Mad Chops // Get to Know: Gulfer

Having spent the past couple years wavering between self-doubt and having it figured out, Montreal's Gulfer have returned to the fore with their third full-length record. Composed of thirteen tracks of intricate, dexterous, and incredibly fun, punk-inspired emo tunes, Gulfer sees the Montreal quartet settled into their own with a career-defining record. We got to catch up with them around this release to reflect on influences, friendship, and taking time to appreciate what you've accomplished. Read on!

How did you get into making music? What local bands and venues were formative in that process?

Vincent: I had obligatory guitar lessons in high school and after a couple of months I figured out how to play "Seven Nation Army" and "Horse With No Name". That got me juiced for a while, then I got into the Doors and the whole classic rock/prog stuff, which lead me a lil later down the road to math rock with Tera Melos and Maps and Atlases and wanting to write intricate "pop" songs with unusual song structures.

Julien: My first drumming love was Travis Barker, at 9 years old. Or maybe it was Keith Moon from The Who with his big ass kit. My mom was always into Jazz, I remember listening to Pat Metheny records or Ralph Towner at a fairly young age, just out of curiosity. I started taking lessons at 9 years old and never stopped since. I like playing heavy stuff, but I think that the best school for musicality is Jazz. I remember seeing Brian Blade in a super small venue called Le Gesù at the Montréal Jazz Fest, that got me hooked on performing live.

Joseph: I bought myself an acoustic guitar when I was 16 and just started teaching myself songs I liked. I was pretty set on playing without a pick cause I loved The Tallest Man on Earth. Within about a year I discovered Algernon Cadwallader and Empire Empire (I Was a Lonely Estate) and all those bands. Suddenly, playing and writing music was so accessible - these bands felt like regular people. This might be a bit cheesy but I think the local DIY band to have the biggest influence on me wanting to write music is Gulfer (long before I joined).

David: I got a bass when I was 13 and was a bit intimidated at first, but then I discovered tabs and started learning that way. A few months later I started playing Weezer and Red Hot Chilli Peppers with some friends, and then started my first “real” band with Will (who works at Topshelf!) when we were 14. We got to play a show at El Salon which was run by the same people behind Casa del Popolo, La Sala Rossa, Il Motore and a few other legendary venues in Montreal and those venues are still very important for places for us today.

What are your day jobs? How do you balance working with touring (when touring is a part of life)?

Vincent: I have two daughters and I clean bars for a living. I work part-time so I have a lot of time to spend writing music or to raise my kids. All my workplaces so far have been very flexible with me going on tour, it’s a blessing for sure.

Julien: I’ve been working as a bike mechanic for nearly ten years now. Luckily my job was always pretty loose with me leaving for tours or playing shows. Maybe that’s why I kept doing that after finishing school instead of working as a machinist making airplane parts. Drumming has always been a priority since I was 9 years old, sometimes a bit in the way of school/work.

Joseph: I’m doing my PhD in neuroscience right now. It takes up a lot of time, but playing music is something I need to do to balance all that out. It can be hard to take time off from classes, but if we plan it ahead we can always make it happen. My PhD supervisor likes Gulfer so he’s pretty chill with giving me time off from my lab responsibilities.

David: I am a talent buyer and production manager for a promoter/venue in Montreal. I am also a hired bass player and tour manager for a few bands. So there is no balance! I am always at the gig.

How have you been filling your time in quarantine? Do you have time to dedicate to existing passion projects and new interests?

Vincent: I have always been into cooking but lately I learned how to make seitan and other plant-based meat substitutes and I like it a lot. I like the culinary challenges that it brings on top of creating fun recipes that the children will also like! I’m getting better at lying to my kids about whether or not there are onions in their dinner. Otherwise, I spend time editing my music videos, recording demos and skateboarding when I’m not rolling my ankle on a feeble grind.

Julien: Mainly spending quality time with my girlfriend Sarah and my cat Vendredi (Friday in english). Cooking, partying and trying to make our home as comfortable as possible. I’ve been really into coffee lately, with the Covid situation I think it has never been a better time to buy local stuff. Locally roasted coffee is my go to, especially good when made with any pour over method. Other than that, most of my time is spent at our jam space losing my mind with polyrhythms, trying to play softer and be able to improvise freely on drums. Dan Weiss and Joshua Blackmore have been huge influences for me drum wise lately.

Joseph: I’ve been very privileged to have been minimally affected by the whole quarantine situation. I can work from home and hang out with my cat buster (he just turned 18!!!). At first I loved quarantine because I’m a secret introvert so I felt great staying in, writing and demoing songs. Like the rest of the boys I’m really into cooking too and I’ve been trying a bunch of new recipes out.

David: I was really fortunate to have a ton of free time during quarantine. I started off learning music for a band I was supposed to be touring with this year, and writing guitar ideas for another project of mine. When it started to become pretty clear that touring was off the table for the foreseeable future, I shifted my energy towards improving my production skills and becoming more familiar with Ableton which has been fun and rewarding!

In the Forget (Friendly) video there's a lot of cooking and eating together, is that a big part of your lives together? What are your favorite spots to eat in Montreal and on tour?

Vincent: I think it’s definitely a big part of touring in general, to discover new and exciting spots to have a meal with your friends or to get to a venue to find out the promoter has cooked an awesome meal for you. You get stoked on food you’ve never tasted before. In Montreal, I personally love the Indian restaurants in Parc-ex, the Bombay Mahal is a good one.

