Music, On A Communal Level:
An Interview With Bahhaj Taherzadeh (We/Or/Me)
We/Or/Me is Bahhaj Taherzadeh, a Chicago-based singer-songwriter that deserves your attention, but he's pretty okay if he doesn't get it. Of course, like any artist he wants to find a following that appreciates the work he's doing, but there's a grounded realism about his approach to writing and recording music ' he understands that he's one of many talented voices all vying for your fractured attention.
I first corresponded with Bahhaj after posting a small write-up for his first full-length LP Sleeping City on my own music-related blog in 2011. He contacted me via Twitter and thanked me directly for the support. I appreciated the note. After all, I'd been a fan since the first few notes of his debut, the Ghostwriter EP. I just wanted more people to hear this music.
I read through his bio. An Irish-born Iranian. A husband. A father of two twin girls with a modest apartment a few blocks from Lake Michigan. Employee by day, musician by the wee hours of the night. I felt a kind of kinship. This was a regular guy producing extraordinary music, being compared to legends like Leonard Cohen and Scottish-Folker Bert Jansch. Bahhaj became an inspiration. He was a family man that endeavored to conquer the work/family/creative balance with which many artists struggle, myself included.
But it wasn't just the endeavor that impressed me; it was also the music. There's a common thread among critics to describe We/Or/Me's sound as the music of life's quiet moments. The songs are reflective and meaningful without forcing the listener to wallow in tales of soul-crushing burden and despair. It's in his guitar. It's in his voice. He's soft-sung and soulful. So when I received notice of his Kickstarter campaign in my email box, I contributed immediately. He followed up with another message of thanks. I suggested an interview based on his experience with Kickstarter, once the whole process had come to completion ' the money collected, the record released, praise received. I've always been curious how the artist perceives the process of collecting buy-ins from fans and how it changes the creative process. Thankfully, he was enthusiastic about the idea. I began scribbling notes and questions. The first question on my mind was pretty broad. I asked Bahhaj what had attracted him to Kickstarter to help fund his latest LP, and how the experience had benefited him as an independent artist.
'I think art is at its best when it cultivates some sense of community and forges meaningful relationships between people. Some record labels have been able to cultivate that in the past, and some still do, but the vast majority of us independent musicians are just out there doing our own thing so it's important to find ways to reach out to the people that care about what you're doing. The crowd-funding thing creates a very direct and personal relationship with the listener because they are committing to your record before hearing it, and that implies a certain level of trust and it elevates the relationship between the artist and the audience. At its most basic, Kickstarter is about money. I need X amount to achieve my goals, please help--but I found that was not really the aspect of it that excited me. The exciting thing was the sense of community that I got from the experience. I have lived in three different countries and I know people all over the world, and thanks to the Internet my music has traveled to a lot of places I've never been. When we launched the Kickstarter, and I saw my inbox fill up with all these names from all over the world ' some I know, and many who I've never met but who have continually supported my music ' it was a very moving experience and it was very empowering. So, for me, Kickstarter became a tool in the community-building process, and that was the most significant aspect for me.'
In the business world, being beholden to a couple of investors can often become problematic. I couldn't help but wonder if being beholden to multiple hundreds of investors had changed Bahhaj's perspective on writing and recording music. Had the business interfered with the art? Or had he still been able to write and record as if these hundreds of people weren't hanging on every note recorded, no longer as fans but as investors?
'The writing and recording was basically done before I launched the Kickstarter campaign. The reason I initially decided to do it was that an opportunity came up to work with Brian Deck on the mixing of the record. Brian is an incredible producer. He has produced most of the Iron & Wine records and he produced The Moon and Antarctica by Modest Mouse (among many other things), and working with him was an opportunity I couldn't pass up, so Kickstarter seemed the best option to cover the costs for mixing/mastering and manufacturing. So, the writing/recording wasn't effected by the Kickstarter thing and I don't think the writing ever would be, no matter at what point in the process I might do another campaign in the future. I think if anything was significantly altered by the process, it was my perception of what a record can be ' that it can be more than just making something and selling it to people, that the process of making it can be very meaningful and can involve participation from a lot of people. I know I keep coming back to this idea of community-building, but I think it is increasingly important in this digital age where we've become quite disconnected from one another. I don't mean to imply for a minute that I think my music is important and worth building a community around, but more that art in general can be a very effective tool for bringing people together and it can lead to meaningful conversations and meaningful relationships, and when there is a community involved, the process can be as important as the product."
The nature of the Kickstarter process seems to have shifted the traditional order of the album-creation process. With crowdfunding, the burgeoning community built around the music, as Bahhaj suggests, becomes loyal congress before the actual release, whereas traditionally, one must first release a record in order to receive praise or criticism. And in my mind that might lead to unrealistic expectations for a record's success. As a writer myself, the question of success in relation to expectation and perception weighs on my mind and I wondered if usurping the natural order had changed how Bahhaj considered success and failure.
'As an artist, you are always confronted with your failures. They are always staring you in the face, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. I like that Samuel Beckett quote: "Try again. Fail again. Fail better." It sounds very fatalistic and defeatist but you start out with grand visions in your head, and what you end up with will always fall short of those visions. There will always be compromises and limitations along the way and nothing will ever feel perfect, but this is what keeps you moving on to the next thing. And other people don't know about the visions in your head so they don't perceive your work in the same way, and when they respond to it and make a meaningful connection with it, that is a success. This record has been very well-received so far, and I've heard from a lot of people who have connected with it in a very personal way and that is the most meaningful kind of success for me. Of course, these words "success" and "failure" are relative and can mean many different things.
