Shirley & The Pyramids | Interview | New Album, ‘Maid of Time’
Shirley & The Pyramids is a long running Canadian psych band that recently released their third album, ‘Maid of Time’ via Grey Records (Canada/USA) and Fuzzed Up & Astromoon Records (Ireland/Europe).
‘Maid of Time’ is their third full-length album written and recorded by the band at their home studio from 2020 to 2022. This album sees the group lean into a slower, darker sound more akin to grunge and shoegaze than their previous efforts. This is the first finished batch of about 20 songs written by the band during the pandemic, as Aron Zacharias, the band’s founder and primary songwriter describes it:
“We didn’t play music together for about 6 months when everything shut down. Then when we could meet up in person again, we didn’t really know how we wanted to approach recording new songs or making an album. We just kind of played whatever we were interested in at the time and ended up recording about 20 songs of varying genres and tempo. This is the first finished batch of those songs and I think, perhaps surprisingly, we managed to make a somewhat cohesive album out of the madness.”
It’s really great to have you. I’ve been truly enjoying your latest album. I wonder how I haven’t heard about your band before as this is your third album already. How long did you work on it?
Aron Zacharias: The album took quite a long time to finish for various reasons. We started working on it right as the pandemic hit in early 2020, so that definitely played a big part in things. I spent most of that year writing, and we would meet up to rehearse when we could, which wasn’t often. We ended up getting evicted from our house/studio/jam space as well, and it took a while for us to get things figured out again, but we eventually did. We recorded the first batch of songs for ‘Maid of Time’ at the end of 2020, right before our original bass player left the band. We spent most of 2021 writing more songs and practicing as a four-piece, eventually finding our current bass player and recording another batch of songs in late 2021/early 2022. Duncan Pickard and I finished mixing the album in June 2022, then we had to wait for the vinyl to be pressed. The whole process took a lot longer than I would’ve liked, but now it’s finally out in the world! I gotta shout out our label in Ireland, Fuzzed Up & Astromoon Records, for helping us get the records pressed in a timely manner and handling a lot of the logistics. Much love and respect to them!
Would you like to present your band and share some background? Were any members in any other bands before?
I’ve played in bands since I was a kid, and I’m in my mid-thirties now, so that’s a good chunk of my life playing music in all kinds of different projects. Three of the five of us in Shirley & The Pyramids (myself, Dave Kitter (guitar), Duncan Pickard (keys)) used to play in a psychedelic surf band called Wizards. We had a few releases before the band split up. Our bass player Peter Grier used to have a band called Caves and they were very good. Matthew McLaughlin, our drummer, has played with more groups than I even know. He played with bands while living in both LA and Toronto, and currently plays with a few groups locally.
Tell us about what you do under the moniker of Surely I Come Quickly.
That was a pseudonym that I used for a lot of my solo projects from like 2007 until 2015 or so. It was mostly lo-fi pop and ambient music, a lot of weird experiments and stuff. Some of those releases can still be found on our Bandcamp page, if anyone is interested in that kind of thing.
What about Chunder Buffet?
Chunder Buffet is a punk band from our hometown that both Dave Kitter and I used to play in. I played drums on their debut EP and their first full-length album, Dave played guitar on those releases. Neither of us are in the band anymore, but they’re still together and they still rock. Check ‘em out!
What led you to form Shirley & The Pyramids?
I had kind of been shifting from doing experimental music to more rock-based stuff for a while and it got to the point where I felt like I needed a band to perform live. So, I convinced some of my old bandmates from Wizards and a few other friends to join me for live performances. I wrote and recorded all of our releases up until ‘A New American Classic’ in 2019. But now we are a fully collaborative band, everyone writes and plays their own parts mostly. I don’t even write all the songs anymore, Dave Kitter and Duncan Pickard wrote a few of the new ones.
Tell us about the debut tape release on Sound & Silence Collective?
That was one of my first forays into trying to make “traditional rock” music, though I don’t think much of it sounds “traditional” or terribly “rockin’”… After I recorded and released our demo I was listening to a lot of dream-pop and light beachy shoegaze kind of music, along with noisier stuff like ‘Psychocandy’ and Thee Oh Sees and shit. I wanted to see if I could make music similar to those things, or find some kind of niche in-between to all these genres of psychedelic rock music that I’m into. I guess our self-titled tape is the product of that experiment. The fine folks at The Sound & Silence Collective were nice enough to release it on cassette.
What about the 2018 release of ‘Pure Pain’?
With ‘Pure Pain’ I tried to take the ideas from the first album and just expand it in every direction, and importantly, in a cohesive and clean manner. I spent a lot of time trying to make the songs have a similar sound to each other, and having some of them segue directly into each other. I spent a lot of time editing and making sure there wasn’t anything that sounded out of place. I’m very proud of that album.
“About half the songs on ‘Maid of Time’ were tracked live off the floor”
‘Maid of Time’ is your most mature release and it’s a killer. Can you share some further words about the writing and recording process?
The writing process was plentiful and fragmented. It was kind of weird, and went through three distinct phases as far as I look at it. The first songs I started writing for the album were all fast garage rock songs, then I got really into 60s sunshine pop so I started writing a bunch of songs like that, like The Byrds and shit. All those songs are mostly left off the album, but they will be released later this year if all goes to plan. The third phase of writing, and what you’ll hear most on the album, was kind of a grungy shoegaze batch of tunes. I was listening to a lot of brit-pop and Smashing Pumpkins at the time, and I was super depressed.
