No Fame - No Fortune - Just Music:
An Interview With Nick Sewell Of Biblical
When the band name BIBLICAL is mentioned, there’s only a select few that know them despite having an enviable resume on the Canadian music scene since 2010. After running into Nick Sewell, formerly of Toronto heavyweight bands Tchort and The Illuminati, I asked him what he's been up to lately. He quickly got me up to speed and said, “Check out BIBLICAL, we're about to head out on tour with Death From Above 1979.” When I heard this I was certain Sewell once again had something killer on the go, so I did some research.
After checking out some links online and taking a good listen to their tracks I was immediately hooked on the band’s addictive brand of hard rock. BIBLICAL creates mammoth electricity with their songs and heavy hitting sound, leaving you hanging on every note. As the bio suggests, “BIBLICAL is the sound of mountains splitting and oceans parting.” I entirely agree with this statement. BIBLICAL is the perfect combination of retro and modern hard rock; they throw down HEAVY stoner metal jams and strategically weave them together with slower and powerful arrangements that command depth and respect. This band is certainly NOT one-dimensional or predictable; they surprise you at every turn as you make your way through their repertoire. While checking out their album Monsoon Season, I immediately fell in love with the opening track “Second Sight,” a tune that opens with stadium-sized drums and trippy distorted guitars that get you thinking of Soundgarden and Faith No More. When comparing “Second Sight” to the epic closer, Monsoon Season, you hear the dynamic range of the music as it would have more Pink Floyd similarities, giving you a sense of the sonic journey BIBLICAL will take you on.
In a recent phone interview with Sewell, we ran through the evolution of the band and how they arrived where they are today. It all started in the Tchort days back in the late 90s while Sewell was still teamed up with Les Godfrey. Tchort disbanded to eventually form The Illuminati, a retro hard rock band where the boys would cut their teeth on a pro level of recording, touring and partying. After a five-year run with The Illuminati, they disbanded and Sewell eventually became friends with Sebastien Grainger of Death From Above 1979 from connections through a shared booking agent. With DFA on a break back in 2007, Sewell joined Sebastien with his solo project Sebastien Grainger and the Mountains and eventually did some local shows and tours of North America and Europe. After a stint with Grainger, DFA 1979 had to get back to work leaving Sewell without a band. Eventually he and some buddies started jamming for fun with no set goals in mind. After a few months, some very solid material started taking shape that eventually led to forming the almighty BIBLICAL.
Continuing the conversation with Sewell, I inquired about the new video for the song “Quiet Crooks,” a stunning MUST SEE video that is more of a short horror film then a typical music video. With an old world location as the backdrop, I asked if the video was shot in Montreal and he answered "No dude, we shot it in Rome, Italy. We applied for a grant, and got it." This just added to the mystique and credibility of the video. Sean Wainsteim, a man with a diverse and decorated résumé who has a long list of documentary and commercial work to his credit, directed the video with technical and visionary perfection. Wainsteim was carefully chosen to embark on the ambitious project and pay proper tribute to legendary Italian horror film director Dario Argento. The video has an eerie look and feel, featuring a stunning Italian female actress who possesses what seems to be witchcraft powers and who claims several victims during the course of the story. I was curious why the band was not featured in the video for a single frame; Nick calmly answered, "being aversely proportional to my own screen time, I feel I can now enjoy the video for the rest of my life.”
With Nick's humbleness, it's no mystery why this band is just slightly under the radar and perhaps that's how they like it. Nick does not seem like a guy who's desperate for attention, but rather creating music for the love of it and to accomplish things that other bands may have not yet done on a creative level. The hunger for fame and fortune seems lost on the band, giving them more time to continue honing their craft on a first-rate level. It’s just a matter of time before BIBLICAL becomes a common name on the music scene; between their outstanding music, videos, and promotional artwork, and everything that is BIBLICAL, it would be criminal for them not to reach a much larger audience very soon. For fans of progressive hard rock and stoner metal, BIBLICAL is a must and I urge you to check them out immediately.
BIBLICAL is currently on a U.S. tour with Death From Above 1979. Tour dates can be found HERE.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
Chemistry Between Elephants:
An Interview With Rishi Dihr Of Elephant Stone
The last time we caught up with Rishi Dhir of Elephant Stone, he was on tour with The Black Angels, supporting his band's first, full-length, self-titled album. Since then, the band has completed two European tours and three North American tours. They contributed a track to a Doors tribute record, and wrote and recorded a brand new album, The Three Poisons. Without a doubt, this is a band who doesn't know how to sit still, and we are much better for it.
Dhir’s first record was more of a solo project. He left his old band The High Dials and started writing some songs for himself. The momentum wasn't there and it took a long time for the first album to take life. "Those songs were in my head my whole life, and finally they were out", Dhir explained. The second record was different. He knew where he wanted to go musically and so he gave himself two weeks to write all the material. Once that was finished, the band went into the studio and recorded all the songs live.
He explains that for The Three Poisons, the process was different. "We were touring so much, and playing the same songs was getting very stale for us. I decided that after the last North American tour, I was going to take some time and write some new songs. I demoed about twenty-five songs over a span of three weeks, and I sent the demos to the band. We discussed it and narrowed it down to some ten or eleven we really liked". He added that the band didn't really have a chance to rehearse the songs in the proper sense. "We were trying to figure out what those songs were. We went into the studio and had the luxury of recording at our own label's record studio. We did not have to pay for the studio time, just our great engineer Peter Edward.”
