When asked about the darkness implied by the band name Nothingness, songwriter and vocalist Bill Young couldn’t help but laugh.
“We were having a hell of a time, as so many bands do, coming up with a decent band name. We were just throwing so many ideas out there,” Young said. “It could be dark, maybe it’s also kind of Buddhist or existential. But also, there’s a bit of a wink and nod about it. It’s a little bit funny to me. Maybe I have a dark sense of humour.”
The Vancouver art rock group’s first full-length album Being (released today, Jan. 20 via Big Smoke) came out of Young and his partner relocating from Vancouver to Pender Island for two years to work on the album and get away from the city life. Young produced the album at his studio on the island.
“We needed to get out of the city. I’d been living in Vancouver for about six or seven years straight and just kind of needed a break,” Young said. “We just wanted to get out of town and focus on creative work.”
The Internet’s powers of distraction still followed Young to Pender Island.
“There’s certain things when you’re living in the city, it’s easy to romanticize living out in somewhere rural and all the complicated aspects of life in the city will sort of disappear. But there’s all these other things that kind of follow you around. The Internet being one of those things,” Young laughed.
There was more nature and time slowed down a bit, Young noted, with some of the island’s natural influence seeping into the album through interspersed, natural field recordings.
Young isn’t much for writing about personal experiences. Instead, he focuses on the bigger issues at large in the world and the complexities society faces.
“I think that human civilization is at an unprecedented moment. We’re really teetering on the edge of either ecstatic sublime, if we managed to organize our society in a sustainable way, the possibilities of us, of humanity, could be so vast. Instead we end up with Donald Trumps and Kardashians and tabloid news and more bitumen pumped to the coast, while politicians are telling us it’s how we’re going to reach clean energy future,” Young said. “I think that’s just the most interesting stuff in the world right now, so that’s what I want to write about.”
Young said it’s more than cathartic to express those views musically.
“I think it’s the necessary therapy to keep myself sane,” Young said. “It’s kind of always been that way. Ever since I started writing songs as a teenager, I just wanted to write about the experience of being in the world at this time because it’s a strange experience. We’ve kind of normalized it, but it’s weird what we do.”
Nothingness has been sitting on Being for a while, with band members working on separate projects, like the music festival Young organizes near Nelson and drummer Justin Devries only recently returning from studying drumming in Bali for three months.
“It feels good. It feels like it’s long due, I won’t say it’s exactly overdue, but the album will have been completed for quite awhile,” Young said.
It has given Nothingness a jumpstart on their next offering as well.
“Even though the album will be new for everyone else, we’ll also have some new material for us in our live set,” Young said. “I think the follow-up will probably happen fairly quickly. I’d love for it to be out in not much more than a year from now.”
Attempts to categorize Nothingness bring to mind genres like post-rock, but the group explores the full spectrum of sound.
“Our styles kind of dance around different genres, I’ve always had difficulty describing a genre I might stick to. I don’t really think that way and I love music from all these different kinds of genres,” Young said. “It doesn’t feel like a folk show or a rock show. I can get pretty experimental and trippy, but can also have sing-a-long, folky vibes in it too. Keeps things interesting for me.”
Nothingness come to the Saint-Germain Café on Feb. 4.