Originally, ‘Maid of Time’ was supposed to be a double-album with all kinds of crazy crap on it, all the songs. But once we realized that it wasn’t really logistically or financially viable, we had to pare it down to a single cohesive album. Most of the faster punkier songs didn’t really fit, so we ended up with this moody slow record that you hear today. The next release will be more upbeat.
As far as recording goes, we do it all ourselves at our home studio. It’s nothing fancy, but we have everything we need to track a whole band. I have experience recording and our keyboard/synth player Duncan Pickard has a degree in audio engineering, so between the two of us we’ve got most of our basses covered.
About half the songs on ‘Maid of Time’ were tracked live off the floor with the whole band, and on the other half of the songs I would record basic guitar parts by myself and get the band members to come in and overdub their parts. It was kind of all over the place, but it worked out alright in the end.
How do you typically approach songwriting?
I don’t have a special technique for writing songs or anything like that. I usually just start with a chord progression that I think sounds nice and build it from there. I don’t have any secret tricks or special music knowledge. It’s mostly just messing around and trusting your instincts. As far as lyrics go, there’s not any great or profound meaning behind any of the words, a lot of the time it’s just phrases that I’ve written in my notebook that I think are interesting or funny. I usually dislike writing lyrics and often leave it until the very end.
What instruments, gear, effects, pedals et cetera do you have in the band?
I think our setup is pretty typical for a rock’n’roll band: guitars, bass, keys, drums, nothing too crazy. We do have a bunch of weird shit in our house/studio though, so it’s nice to be able to pick up something like a sitar or a fretless bass or some weird horn or a sampler or whatever if we feel like it. I could go through the specific instruments and effects we use, but I don’t know that it would be terribly interesting or inspiring- pretty standard Fender and Squier guitars, loud tube amps, Big Muffs, lots of reverb and delay.
My favourite song from the album is ‘Cosmic Debris (Nothing New)’, can you tell us about it and on that note, feel free to share some words about the other tracks as well.
The music for ‘Cosmic Debris (Nothing New)’ was written by our guitar player, Dave Kitter. It originally started as kind of an upbeat folk-ish song but we decided to try slowing it down and adding a bunch of fuzz over everything. The lyrics are about a breakup I went through while we were making the album.
Also, I’m very much aware that there’s a Zappa song with the same title – it totally slipped my mind until it was too late to change and it bothers me so much haha, especially because the next song on the album is called ‘Trouble Everyday,’ another Zappa title (although that one was intentional)!
There must be a story behind the cover artwork as well?
Not much of a story, to be honest… The cover art was just a picture I had kicking around my computer that I had been messing around with in Photoshop. I thought it looked cool and fit the music. I think the original photo was taken in Paris.
Would you say you were aiming for a certain concept music-wise?
Not specifically. It had been so long since we made an album that I was just writing and recording everything that came to mind. I wanted to write as many songs as I could and then see what stuck. Once I realized we wouldn’t be able to do a double album as we originally planned, a bit more of a concept kind of revealed itself on its own. It turned into a moody spaced out grunge album, which I’m totally fine with. But there was no great overarching concept or idea behind the album. Lyrically, I suppose it could be considered a breakup album.
What’s next for you? Do you have any future plans?
We plan to tour and play a bit of shows this summer, then I want to finish and release the rest of the songs we recorded during the pandemic. We’ve got 9 or 10 songs that are mostly done. They’re much more upbeat than the ‘Maid of Time’ songs and I’m excited to get them out into the world, hopefully before year’s end. We’d also love to make it back to Europe to play some shows at some point.
Are any of you involved in any other bands or do you have any active side-projects going on at this point?
I currently play bass in another band called Dump Babes. Dave Kitter plays pedal steel in a freaky country band. Peter Grier plays drums in a band called Extra Flavour and has a solo project, Open Window. Matthew McLaughlin plays drums with a few different groups in town.
Let’s end this interview with some of your favourite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?
I never know how to answer these questions and I can’t speak for the rest of the band, but lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Brian Jonestown Massacre (as usual) and Yo La Tengo. Both bands’ new albums are great. Our labelmates Thee U.F.O. have an absolute ripper of an album called ‘Ponderous Fug’ that I’ve been spinning a lot lately. I’ve been listening to a lot of the classics as well, The Fall, Chapterhouse, My Bloody Valentine, Cleaners From Venus, Butthole Surfers, et cetera.
Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.
Thanks so much for the interview! If anyone is interested in our music they can find us on all the streaming sites. Limited edition white vinyl copies of ‘Maid of Time’ are available through our Bandcamp page. European orders can go thru Fuzzed Up & Astromoon Records’ Bandcamp page for better shipping rates. Come say hi to us on social media, or better yet, come see a show if you can! Cheers!
Headline photo: Shirley & The Pyramids | Photo by Andrew Bromell
Shirley & The Pyramids Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / Bandcamp / YouTube
Grey Records Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / Bandcamp
Fuzzed Up & Astromoon Records Facebook / Bandcamp / YouTube
‘Maid of Time’ by Shirley & The Pyramids | Album Premiere