The band spent nearly two months in the studio. Part of the reason for the delay was that everyone in the band has full-time day jobs. They worked on the album at night and on weekends. "It was very relaxing in many ways", Dhir noted. The band worked on a song-by-song basis. At first they would record bass, then drums, and would redo anything that was needed at a later time. "We really took our time with this record. It is a complete studio album.”
The process was completely opposite of their previous effort. "We used as much studio trickery as we could," Dhir joked. "We played Austin Psych Fest and our publicist thought it was a great idea to play the whole record live. We only had a week to learn the record. I don't know how well the show went off (laughs). We were pretty stressed, but I think people appreciated the fact that it was pretty different."
A Poisoned Theme
Thematically the record is the deepest endeavour Elephant Stone has undertaken. Lyrically, Dhir seems to be writing from the same place, but the album title is an indication of his deep respect for Buddhism and their philosophy. "I was dabbling in the Tibetan Book of the Dead and came upon the idea of the three poisons, represented by a snake, a bird, and a pig. It is the Buddhist cycle of life. The bird represents attachment. The snake represents anger, and the pig represents ignorance." Dhir saw a connection between what he was writing and what the three poisons represented. "My lyrics are very personal. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I am never hiding anything. Music has always (been) about the listener, and how they interpret it and how it becomes something else. This is simply my view of the world. I have always done this and will continue to do so. . . I don't really understand the world I live in. My songs are a way to try to figure out what is happening without really being able to tell what is happening".
The World at War
We continued talking about the world and what a beautiful and hateful place it can be. Dhir shared that he was hit really hard by the conflict going on in Syria. "I read about all the children that were being displaced and that really affected me. Its funny; it comes in waves. It can hit me really hard and I get to a breaking point becoming numb again. Then I start feeling again. There is so much wrong with the world and I don't really understand why we do the things that we do. I sometimes get caught up in my own life and I tune the world out. There is always something though. We now have ISIS. It is all overwhelming. If you look closely at our record, these are indeed the three poisons that bind us to this violent human existence."
Musicians will always be in a deep relationship with their fans and Elephant Stone has a small but a loyal and steadily-growing fan base that spans many continents. It seems that music lovers are music lovers, but is there a difference between fans in North America, and those in other parts of the world? "The biggest difference is that Europe treats music and art as a real profession. They really respect it. When we tour North America I get the sense that people just look at us as another band. Maybe that is the same case with the fans, but I have a sense that maybe there is something more going on with our fans in Europe. I don't know. There is no evidence, it is just a sense I have. I really don't want to make a generalization like that but. . . people are different wherever you go and people are the same wherever you go. I am interpreting it through my own experience and that makes it cloudy."
I was also curious to know if Dhir had much of a chance to interact with his fans.
He remembers growing up and being a big music fan himself. He recalls vivid memories of going to shows and trying to meet the bands. He was conscious of the often-true adage that you should never meet your idols because they might leave you devastated. There are exceptions to every rule. "I remember when I met The Afghan Wigs. I was sixteen years old and it was the most wonderful experience. They didn't speak down to me because I was young, but spoke to me at their level. I know that when I meet people who appreciate our music, I am very grateful, because it means that I am connecting with them.”
Social Media is an important part of being in a band. The days of propaganda machines and big record companies have grinded to a halt. Dhir has a mixed reaction to Twitter and Facebook. "Music is so disposable these days. There are so many bands (out there), and people now want to feel like they can connect with the artists they love. I remember when I started doing Twitter and Facebook it didn't feel natural to me. You are kind of exposing yourself, but as life goes on, your perspective changes. I don't have many free hours in my life, but I do handle all the social media duties personally. When people write me, I reply. I certainly make the effort. I know that when someone writes something about us, it means that they are supporting us. There is a lot of value in that. They are going out of their way to tell their friends. I don't treat people as a business, but instead I see it as part of my life."
Work and Family
Elephant Stone is a hard-working band, yet they continue to hold down nine-to-five desk jobs. Dhiri is a technical writer. Guitarist and vocalist Gab Lambert works at a bike shop. Miles Dupire is a phenomenal drummer and fields a lot of requests as a session musician. "Miles is going to school as well, but he is taking his sweet time finishing up", Dhir noted with a laugh.
Work is a necessity. Music is a passion. Family, however, is the number one priority for Dhir. He started dating his now-wife when they were nineteen, and have been together now for seventeen. "She has been with me throughout everything, and she is always extremely supportive. As much as I can, I try to involve my family in everything that I do. On the first two records, my wife sang, and when I am working on music, my daughter (who is unbelievably musical), often interrupts. When I am working on a song, and signing a melody, she comes in unannounced. She doesn't sing along, but begins to compete with me by singing a different melody, but it sounds unbelievable. She even forces me to record her songs. I try not to separate anything when it comes to work and family, which may or many not be bad, but it is certainly a balancing act." Dhir works his day job, and when he comes home he plays with his kids and goes through the bedtime routine. Instead of unwinding, he heads to a rehearsal or to a recording session. "I don't get to see my family when I am touring, and touring is certainly not a holiday. It makes everything hard. I am in a great band, but I am also working on the road to pay bills. My whole life has always been like this. I must be a great multitasker."