'I think, on some level, because of the Kickstarter campaign, the record was a success for me personally before it even came out. Financially, we broke even on the costs of making it, which on a practical level was a huge success. And, because it was quite a complex record to make ' it involved collaborators in a number of different countries, a bunch of different studios and recording locations were used, and there are quite a lot of layers in there ' just to emerge with a record that felt like a coherent, cohesive document of all the work that had been done felt like an achievement in itself. I'm part of a generation of independent artists who have never been, and never will be, part of the "Music Industry" where success is measured in huge numbers and everyone's interests are commercial. I feel I have been growing as a songwriter and my audience has been growing with each record, but there is certainly room for a lot more growth. It is challenging because I don't have any kind of promotional machinery behind me. All of this independence does come at a cost because I'm stuck with my own limitations. And when it comes to self-promotion my limitations are very real. I don't have much skill or interest in that department and I have come to the conclusion that I probably need some kind of managerial/promotional element within my community if I want to take it to another level.'
We postponed the rest of the conversation for another day. I kept coming back to the idea of music fostering a community. The notion seems so antiquated, dating back to the days when album releases could be considered events and music labels created their own brand of worship. The days of pop superstars are long gone. There will never be another Michael Jackson or Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash. Not that someone couldn't rival their talent as entertainers, but because our attention has become so diluted. Internet and digital media have conducted a ceaseless cacophony of words and music that drains and demands attention with never-ending waves of content. Consider the wide variety of ways in which we consume music: streaming, digital downloads, YouTube, physical media, Internet radio, satellite radio. In a way the music industry has become a Socialized institution. Labels still throw their weight behind big stars, but these new avenues are leveling the playing field. The little guy has greater avenues through which to share his music. But the understanding of how to foster a community in this brave new world still eluded me.
After a week or two chewing on these thoughts and another week where I was unable to type due to an unfortunate incident with my finger and a hungry hungry hedge trimmer, I finally got back to Bahhaj with another round of questions on the notion of 'community.' I've lamented how the culture of modern music has compartmentalized itself within hundreds of specific micro-genres and labels. I considered the label-inspired communities built around the Stax and Motown labels and how nearly 40 years after their heydays, fans still speak of Stax artists as if they were all part of a collective. I know that when I'm browsing shelves of vinyl, the Stax label automatically lends a shred of credibility to an artist about which I otherwise know nothing. I don't want to compare this, necessarily, to Oprah's book club, but in modern terms, I can't come up with a better parallel. So' what is it that the music industry has lost as major labels have become more transparent business enterprises and less architects of style and taste?
'I think a record label at its best would not just promote and sell records for their artists but provide real support on a number of levels. I like the idea of a collective, and I think a lot of good indie labels probably started that way. And as the music industry collapses I think that the idea of artist collectives ' groups of artists supporting each other, pooling resources, collaborating ' will be the best way forward for many people. The more grassroots and locally based, the better. I've been thinking along these lines for some time, and my experience with Kickstarter only served to strengthen this feeling. A few of us here started a collective recently called Alaska Tapes. It hasn't turned into much yet and we're still trying to figure out what it ought to be, but we've put on a couple of shows and helped each other out with a few things here and there. I see a lot of potential with this approach. I also started a regular artist gathering where various artists come together and share their work with each other and talk about the creative process. We just eat together and hang out and that has been interesting because it can be hard to find the motivation and the will to do this stuff without some kind of network of support, and the more it's based on the idea of community rather than the idea of promotion and commercial interests, the more meaningful it is for everyone involved.'
As he talked about 'collectives' I was reminded of smaller contemporary labels that seem to be building relationships with a small number of artists and appealing directly to a certain kind of audiophile by focusing on vinyl to market their relatively unknown artists. I've discovered labels like Italians Do It Better and White Iris specifically because they're devoted to releasing records on the resurgent vinyl format. I've gravitated back to buying and collecting vinyl because there's an inherently social/communal component of the hobby that's disappeared as the industry has trended toward digital distribution. Owning vinyl (to a lesser extent CDs) meant you owned something concrete and tangible, liner notes and artwork. These mediums took up space on a shelf. The deluge of music available through digital distribution I imagined could be both a blessing and a curse with regards to connecting to a specific audience.
'Digital distribution has helped more than hurt me. I like physical records and liner notes and things that you can hold in your hands, but being able to put a song up online and share it with people all over the world instantly is an incredible thing, and it opens up a lot of opportunities for independent musicians that are releasing their own work. Of course, there is a downside because people take access to music for granted and a lot of people have fallen out of the habit of paying for music, but I think it's not necessarily a bad thing for people like me because if someone does want to go the extra mile and support an artist, they might be more inclined to support a completely independent one that doesn't have the backing of a label. I think the most important things that the good labels have provided have been curation for the audience and support for the artists, but there are other channels that can provide those things. Blogs and websites have kind of taken over the curator role in recent years and artists can, and do, find interesting ways to build communities around what they are doing.'
Although I found this philosophical meditation on the nature of the industry to be compelling, I wanted to return to something more local and concrete. How to be an artist and a living, breathing human being surviving in the regular world. There's an old (lamentable) adage among writers that you have to choose between being a good husband/father and being a good writer. This assumes, of course, that real life and artistic creation are both all-or-near-consuming occupations. With two young daughters, I've been struggling to sustain my own creative output as I strive to be a better parent. Bahhaj is married with twins and a full-time day job ' and most people would call that an already full-plate ' yet somehow he still manages to write and record music despite claiming that he's not a natural musician. I asked him what his original impetus for becoming a recording artist had been. And also what sustains the creative output despite the time constrains of work and family life.
'There is an appeal in the immediacy of music if you want to express yourself creatively. Words always came pretty naturally to me and writing was always a comfortable form of expression but prose seems to require a level of discipline and a more cerebral approach, and the way that I have approached writing songs has provided me with a much more intuitive and emotional outlet. There isn't a lot of thinking involved when I write songs. It's a very primitive process and based on evoking a feeling or giving voice to a feeling more than articulating a thought or communicating some kind of story. I've always loved music, and I have had to work harder on it than some people because I wasn't a natural musician and I don't come from a musical family. It took me a long time to get to a point where I felt I could actually play music and call myself a musician. Discovering people like Will Oldham and Bill Callahan, for instance, was a huge source of inspiration and encouragement because their early output is so primitive and their music showed me that limitations could be embraced rather than struggled against.
