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Artist Profile: An Hour with Molly Drag

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I ventured up to Le Dépanneur Café in the Mile End a few weeks ago to chat with Molly Drag (née Michael Hansford) about his upcoming album, Whatever Reason. After settling down with our coffees, Hansford confided that he and his roommate, Aaron Powell (Fog Lake), actually live right around the corner from the café; it has been a long-term dream of his to eventually end up in this neighborhood, and he appeared very at home with the plants and locals populating the crowded joint.

Most of Whatever Reason was recorded in a basement studio in London, Ontario. Hansford moved to Montreal this summer with only a few close possessions, and conceded that at first, he felt quite isolated in his new home. The loneliness was compounded by the fact that he knew very few people, and would have to wake up in the early hours of the morning to get to his job at the time as a café cook. This solitude, though now only a memory, ended up inspiring one of the tracks on the new release; he has also begun to sprinkle Québecois into his latest songs to celebrate and acknowledge, in his words, “a culture that has been here for so long, and has fought to keep it.” 

Hansford has an exciting, frenetic energy about him at times, and it shows in his music. When he writes or records, it is done all at once; everything is done “on the record” without much forethought, and he will sit for hours in his apartment focused solely on his craft. On previous albums such as the sprawling Deeply Flawed release, Hansford acknowledges a lack of focus; every song is raw, intimate, and wandering.  Hansford praised the more focused energy of the Whatever Reason, describing the contrast between various tracks: “There’s a bit of anger on this record, but there’s also a lot of self-reflection.”

Whatever Reason is a very conceptual album, signaling “the end to a dark trilogy” of records that Molly Drag has produced so far. The contemplative attitude reflects an “addiction” to nostalgia, and the inevitable sense of separation that accompanies those feelings. He also described his inspiration for the album cover art: a painting he saw of a sick child surrounded by piles of things that they love, but that are just out of reach. Whatever Reason’s album cover depicts a young girl in a dark wood surrounded by rabbits, Hansford’s favorite animal.

For an important project such as this, Hansford said he was happy to have a solid, more permanent live lineup to support his vocals. Powell acts as his secondary guitarist, adding a professional aspect to their good personal relationship; in fact, all but one of the Molly Drag lineup also play in Fog Lake. The constancy and familiarity helps to make the live performances sound more like the recorded ones, a factor that Hansford holds in very high regard: “If people have been listening to your music and they go see you live expecting to hear what they love, and they don’t, you’re not doing your job properly. You’re there to entertain.” For Hansford, the most important issue at hand is the integrity of the project; he needs musicians who want the project to succeed as much as he does, instead of being there simply to play or just to support him.

After the official interview ended we lingered at Dépanneur a bit longer, chatting with ease about mutual friends and personal heroes – he regaled me with a story of his online conversations with local author Heather O’Neill – before Hansford looked sheepishly at his phone and said he had to duck out early; there apparently was no water in his apartment. We ushered ourselves out into the Mile End dusk and parted with handshakes and smiles before he hurried up Avenue du Parc, shoulders hunched against the wind and signature wool cap bobbing up and down: a true Montrealer out and about in his city.

Whatever Reason will be released April 21, 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

interview by Juliana Van Amsterdam