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Kristian North’s Prelude to a Funky Future

We go digging through record store dollar bins in Montreal with the disco-glam rock provocateur.

by Stephan Boissonneault 

Photo by Georgia Graham

As we step through the doors of Montreal’s Librairie l’Echange—a used book store that emerged as a cultural hub for Montreal’s beat poets, jazz musicians, and other vagabonds in the late 70s—Kristian North and I are greeted by shelves of used records. There’s one album cover in particular that catches the eye of the long-haired disco glam-rocker. It’s Return To Forever’s Romantic Warrior, a jazz fusion record boasting a shiny mythical knight on horseback; an album that North believes still holds up as some of the craziest music in founder Chick Corea’s expansive repertoire. North doesn’t consider himself a true jazz guy, but as an avid listener with one of his primary instruments being the piano, he definitely digs Corea’s work. 

“I’ve definitely found a lot of jazz-related albums here. And back when I first started collecting records, I’ll admit that I would often grab one based on the cover,” North says. 

We continue flipping through the dollar bins of Librairie l’Echange as North tells me about his old band, Babysitter, a garage-punk group he cut his teeth with when he was living in Victoria, BC. It was through Babysitter where he learned the tricks of the trade, touring relentlessly, and releasing a wave of lo-fi punk in the form of EPs, LPs, and cassettes. He eventually moved the project to Montreal around 2013, reinventing his sound under the moniker Kristian North shortly after settling down. Now he’s just on the cusp of releasing his third full-length album, Pseudoscience Fiction.

“Babysitter taught me how to do it all, but doing the solo thing—which isn’t really solo anymore now that I’ve got a full live band—feels way different. I’m more confident now,” he says. He picks up another record, the cover is a painting of abstract splotches of people standing outside of the Apollo Theatre on a neon-lit New York City night. It’s James Brown: Live at the Apollo 1962. If you took away the words “James Brown” and just looked at the album art, you wouldn’t know what to expect, as the needle hit the record. 

“I think that’s one of the things I want for this record coming out,” North says. “I want someone to find my record in a bin, pick it up and have no idea what they’re in store for.”

Based on album covers alone, Pseudoscience Fiction will likely be an album many unsuspecting music fans will pick up. The album art is made up of an old-school 80s computer that looks like it holds the bomb codes for world domination. On the screen is a 3D green simulation of an Einstein-Rosen bridge, or wormhole, that has vibrant orange and purple liquid floating out of it. On the top left, a futuristic silver city is hovering within the coloured cloud just below the words “Pseudoscience Fiction From the mind of Kristian North.” The aesthetic looks like it belongs in the world of science fiction writer Issac Asimov’s The Foundation. But North’s world isn’t filled with laser beams, flying cars, spaceships, and robots (OK there is one robotic voice inspired by the Talk Box work of electro G-funk artist, Roger Troutman,) but an odyssey of personal, “intentionally vague” stories heightened by a disco funk, glam rock opera background, and a dramatized version of North himself leading his listeners on an otherwordly trip. 

The record’s band also deserves some love and recognition, with Cindy Lee Woland on guitar, Joe Grass on pedal steel, Ari Swan on violin, and Andrea Mercier on saxophone. There’s also a wonderful Gainsbourg-esque duet featuring Montreal’s Elle Barbara on “Mercy.”

North and I walk down Mont-Royal towards Parc Jeanne-Mance (where it seems a rowdy game of baseball has just ended) and the conversation changes from the appeal of vinyl collecting to the city’s ever-changing landscape, usually for the benefit of the upper class. North has only been in Montreal for 10 years, but he’s witnessed the arts scene slowly fracture in different ways; closing venues due to noise complaints, increased rent, multi-million dollar corporations like LiveNation controlling all the big shows, slowly gobbling up all the local small promoters. It’s not the first time North has experienced this shift. Last time he visited Victoria, he found the scene he had learned his musical trade in was nothing but a memory. It was replaced by someone else’s dream.

I tell North that when I first moved to Montreal, I had a preconceived notion of an allegorical city that was exempt from all of the growing gentrification. I ask him if he had all of this on his mind when writing Pseudoscience Fiction.

“I’ve always been really hesitant to say what I was thinking while writing music, because I don’t want to influence someone’s experience, but once I had the concept, I approached this one as sort of an impressionistic painting, and a lot of it was my response to the pandemic and the Trump era to an extent,” he says. “The album name comes from people always saying ‘Oh this is like a science fiction movie.’” 

Even though the album is about one of the most traumatic experiences we as a society have collectively gone through, Pseudoscience Fiction isn’t a downer. Yet, it’s not entirely uplifting either. It exists within its own universe, cemented by North’s quick-wit verse and poetic, crooner ramblings. 

For example, the song “Cozumel,” which has an almost Hawaiian outlaw country vibe. Lyrically, it’s about the social media influencers who chose to travel to Mexico during the lockdown. North pokes fun at the whole lunacy of it all, taking the role of a comedic historian, as a bright slide guitar drifts through the pool towards a swim-up bar. There’s also the last track “Cancel Your Plans,” a light romantic synth-funk ballad about staying confined to the walls of your home and loving it. 

“It’s funny ‘cause I spoke with lots of musicians about this event and there’s this weird dichotomy where they were like, ‘I don’t want to talk or sing about this,’” North says. “But to me, it was kind of insane to ignore it because it was so consuming.” 

Pseudoscience Fiction is a piece of art that chronicles one person’s experience of the pandemic, like a historical document that can be used to contextualize what we all went through together. Or like the art that was popping up during World War II: a creative impulse that came from a survival instinct which can now be used to further understand the cultural rhythm of the time decades later.