'It's a challenge to sustain a creative output because I have a job and a family, but in some ways getting a little older and having children and feeling the weight of responsibility has actually helped me with it because when all of my time was my own and my responsibilities were relatively few, I felt very little urgency when it came to creating stuff and making recordings. But when I suddenly found that my time wasn't my own, I felt a much greater urgency with it and I became much more focused with the time I had. The challenge is to find ways to strike a balance and to live a meaningful and coherent life where all of the different parts add up to a cohesive whole. Going back to the idea of "success," and how to define it, I think that might be the ultimate success to strive for--just to be able to sustain a creative output and integrate it into your life. Being an artist doesn't have to be an extreme choice that comes at the expense of everything else, and it doesn't have to be something that you try when you're young and then give up for a stable career, it can be an ongoing aspect of your life if you can find the right balance. I think many people have the false notion that either it's a career or it's a hobby and there is no in-between, but the reality is that for a lot of pretty well established independent artists it never becomes their primary source of income and they have to juggle it with other things. So, that is the challenge, and it is an ongoing process that requires a lot of flexibility.
'I also enjoy playing live. I can be pretty picky about the venues I play and the shows I agree to because the atmosphere is really important when you're playing quiet music. I don't really think of it as a promotional tool, to be honest. It's certainly a way to reach new people all the time, but the thing that excites me about it is the atmosphere in the room, in the moment. It can be great, and such a completely different thing to recording music. I like talking to an audience and kind of bringing them along for the ride as much as possible (as cliched as that sounds). I think the less there is a separation between the audience and the performer, the better it is and the stronger the atmosphere, and the more the music can be enjoyed and experienced on a communal level.'
The notion of community returns once more and I decide that this sentiment bookends the conversation nicely. Art benefits from the nature of shared interest and ideas. Artistic creation, as Bahhaj has suggested, cannot come to fruition in a vacuum, nor can it be distributed in a vacuum. After all, to whom would it be distributed? But this is ultimately about more than just the artist's struggle to create and succeed according to their expectations. This is about life and living the shared experience in the company of others. Art is a reflection of our world along the broadest spectrum, from the local artisan groups that Bahhaj has described to the global sharing of content across the digital highway. Community means many different things to many different people. But the goal is always the same: connection.
– James David Patrick (Twitter @30HertzRumble)
An Interview With Zakk Wylde of Black Label Society
It was sometime back in early 1989 when I saw the video for Ozzy Osbourne's new single “Miracle Man” and I caught a glimpse of his new guitarist. A skinny young dude with crazy long blonde hair wielding a unique looking Gibson Les Paul with a target painted on it. When I heard the riffs and harmonics topped off by that iconic guitar solo, I knew there was a new guitar god in town and that dude was Zakk Wylde. He was only 20 years old at the time and was ripping it up like he was destined for the gig, he was clearly the perfect choice to follow in the steps of guitar legends Randy Rhodes and Jake E. Lee. Ever since that day I've always been a Zakk Wylde fan and had a recent opportunity to speak him about his decorated career.
Jeffrey Wieland (aka Zakk Wylde) grew up in New Jersey, NY, and was your typical suburban metal head with hair halfway down his back. He had duct- taped posters of his hero’s on his walls at home and played on whatever low rent guitar gear he could afford. Outside of his passion for religiously listening to music, Zakk had one thing that many others did not, he was a guitar prodigy. He played as much as he could and was in multiple local bands, none of which were really going anywhere at the time. As fate would have it, Zakk would board a plane for a ride that would forever change his life. That plane ride was on the day he flew to Los Angeles for a guitar audition with Ozzy Osbourne and GOT THE GIG!!! From that fateful day forward, Zakk went from working at a New Jersey gas station and teaching guitar to getting used to life on the road as a metal superstar and certified guitar hero. When asked “How did you find the transition?” he replied; “After initially shitting multiple bricks I had to work my ass off and do the best I could and this is what made the transition work for me.”
During a 35 minute conversation with Zakk I quickly realized how grounded the man was despite his grandiose personality and guitar god fame. He has nothing to prove and nothing to hide, he’s an open book which made our conversation more about sharing a few laughs then going through a rapid-fire series of questions. My biggest point of curiosity regarding Black Label Society and Zakk Wylde was the approach of shooting comedy based videos for a band that seems so imposing and serious from an outsiders view point. When discussing this topic Zakk said; “We’re all laughs, all the time” and that really gave me a very different perspective on him and the band. He certainly takes his career and songwriting seriously but can really take the piss out of himself and share a lighter side of himself to his fans. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, check out the videos for “Overlord” and “Ain’t No Sunshine”, I assure you they’ll knock you on your ass laughing.
After a successful release of their latest live album Unblackened (Live) and summer touring on the Gigantour, BLS is currently in the recording studio working on their new album. The band will be releasing new material in the spring of 2014 and setting up for a big summer and fall tour. In a discussion about the songwriting process for BLS, Zakk opened up and said; “We basically get together in my garage, pull out our guitars then see who’s got the best riffs, from that point we work on the strongest ideas until they are done then hit the studio”. With this organic way of recording which mainly happens at Zakk’s home studio, it’s no wonder why the tunes sound so fresh and home-grown. “The studio’s got a lounge, a piano room, amp rooms, control booth, it’s basically a bigger and better version of what we had as teenagers with our jam spaces, we just have better gear and instead of ductaped posters of our hero’s on the wall, they’re all framed now”
With a past and present music career that is enviable to most, Zakk Wylde is comfortably doing what he does best and his unrelenting passion and drive will continue for many years to come. Zakk Wylde has realized his musical dreams ten times over and will never forget his humble beginnings, making him very REAL in a world with so many egos and big attitudes. Check out the amazing Unblackened (Live) double disc and DVD release available at amazon.com and other online merchants.