Musicality and Chemistry
Listening to the new record or taking a glance at the self-titled album reveals a tremendous bond and chemistry between Dhir and Lambert. Dhir explained it has been a long road to find this intangible harmony. He started the band in 2007 and Lambert joined the evolving lineup in 2010. Iit wasn't until he (Lambert) came into the band did things begin to gel. He is completely unpretentious. He is probably the best guitar player I have ever met, and that is a great gift. I was in many bands before where there is an ego that always seems to get in the way. With Elephant Stone, I have made a conscious effort that when the ego comes out, I get rid of it before it can affect the band," Dhir recalled.
Creating music with other talented individuals no longer felt like a solo project. All members of Elephant Stone are huge music fans. "At a certain point in your life, you have a sense that there is no more new music to discover. I thought I left that all behind in my twenties. I didn't think that in my mid thirties I would be growing and developing musically like this and really have a partner who I can create with. Gab and I are on the same level. I trust him and I trust his intuition and ideas. There is something special here. On a side note, let me say that since Miles (Dupire, drums and backing vocals) joined our band in 2012, it happened again with him. The three of us have this unspoken musical understanding. It is very refreshing."
I have always been fascinated with the relationships musicians forge with the musical industry and what they think of those relationships. When Dhir started Elephant Stone, no label was interested, so out of necessity he started his own label and used it for all the early releases, and things have naturally grown and evolved. Dhir met Mike Renaud of Pony Records through a mutual friend, and was impressed that he had some great bands on his label. "I sent Mike one of our demos. I think it was Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin, and he loved it. Truth be known, I am very focused and determined. Even when we had nothing I was sending the band to Iceland and we did several European tours, even though we had no backing of any kind. When Mike came to me with Pony, he came on as a manager and a label. He brought his whole team with him and helped to get my musical house in order. It feels so good to have someone who is championing the band. I can focus so much more on the art instead of the business. To be honest though, I do enjoy the business side. Our deal with Pony Records is a long-term agreement. It is an independent label. Mike still has to work another job and he runs the label because he believes in it and loves it. That is exactly what you want. You don't want some guy who sits on top of a huge high-rise, making decisions (about us). That never favours the artist."
Elephant Stone is currently on a European tour and working hard on another Mid-West-Canada tour. This should keep them busy for a while. I strongly encourage you to go out and listen to The Three Poisons because the band is already planning and working on recording in the new year. In the meantime they are coming to Toronto on Nov. 21 to the Silver Dollar Room. Please make an effort and support them. Come see the chemistry between Dhir and Lambert and experience the psychedelic rock they have to offer.
– Greg Kieszkowski (Twitter @GregK72)
Portuguese Sound System In Effect:
An Interview With Buraka Som Sistema
Buraka Som Sistema, whose finale of a whistlestop European tour was at London's world famous gay nightclub 'Heaven' last week, won the BEFFTA International Entertainment Icons awards on 25 October.
The Portuguese five-member group only found out about their nomination as they jetted out of England back to Lisbon.
Andro Carvalho, nicknamed the 'Conductor', enthused about winning the international BEFFTA (Black Entertainment Film Fashion Television and Arts) award: “We can't believe that we achieved such global recognition, we weren't expecting this from London! It's brilliant news and means we'll be back in Portugal smiling about this as well as reflecting on our successful seven country tour.”
João Barbosa, known as 'Branko', added: “We are honoured to collect an award, especially as we didn't even know we were nominated until after the London gig.”
Rui Pité, called on stage 'DJ Riot', said: “It's great to be recognised for our highly danceable rhythms, and helps us focus on the future to bring more exciting new rhythms.”
Kalaf Ângelo, whose frenzied moves during live performances always excites the enthusiastic crowds, explained: “It's really fantastic news on this award. We are all about dance music and culture, so taking it to the global audience is fabulous – thanks people for voting for us.”
And singer Blaya, who launched her solo career in 2013 and is the only female in the group, admitted: “I'm not from the original line-up but this project is about five creative individuals on our personal journey through music, so it’s incredible to win an international award. Thanks people, I love you all for this recognition.”
And Buraka Som Sistema, who kicked off their project in 2006 by bringing the world their unique genre of Angolan techno and electro beats called kuduro, toured this month – Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Copenhagen, Lisbon, London and Paris – to promote their latest and fourth album 'From Buraka to the World'.
Their gig at London's 'Heaven' started with a quiet intro before they upped the tempo with their usual electrifying fast-paced performances that encouraged the crowd to start dancing.
But the well-known tune of 'Wegue Wegue (Kalemba)' was the high point of the evening, with the sweat-drenched audience helping the familiar song become a real spectacle of the show.
Branko explained: “It is not about introducing our kuduro music anymore. And it’s not about looking back but about dance music and culture, we enjoy seeing people relate to our music.”
The 'Conductor', a hip-hop producer from Angola and former member of the hip-hop band Conjunto Ngonguenha, gave an exclusive interview in the heart of London.
The producer and MC said: “It's great having Blaya on vocals for our unique genre because she gets our sound and fits in nicely. Although she's the third female to be part of the set up, the other two were personal friends of mine who were guest vocals, she's actually the first to part of the band on a permanent basis.
“Although she's from Lisbon she has Brazilian parents so she has that natural rhythm, which is why she has started to carve out a part-time solo career singing in English on top of being in the band.
“We've played at Brazil a couple of times, but that's a tough nut to crack with our music. Brazilian music is conservative and in reality there are only two or three generations of music in the country.
