemble & Michael Rault) :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

Though Max Turnbull of Badge Époque Ensemble and Michael Rault have collaborated for many years, Radiant Music marks the debut of their duo, Symphony Orchestra. Working in tandem, the two songwriters have built a sunny, vivid world to wander into, one where freak-friendly psychedelia, jazz, funk, and soul exist in a state of constant crossover. It’s a record designed to hit Rault and Turnbull’s own “pleasure centers,” and their exuberance for the material comes across clearly, landing listeners in a middle zone between Badge’s conceptual zones and Rault’s charming retro-pop. The Toronto twosome joined us to the radiance they found together and the influence of “The World Band in the World,” 10cc. | j woodbury

Aquarium Drunkard: You two have worked together in a lot of different ways in the past. What kind of ideas did a full on 50/50 collaboration like this open up for you? 

Michael Rault: Before this record, I’d actually been strangely and extremely uncollaborative in my creative process; I was always locked in my own room, working on demos and making records. But Max and I have done a few things together, both on his work and on U.S. Girls stuff. We’d worked a bit on one of my singles too, but as far as writing and the initial conception of my own records went, I would seclude myself and work on something. So being able to do something where me and Max got together and fully collaborated on something in a room—that was very new to me and very different.

Max Turnbull: There are these artists who can make a record by themselves—Roy Wood, Paul McCartney, Emitt Rhodes—people who can do that one-man-band approach, who have that power. Michael has this ability to just go into a bedroom or a practice space or a recording studio, he’s got an amazing feel on such a variety of instruments, so he can really get that job done. I am prone to being more collaborative ‘cause I don’t have quite that same facility on instruments, but I think conceptually I can bring something to the table. So this is me just making my favorite Michael Rault record.

AD: That approach reminds me of Four Tet making that Madlib album Sound Ancestors. He got to make his own favorite Madlib record. The song “Concerto” is a real standout, a real jazz funk workout. 

Michael Rault: I think that might be me trying to make a Max record, really. [Laughs] Mostly we’d been starting with an initial musical idea, material that was in some cases, fleshed out already. But that was one where he was like, “You should start this one.” I knew I definitely didn’t wanna make something that Max didn’t like. [Laughs] So I was like, “What would Max potentially do if we were starting an idea right now?” 

AD: Max, when you were on Transmissions recently, we discussed the more spiritual ways you can think about music vs. a purely economic view of things. The song “Radiant Music” really seems like an ode to the idea that music has broader capacities than we necessarily stop to consider. 

Max Turnbull: I think of music as a dimension or a container for spiritual curiosity, for sure. The idea is using music as a pathway to access an awareness of consciousness, out of the everyday or in other terms, a way of turning one’s every experience into something like that, where it can feel a little bit tingly or mystical. Those are often concerns in my lyrics. I always love opportunities to write songs about music. I’ve always just been turned on by tunes like that, like “Oscillations” by Silver Apples, or The Stark Reality, “All You Need to Make Music.” [Gerswhin’s] “I’ve Got Rhythm,” [Ellington’s] “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder. It’s a throwback to that era or type of song, an almost quaint thing, like, “If you’ve got music, it’s all good.” [Laughs] 

AD: There are definite moments that recall 10cc, especially on “Unthink the Thinkable” and “Intersection.”  

Michael Rault: When I got into 10cc, it was like they were an updated version of my dream band, the dream you have when you first get into The Beatles, the idea of like four people who are just really good friends who make records together. They made these extremely advanced records. Along with Zappa, they offer this example of complete irreverence in music. [Laughs] 

Max Turnbull: 10cc is obviously a major point of mutual interest for us. Their records speak to both of us as listeners. All four of those guys were songwriters, instrumentalists, engineers, and producers. I think Michael and I have a similar capacity. Even if I’m doing some of those things more poorly than others, Michael and I can both do those things. And the result is having two people who are capable at multiple things, scratching around at their curiosities, and that  produces something eclectic that has a little bit of humor to it. 

AD: A lot of people work their way back to 10cc from J Dilla’s samples of the band on Donuts. Is that how you got into them? 

Max Turnbull: I learned about them from Sandro Perri, another Toronto singer/songwriter. I was playing at one of his gigs and he was like, “You should check out 10cc.”  “The Worst Band In the World” became a matrix point for my own conception of music and what I’d like to do. The production, it’s just insane. 

Michael Rault: It’s one of the best songs in the world. I think initially, I thought it was too dumb of a joke to enjoy it the first time I heard it.

Max Turnbull: It’s like a Weird Al song.

Michael Rault: “It’s one thing to know it but another to admit/We’re the worst band in the world/But we don’t give a…” and they they stop before saying “shit.” I was like, wow, this is really dumb. But then the more you sit with it…if you take that time, the more you’re like, “That’s actually genius.” 

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