Summer 2017 marks the return of Unbuttoned to the independent music scene as they released their sophomore album, Liquid, on August 8th.
Unbuttoned has continued to surprise even themselves in their self-exploration. After their 2014 debut album, Planes, the band spent three years developing what would become their forthcoming LP Liquid. The process found Unbuttoned spending weeks in various studio environments, exploring every sound they could touch and hear. Midway through this process, Unbuttoned released 2015’s Minute Lasting EP, which was catalytic for the group, in terms of challenging modern musical conventions. They also initiated Hummingbird, a safer open stage catering to the youth of Toronto’s Regent Park community.
Now, the experience and influence of the last few years have culminated in new album Liquid, a fearless exploration of textures, palettes and emotions that lies in the ocean between melancholic release and stark boldness. Sometimes brash and unapologetic, sometimes achingly vulnerable, the album is a statement of commitment, and decidedly marks a new era for Unbuttoned.
In our new interview, Casey MQ and Kamilah Apong discuss the making of Liquid, composing for film, giving back, and more!
You guys met when you were both 12 years old. How did you begin creating music together?
Kamilah Apong: We share a mutual infatuation with music/performance…I think one of my earliest musical performances with Casey was singing “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” from the Lion King…i was Simba and Casey was Zazu. Do you remember that??? hahahahaha!
Casey MQ: lmao yes and I’m almost positive my younger sister was playing the piano for us.
Tell me about how the concept for the “Womxn Cry” video came to be. What did you want to achieve with that concept?
Apong: That video was birthed out of my PTSD. I wanted to dig deep into what that diagnoses looks and feels to me. even still, it’s just a scratch at the surface…
Your music tackles topics like racism, sexism, and homophobia head on. How important is it for artists to raise their voices about these issues?
Apong: I write about these issues because they are my lived experiences. I’m grappling with the idea that artists MUST speak on issues around discrimination. I think that line of thinking can put a burden on those who experience systemic forms of violence. but if you want to – you should. as long as it is genuine and thoughtful and nurturing to you. and I think that goes for anyone, artist or not.
MQ: Totally. I think being an artist there is no censoring how or what you express. art is too vulnerable for that. so whether you’re expressing these issues bluntly or symbolically, it is pure expression and as an artist I think that’s all you can ask of yourself.
You released your new album, Liquid, on Aug. 8th. What was the writing/recording process like? How does it compare thematically to your last album, Planes.
MQ: This album is another evolution of Unbuttoned and you feel a lot more of each member’s energy on this album. With Planes, I had a lot of things that I was uncovering about myself and this album I felt fiercer and more free. I was a lot more unafraid to experiment with pop form and I think that comes through musically and lyrically.
Apong: For me…it was anxiety inducing! it was the most I have pushed myself creatively, I was really trying to be more visible and present this record. definitely cried a lot and was stressed. at the same time, I faced that with courage, and found a lot of liberation. thematically, I think I approached this album with a more aggressive, blunt and candid nature than I have in the past. I didn’t write nearly as much on Planes.
Casey, you’ve had two short films featured at TIFF, along with a feature at Hot Docs. How do you approach composing for film compared to songs for Unbuttoned?
MQ: I think I’m still working to understand how much my composition style differs to my own personal songwriting. But I do think with films there’s an external force that has to be recognized. Whether that’s the story itself or the character, something is giving you inspiration to compose a melody.
You guys created Round 4 Records. Was it a priority for you to be independent when releasing your music when you began the Unbuttoned project?
Apong: It was a priority to get this music and do our thing by any means necessary. in general, I think Casey and I are not really people who wait on others to do things for us, or believe in us. I think a very special part of my relationship with Casey is that we puuushhhhh for things to happen and we are both quite persistent. If we don’t see doors opening the way we want, we make the damn door and open it ourselves. it’s much easier to do that with two heads instead of one.
MQ: And as important as it is to be independent i think we recognize that having a team is super helpful and wonderful to get things moving but for that to be on our terms is an amazing thing.
Tell me about Hummingbird. What was the inspiration behind that initiative? How many people does it help?
Apong: Hummingbird was a brain baby influenced by many things. 1) I loooove community arts and youth mobilizing. 2) We wanted to stay busy while we were in the studio. 3) After performing in NYC a few times and visiting The Village Underground’s open mic, and loooving it, we thought it could be cool to create a similar platform but prioritizing youth (in my other lives, I am a frontline youth worker). we hire young folks to help coordinate, plan and host the events, document it, etc – it’s a community effort.