“Being half Cuban I'm focused on the world of music in Latin America, for example we are very popular in Mexico. At the end of the day we would like to expand but we haven't tried the Caribbean market yet although we did have Jamaica's Terry Lynn collaborate on vocals for our latest album.
“And we have known and worked with Diplo, the American DJ behind the Jamaican-influenced group Major Lazer, so could always make enquiries when we are ready.
“We find a mix of using Portuguese and English lyrics as the easiest way to communicate with our fans, so that there is no barrier musically, and will continue to be organised in delivering music to fans.
“This month's tour was to promote our new album, which went worldwide in September, and educate a new audience. But we took so long to bring out our fourth album because it was cleverly controlled by our management and we needed it to happen after the importance of touring for 18 months to new audiences and fans who love club music.
“Although our sales have been great in Portugal and Spain we don't measure our success just on album sales. We've been busy performing all over the place and embrace being in incredible places with amazing audiences like Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Japan.
“And in reality nowadays music is not about sales but how popular videos are on YouTube, so we are trying to make people aware of our kuduro music. We know that our music cuts across all nations and languages with our unique sound.
“It's great being back here in London, we've done all the sightseeing before but this was our first time at 'Heaven', as we cancelled the gig there in 2011. However, we played at 'Fabric' a couple of times in London as well as festivals in England where the audience were almost as energetic as us!
“Our fast-paced kuduro music is now a legacy, especially with this BEFFTA award. And success to the band is about us all enjoying seeing the people and showing them that kuduro music exists.
“My message to the public is that we produce amazing music and that it should be in people's lives.”
Buraka Som Sistema have plans to keep producing their high tempo sound but are researching adding new genres and rhythms into their next set of tunes. The band have booked a studio in Angola at the beginning of November to start work on their fifth album, which is set to be released at the end of 2015.
But for anyone who can't wait for new material, or hasn't been treated to the sounds and incredible live performances from Buraka Som Sistema, then they may want to take in the kings of kuduro's gig on 15 December at the Lisbon Casino as one of the nine free Monday nights of live music in the Portuguese capital's 'Arena Live Concert 2014' project.
– Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rüdd (Facebook@neilmonticelli.harleyrudd) & Yasmine Khera (Photos by Irena Vondrasova)
Sweaty, High-Energy Fun:
An Interview With City Of The Weak
Consider it a sign of the times – modern rock band City of the Weak found their band through a text message conversation. As Stef (vocals) explains it, “A former member and I were texting each other trying to decide between 'Conquer the City' and ‘Day of the Weak’. I got a text back combining them that said ‘City of the Weak’ and we all were like, ‘That's it’."
City of The Weak (COTW) is a young band with some serious sound. Stef (“with an F”) says she founded the band after she moved from Montana to Minneapolis. “I moved specifically to start a band, and started attending McNally Smith College of Music in late 2011. I jammed with different groups of people at the school, stuck with what I had, and rotated our lineup when needed. The majority of our current members went to McNally for a short period of time, but half of them didn't join the band until after they dropped out [of McNally].” Joining Stef is Jackson Weyrauch (backup vocals/guitar), Brent Lindblad (guitar), and Cody Hoffman (bass). While the members are all inspired by hard rock bands such as Metallica, Pantera, Alice in Chains, Mastodon, and Rammstein, COTW is able to combine a modern rock n’ roll overtone with catchy pop melodies, rhythmic riffs and moving bass lines.
These energetic Minneapolis-based rockers haven’t slowed down since the release of their five-song sophomore EP Disclosure in April 2014. It has already received radio play, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing, a lot of work went into just naming the album. As Stef tells me, “We juggled with the concept of the entire album. Eventually, we settled on the theme from our song "Mannerisms", which is illustrated by the happy family on the front cover of the record, and the abusive behind-the-scenes shot on the back. Disclosure means to reveal something and make it known. That was the point of the whole concept, bringing hidden abuse to the light. It also doubles over to our whole concept as a band right now, we are slowly gaining popularity, and we as a band are starting to reveal to the world exactly what we are capable of.” Cody agreed, and added: “Disclosure is about exposing the truth and revealing what goes unsaid behind closed doors.” As I myself have absolutely zero musical ability, I am always fascinated by artists’ creative processes. I asked COTW about theirs, along with what inspires them as they start a new album. Brent likes sitting in his room and jamming. “I just play aimlessly until something really stands out to me, then I toy with that idea and present it at rehearsal. From there we all just bounce our ideas off each other and see what happens. The best stuff to me, is the stuff that just naturally comes together, I don't like to force anything.” Jackson says it’s entirely a team effort. “Our creative process is a lot of bouncing ideas back and forth, and we improvise until we find something that catches our ears. We generally won't leave until we find something we want to develop.”
COTW is currently headlining a tour of the Midwest, with a stop at Reggie’s in Chicago on September 2nd. They took some time out of their busy tour schedule to tell me more about the band, and what they were looking forward to as they head towards my hometown. The interview was refreshingly fun, COTW are still in the very excited/humble phase, starting to gain exposure and enjoying every minute of it. Just don’t remind Stef that she’s been compared to Paramore.
