When Constantines singer/guitarist Bryan Webb sits down to write lyrics, he doesn't simply spit out the first words that occur to him and call it a day.
"I definitely obsess over the little things — over syntax and even the placement of 'the' or 'a' or 'an,'" he admits, "just because I like phrasing and rhythm. Those are rhetorical techniques, but it's good to know that you mean what you say."
Despite Webb's deliberate approach, Kensington Heights, the latest recording by the Canadian combo, doesn't sound fussy or effete. "Hard Feelings" is a gloriously messy opener, with rampaging rhythms and Will Kidman's slathered keyboards merging persuasively with Webb's raspy declarations — and subsequent standouts, such as "Trans Canada," "Our Age" and the rousing finale "Do What You Can Do," take listeners through a wide range of rock styles, just as the albums Webb grew up on did. "I always think of records in terms of LPs," he says. "Like, this is going to be the last song on the first side, and this is going to be the first song on the second side."
Back in 1999, shortly after the band formed at the University of Guelph, Webb was reluctant to look at Constantines as a professional enterprise. "I thought that would corrupt the music if we were trying to make a living doing it," he allows. But the players found a balance between creativity and commerce, releasing their last couple of discs (2003's Shine a Light and 2005's Tournament of Hearts) on Sub Pop in the U.S. while sticking with Three Gut Records, an indie formed by friends, north of the border. In the end, Three Gut ceased operations and the Sub Pop contract ended, freeing Constantines to sign with Arts & Crafts, an acclaimed Canadian imprint that provides a home for Broken Social Scene and many of its offshoots. Webb admits to feeling home-country pride over being part of this Canuck collective, but he doesn't reject the prospect of competition among labelmates. "We're all pretty friendly, but we're just starting out," he notes with a laugh.
In the meantime, Webb continues to create new songs, in part because they help him get a handle on the challenges before him. "Writing is how I understand the world," he maintains. "When I sit down to write a song, it's usually because I don't understand what's happening and I know I need to sort something out."
And when he's finished, does he have a better sense of how to deal with a given situation?
"Absolutely," he replies. "Or I've illuminated why it is I don't understand it."
Visit Backbeat Online for more of our interview with Bryan Webb of Constantines.