Montreal-based trio discuss the creative process and challenges behind the launch of their debut EP
Squeeze Mason, a local trio made up of Dexter Dippong and brothers Ted and Gary Schulze, released their debut EP this month, Sleeping mercury. Forged in the fires of the Gray Nuns dormitory where they met, this Montreal trio has a sound unlike any other.
They couldn’t define a genre for the EP, let alone the whole band, and that was the point. If you listen to the EP, it’s safe to say that this versatile nature is in the foreground. “We didn’t want a name that sounded like a heavy metal band or something specific, we kind of want to play with a bunch of different genres,” Dippong said.
“Our Spotify isn’t entirely representative of the breadth of our sound, it’s just the ship we decided to record,” Ted said. Dippong added, “We are always trying to find our right audience.”
“I like a lot of different music, so why would I just say one genre? Gary said. “Let’s write music in these many genres.”
The group started out performing pre-pandemic shows at bars such as Blue Dog on the Plateau, but once COVID hit they all had to go their separate ways and take a break. “We all went home,” Dippong said, describing the past year in quarantine. “They [Gary and Ted] went to the yukon and worked during the summer. I went to Vancouver in the summer and worked.
“We all agreed that we were going to take it up a notch when we come back,” Gary said. They certainly did.
Once reunited, the process began with the song “Jabberwocky”. In what was described as a normal process for them, Ted came up with the riff, which Gary picked up and turned into a fuller song, then Dippong added lyrics and other touches until they had a package to send to the singers and refine. The end result has been lovingly described as an “exuberant funk song”.
The EP features singers from the Montreal area such as JC Taylor, Danesa and Free Real Estate. It turned out to be a learning process in itself. At first, they thought “just do the instrumental and send it to the singer and see if they want to do something,” Dippong described, to let the singer determine his role. They later realized – as the artists hosting the project – that they could write the entire piece before going ahead with a singer.
The EP was a major improvement in the recording quality of their first single, “Voodoo Chainsaw”. During the break, they deleted two of their three songs from streaming, due to quality issues, leaving only “Voodoo Chainsaw”.
“When we came back, we were like, ‘we have to do this one right,’” Dippong said, referring to the EP. “We could take our time so we had to make sure it sounded really good before we released it. “
Every step of the way – with the exception of the frustrated distribution to Apple Music – their enjoyment was evident. The only part they don’t do themselves is mixing and mastering. “Everyone says they mix and master,” Dippong said, “I don’t know how to do this.”
“I wrote a demo of ‘Sleeping Mercury’ and sent it to Chris,” said Dippong, referring to Free Real Estate, the lead singer of the title song, “and he wanted to do some things, and j actually wrote the lyrics with him. “
Before a song is sent to the singers, however, a demo still needs to be done.
For their workouts and recording sessions, the trio rent out a small lockout space in the garment district, Marsonic Studios. Everything is recorded directly in a computer, except in the case where the three sing, the solution which Dippong describes as “a small vocal booth installed in [an apartment] toilet. “They put the emphasis on the keyboard as the base of operations for their process, which Ted is the master of,” because Ted just comes up with riffs so fast, “Dippong said.
“Don’t tell Ted, but he doesn’t really need us,” Gary joked, “we’re just here for the sex appeal.” It is more than doubtful, because they seized every chance to complement each other.
Beyond just recording new songs, they also play live and on the street. Since the halls are still closed for the most part, they occasionally play on weekends outside the Paul’s store on the Plateau. Audiences are limited and the gain is in exposure and tips.
“Playing live, you’re limited, so you can only play one layer at a time,” Ted said. This translates into real problems for the trio, as they can only play one instrument each on stage, but their songs include different layers of melodies. “There are a few songs that we recorded that we haven’t done live on yet because it’s just like too many parts and instruments that we don’t have,” Dippong added.
For now, playing in the Plateau allows them to “test all of our songs and see how they play live,” Dippong said. Once the shows open more fully this fall, they are planning a bigger gig with some of the EP’s star singers, both as singers and separate groups.
Photograph by Lou Neveux-Pardijon