“Every female fronted band EVER gets compared to Paramore. Just go on YouTube and read the comments section on videos. It's a total bandwagon thing. 'You're a girl in a band? Oh, so you're like Paramore!' Even bands that are not even close to their genre get compared to them… it's ridiculous. I've had independent labels tell me that City of the Weak can't go anywhere because Paramore has a domination on the whole market of female fronted bands. Like, excuse me? There are thousands of huge bands out there with male vocalists that sound exactly alike, and you're trying to shut down a whole market because of ONE girl in ONE band? That sounds extremely sexist to me.” I love when people have strong opinions and are not afraid to share them. I got a bit nervous for Jackson, however, when I asked the band members whom THEY would compare themselves to and he answered, “I guess I personally would compare ourselves to Paramore in a way, but I think we have a heavier sound.”
While they have outside interests, and a couple COTW members have other jobs, they are almost entirely dedicated to their craft and this band. Already in 2014, City of the Weak has done tours around the Midwest with Stitched Up Heart, played a few stops as a special guest on the Vans Warped Tour and is currently on another Midwest tour. This focus has not gone without rewards. Early this year, City of the Weak recorded for placement on The Food Channel’s popular show Restaurant: Impossible, and ESPN used a song for NFL Total Access. This placement came as a total (welcomed) surprise to the band. “The ESPN placement we had no clue about until we got a check. We were like, 'What is this for?' and no one knew. Eric [COTW’s producer] looked it up in the system and sure enough, one of our songs was used for NFL Total Access,” Stef says. Hearing their music on TV was almost an overwhelming experience for Jackson. “Words can't explain it: hearing your artwork, knowing hundreds of thousands of people are subconsciously listening to your own art is truly a great feeling.” Nodding, Brent added, “It was surreal, definitely a milestone. It was literally a dream come true.”
Always wanting others to share in the love I have for my hometown of Chicago, I asked the band what they were most excited about, as they head towards my city for their September 2nd show at Reggies. This will be their ninth show in Chicago and they are quickly gathering more fans with each visit. “I really want to hit up the Chicago Diner,” Stef shared. “I heard they have tons of awesome vegan food. Also I would love to go back to the Alley. It's this awesome costume/clothing/novelty shop that's pretty much a ginormous Hot Topic.” Cody sounded like a true local, thinking about having a bit of time to spend in the city. He is looking forward to being able to “grab a slice (or half) of a pizza and just walking around and exploring. I’ll probably stop at The Alley and grab some cool clothes! Besides that I just want to meet as many fans as possible.”
What can fans coming to the Chicago show expect? According to Stef, they can expect a “top-notch” performance and crowd participation. “Everyone better study up on their COTW lyrics in case I put a mic in your face.” Brent gives Chicago fans a bit of a warning: “Prepare for some sweaty, high-energy fun. We like to rock out hard and get crazy with our fans. No one leaves dry.”
You can find out more about the band, and see if they are playing YOUR city by checking out their website: http://cityoftheweak.wordpress.com/shows
If you are looking to check out City of The Weak’s music, head over to their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/CityoftheWeak
– Lucy Rendler-Kaplan (Twitter @lucyrk78)
An Interview With Naoko Yamano Of Shonen Knife
After my interview with Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls, he mentioned to me that his record label, Good Charamel Records, has a signed artist that would also be in Chicago soon. He introduced me to an all-female band from Osaka named Shonen Knife saying, “Shonen Knife is one of the hardest working, passionate bands I've ever known. I'm very proud to be part of their legacy here in the U.S." The band was formed in 1981 by sisters Naoko (lead vocals/guitar) and Atsuko Yamano. Singer Michie Nakatani joined and they released their first album, Burning Farm. Atsuko and Nakatani left the band eventually and Emi Morimoto replaced them. I inquired how the name Shonen Knife came to be. Naoko explained, “Shonen Knife is an old brand name of a pencil knife. When I saw this knife, I was impressed by the name. Shonen means ‘boy’ in Japanese. The images of the words are boy equals cute and knife equals dangerous. When cute and dangerous are combined together, it’s the image of our music.” The band was one of the first all-female bands from Osaka. That was not a concern for Naoko however, “I just wanted to form a band with people who have been my friends before. I’m shy and I didn’t want to start a band with strangers. As a result, I formed an all-female band.”
Ten years after founding the band and gaining international recognition, they were approached by a man who asked if they would open for his band. While the girls had no idea who the man was, you might – his name is Kurt Cobain, and the Shonen Knife joined Nirvana on a UK tour.
Shonen Knife has recently released Overdrive, their twentieth full-length album. Each album Shonen Knife delivers conveys a theme. “Our previous albums, Free Time is a punk album, Pop Tune is a pop album. Now it’s time for ‘70s rock,” Naoko explains. Overdrive offers 10 tracks that seamlessly combine punk rock’s edgy guitar riffs with psychedelic ‘70s-esque enchanting nostalgia. The songs are simple, at times whimsical, and perhaps their best album to date. “Dance to the Rock” is my favourite song on the album – the lyrics are simple enough to have you singing along before the song is even finished and the sound forced me to stand up and move. “Green Tea” is bass-heavy, lyrical and most reminiscent of The Ramones, who the band credits with influencing much of their music. Despite its name, “Bad Luck Song” is sunny and uplifting. This album, though full of gritty hard rock, contains the same elements Shonen Knife fans have grown to appreciate and be amused by - particularly in mentions of Naoko’s daily life: shopping, noodles, green tea ice cream, dancing, cats and fortune cookies. I asked where the emphasis for the food came from. Naoko went on to say, “Japanese people like food and create many ways of cooking. People in Osaka especially love to eat delicious food. There are tons of delicious, reasonable restaurant streets in Osaka. I hope you can visit. I also don’t want to write about love because it’s too common for lyrics.”
