Collapsing Opposites

Binaries dissolve when faced with the sheer beauty of Ryan McCormick's sweaters.

You could learn everything you need to know about Vancouver indie act Collapsing Opposites from the colourful and imaginative sweaters that consistently adorn the band’s backbone and creative musical entrepreneur, Ryan McCormick. If you’ve had the opportunity to catch him at one of 157 live performances since 2002, you might agree that both Ryan’s sweaters and Collapsing Opposites’ songs can be described as playful and surprising, but more than anything as unique. Although many followers of Vancouver indie will know Ryan as 1/7 of Kill Rock Stars’ They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, an equal number will know him for his enthusiastic (and predominantly solo) performances with Collapsing Opposites. On top of four independent releases from CO over the last few years, there’s a fifth full-length CD due out on February 27 on newly minted Canadian label Local Kids Make Good Records.

In keeping with their Hegel-inspired epithet, Collapsing Opposites recently resynthesized as a trio, emerging from the standoff between home recording project and solo act with loop pedal to form a rock band. Even as a three-piece, though, Collapsing Opposites remains a musical experience in flux, with a sound that moves through the whimsical to the forceful, and playfully challenges the invisible divide between popular genres and indie rock trends.

On a recent and slushy Thursday evening, I met up with Ryan in the living room of the house where he practices with drummer Laura Hatfield (also of Better Friends Than Lovers) and keyboardist Jeff Johnson (from Greenbelt Collective and OK Vancouver OK). Leaving Jeff behind for his practice with Greenbelt Collective, the three of us walked up to a Korean restaurant on Kingsway called Seoul Deckbaegi for post-practice eats. We chose a table and, as we mulled over our menus, Laura affirmed, “There’s beer.”

Ryan, who sat across from me, gave me some background on the naming of the act. “Well, originally I was really interested in dichotomies—boy/girl, night/day, war/peace, and how those things were all breaking down and don’t always work anymore. That was kind of heavy on my mind in university.” Although the influence of critical theory still shows in his playful and imaginative songwriting—which honestly and critically explores ideas that range from Lacanian pscyhoanalysis to popular childhood fairy tales—Ryan added as an afterthought to the foundational philosophy behind Collapsing Opposites, “When you think of a band, you don’t think of what their name means; you think of who they are.”

“Are you saying it’s a mechanism for branding?” Laura teased.
“Yeah,” Ryan quipped, “buy our brand.”

Later in the interview, though, Laura commented, “Ryan’s the hardest-working, most super-dedicated musician I have ever played with.” She turned to Ryan and added, “You’ve really refined what it is you want to reflect.” Despite a highly theoretical name, Collapsing Opposites tends to be as much about dedication, and about making distinctive and interesting music that Ryan hopes will make listeners think about the world in new and different ways.

Fans and newcomers will have a chance to check out the latest full-length, Inside Chance, at its Railway Club release party on February 23. Recorded by Ryan for Winnipeg’s Local Kids Make Good Records (remember Dave and Mike from CiTR show “Local Kids Make Good”? This is them but now in Winnipeg) and produced by Ryan and Pietro Sammarco, the album also features guest musicians Anni Rossi, Greenbelt Collective, Julia Feyrer, and Laura Hatfield, and will be distributed in North America by Scratch Records. A follow-up to Microchips Implanted in Your Brain, an out-of-print collection of limited edition rarities compiled to correspond with a six-show tour in Japan in August 2005, Inside Chance was recorded over the span of a year and a half—in-between extensive touring across Canada and the US with the likes of The Winks, Anni Rossi, The Gift Machine and Ill Ease.

Following the release of Inside Chance, Collapsing Opposites will tour western Canada and the American West Coast with the Doers and OK Vancouver OK, followed by more touring in both countries in May 2007. This tour will mark Ryan’s fourth trip across the country with Collapsing Opposites. “The best place I’ve played?” considered Ryan. “Probably Winnipeg.” No surprise, then, that a Winnipeg label has formed to release the upcoming full length.

With another trek across this vast nation on the Collapsing Opposites horizon, Ryan and Laura reflected on the challenges of registering Vancouver in the pulse of the Canadian indie scene. “Vancouver’s always been isolated, separated [from the rest of Canada],” Ryan remarked. “As a small band, you can only really play in Vancouver or the suburbs.”

“People’s perceptions of Vancouver are sort of magical,” added Laura as the two went back and forth on the musical geography of Canada, “They don’t really know what to expect [from Vancouver bands].”

“There are bands from here that are pretty famous: The New Pornographers, Destroyer.”
“Bryan Adams. I don’t know. Maybe being in isolation [from the rest of Canada] helped those bands be successful. It makes me want to work harder.”
“I don’t like it when people think of isolation as negative,” concluded Laura, and Ryan agreed.

As we settled up at Seoul Deckbaegi and headed out into the slush again, the conversation turned to band photos for the new website, and both Ryan and Laura seemed keen to hear what I thought might make for a good photo shoot. Collapsing Opposites take a lot of this sort of input from their surroundings, reimagine it, and make it something new for their audiences. And from a band, that’s fun. Magical, even.