Julien: Eating is one of the best parts of touring, from ramen soups in Japan to greasy breakfast in England or even McDonalds on the road. I enjoy it all. There’s a lot of Vietnamese spots in my neighbourhood. Honestly, every Pho soup is worth trying. Even the ones that are less exciting. It’s all about the broth, I'm a big broth guy. From vegan stuff to bone marrow stock. Tau Bay on Jean-Talon street looks petty janky, but it’s the best one in my opinion.

Joseph: In person we don’t cook together much, though it’s certainly a big part of our lives individually. It’s something I talk about with Julien a lot. I don’t know if I can recall a favourite spot, but the food we ate all through Japan was unbelievable. In the US I went to Honey’s Sit-n-eat in Philly a few times which I quite liked.

David: I really love Falafel St Jacques in Montreal lately, they have the best vegan Mongolian beef and amazing veganized versions of a lot of Jewish food I ate growing up. As far as tour highlights go, I love Blackbird in Philly, Homegrown Smoker in Portland, La Indita in Tucson, everything I ate at Fluff Fest in CZ, Voner Doner in Berlin...I could honestly go on forever. I’m still dreaming of a bagel sandwich I had across the street from Kevin Duquette’s house in Portland a few months ago - sea salt bagel with a Just Egg patty, vegan bacon, lettuce and tomato. Thanks for the tip Kev.

What was your relationship to music growing up? When did you know this was a world you wanted to be a part of? Who helped lead you down that path?

Julien: My mom was the very first person who brought music in my life. From Jazz to Classical music, from world music to Genesis. She was so cool about it, giving me the chance to take lessons pretty young, bringing my drum set to bars when I was only 14-15 years old, bringing back my drumset at 2 am, letting me practice my drum in a very small 5 room house... I owe her a lot for that.

Vincent: Both my parents are music lovers in a way. Both introduced me to the Beatles and U2 and other classic rock music. My dad bought me Good Charlotte and Simple Plan because I asked him to and my step-mom gave me her CDs of Radiohead, Portishead and Nirvana.

Joseph: Music was always a big thing growing up. When I was a toddler my parents would play this Bruce Springsteen LP and I loved it so much I would jump around the house and now that record skips in so many places. When I was 6ish I heard Fat Lip by Sum 41 and I was really into it, I asked my parents for a Sum 41 CD and they gave me a Blink 182 CD. Close enough.

David: I loved listening to the radio and watching MuchMusic/Musiqueplus from a very young age. I remember buying Sugar Ray and Barenaked Ladies cassettes at like, 7 years old. When I was 8, Offspring - Americana came out and I got that tape and became fully hooked on punk. When I was 10, I met an AFI superfan at summer camp and he gave me an Answer That and Stay Fashionable CD, which totally changed the game for me and led me down the ska/skate punk path that was super popular at the time. Then Taking Back Sunday blew up and I got super into stuff on Victory and Equal Vision. I started going to shows and Warped Tour around then and from that point on I knew I wanted to be in a band, tour, and basically center my entire life around music.

What are some landmark moments for Gulfer?

Joseph: Touring Japan - it’s something I never thought I would ever accomplish. Not as in “it would be cool, but it will never happen”. It’s just not something that ever crossed my mind. A lot of the things we have done, like tour Europe, play festivals like Arctangent, or open for PUP’s album release show in Toronto, have felt surreal. But being in Tokyo and talking backstage with these incredible musicians who were also obsessed with Glocca Morra felt so cool. Then we would play a set and people knew the words to the songs. I felt so lucky.

David: We played some wild ones in the summer of 2012, after being a band for only 6 months. Our first show was with Everyone Everywhere as a part of a 3 day fest I put together that also had Algernon Cadwallader, Empire! Empire! and Xerxes. Our second show was with You Blew It!, and our third show was with Algernon and Joyce Manor. We played some really cool shows in the summer of 2013 when we toured with Vasudeva, most notably GnarFest in Chicago with Joan of Arc, Glocca Morra, Foxing, Frameworks, the Reptilian and a ton of other bands, and a really memorable show with Cattle Drums and Del Paxton in Ithaca, NY. Another big highlight that year was a last minute show with Title Fight and Slingshot Dakota at a 700 cap theatre when Balance and Composure got into a car accident and weren’t able to make the show. Touring Europe with Sport in 2014 was so special for so many reasons, the shows were incredible, European hospitality is unparalleled and we got to play a bunch of countries like Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland that a lot of North American bands rarely make it to. We also ended that tour at Fluff Fest which is one of the coolest festivals in the world with really cool programming and a beautiful atmosphere. I’ll never forget meeting I Love Your Lifestyle in the middle of the camping field and hearing stories about their recent Ukrainian tour while bonding over our shared love of Tommy Boys.

Anything you would want to be able to tell baby Gulfer?

Vincent: To work on my accent before going in the studio, to actually pre-prod "What Gives" so that we don't run into all the problems we had when recording it. But you’re on an awesome path with great people and you will meet a lot of new cool people, you will have ups and downs but that’s part of it, all the work pays in the end, one way or another.

Julien: To my baby self : Stop listening to odd metered music and stick to Blink-182. Do your best to keep it simple when Vince asks you. Work on your English on a daily basis. Other than that, keep playing music with a bunch of guys that inspire you as human beings but also have mad chops musically.

Joseph: Continue to be grateful that you get to create music with talented, fun, engaged and hard working friends. Nothing better than that.

David: In 8 years you’ll be writing a Q+A for your 3rd release on Topshelf. Most of your dreams have come true. Just chill out and enjoy the ride.

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