Always interested in what inspires people, I asked about Naoko’s creative process. She shared, “I don’t listen to certain music for inspiration. I just listen to my favorite music at the time. I’m lazy and I can’t keep writing songs during my daily life. I usually start writing songs after we book the recording studios. I pick up a topic and expand it for lyrics size. I put a melody line on it playing the guitar. Then I fix the lyrics for going well with the music.”
As Shonen Knife will soon be playing a show in my hometown, I wondered what I could look forward to. Naoko told me, “Our purpose is to play music that makes people happy. We’d like to play enjoyable, fun shows. Wearing our new costumes, we’ll play some songs from our new album Overdrive and also from our best hits. Let’s have fun!”
I have no doubt that I will.
– Lucy Rendler-Kaplan (Twitter @lucyrk78)
An Interview With Ian Thornley
Just prior to the release of Big Wreck's latest full-length album, Ghosts, I had a rare invitation for an interview with lead man Ian Thornley at his downtown Toronto home. Having been a huge fan since the early days of BW’s first hit singles “The Oaf” and “That Song” from back in the ‘90s, I was honoured to be taking on this assignment. As I rolled up to his house, the humble and down-to-earth Thornley invited me in and poured me a cup of jet-black coffee in a Lynyrd Skynyrd mug which sparked some laughter and immediately broke the ice as we settled in. We made our way to his basement studio for a one-on-one conversation and an in-depth look at their killer new album.
After several listens to Ghosts, I was floored with the overall package. The tracks are polished, tight and fresh with endless licks and tricks keeping not only their general audience satisfied, but also keeping their music-nerd fans fully engaged. The overall feel of Ghosts is very similar to their previous album Albatross, an album full of striking tunes that stick with you. With this in mind, I asked Thornley about the creative process on their last two albums and why they have a very similar feel to their first breakout album In Loving Memory. Thornley went on to explain: “Back when we made the first record, the songs were just demos and we were having fun recording them. Then a major label heard them and loved the songs so much they decided to release them. Back then we had complete creative control and there was nobody getting in the way of the recording process, and that’s how we’re doing things now.” With that said, it was clear after the release of their second album, The Pleasure and the Greed, that the entire writing and recording process was forced, and much less in their hands, creating band tension and giving them a huge album with no real direction. Thornley confirmed the truth behind this statement and that the band was never satisfied with the end result, which in turn, led the band to an early breakup. The band is now finally back on the right path 13 years later with no real pressure to do what others want.
As per the usual Big Wreck script, the songwriting on Ghosts is huge, well calculated yet not contrived. You can hear that they are not trying to push an unrealistic number of hit singles, but instead create an album that flows.
A curious part of the production was the decision for the drum sound on songs like “A Place to Call Home”, “Ghosts” and “Friends” among a couple of others. The band decided on having two drum setups: the Bonzo setup, which delivered a HUGE sound with a 26-inch kick drum and a wide open presence, hence the name Bonzo giving a nod to John Bonham. For the alternate retro drum setup, Thornley tells me, “We removed all bottom skins, covered the drums with t-shirts and cloths to give it that flat ‘70s sound. I’m actually still waiting to get my t-shirt back which he used on the snare,” as he laughs.
As for Thornley's playing on the album, I asked him about the blistering guitar solos and why he decided not to be shy on that end. He went on to say, "I love that stuff, I just try NOT to make it too 'show-offy'. I'll throw down some big runs but keep it tasteful and tactful so I'm not overdoing it.” With their last two albums, it’s clear that Big Wreck have officially revived shred and made it cool again. It's been dead for over two decades but Thornley no longer cares about all the trends, he's finally making the music that HE likes and wants to hear, and let’s face it, he has more than earned that right. This is definitely a refreshing thing to hear in today’s market, where most bands dress down and don't shower to fit in and be COOL.
With Big Wreck now clearly on the right career path, there seems to be no stopping them. Ian Thornley is more motivated than ever to take the BW name to a global level and get back on track from their somewhat derailed early years. They certainly have skills to capture a global audience, let's just hope they fulfill their mission and can continue delivering killer tracks for many years to come.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
I'm Facing The Wind And Letting The Ghosts Fill The Sail:
An Interview With Jay Malinowski
"The ocean is freedom, solitude and hope for change but it is also a treacherous place of destruction."
Jay Malinowski wrote this in a blog post explaining the inspiration for his latest project, Martel by Jay Malinowski & The Deadcoast. For someone who grew up in Vancouver around the Pacific Ocean and has family roots in Cape Breton on the Atlantic Ocean, Malinowski knows a lot about oceans and how they affect a person.
That fascination with oceans, the people who sail them and the way they shape you as a person is part of what drove Malinowski to create the 18-song concept album Martel and the companion novella, Skulls & Bones (Letters From A Sailor To A Long Lost Granddaughter), based on his ancestor Charles Martel and the seafaring Martels who came after him.
Malinowski started the Deadcoast project when he was still living in Toronto. His grandfather had passed away years before that, leaving books filled with family stories, maps and charts, and he was really interested in “why we become who we become and all the things that go along with that.”
“It's a philosophical question: are we natured or nurtured?” he says. “It came back to playing in a band, and there was always something else, something on the next horizon, and I was always trying to get away, and life on the road was a good fit for that. I found there were similar themes coming back to me, and I found there were a lot of similarities with the stories my grandfather left.”
