Mike Dubue, founder and frontman of Ottawa-based experimental indie band Hilotrons, has spent the last few years stylizing discontent. Hilotrons’ latest album, To Trip with Terpsichore, is not so much about anger but more of an overarching dissatisfaction with the way things are.
“Each song is relative to a situation,” Dubue said. “Every song is a social commentary on something that’s going on.”
For Dubue, the album is a musical discourse, addressing the gamut of social and political issues, primarily those within Canada. However, Dubue isn’t radiating towards angst-driven electropop. The album’s lyrics have a bite to them, but the sound is upbeat.
“I don’t think there’s anything quite angry in the sense that [the album] is very calculated,” Dubue said. “It shows discontent, but we’re not necessarily angry or not thinking logically.”
The new album isn’t the only avenue Dubue is taking to tackle social commentary. Since 2009, he has been writing film scores, and this past year he crafted the soundtrack for the 1928 silent Canadian film, Carry On, Sergeant!
“This one was a lost film, an anti-war film, very interesting cinematically though it’s never really been discussed in any university film class,” Dubue explained. “It’s lost to its own history in Canada though it’s relevant to cinematic history worldwide.”
Interestingly, Dubue’s passion for films runs much deeper than just the musical aspect—though he does love the music, he has a collection of movie soundtracks on vinyl. Dubue is a self-described film buff, and as he looks to the progression of his career, he sees it taking a more theatrical turn.
“Eventually I’d like to make films,” Dubue claimed. “I want to be a film director when I’m in my forties.”
For the time being, Dubue is still committed to Hilotrons, his band of 14 years. And while the band has always been a part of him, the line-up of the band has changed drastically over its decade-plus existence, with only Dubue and drummer/engineer Philip Shaw Bova acting as consistent members in the band. Dubue, to his credit, has welcomed the changes.
“The way that I work musically, I’ve always been at the helm of this band,” Dubue said. “[The band is] constantly trying to evolve or change, and any type of change is welcome. I don’t know that our sound is married to any ideas; we’re open to constant change.”
Part of that constant change comes from playing a variety of shows all over. Throughout the years, Hilotrons has played at a variety of venues, and while sometimes touring can get repetitive, Dubue says that for him, it’s all about keeping things fresh and interesting.
“Even if we’re on tour playing the same set, we still try to make it a new experience and a righteous experience,” Dubue said, adding that even the worst of shows can have a silver lining. “Even in the most shitty of circumstances, the fact that you’re playing music somewhere, it’s not something to be taken for granted.”
Of all the places Dubue has played, one of the most stand-out experiences happened in Montreal, as part of the annual Pop Montreal festival.
“We did this soundtrack to a gay porn [film] at Cinema de L’amour,” Dubue explained. “It was this 1960s pornography. So the porn was going on the screen, and we were set up on the floor playing along [….] It got a really awful review but we sold the place out.”
Ultimately for Dubue, who whistles while he thinks and laughs through his memories, it’s all about the experiences that comes with the music.
“Practice, learn to read music, perhaps move out of the country, move to a place where you can tour and make a living,” Dubue said. “No musician should be complaining about playing music.”