– Andre Skinner (Twitter @andreskinner)
Welcome.....To The World Of Faderhead:
An Interview With Faderhead
With the ride of EDM and other, lighter forms of electronic music on the rise, it’s no surprise that the industrial/EBM scene has been taking cues to broaden its influence. As such, for better or worse, Faderhead has become one of the more popular acts in the industrial scene in recent years; an admirable feat from an artist who has famously stated a distaste for industrial music. “It’s not that I think it’s shit or anything,” states Faderhead,” it’s just that I never got into it. I always listen to different types of music. Because I make so much electronic music, literally every day or almost every day for hours, I don’t like to listen to more electronic music when I’m somewhere else.” This is arguably a totally sensible approach that many artists would likely ascribe to, although Faderhead isn’t completely oblivious to other electronic music. “I recently listened to the new Front Line Assembly, Echogenetic, because I met Jeremy (Inkel), who plays keyboards. I met him in Canada. So it’s always a thing where you meet a guy in a band and you check his stuff out; it was pretty good.”
So what would one of modern electro’s current sensations listen to? “The new Killswitch Engage is good. I don’t listen to that much music really. Yesterday, I was listening to Warrant – ‘Cherry Pie.’ Lots of Slayer; always Slayer, especially since Jeff Hanneman recently passed away. They are my favorite band of all time, I think. I like the latest Daft Punk also. Nile Rodgers, probably one of the biggest music producers of all time, did this album and you can really hear it. I enjoy it more than the Tron Daft Punk. This one is so funky/disco-y that I really like it. I like Nickelback, but everyone else hates them.” As if that were not a mixed enough bag, he continues, “Alice in Chains, The Beatles, Danzig, Kings X, Bob Marley, Bon Jovi, Daft Punk, Everlast, Garth Brooks, Killswitch Engage, Lionel Ritchie, Megadeth, Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine, also Sam Cooke – so, it’s a very mixed bag; all sorts of stuff.”
Perhaps given the current popularity of EDM and electronic music, there is something to be said for the influence of rock and metal, as is seen in Faderhead’s list. Describing his musical upbringing, he states, “My mother was a piano player and so I started playing an instrument; I started playing guitar because I was a fan of Metallica and stuff like that, so I wanted to play guitar. I literally started music wanting to be like James Hetfield or Jeff Hanneman. That’s what I did for the first 10 years of my musical life; playing rock/metal/Pantera style.” Quite a far cry from the more synthesized tones of electronic music, but a logical transition since as he goes on to state, “I got really pissed off by having to deal with band mates, because even if you are the only person that writes, everyone creates problems all the time; like, the drummer doesn’t show up, the bass player has an issue with this, other guys have issues with that.
From this discontent, Faderhead goes on to recount the origins of the band that exists now. “So at some point, I asked a friend of mine that programs music software who is also very good with sound design to work with me on some synths for some rock tracks because I had no idea how to do that with VSTs. At the same time, I was going to this goth/industrial party in Hamburg, where I live, with some friends. It wasn’t really my kind of music, but I just wanted to hang out with friends of mine. Then the guy that ran that party became a friend of mine. I kept saying the music he was playing was crap, and one day he said, ‘You know, you are a musician. If you don’t like it, then do something better.’ So I did.” It almost sounds like Faderhead began on a dare, but such impetus is often necessary as can be discerned from some of the greatest rock stories. He continues, “I basically went home and with my limited knowledge of VSTs and MIDI programming, wrote a track in a night. I sent it to him the next day; a few days later, he played it at the next party where, coincidentally, there was a guy that runs one of the biggest music promotion agencies in Germany, and he liked it and came up to me and said, ‘I’m putting out a compilation and I can put the track on there.’ I thought he was making fun of me, but he was actually serious, and four weeks later, I had four different record labels on my answering machine saying they wanted to put an album out. I didn’t even have any tracks. I then had to figure out how all these synths worked because it’s very different from rock.” In a sense, Faderhead lived the dream of every aspiring rock musician – to write and play and get discovered and/or signed by a label. Or course, it wasn’t rock music in the traditional sense, though Faderhead infuses a rock attitude into his style of electronic and dance music. He states, “I always liked making dance tracks, but sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I will write for weeks and weeks and nothing good comes out. So then, I change styles and make a hip-hop track or something else, and then I will go back to writing without a specific focus and I am able to write again.”
It was this varied style of songwriting that perhaps culminated in the band’s most recent outing, FH4, of which he says, “There is really no unifying theme or anything. Black Friday is basically 16 songs about a Friday night with a girl that ends on Saturday at 5:00am. Each song is a step in the evening. World of Faderhead is an album of songs that basically deals with stuff that has to do with me personally. So, that’s a unifying theme on that album. On FH4, there’s none of this. It’s just basically tracks that I wrote that don’t have a connection to each other. There was no real underlying inspiration to it.”
As earlier recalled, Faderhead has had issues with band mates in the past, making it effectively a solo act, as is common for many electronic acts. “Faderhead is not a band,” he states, ‘It’s my artist name.” However, playing live as a solo musician can become cumbersome, thus necessitating a different approach in the live environment. “Depending on the size of the show and people’s availability, I can call different people and see if someone wants to do the show with me. So it’s a mix-and-match, modular type of setup.” He continues, “Live is kind of like a DJ set with an MC. We have three or four different live setups depending on how large the show is. If it’s a small show, it’s me and one guy. If it’s a medium sized show, it may be me and two other guys. If it’s a really big show, it may be me and three or four other guys just to fill up the stage.” This change in approach can also apply to the technical side, as Faderhead states that, “Ableton Live is playing video files that have about 80% of the song as music in the video. Then we add lead lines, filtering one shot samples, stuff like that to make it more organic and to change the songs live. Plus, my vocals and background vocals on top.”
