All Dressed

Above Supreme: in conversation with Markus Floats

“It’s nice to have some type of discipline,” says the 37-year-old Calgary-born and Montreal-based producer and artist Markus Lake, who releases music and performs under the moniker Markus Floats.

“It’s a good reminder of what you’re doing in the world.”

Floats speaks to me over the telephone from Parc Jarry on a sunny autumn Saturday afternoon, the squawks of seagulls and passersby’s conversations periodically presenting themselves in the background. There’s an improvised character to the sounds coming over the airwaves as we talk, which aptly resonate against some of the more free jazz-inspired pieces on Floats’s latest and fourth album, titled simply, Fourth Album.

Nonetheless, Markus Floats is all about doing the work — whatever the work happens to be.

“The only way to paint is to set aside time to paint,” Floats deadpans about his creative process. “And the only way to make music is to set aside time to make music. You kind of have to convince yourself that what you’re doing is worthwhile.”

“I don’t have any plans to move. I’m kind of into the idea of staying put for a long time.” Markus Floats, photographed by Stacy Lee.

A small but tightly-knit unit of collaborators was convinced enough to help Floats bring Fourth Album to fruition. He enlisted bandmates from Egyptian Cotton Arkestra — the violinist Ari Swan, saxophonist James Goddard, and Lucas Huang on percussion — to record acoustic takes over home-produced synthetic instrumentation. The resulting work is a pleasing union of post-classical and experimental electronic themes that fits ideally within the roster of Floats’s label, Constellation Records, which for more than two decades has remained on the forefront of Montreal’s avant-garde scenes.

I ask how Floats got involved with Constellation, and he shoots back, “pure cronyism,” laughing. “Constellation knows what’s up in a very particular way,” explains Floats, offering shouts-out to labelmates Jessica Moss, Joni Void, and Ky Brooks. “They’re interested in what’s coming up next in a way that I really appreciate.”

Fourth Album was conceived at the end of the pandemic, committed to tape at the venerable Constellation-affiliated studio Hotel2Tango, and engineered by Brooks — “a no-brainer,” Floats says.

“We were in lockdown so there wasn’t much else to do. I was mostly sitting around making music all day. So then, three years later, I had maybe twentyish demos. And I picked a bunch that seemed closest to real songs and asked a bunch of musicians that I play with. We got a Canada Council grant, so I got to pay everyone, which was super nice. We just went into the studio with twelve songs that the band heard, like, one week before they went in, did a bunch of takes, and then spent the next two months slapping it all together into what we have today.”

Floats’s interdisciplinary style is difficult to pin down, as are his influences. “I fully pillaged my parents’ record collection,” Floats admits of his earliest musical memories. “They listened to a lot of old funk and soul. That is, they had a lot of old funk and soul; they listened to Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey.”

Floats’s first job was at the Calgary Public Library where he obsessively borrowed Sleater-Kinney, X, and Björk CDs. Then one night at a punk hangout called Castle House, he was introduced by a roommate to John Coltrane’s legendary through-composed jazz suite A Love Supreme, and everything clicked. “That was an aha moment for me, for sure,” he reminisces.

Floats completed a two-year jazz programme in Calgary for electric bass, where he learned the musical fundamentals. “I took piano lessons as a kid, which I hated,” he recalls, “but I now really appreciate — thanks, mom and dad.” Floats then gigged in local bands and played live in Montreal on a tour stop. “I just fell in love,” he says, eventually relocating to the city to attend the Electroacoustic Music programme at Concordia.

“I don’t have any plans to move,” Floats muses, despite the perennial attacks on out-of-province expats. “I’m kind of into the idea of staying put for a long time. In my 20s, it was very common for all my friends to move a lot. And it didn’t seem helpful. It was like, ‘this thing is wrong with my apartment,’ or ‘this thing is wrong with my friends, so I’m going to try go somewhere else.’ And it never seems to be the solution. I’m of the mind of just sticking it out. See what happens.”

“In my mind, it’s all about output. Process and output.” Markus Floats, photographed by Stacy Lee.

The next step, Floats says, is to put together a live show that somewhat resembles the album. “Although it won’t be anything close to what the recording is,” he demurs. “The recording is the recording, and the live show is the live show. They’re not essentially related.”

For Floats, performing live is all about following instinct, whereas recording is more processual. “In the studio, which in my case is just my bedroom, it’s very low-pressure. I sit down, make a bunch of really bad songs,” he quips, “and hope for the best. In my mind, it’s all about output. Process and output. You just keep trying until something good comes out. But there’s going to be so much bad, you just have to get through it. There’s no real rules to get into the good, it just sort of happens. Whether or not what you make is good isn’t really the issue. It’s about putting in the time to the thing that, ultimately, if you really hash it out,” Floats chuckles, “is dumb and pointless.”

A move to Montreal, though, seems to stimulate a sense of creativity and renewed purpose in artists, especially those who hail from the culturally bereft West.

“It is a beautiful place,” Floats says of this city. “It’s gorgeous, all the time, everywhere you go. Growing up in Calgary, you have downtown and suburbs. And downtown empties out after 6pm. Unless it’s Stampede, and then you’re just dealing with cowboys. But Montreal — I’m just walking through Jarry Park on a Saturday afternoon. It’s packed. Everyone’s out. It’s a very liveable place. And that breeds a certain amount of… je ne sais quoi.”◼︎

Fourth Album is released via Constellation Records.