That was the galvanizing point for the Deadcoast.
“I found myself back in Vancouver and it was a cyclical thing, and I was looking back,” says Malinowski. “I really related to the idea of sailors — it relates to being in a band. When you are always on the road, you leave things behind when you leave that port of call, so to speak. Although the profession was different, the reality was similar. I was searching for answers.”
Malinowski found those answers in the story of his Huguenot ancestor Charles Martel, who narrowly escaped from France to the new world in the 1700s. He fought with General Wolfe at the battle of Louisbourg in 1758 and was given land along the coast of Cape Breton, which is where he settled and where his bones now rest. While in France, Martel saw his mother beheaded in Lyon for her religious convictions.
"Charles Martel was very interesting," says Malinowski. "He came from somewhere very different and found himself in very violent situations. He found himself in a new world that was very different … he survived, and I found that survival instinct very fascinating."
Musically, Malinowski he wanted to get away from what he had been doing before with this project.
"I looked at a lot of the things I had done and felt music had become a Ponzi scheme," he says. "It didn't seem to have much point except to be successful, which isn't why I did it. It's about sitting at the end of your bed and writing what you feel … and you get this feeling of fullness if someone else relates to it, even if it's just one person."
A friend gave Malinowski a book called Sailing Alone Around The World that he had found on Denman Island. The author, Joshua Slocum, was a sailor and he had written the book at a time when steamships came in and were replacing sailboats.
"He started just doing things for the sake of doing them," says Malinowski. "I really found it inspiring. With the Martel record, I thought 'I don't know who it is for.' It was just creating a story for the sake of doing it. I remember someone saying, 'Why are you telling this story?' and I said 'just for the sake of telling it.' I had to keep that in mind throughout the process. The main point was trying to get Martel around the world and how do you make that happen? It was really a cool process musically because there are so many differing elements on the album that are so disparate, and trying to pull those together, that was our only goal."
Malinowksi connected with Vancouver-based string and vocal trio The End Tree when he returned to the West Coast. When Malinowski found viola player Elliott Vaughan, he approached him about working together on what he was calling "colonial-classical music" — "which was, to me, to take classical music and make it rough around the edges," says Malinowksi.
"It was amazing to work with them," Malinowski says of Vaughan, violinist Aiden Brant Briscall and cellist Martin Reisle. "It was so different, and so, I would say, West Coast. They have no interest in the music industry – none. They're doing an opera right now, and it's for community theatre. They do small things in a really real way."
These are the men who make up Jay Malinowski & The Deadcoast, and Malinowski is inspired by the way they make music "for the sake of making art."
"They just opened up a lot of possible avenues because they are so talented," he explains. "If I said 'I want the Pacific side to sound blue,' they'd say OK, and we'd figure out what blue sounds like. They're good enough that we could always do it. It was just super inspiring working with them."
The name The Deadcoast is inspired by conversations Malinowski had in Toronto and by spending time in Spain.
When Malinowski was in Toronto, a friend of his asked where he was from, and he said he was from the East Coast, Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto.
The dead coast came back to Malinowski when he walked 800 kilometres across Spain alone after finishing this album. He found himself on the western coast at the Finis Terrae, or “the end of the earth.”
He jumped into the ocean and then went back to Madrid. A couple of days later, a friend there told him he had gone swimming in the Costa da Morte, the dead coast, so named because there have been so many shipwrecks on its treacherous shore.
"It was while I was walking through Spain that I was thinking about the stories behind the songs," he notes.
Malinowski had told his publisher about the songs and their stories, and his publisher encouraged him to write them down. Out of that came Skulls & Bones, a collection of letters and ink sketches designed by Malinowski. The first chapter of the novella went on sale March 18 through HarperCollins Canada, and Skulls & Bones will be released in seven chapters.
“I wanted to create allegories for Martel sailing across the world,” he says.
Malinowski wrote letters from Martel during his time at sea, addressed to his estranged granddaughter named Kit.
"He's trying to pass on some wisdom from the past," he explains. "It's probably the first relationship he's had with a woman that's sweet. He's crusty, and I wanted to mellow him out a bit."
The letters will be published over the cycle of the album in the same way Martel's granddaughter would have received them. Martel never had the courage to send these letters to his granddaughter, and they're discovered by a woman named Ana who wants to deliver them to Kit.
"At the end of the album cycle, the book will be not just a compilation of letters, but also her journey back to Canada to return them," says Malinowski. "The stories we leave behind are really important, and they really affect, whether we know it or not, so many things that will happen later."
Along with the album and the novella, there is also an interactive website at www.whoismartel.com featuring Martel’s captain’s log. A journal log of Martel's life at sea from 1957-1963 will be released over the course of the album cycle on Twitter, and you can follow along at www.twitter.com/whoismartel.
– Lindsay Chung (Twitter @LChunger)
An Island Takeover:
An Interview With St. Lucia's Jean-Philip Grobler
Often without realizing it, we place our music into climatic categories. The sepia-toned instrumentation of Grizzly Bear feels as much like fall as a pair of fingerless mittens. In the same way, no one would deny that when winter calls, Joy Division and Bon Iver come running. The music that South-African born Jean-Philip Grobler makes under his moniker, St. Lucia, belongs to this specific class. On his debut album, When the Night, the sun-drenched excitement of summer arrived in “September”. A former choir boy whose ascent to popularity has cycled essentially around the world, Grobler’s music invites his listeners to a tropical midnight rendezvous complete with technicolour electronic beats overlaid with clear, evocative lyricism and a reoccurring throwback to the very best that ‘80s pop had to offer.