Of course, playing live is not the same as playing in the studio, and as Faderhead claims, “In my whole life, I’ve never had a hardware synth.” Having stated that the band began as an interest in experimenting with VSTs and MIDI programming, he goes on about his studio setup, “I use Cubase; I’m about to update to the latest version. For synths, I like NI Massive and Battery. I like the controls in Traktor. I’m not really a tech oriented guy. I’ve a very preset oriented gut. I like to see right out of the box what it sounds like, if it sounds fat or whatever. When I try out synths and they have shitty presets, I will probably not understand that they are actually good because the presets don’t sound like what I’m looking for. Once I find a preset that I like, I do end up changing it a lot so it’s not recognizable to people.” While this may sound like blasphemy to an especially fickle and budding group of synthesists and gear heads, it does speak to Faderhead’s minimalist and straightforward approach, as well as emphasizes his strengths to write songs rather than create grand sound designs, further setting him apart from the pack of electronic artists.
Some might say that Germany is the home of the most cutting edge electronic and industrial music; yet, electronic music enjoys popularity around the world in all its various forms. So where is Faderhead most popular? He answers, “I can’t really say; it’s divided between Germany and the U.S. in terms of quantity. Germany has the largest EBM/industrial/goth scene, and the U.S. just likes my stuff. You know, you have all these Facebook and website statistics, and it’s even between Germany and the U.S.” He includes, “The thing is the general reaction when it comes to enthusiasm of people, it’s big in the U.S., but when you go to Mexico, it’s even bigger, but there are less people there that listen to it… and maybe the UK also.”
With such a wide and varied fan base and with EDM music as popular as the traditional rock and pop formats now, one might imagine it to be a lucrative time for an electronic artist like Faderhead. Yet, there are so few electronic arts subsisting off of music alone, as Faderhead informs us, “Faderhead is making some decent money right now, but my day job is a photographer. I don’t work much, but I do make decent money whenever I do, so I don’t have a very high standard of living, but it’s a quite comfortable standard of living that I couldn’t afford if I lived only off of my Faderhead income alone.” As any good artist, Faderhead isn’t letting the artistic income go to waste; “Faderhead income is now reinvested to advance the performance with animation videos and things like that.”
Now, with FH4 released in 2013 and riding a wave of popularity on high, Faderhead lets us in on some plans for the future; “The next record should come out in February. Then we will tour in Europe and the tour the States. That’s the plan. I hope the record is going to be alright!” If his past success is any indication, the next record is sure to be, as he puts it, alright!
– Rob Early / Ilker Yucel
Bleakness + Video Games + Nerd Culture:
An Interview With Cory Gorski & Andrew Dobbels Of Volt9000
In the modern age, more and more bands are appearing comprised of members separated by a great distance – thanks to advances in technology and communications, two people may not even be in the same area of the world and still work on a cohesive project that can be called a band. Such is the case for Volt 9000, one of the latest entries in the current resurgence of old-school industrial and electro. Since 2010, Volt 9000 – now comprised of founder Cory Gorski and Andrew Dobbels – has been steadily building up a sound of undiluted low-fi electronics drawing from their mutual love for ‘80s cartoons and video games. And yet, the two members aren’t even in the same country or time zone! “I’m in Toronto, Canada,” says Gorski, “Andrew is based down in Washington, U.S.” Dobbels confirms, “Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. Never did much other than music. Volt 9000 already existed before I came along; I just wanted to be part of it, and Cory was happy to let me in.”
It’s certainly a far cry from the traditional format one might think of for bands, usually forming from a group of friends who met in school or at a show. Gorski explains, “We met on Something Awful Forums, an internet site. He randomly asked to check out some multi-track stems from one of the songs off the first album, and just blew me away with what he did with it. I quickly conscripted him to join the band… so really, we are just two nerdy internet goons. But don’t tell anyone that. Tell them we’re rock stars and met at a Metallica concert.”
It’s perhaps no surprise that “two nerdy internet goons” would be so adept at creating music inspired by cartoons and video games as Volt 9000, and given that the 8-bit sounds of old are more popular than ever with so many software plug-ins emulating those classic sounds so accurately, the band must be all about software, right? Well, not necessarily, according to Volt 9000. Gorski admits “software is getting easier and faster to write with.” And yet, both Gorski and Dobbels seem to prefer hardware. “Hardware is great,” Dobbels states, “although hard to tame. A lot of the time, I record my hardware synths/samplers and do some razor-sharp editing in the software.” Similarly, Gorski says, “I find hardware offers more unique subtleties in the sound, like little nuances and instabilities, which are more pleasing to my ears. Especially with custom modular synths and weird signal flow, you can get some extremely unique sounds. But we use a combination of hardware and software; especially software fx-chains. I’d say our last album was maybe close to 50/50 hardware and software.” 50/50, yet “an unsteady balance most of the time,” according to Dobbels; “If I had the time and money, I’d prefer hardware only.”
But as any experienced musician knows, the setup in the studio is a different animal than what the band is capable of presenting in the live environment, especially given how cumbersome hardware can be to take on the road. “Our studios have tons of random gear sprawled all over,” says Gorski, “constantly being changed, traded, modded, upgraded, swapped, bought, and sold. My studio is a total mess. I have to clean it. We’re both on Craigslist a lot, especially when it comes to buying/selling eurocrack modular stuff.” Dobbels’ studio doesn’t seem to be in any less of a state of disarray according to him; “My studio has been going through a lot of changes and is currently a huge mess. But let me say that the live performance setup reflects our studios in no way, shape, or form. We tried to keep things very simple.” Gorski confirms, “We just tend to keep it simple and bring out what works. I know Andrew likes to focus on integrating his Lil DeFormer and such, which is this unique sampler/workstation box.”
“I love my Little DeFormer,” says Dobbels. “I’m focusing on synth D.I.Y. stuff. Other than that, I’m just trying to make do with what I have.”
Interesting how two people with studios in such a state of constant flux manage to create such a cohesive sound that can clearly be identified as Volt 9000, but as Gorski states, “It differs for each track. I tend to focus on the bedtracks, structure, and mixing, and he tends to change things up and add variation.” He also goes on to say, “as far as structure goes, ‘80s and ‘90s pop music has actually been the biggest influence on our song structure and melodies. Our music isn’t industrial dance or EBM oriented, but more ‘sit down and listen to’ music. I myself don’t know how to dance; my brain doesn’t really process music that way. I wish it did.”
