Brian Borcherdt’s balancing act

Brian Borcherdt will bare all of his remains tonight at Elixir.
Brian Borcherdt will bare all of his remains tonight at Elixir.
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Interview: Brian Borcherdt w/ Wax Mannequin, Nich Worby @ Clark Hall Pub, Tonight

Brian Borcherdt exercises his contrasts to the fullest.

The two main musical projects from the former By Divine Right guitarist exist on opposite ends of the musical spectrum. And that’s just how Borcherdt likes it.

“I just want to keep everything I do intact,” he told the Journal by phone earlier this week. “I want to keep it pretty blatant as to what it is.”

On one hand, he’s got The Remains of Brian Borcherdt, the moniker by which he creates heart-wrenching and intensely emotional, melancholy pop. On the other is Holy Fuck, his outlet for spastic, pulsing, improvisational and experimental dance music.

While the differences between the two groups are obvious, they aren’t without their common ground. Both Holy Fuck and The Remains share an affinity for slow-burning, make-your-hair-stand-on-end crescendos and climaxes. And while both projects are daring and bold, they are also ultimately vulnerable.

With Holy Fuck, Borcherdt and Co. are constantly on the precipice of disaster. The spontaneous and improvisational nature of their music forces them to push the limits of their capabilities and face the ever-imminent threat that a song will derail and the show will fall flat.

With The Remains, Borcherdt holds nothing back, pouring his entire heart out for all to see. His songs are raw and exposed, brutally honest and unencumbered by irony or self-doubt. “It all comes from the same place,” he said of his two musical personalities. “It just presents itself differently. Holy Fuck has nothing to do with ego,” he said. “It’s just about having fun. It’s about how far we can take it and how much we can fuck it up while having it still make sense and be cathartic.”

And The Remains?

“My music is all predetermined melody, lyric and song, and has much more to do with the ego. It’s a lot more personal, while Holy Fuck is a lot more conceptual, but they’re both equally creative,” he said.

Borcherdt said he connects with listeners in different ways through each project.

“The Remains stuff has more to do with the individual—myself, being the individual writing it—but also in terms of the audience, it’s more about an individual experience than a party atmosphere,” he said.

“It’s nice to have the balance,” he added. “I really wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t have the two projects.”

Borcherdt launched his solo career in 2002 with the haunting and beautiful Moth, a six-song EP dedicated to the memory of a close friend. In 2004, he re-emerged as The Remains of Brian Borcherdt releasing two full-length records-Vol. 1 and Vol. 2—only 10 months apart.

The ghostly and mysterious qualities to Borcherdt’s songs are anything but accidental. He admitted to almost going with The Ghost of Brian Borcherdt, rather than The Remains. It’s music that’s meant to be listened to after midnight.

Borcherdt thrives on mystery, drawing from the likes of Sonic Youth and other dedicated distortionists, while still somehow retaining an intense intimacy. Borcherdt’s delicately aching vocals eliminate any distance with the listener.

But did he actually expect Holy Fuck to become his meal ticket and take off the way it did? Apparently, he did. Borcherdt said that he knew there was potential for success right from the start.

“I even told Kevin [Lynn, Holy Fuck’s bassist] when we were jamming together one of the first times, ‘You know, this is going to pick up really quickly ... but my solo stuff, I’ll be playing it for 10 years and it’ll take 10 years before anybody notices,’—and that seems to be true,” he said.

“People can’t even pronounce my name—I’m certainly destined for a career in obscurity.” For the record, it’s pronounced “Bor-cherd”, like orchard.

But he said he doesn’t resent Holy Fuck’s comparatively greater success.

“I’m not jealous at all of the audience’s reaction,” he said. “With the people that have found my solo music, I’ve developed an almost personal relationship with them ... the comments I get are really touching,” he said. “I almost think there’s more reward in hearing the personal comments from people who like my Remains stuff, even if there’s less of them, rather than a bunch of people saying, ‘Wow, your beats are so fuckin’ dope.’” Even within The Remains, Borcherdt balances a sense of fragile vulnerability with explosive, eruptions of joy. This is never more evident than in “Can’t Stop Loving You” from Vol. 1, a staticky, anthemic declaration of love and happiness complete with a sing-a-long chorus and celebratory hand-claps. Then, just as the song is bordering on over-the-top party rock (“Everybody! Everybody sing now!”), our tragic hero is swallowed up by engulfing, messy distortion.

Borcherdt strives to express all aspects of his persona in each of his musical endeavours, embracing both the sacred and the profane at every opportunity.

“It’s hard to be both funny and dark at the same time,” he said. “But all my favourite artists are that way and the best art has that kind of balance.”

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