Darlings of the indie music scene The PepTides are Ottawa’s very own supergroup — a nine-member extravaganza with a big sound and an even bigger stage presence. Coming off a whirlwind 2013 that saw them writing an album for and performing with Stuart McLean for the release of his book Revenge of the Vinyl Café, the group shows no signs of slowing down. On May 3, The PepTides will debut their latest studio album, Love Question Mark. An epic rumination on the nature of love in all its forms, the album is divided into two parts: “Retro,” which examines tropes around love and sex, and “Electro,” which delves into some of their more unconventional forms. It’s a tongue-in-cheek, subversive soundscape with pop- and vintage-inspired undertones.
Originally, the band consisted of Claude Marquis, who serves as founder, vocalist and songwriter for the group. He collaborated with vocalist DeeDee Butters to release the album For Those Who Hate Human Interaction, which was named 2010 album of the year by the Ottawa Citizen. On the heels of that success, band manager Marilena Gaudio managed to secure them a gig at the Ottawa Jazz Festival — the only catch was they didn’t have a band yet. “Can you imagine? We get the gig; we don’t have a band!” Marquis says, laughing. So they held auditions and the rest is history. The band’s stint with the Vinyl Café came about after McLean’s producer heard them on CBC’s All in a Day and contacted them about producing a theme song for McLean’s upcoming book release. The project quickly became an album with songs for each story, culminating in McLean performing with the band for their CD release and The PepTides appearing in the Vinyl Café’s 20th-anniversary show.
Once the book project wrapped up, The PepTides were soon back at work, funnelling their creative energy into finishing Love Question Mark. But the mechanics of putting out an album aren’t always easy. Getting together to rehearse and record can be a tricky undertaking for any group, never mind one with nine members who all have day jobs.
“We’re still very much a do-it-yourself band,” Marquis says. He does most of the group’s songwriting, while Butters handles costuming and acts as the band’s stage conceptualist. Gaudio handles PR and bookings, and keyboardist Scott Irving provides translation services. The band also includes Rebecca Noelle, Olexandra Pruchnicky (Pruchnicky is also involved with the queer radio show Anything But Vanilla), Dale Waterman on vocals, David Campbell on guitar, Andrew Burns on bass, and Alexandre Wickham on percussion. “There’s so much to do in a band this size. We kind of affectionately refer to our departments as ‘committees,’” Irving says.
Marquis originally conceived Love Question Mark as a follow-up album to For Those Who Hate Human Interaction, but the project soon expanded. “For me personally, I was really interested in creating another soundscape, which is sort of the more electro dance-y stuff,” he says. If the idea of 35 songs about love sounds to you like a syrupy snooze-fest, you couldn’t be further off base. “It’s not really love songs about me and you,” Irving explains. “It’s more love songs about all of us, and it’s love songs about what love is and what love represents.”
“Love motivates all sorts of different things in us,” Butters adds. “It’s not necessarily love in the romantic sense always.” The album explores love as the pursuit of happiness, as it applies to the chemical and consumer industries, biblical and philosophical interpretations of love, and, of course, sex and physical lust. Humour is a major influence for The PepTides, as can be seen on the track Lie Next to Me and Love Me, which features a stodgy 1950s-style announcer passionlessly explaining the physical mechanics of procreation while an electro beat thumps in the background.
The PepTides try to always maintain a balance in the soundscapes they create, juxtaposing up-tempo beats and pop-inspired lyrics with more industrial and cerebral elements. “It’s difficult sometimes to describe what we sound like because the point is to sound a little bit chameleon, to create different moments in each song,” Butters says. She compares their sound to a cross between the musical Hair and industrial German porn. “We’re kind of, I guess, music illusionists or con artists, also, because the whole point of what we’re doing is there’s a pretty clean candy-coating to some of the stuff, like the dance-y stuff, but there is a really deep-seated, heavy set of messages underneath it,” Pruchnicky says.
Apparently never interested in slowing down, The PepTides are following their album release, which includes a live show at St Alban’s Church, co-presented by Jer’s Vision, that will be streamed as a webcast, with a three-city tour and appearances at Westfest and the jazz festival. They’re also working on a musical show, Love + Hate, which will debut at the Ottawa Fringe Festival. Performing live allows the band to bring a different dimension to their work. “You’d need a 60-piece orchestra to do what’s on the album,” Waterman says. “It still has that oomph, but it’s different.”
As such a varied and multi-talented group, The PepTides say they like that their work is still a little bit open to interpretation. “We choose to focus on our narratives and put things out the way we want them, knowing full well that the consumer or the art viewer will understand something maybe completely different than what we intended,” Butters says. “But we like that — that’s a compliment to us.”