Music _ Digits
Text by Shanna Keetelaar
After collaborating with various indie rock bands, Toronto native Alt Newton branched out on his own in 2009 under the name Digits. His latest project, In the City of the Dead, releases fragments of a story through individual songs and texts, which are then posted across a series of blogs. His latest track “Love Is Only Affection,” off his new EP Love Affection, leaves us questioning the nature of infatuation and lust. Not only is the song catchy, but the Seth Mendelson video is definitely one to watch.
NOU: How did you come up with the novel concept you used for In the City of the Dead?
ALT: I came up with the idea for the album by trying to write Digits songs in a John Carpenter universe. That’s when I wrote “Street Violence,” a story about a man afraid to leave his house because of the threat of fascist gang violence. I really liked that track and thought there was more of a story to be told there, so I wrote more songs about this man. Once I had a little bit of each song written, I decided to release them one at a time as I finished writing and recording them. The idea of having to do things quickly and not having time to perfect anything appealed to me; it gave me permission to not feel bad about creating a bad song. Originally, I hadn’t planned on having written chapters accompanying the songs, but after writing the prologue, it seemed like a fun idea. As for releasing each one on a different blog…I liked the idea of making an internet story-album.
NOU: For this project, is the storytelling more important than the music, or vice versa?
ALT: In this case the story provided constraints for the music. Limits can be very useful in songwriting, but it’s also true that in some cases the songs end up sub-par because they had to serve the story.
NOU: Your latest track is called “Love Is Only Affection.” Do you really think that way about love?
ALT: Partly I do. Perhaps it’s wrong to say only affection; I think affection is great. I do think that the idea of love is dangerous in the sense that people often chase an idealized version of romance and are disappointed to discover that it doesn’t exist. And its true that sometimes you can lose yourself in loving someone else, and that can be a bad thing. Yes, love will let you down.
NOU: Who have been some great inspirations for you?
ALT: To name a few: Junior Boys, Of Montreal, Bruce Haack and Caribou.
NOU: You had played in different bands before you started releasing under the name Digits. Why did you choose to go solo?
ALT: First I was in The Ghost is Dancing, an indie rock band. I really enjoyed it, but I just wasn’t very good at writing in that style. My other band Europe in Colour was stylistically similar to Digits, but everyone had other careers to pursue, and we couldn’t spend as much time on music as I would have liked. I went solo at first simply as an experiment, but found that I liked it. But I also have another band now, a duo with Lesley Davies called Bad Passion, and we’re still working together. We have a new record coming out called the Harrison Ford EP, with each of the tracks being about Harrison Ford films.
NOU: Which has been the biggest challenge that you have had to overcome since going solo?
ALT: Performing live on stage by myself for the first time was a terrifying experience. It’s gotten easier, but it’s taken many, many shows to begin feeling comfortable on stage without anyone else up there to support me.
NOU: What can we expect from Only Affection?
In the City of the Dead was a pretty aggressive and scary album, while Only Affection is a return to making sad electropop. There are three new songs on it, as well as a new recording of a song I first released on my first album Hold it Close. All of the songs are about idealizing love in some way.
NOU: For your earlier album Where Do You Belong you used an experimental distribution model in which customers send proof of purchase of other artists’ music, and with that your music could be downloaded for free. How has this worked out for you?
ALT: It’s worked well! And yes it will be the same for Only Affection. The public seems to have really liked it; it made sense to them. Few customers can afford to buy all the music they like, and it doesn’t make sense to require people to buy every thing they listen to. But supporting recorded music by buying some albums is very important. Buying an album every two months is good enough for me, and I don’t think it hurts anybody to have the rest for free.
NOU: Of which bands were you fan when you were younger?
ALT: My favourite bands when I was growing up were Nirvana, Sloan, and Eric’s Trip.
NOU: What is your all-time favourite track?
ALT: My current favourite is “O Superman” by Laurie Anderson.