How Men I Trust Became Canada's Biggest DIY Band
The Quebec band have millions of listeners (including Flying Lotus and Tyler, the Creator) and no proper publicity team
Published Aug 25, 2021Depending on how you look at it, Men I Trust are either totally obscure or very famous. On the one hand, they're a DIY indie band without a publicity team, and they've received little mainstream media coverage; on the other, they headline large venues around North America and, as of press time, attract an impressive 2.7 million monthly listeners on Spotify (to put that number in context: arena rockers Arcade Fire have 3.6 million).
So how did Men I Trust get so popular? Even the members themselves don't seem to have a satisfactory answer. "We're very surprised," admits singer Emmanuelle Proulx during a full-band Zoom call with Exclaim! "When you try to make it as a band, you're like, 'Okay, I need to be featured in that magazine, or do that thing, or go in the mainstream media.' We didn't think it would translate into such faithful fans."
It's not that Men I Trust didn't attempt to follow traditional avenues for success. "Like pretty much all starting artists, we wanted to have a label to take care of everything," remembers Proulx of their early days. "We reached out so much at the beginning, but people weren't commercially interested in it."
They didn't achieve their renown overnight, and they've never had a big viral moment. They first formed in Montreal in 2014 as an electronic duo made up of music school buddies Jessy Caron (bass/guitar) and Dragos Chiriac (keyboards/production). They initially recruited guest singers until one of those contributors, Proulx (who also has a solo project called Bernache), became a full-fledged member in 2016. As for why Proulx joined the group permanently, she says with a self-deprecating smirk, "The thing I had was my availability."
With Proulx on board, Men I Trust shifted into a bleary sound combining the groove-based electro-soul of their early days with hazy dream pop jangle. They attracted the attention of Tyler, the Creator, who personally recruited them for 2018's Camp Flog Gnaw festival, and more recently caught the ear of beatmaker Flying Lotus. "We're supposed to meet him in L.A.," says Proulx of FlyLo. "I put him on the guest list. I hope he's going to come. I'm going to be stressed out."
The band's steady upward trajectory was momentarily interrupted by the pandemic lockdowns of 2020. Stuck at home with their tour dates cancelled, the trio began working on new songs. They initially planned on making an experimental EP, but the longer the lockdowns lasted, the more new songs they wrote. "The EP grew and grew until we had like 16 songs on it," remembers Caron. "So we said, 'Why don't we make an album?'"
Men I Trust largely left behind the album's experimental roots, instead adding lushly layered pop songs into the mix. "We weren't even thinking about being able to play the songs live," admits Chiriac. "Because of the whole lockdown, we [thought] we wouldn't be able to promote it and celebrate it by playing it live. So we wrote songs without having that in mind — more soundscapes and stuff like that."
The result is Untourable Album, released today — an ironically named project, given the fact that the group plan to support it with an extensive North American tour. But even though they are touring after all, Untourable Album is still aptly named, given the way its rich sonic textures will likely be impossible to recreate live. From the backmasked swells of seasick opener "Organon" to the retrofuturist IDM beats and disjointed two-part structure of "5AM Waltz," these 13 tracks are filled with details that sound tailor-made for headphone listening. Even songs that channel the immediacy of 2019's Oncle Jazz album, like "Sugar" and "Always Lone," are fleshed out with full-bodied bass and pillowy, wide-panned synths.
It's yet another high point in Men I Trust's unlikely success story. With so many fans eagerly awaiting Untourable Album, the group could easily surround themselves with any team they wanted. Instead, they're sticking with the in-house approach they've grown accustomed to. "When we finish a song one day, we can release it the day after," says Proulx. "Can you imagine having a label that tells you, 'So we're going to plan the PR and we're going to release your album in a year'? It's impossible for us to picture that now we have so much creative freedom." (The copy of Untourable Album provided to Exclaim! was so new it hadn't yet been mastered.)
Chiriac shares for the band's resolute DIY philosophy: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. "It worked out the way we we did it at the beginning," he reflects. "So we thought, 'Why don't just we continue that way?' It's cool."