And yet, Volt 9000’s unique sound has garnered certain comparisons to industrial and EBM artists, particularly to the likes of ohGr and Skinny Puppy. Dobbels addresses this comparison, “Skinny Puppy and ohGr are definitely there on my list.” As well, Gorski states, “Yeah, ohGr and Skinny Puppy are giant influences. Love ‘em.” Yet, it would be foolish not to consider the band’s other sources of inspiration, as Dobbels says, “Haujobb… they’re one of the few electro/industrial acts that are just doing what they want to do and sounding good doing it. Musically they have been a great influence on me for years; they serve as a reminder for me to just do what I really want and make what I really like.” Gorski includes, “Lots of industrial bands have been an inspiration over the years, from Haujobb to Ministry to Front Line Assembly – especially in regards to mixing and production.”
All of these influences culminate in the band’s music, with four albums under its belt, the latest being 2013’s Conopoly. Some might wonder how a band like Volt 9000 can maintain interest in the singular subjects of video games and nerd culture, but this is where the band takes its evolution down a more serious path. “It took about a year; going back and forth on these weird concepts and ideas,” says Gorski, “just looking at the world around us really; reading about just how many people lost their homes, Wall Street bailouts, big bank corruption and money laundering, media lies, agricultural conglomerates taking over farmers rights, etc. It’s quite inspiring if you don’t mind your music sounding dark, bitter, and conspiratorial.” Dobbels includes, “The concept is all Cory; that’s his bag. I can tell you, though, the sound on this album is really bleak, but listenable. I wasn’t in a great place during the course of Conopoly’s production, and I think at parts it shows.”
To those unfamiliar, this might certainly seem to be a turnaround from the band’s perceived celebration of geekiness, but an aspect that helps make the band’s music all the more pertinent in lieu of its low-fi sound. Volt 9000 may not identify itself as industrial, though they certainly have the right subject matter for it. “I wish I could write happy music, but I can’t,” says Gorski.
“To me,” Dobbels continues, “moments like the strange, offbeat, no-quite-sure rhythm of ‘Pipe Dreams,’ the lonely, wide open space of ‘House of Cards,’ and the sporadic, chaotic noise of ‘Conopoly’ desperately trying to bring itself together into something cohesive and understandable (which ends up yielding a slogan advertising hopeless culture capitalism) are all proud ones and accurately exhibit the tying together of the album’s sound with its theme.”
But then, is it all total bleakness? What’s music if you can’t enjoy it? Thankfully, as Gorski says of his band mate, “Andrew has really brought out a more fun and wacky sound. Some of the bedtracks for Conopoly, before he got his hands on them, were pretty depressing, but he spices things up and puts a distorted smile on it.”
This distorted smile is perhaps best seen in the imagery of the music videos, a sardonic mixture of animation and visual manipulations that seem to accurately represent the sound of Volt 9000’s music. Of these videos, the band apparently keeps its distance from the creative process. Gorski states, “We purposely don’t have much involvement with the animated videos. A good trick is to find an artist you admire, give them the basic concept, pay them, and then give them complete freedom. That last part is the secret sauce; I’m shocked to find out how many people don’t understand that part. Are you an animator/director yourself? No? Then let them just do their thing. You’d be surprised just how artistic and abstract graphic artists/animators/filmmakers, etc. can be when they actually have a chance to express themselves no-holds-barred.” Indeed, this no-holds-barred attitude stands perfectly in line with the band’s music, making the audio/visual synergy all the more palpable.
Suffice to say, Volt 9000 is a band for the modern age, and one that isn’t squandering one bit of its potential. “It’s been such a pleasure hearing what people have to say about us,” says Dobbels, “and playing our show in Toronto was nothing but inspiring. I can see another album not far from now.” But his band mate cautions, “But we just put out Conopoly, so we’re gonna take our time, dang it.” With that in mind, he goes on to tell us just what Volt 9000 might have in store for the future; “Kinda maybe sorta possibly starting on new songs… hmmm… still fixing up the studio… possible indied soundtrack… possible remixes.”
In other words, there is a wideopen future for Volt 9000!
– Rob Early / Ilker Yucel
Fields Of Gold:
An Interview With Mark Fuller Of Australia's Gold Fields
Mark Fuller, vocalist for dance-pop outfit, Gold Fields, seems a little overwhelmed by the attention. To, “a bunch of country kids from Ballarat”(outskirts of Melbourne), being named on MTV’s 2013 Artists To Watch list, “is this massive thing, so we were a bit beside ourselves when they told everyone to watch us. It really helped get us out there. We're still really trying to build a following of people to enjoy this all with us so it was great to have them on board.”
“Black Sun” is the band’s debut album which they are currently showcasing on tour. A 2011 ep featuring breakout single, “Treehouses”, got tongues and radio wagging, but it took three attempts to get their full lengther to the place that they wanted. The end result, Fuller says, is a fair distance from where they started. “We really weren't ready to record the album the first time and we weren't really clued on enough to get the sounds we wanted. I guess we expected that because we were going to a big proper studio with a big proper producer, we would come out with something better than anything we could do... but then eventually we realised the only real way to get what we wanted was to fuck around in a garage and take as long as it takes to get it. So after another try in a studio, we decided to do the whole thing ourselves in mum and dad's garage and it took three weeks. We'd learnt so much from the first couple of attempts so when we got on our own and borrowed gear from our mates in our hometown, we could just do whatever we wanted. And we came out with something we're proud of. It was a lot funner and real doing it that way. Malcolm Besley is a great mate of ours from home who helped us out with recording, a lot of the time we didn't know what we were doing and he definitely does so it was good to have him come in every now and then and help us out. He also mixed the record.”