While signed with Neon Gold Records (Chvrches and Passion Pit) and gaining popularity in largely underground music circles, Grobler made the decision to work with major label giant Columbia, an offshoot of Sony Music. A timelessly controversial and possibly risky choice for any artist, Grobler has so far had a positive experience. “I was very fortunate to be given a team of passionate people over there who I believe genuinely care about what I do, and want to help me to achieve the best version of what that is,” said Grobler.
While he isn’t naïve that labels of that calibre are looking for a more accessible direction rather than an experimental one, he is ultimately appreciative of his relationship with them. Despite his music being critically recognized, mainstream success hasn’t arrived as quickly. “I'm fairly certain that if we were on another major label for as long as we've been and hadn't had a hit yet, we would have been dropped a long time ago,” said Grobler.
So exactly how does he go ahead giving the label what they want? His music definitely has all the right ingredients for a cross-national hit and he seems more than capable of producing one. However, when asked about what makes a song a universal success, he’s abashedly unsure. “I have no idea what makes acts a global success. Who could have anticipated the success of Psy, for example? I'm not sure there's any formula, apart from perhaps the pretty girl singing pop songs and boy band formulas. I definitely strive for success on whatever level I can achieve it in, but success itself isn't my main goal,” said Grobler.
Making it clear that priority is placed on his artistry, specifically its emotional appeal, he explains that, “I just want to keep making the music that I want to make and that makes me feel alive and good, and doing whatever it takes to get it out into the world.”
However, oweveHthe world is an enormous place and at this point in his career Grobler sits comfortably in its ever-evolving pop sphere. Regardless of how Grobler defines himself, he is operating within the more creatively inclined, forward-thinking side of the genre. So as an accidental spokesperson, what’s his opinion on the current state of pop music? “I kind of feel like pop music is always exactly the same, in terms of where it operates within the general scope of music,” said Grobler. “There's going to be good stuff that feels vital and alive, and then there's going to be the 'bad' stuff that feels churned out.”
The current trend in pop-oriented music seems to have an underlying love affair with pain and darkness, but Grobler appears concerned with celebrating the light as it explores some inherently universal themes. When asked if artists should strive for accessibility, he’s a resounding advocate for diversity. “We need art and music that explores all corners of the human mind and reality. I love music across the board, from dark to light, weird to accessible; but my calling in this moment in time is what I'm doing now,” said Grobler.
On his album When the Light, Grobler does just that, becoming a wilderness explorer of his own interests and looking at love and relationships at several different angles. He focuses on not only what they lack, but also their rewards by decomposing situations into their essential emotional essence. Grobler explains that his inspiration comes from his own relationship. “My whole life is consumed by my relationship to my wife, Patti, who plays keyboards in the band,” said Grobler. “There are a lot of things that refer directly to stuff that we were going through.”
St. Lucia’s lyrics are refreshingly anonymous despite this personal influence, placing every moment anywhere in the world, and every situation between any two given people. According to Grobler, he likes his listeners to have their own interpretations of his lyrics.
Getting into the actual writing process, Grobler has taken a unique approach to translating his music from the creative stage into something tangible. “The way that I write music and lyrics is very intuitive and train-of-thought. When I'm writing a song I make every attempt to get out of the way of the words that are naturally coming out of my mind and my mouth,” said Grobler.
This unusual approach to crafting his songs is hardly an accidental process. “I believe that more interesting things come out of my subconscious than what I can construct with my conscious mind, and so all of my writing becomes a process of discovery more than conscious writing,” said Grobler.
But Grobler clarifies that his unique method isn’t simply a string of unfiltered thoughts and ideas. “It's not just gibberish. I might not understand what I'm writing about at the time that I'm writing it, but six months or a year or even more down the line I'll suddenly realize what the lyrics of a song are about. It's almost always something that I was going through at the time of writing or a bit before, but that I might not have realized at the time,” said Grobler.
Coming to the end of our interview, an essential question I asked Grobler was what forced him to take a critical look at his current position then work his way backwards. Where does his inspiration come from and when in his life has he felt the most creative? There’s no mistaking that the start of St. Lucia was when he felt the most musically inspired, however developing his identity as a musician required distancing himself from what others thought about his personal preferences. “I feel like a lot of what I was doing before was trying to be different to who I am in certain ways, or trying to cover up certain parts of my musical influence that I might have felt shy or embarrassed about at the time,” said Grobler.
An ‘80s soft pop aficionado in his early twenties, Grobler admits, “I became embarrassed about liking that music and it became an ironic guilty pleasure.” However, embracing the sounds that he resonated with the most ultimately set him free. “Once I let go of the guilt over what music I liked, my music opened up a lot more and became more unique and a lot more like me and what my life has been.”
As a musician at the forefront of our rediscovery of pop music as an innovative genre, Grobler is a significant figure (even if he’s too humble to admit it). Repackaging familiar sounds into a stirring output that’s simultaneously intelligently produced and utterly accessible makes his lack of a mainstream hit a mystery. We’ll continue to cross our fingers. Luckily for St. Lucia and company, their sights are focused on achieving artistic merit – a task I believe they’ve already mastered.
– Melissa Vincent (Twitter @MellVincent)