Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Last September, shadowy post-rock collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor unexpectedly won Canada’s prestigious Polaris Music Prize for their great 2012 double album Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! They didn’t show up to accept the award, and shortly after winning, they issued a band statement thanking the Canadian music-press types who gave them the prize but also decrying the excess of a corporate-sponsored awards gala and the idea of competition-driven music awards. Their statements caused ripples of interest; we spoke with a past Polaris winner, Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham, about the reaction they’d been getting. And now, in a recent interview, Godspeed member Efrim Menuck has said a few things about the whole story.

Godspeed typically never give interviews, but Menuck is also a member of the group Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, whose new album Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything drops next week. It’s long been a tactic for zine types to interview Godspeed members about various side projects and then to sneak in a few Godspeed questions, and that’s exactly what the people behind the Kreative Kontrol podcast did in their interview with Menuck, as Exclaim! points out. On the podcast, Menuck effectively says that the band didn’t expect to win and wasn’t looking for ways to start shit by refusing the award. They didn’t even want to win, and they didn’t know how else to react:

As a band, we said everything we had to say, honestly. The only thing I’d add to it is, it was the strangest thing to go into the day of the award show hoping that we would not win. I don’t know. We knew what we were going to say if we won… With Godspeed, it’s always like, the amount of years between us shooting our mouths off and getting into arguments — the more years that pass between those arguments, the better for us. It always feels like a losing proposition. But at the same time, you have to do it; you have to speak your mind. Contrary to what people might think about us, we’re not argumentative by nature. That Polaris thing felt like being at someone’s parents’ house for dinner and the friends of someone’s parents says something inappropriate and then you’re like, ’Oh shit, now I have to say, hey, what do you mean?’ That’s what it felt like to us.

To hear Menuck tell it, the band took a long time to even consider the possibility that they might win:

The deal was, to anyone who puts out a new record in a year, Polaris approaches the record label and says, ’Would you like to put these records up for nomination?’ Then the label can say yes or no. So Constellation said yes to this and didn’t ask Godspeed what they thought about it because they were like, ’Oh, this will be a nice thing.’… And so it was really late in the game when we realized, ’Oh shit, we could’ve just pulled out.’ But we were convinced that we were not going to make it onto the short list. When we did make it onto the short list, the band was convinced we weren’t going to win this thing. It was really towards the end when were like, ’Oh shit, we might and I guess we need to prepare ourselves for that possibility.’ It was a really strange process… You have to remember that Godspeed’s relationship with the Canadian music industry has been terrible from the beginning. It’s been antagonistic from the beginning so it wasn’t unreasonable for us to be like, ’We’re not going to get this thing. Why would they give us this thing?’ We said it in our press release: we feel like orphans in our own country. We feel fairly invisible here.

The band is still looking for ways to use the prize money for musical education in Quebec prisons, a red-tape process that Menuck calls “a good headache to have.” And in the most entertaining quote on the subject, he also acknowledges that the band made some attempt, however token, to say thank you:

We said what we had to say and tried to say it as graciously as we could, and I feel like some people got that and other people chose not to acknowledge that there was some attempt at graciousness there. It’s not like we wrote a letter like, ’Fuck you man! Stupid squares!’ We tried to acknowledge, y’know?

You can hear the whole podcast here.

Comments (3)
  1. misterm  |   Posted on Jan 15th, 2014 -1

    When Godspeed won it felt like it was more of a “lifetime achievement” award more than anything.
    I think the award was created to help appreciate newer talent that is not as popular as bigger Canadian acts but still created great albums for that year. But then again, Arcade Fire also won a couple years back. Who knows.
    As much as I love them, it didn’t make sense and it was a waste giving Godspeed this award.
    Maybe it was the Canadian music industry’s way of trying to make amends with the group but the short list would have been enough for that.

    • I’m not sure why you are calling it a waste. Can you explain?

      The money will go to a good cause, presuming the red tape is eliminated. I’m not a particularly large proponent of prison outreach – I’m certainly not against it – but I think it trumps the $30k going to some street marketing/promotion team. We all know that is where it would have been spent had the prize gone to another winner.

      More importantly, though, the shortlist was somewhat weak, and the prize is given to the band who makes the best record, right? I think it is wrong to suggest that the prize should go to whoever the panel thinks will spend the money in a certain way. I would think most would agree.

      I am interested to hear your thought process on why you’d call it a waste. I am also intrigued by your suggestion that it is a “lifetime achievement” award. Do you not think Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! was good in and of itself? I’d rank it much higher than the others on the shortlist.

  2. When you look at the shortlist, it’s clear that GY!BE deserved and probably could have expected the win.

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