I suggest “Black Sun” contains traces of Cut Copy, Neon Indian, Depeche Mode and heavy percussion which surely must send concert-goers into a tizzy. “We're usually the ones in the tizzy at our shows but yeah we went through high school listening to Cut Copy, and yeah, Depeche Mode have always been there, that gets brought up a lot. I've never listened to Neon Indian but they probably listen to the same stuff we do.”
To fuel this tour, the band took to Kickstarter, generating more support than they had anticipated. “We knew once we got here we'd get by on show fees and if we sold a few t-shirts at shows, we would be able to pay for petrol to get around, but we couldn't afford flights. So as a last resort, we started the Kickstarter and we were really pessimistic about it. We honestly didn't think we'd be able to raise 10k, but we gave it a crack and we got there. We were really surprised and grateful to everyone who helped out, pretty amazing stuff to have these people support us like this.”
Along with continued funding, Fuller is hoping that Santa brings the band a recording studio and their own gear. Catch them on tour across North America now, while they are still in start-up mode.
− Hilary A. Stephenson (Twitter @californiahil)
A Freeway Route Of EDM And Success:
An Interview With Flux Pavilion
You’ve heard his music everywhere–from Jay-Z ft. Kanye West’s “Who Gon Stop Me”, to the Kony 2012 campaign. Producer Joshua Steele, more widely known as Flux Pavilion, is one of the leaders in today’s popular electronic dance music (EDM) scene. At just 24-years-old, Steele is co-founder of Circus Records, a label rostering names like Cookie Monsta and Funtcase. Now on his North American Freeway tour, Steele plans to hype his fans for the release of his new EP, Freeway, set for Ocober. 21st.
This time around, Steele has brought along fellow Circus Records producers Brown and Gammon, Roksonix, FuntCase, Cookie Monsta to tour with him. London-based producer, Skism, along with Canadian producer, Datsik, will also be joining in for the ride. Though in past interviews he’s mentioned the use of live instruments at his shows, Steele thinks he will save it for the next tour. Despite of Freeway’s release being so soon, Flux has already been working on “a whole bunch of new material”, which is the way his recording process usually goes. Earlier in 2013 when he released the EP Blow The Roof, tracks for Freeway were born.
“I put out an EP earlier this year which I had been working on for quite some time, but it didn’t really sound like an album. So I ended up taking some tracks off and turning it into an EP and while writing that, I was coming up with a load of new ideas,” says Steele. “The EP Freeway was kind of like putting that together.”
With so many ideas running through his brain, Steele says that most projects end up being much larger than anticipated. Before he starts to produce a new piece of music, Steele tries to envision what he wants and tries to achieve as much as it as possible. Freeway is a five-track EP that features collaborations with artists such as Steve Aoki and Dillon Francis.
“Really, as an EP, it brings a newish sound, it’s got a lot more progression than the stuff I’ve been working on in the past couple of years. This EP is kind of a doorway to what I’m doing in the future,” says Steele.
Flux Pavilion has been on the scene since 2008, and has seen the changes that EDM has gone through in the past years. Since the immersion of artists like Skrillex, and festivals like Digital Dreams gaining popularity, EDM and Dubstep in particular, are no longer unheard of genres. The argument of whether or not its popularity is a good thing can go two ways, but Steele feels pretty good about the direction EDM is going in right now.
“[EDM] will change in the next six months, then it’ll change again. It’s just kind of the nature of things. Things just change and move. You don’t really know what is going to happen but there could be some kid right now somewhere working on this new idea,” says Steele.
And that kid was once Steele himself. He started out producing from the computer in his bedroom, and now producers at his Circus Records studio with co-founders Doctor P and DJ Swan-E. As a producer, Steele says he feels he’s gotten better and still tries to work on himself “internally and externally”.
“I feel like I’ve got a better idea of what I’d like to write and what makes me feel good when I work on music,” Steele said. “I’m trying to do what’s most natural to me.”
Conversely, trying to stick to a vision gets hard when running a label.
With Circus Records, Steele runs into challenges when working in a group of people. With so many creative visions and opinions, Steels says other’s interpretations of what you’re doing may side-track your own goal, especially when working with new artists.
“You have to hold onto your vision because if you let go of it then other people will give it a direction in which you don’t want it to go in,” says Steele. “I’m lucky to work with such great people, so that doesn’t really happen. But if you’re not careful, that’s what it could do.”
For Steele, the goal of Circus Records is for it to act as a platform for musicians and producers to have “their own bubble of creativity”. With its growing roster, they are always looking for artists that makes interesting music.
Besides expanding the label, Steele also plans to spend the next year working on projects that go against the way popular music is perceived. Some of these plans include writing music in relation to a comic book and collaborating with artists outside of the music realm.
As for the Freeway Tour, up next is the UK and Australia.
“I just am excited to play in front of people that enjoy my music, really,” says Steele. “It doesn’t matter where you are, it’s just about the connection with the crowd.”
– Emily Rivas (Twitter @RivasEmily)
David Bowie Is...
At The Art Gallery Of Ontario
David Bowie Is, an exhibition featuring an immense backlog of the musical icon's memorabilia, officially opens its doors on September 25th at Toronto's Art Gallery Of Ontario (AGO). Boding successfully in London earlier this year the collection arrives to the new venue along with a wide array of authentic Bowie stage costumes, original handwritten notes and lyrics, and assorted brick-a-brack -- all of which help unweave the tale of David Robert Jones and his evolution into his David Bowie alter-personae.
The pop-star/fashion-mogul/artistic-misfit's life is highlighted spectacularly through a two-floor assemblage of personal belongings and acquisitions, the likes of which have never been brought forth to the public face-to-face. It should be told that Bowie himself remains behind the curtain with this exhibition and has simply allowed curators to promote his life and times through such carefully chosen items as handwritten set lists, lyrics and diary entries. There are over 300 objects that have been hand-picked from Bowie's personal archives, and the multi-media presentation of these items helps to unearth the many faces of the artist. Included in the mass of memorabilia are over 50 stage costumes on full mannequin display ranging back as far as 1972 's Ziggy Stardust bodysuits.
