the last time i saw roly broere, we were 12. we went to summer camp together as kids. the staff there gave out “moose dollars” (or “mooney”) to campers for achievements and good deeds, and at the end of the summer, kids could spend their mooney at a camp-wide carnival that took place in front of the main lodge. roly and a couple other troublemakers had stolen a batch of moose dollars, and my last camp memory is of the three of them making it rain stolen mooney off the balcony of the lodge into the sea of kids below.
fast forward 12 years and i’m meeting up with roly and saidah conrad over coffee in toronto’s kensington market to talk about ain’t no love, the hip-hop electro three-piece fronted by roly, saidah, and eli mcbean. the majority of our talk is spent on stories about the time roly got eli arrested, or the time they threw an underage new year’s eve party that got all of parliament street shut down. needless to say, that troublemaker attitude hasn’t quite worn off with age. not that we’re complaining. it’s that kind of whatever-the-fuck-we-want attitude that makes ain’t no love what it is. with a stellar eponymous ep and another recently released entitled tears of joy it’s about more than pushing boundaries just to push boundaries. “we wanna bring weird to street,” roly explains, “that doesn’t get done in a meaningful way very often. but that’s what’s gonna make it interesting.” although ain’t no love was conceived in montreal, the band is now based out of toronto, where their most recent single, “blinded,” is taking the city by storm.
it’s been a bit of a whirlwind for you guys lately. can you tell me a bit about what ain’t no love has been up to the past couple months?
saidah conrad: so much cool shit! we’ve just been trying to make as much music as possible.
roly broere: we’re just trying to make groundbreaking music. whatever that means.
what does that mean?
RB: new! new, new, new. maybe the songs, conceptually, are a bit different, but we’re trying to use manipulations and vocal techniques and samples and everything to try and make it new and unique.
SC: we try to be conscious of working as one. there’s not my part, roly’s part, eli’s part. it’s more of a cohesive sound, which is going to be really fun to perform.
RB: you know how cashmere cat uses those melodyne slides…?
he does it so well. i love cashmere cat.
RB: he’s my favorite producer right now. we wanna use something like those slides but in a more street, more hip-hop context. we’re in the studio with our engineer and it’s like “okay! cashmere cat!” [laughs]
let’s talk about that bitcoin thing. you guys sold your album tears of joy online for bitcoin, and it caused this pretty big stir.
SC: it was not as strategic as it sounds but it’s turned into this huge thing!
what are you guys gonna buy with your bitcoins?
SC: i’m turning that shit into real money! [laughs]
do you think the bitcoin thing has kind of established you guys in this realm of new wave digital artists?
RB: we’re not big enough to make that much of a difference. but the music we wanna make, we wanna keep it new. and this is a new way of doing business. so, it’s all part of one big metaphor for progressiveness.
so it’s a positive thing to be aligned with that kind of thinking?
RB: thinking? yes. but to only be remembered or associated with the bitcoin thing…
SC: hell no. that’s not happening.
RB: but you know, it doesn’t hurt either. the 10 000 views on our last video is partly because of this bitcoin thing. we were getting interviewed by the wall street journal, and they’re asking us like, “is this going to break down the paradigm of the record label?” [laughs] no. it’s not like that.
this is actually the first time you guys have all been based out of the same city. how does working and creating in toronto effect your sound, which was born and raised in montreal?
SC: i think we just create more frequently because we have the option of doing that.
RB: when we’re in montreal, we were working with love thy brother [liam and conor clarke]. and that was our defining sound. and when we split with liam, the sound changed as the location changed. it’s not really fair to say that the move changed our sound – the change is mostly a result of working with different producers. that said, our sound went from being really dubby and dancey to being a little more hip hop.
i read that montreal was the first place you were really able to step out of your comfort zone music-wise, and discover new sounds and new ways to play with your current sound. i’m from toronto, and that’s entirely the way i feel about montreal, too.
SC: in our experience, montreal is a great place to go and find yourself. but if you wanna make shit happen, you’ve gotta come back to toronto. montreal is a vortex! it’s almost too much. it’s too much to be productive.
so toronto has really fostered your growth as a band. what would you say is the sound of toronto?
