The Pack A.D.: The Power Of Positive Negativity

The Pack A.D. transforms a bad year into a great new album

There’s a relentlessly brooding power and bruised melodicism emanating from the Pack A.D.’s sixth full-length, Positive Thinking (Cadence), that belies the album’s cheery self-help title. Drummer Maya Miller admits that she and guitarist Becky Black intended a certain irony in the album’s nomenclature.

“Oh yeah, it’s totally facetious,” says Miller with a laugh. “I’m not going into details, but each of us had our own things going on. It wasn’t the easiest album—not because the ideas weren’t there but because the overall enthusiasm was a little on the wane. We worked harder than ever because we had to get past things that were going on, and we thought it would be nice to think positive. It’s facetiously hopeful, which pretty much sums up our band.”

The Vancouver duo’s hard work included four recording sessions over a year-and-a-half span. Black and Miller decided not to re-up with Nettwerk, their label for 2014’s Do Not Engage, and hadn’t yet negotiated with Cadence, which expressed interest when they left Mint Records after 2011’s Unpersons. Subsequently, they created Positive Thinking without real or imagined label expectations.

“We had no idea who we were going to put this out with,” says Miller. “It was very freeing to be back in that position.”

The lengthy gestation and repeat sessions were new for the Pack A.D., and the result was a dozen tracks that clearly reflect the pair’s rejuvenated perspective.

“We ended up recording 25 songs or something, then narrowed it down to the 12 on the album,” says Miller. “In the past, we wouldn’t even necessarily have lyrics ready when we went in to record, and this time we had everything ready to go. It was definitely a more thought-out experience.”

The Pack A.D. has always been foundationally blues based, with a detour into poppier territory on Do Not Engage. Over the past few albums, though, the band actively shifted toward psych rock, a major thread in the fabric of Positive Thinking.

“Becky’s a huge fan of ’60s and ’70s psych, which works well for us,” says Miller. “It’s a little more jammy, but on this album we brought back a blues stomper, ‘Los Angeles,’ that could have turned up on our second album, Funeral Mixtapes. We’re just still trying to play the dirty game of rock ’n’ roll.”

Rather than scouting studio space and spending time in transit, Black and Miller remained in Vancouver and invited longtime engineer Jesse Gander to produce. “Once we like someone, we’re loath to change,” she says.

As Miller notes, the prime motivation was to fashion music they could honestly and easily recreate onstage: “With two people, you can add bells and whistles and then decide, ‘Do we hire people to fulfill those things or do we do it differently live?’ You have choices when you add little things. Is this the album where we become the Black Keys? In some ways, it’s extremely freeing to be a two-piece, but you have so many choices, sometimes you’re stymied to pick one.”

With just three people involved in the studio, the atmosphere could have been a bit claustrophobic on Positive Thinking, but Miller insists that close quarters have always worked for the Pack A.D.

“There’s only two of us, so that’s a very comfortable place to be, that trapped-with-one-other-person feeling,” she says. “It’s good that we can talk and not talk and still have things to not talk about for hours.”

—Brian Baker