RB: toronto pushed the alternative R&B shit to the forefront. when drake broke, and then the weeknd. noir&b is the sound of toronto.
noir&b! i’m stealing that! what about the sound of montreal?
RB: right now? glitchy, future hip-hop shit. dilla-esque. kaytra, that kind of sound.
so, ain’t no love started out just eli and roly. next you brought on saidah on vocals. if you were to compare your creative process to, let’s say, baking a cake…who does what?
RB: well, i definitely go buy the ingredients. then eli and i take the ingredients and mix everything together. we bake it. then we decorate it. and saidah eats it [laughs]!
you’ve talked previously about your process being fairly natural, and that even though your process has changed, the fluidity of the process has remained the same –
RB: not anymore! no. we’re in a really weird place creatively right now, where we’re trying to understand what we want to sound like, and be different from everyone else, but do it naturally. i think we’re just overthinking it right now.
SC: like roly said before, we’re trying all these new things, so it’ll be like, “oh melodyne is a thing that exists, let’s try to use it!” [laughs] the first EP was an experiment. the second one was like, that experiment was really well-received, let’s do something with it. it came from that pressure. and now we have a different kind of pressure to stand up to these artists on the radio and stuff. every time, the stakes get a bit higher.
does it feel like work?
SC: sometimes it feels like work. when you’re in the booth for like four hours…
RB: like that’s a long time. four hours.
SC: i’m sorry mr. i-finish-my-verse-in-an-hour! it’s physically draining. it is. i rapped on a verse the other day and i didn’t realize how demanding it is.
this project started as a hobby for you guys, right? and now it’s kind of like…you’re doing it because you want to be doing it. is that a good thing?
RB: i don’t know. it could make or break. people are so cutthroat in the music industry. i don’t even mean business-wise. people will talk shit, like, “that’s cheesey, that sucks.”
SC: and you’re like, “oh okay, that’s my soul.”
RB: eli and i are the type of people who are like, “yeah, you think we’re cheesey? how bout we take you out back,” you know? but we can’t do that!
SC: i just sing in their faces until they smile.
RB: all the guys love saidah. they’re like “you’re awesome. i love ain’t no love.” [laughs]
does that get to you? what people say?
RB: yeah, for sure. i’d be lying if i said otherwise.
SC: the most important thing is not letting that change how you do you. of course when you put something out, you have to stand behind it. we’re part of it too, though. we’re hard on ourselves and we’re hard on other people. we listen to music too – we throw around “cheesey” and “shit” all the time too. we know what we like, just like everyone else.
people describe your sound as hip hop, renegade pop, electro. without naming a genre, describe your sound in a few words.
what does that mean to you?
RB: pushing the boundaries of our sound. that gets me excited. i can get behind that.
tears of joy had a bit of a darker sound than your debut ep, and i read that the oxymoron of the title was really a reflection of your experience in the music industry.
RB: that oxymoron can relate to anything. you can’t spend all your time doing what you love at the beginning because you need money to live. but because you can’t spend all your time on it, it can’t become all it can be. does that make sense? that’s what it means for me.
SC: for me, it’s such a painstaking process. we bear our souls. whether it’s apparent or not but every time we write something, we’re going through something or we’re writing about something that manifests itself in that song. and to pull that out of yourself and put it in a song, it’s painful. but it’s joyous. that’s what tears of joy means for me.
and finally, your latest single “blinded” – which you released the video for not long ago – is one of my favourite releases from you guys. personally, what is something that you have been blind to or blinded by in your life?
SC: the d! [laughs] definitely been blinded by the men. but the thing that i’ve been thinking about in general is being female and trying to find my way without having this influence from a man. just trying to find the balance of being this independent woman without losing your self worth.
RB: i’ve been blinded by a lot of things, but the most important thing is impatience. and overthinking. i constantly overthink to the point where i’m talking myself in circles. i try not to do that.
++ all photos by ty snaden