Highlights also include Diamond Dogs tour set designs, an exhibit of Kansai Yamamoto's creative work for the Aladdin Sane tour, and an abundance of photographs from the likes of Helmut Newton, Brian Duffy and John Rowlands. Music videos fill the rooms via looped telecast, some including live performance excerpts as well as rare in-studio footage. The careful division (grouping) of these objects into themed (roomed) sections allows the viewer a clearer understanding of Bowie's many roles throughout his artistic life. The show paints a picture of the man as a young musician, maturing artist, actor, writer, storyteller and much, much more. Featured also are storyline connections with industry peers who have worked with Bowie, some of whom have collaborated and worked alongside the artist throughout his illustrious 40-year career. Physically, the presentation put together by the AGO is nothing short of spectacular, and each room entered becomes a colourful feast for the eyes. It's important to note the frailty of most of the displayed 'artifacts' -- a note specifically to fans of Bowie to make the effort to see this once-in-a-lifetime show before it moves on or simply fades away.
David Bowie had released his first album in 10 years earlier this year this year, The Next Day. This follow-up presentation of the man as a singer, artist and fashion chameleon helps highlight the release and gives fans another dose of long-awaited fodder. The show continues open to the public until the end of November -- suggestions to see it shouldn't be necessary. Fan or not, this exhibition is one that will be remembered by all.
– Stephen Lussier (Twitter @ioweyouacoke)
– Photo Credits: Stephen Lussier
Making Something Out Of
Nothing With A Scratch
And A Hope:
An Interview With Shovels And Rope
“Making something out of nothing with a scratch and a hope. Two old guitars like a shovel and a rope.”
It’s one of my favourite lyrics of the entire album O’ Be Joyful by indie folk-country duo Shovels and Rope, and it embodies the spirit of the Charleston, S.C., band consisting of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst. Singing harmony-driven folk, rock and country songs and playing two old guitars, a junkyard drum kit they harvested from an actual garbage heap, tambourines, harmonicas and sometimes a little keyboard, they tour constantly as a two-piece, making as much noise as they can. And as they play their first headlining tour this fall (which includes a sold-out show Sept. 7 at the Horseshoe Tavern), one could argue the energetic, instinct-based pair is making a lot out of nothing.
Hearst and Trent may have gone through times when they had nothing and times where “when the money got low, it was all we could do to keep a nail in the floor” like they sing in “Boxcar” from the album Shovels & Rope, but they've had a lot to celebrate in the last while.
In May, Shovels and Rope was nominated for four Americana Music Awards, leading the list of nominees. The duo’s debut album as Shovels and Rope, O’ Be Joyful, was nominated for Album of the Year. Shovels and Rope was also nominated as Emerging Artist of the Year and Duo/Group of the Year, while “Birmingham” was nominated as Song of the Year. The awards will be presented Sept. 18 during the Americana Music Festival.
Recently, Shovels and Rope had the opportunity to record a seven-inch with Jack White's Third Man Records Blue Series. They had played a few shows with White, and he asked them to come in and record a couple of songs with him, explains Trent. They chose to make their own versions of Bruce Springsteen’s “Johnny 99” and Tom Waits’s “Bad As Me.”
“He was psyched about it,” says Trent. “It was a simple, quick, easy, fast, inspiring recording experience. The whole thing was done and dusted by 2 p.m.”
“That felt really good,” adds Hearst. “We don't like to mess around in the studio. We like to do a good job, but you can't nitpick; you need to get on with it.”
“It was very instinct-based, which we can relate with,” agrees Trent. “That's how we are in the studio and on stage. We kind of go with our gut and don't look back. There's no overthinking.”
Shovels and Rope formed in 2010, but Coloradan-by-way-of-Texas Trent and Mississippi-born, Nasvhille-bred Hearst met back in 2003. By 2005, they were both living Charleston, S.C., and they began informally making music together. In 2008, the pair teamed up to record the album Shovels & Rope under their individual names. Hearst and Trent married in 2009, and after releasing Shovels & Rope, they started performing local gigs as a duo, soon deciding to take their act on the road.
When Trent and Hearst first met, they were in two separate bands on a three-band bill.
“I first noticed her voice and her songs, and I think that once I got over the fact she was one of the best singers I’ve ever heard, I was really drawn to the songwriting and attracted to that,” says Trent. “It felt really real, and I hadn’t really heard a lot of people writing like that.”
Hearst first saw Trent when he was playing in the pop-rock band The Films. Hearst says Trent introduced her to a lot of music she didn't know, and she admired his songwriting – “he was really good at telling people off in songs with a witty turn of phrase,” she says with a laugh.
“He came with not only a great style of witty songwriting, but also a whole collection of songs I’d never been exposed to,” she says. “For about a whole year, I wanted to quit country music all together and be kind of a weird girl version of Iggy Pop or something.”
When they first met, Hearst recorded a couple of demos in the apartment Trent was living in at the time. Those demos were saved onto Trent’s hard drive and forgotten about, but when Trent brought them out again, a few of them became songs on O’ Be Joyful, which was released in the spring of 2012, including “Carnival,” “O Be Joyful” and “The Thread.”
When Hearst and Trent decided to form a band together in 2010, they’d already had separate careers as solo artists and with other bands. Trent had broken off from The Films and just made his solo album, The Winner, while Hearst had just made a solo album called Lions and Lambs.
“Both of us were very proud of our records and wanted to do something with the independent things we'd made, but there was no plan,” says Trent. “We were playing some gigs, but we didn't have a band. We were kind of each other's band. We'd play a gig and play her songs, and I'd be her band, and then we'd play the same venue the next week and play my songs and she'd be my band. It just started to make sense after a while to put things together.”
Hearst has been quoted as saying it was a more difficult decision to form a band together than to get married. She says part of that had to do with giving up control in some areas.
“It meant we couldn't be the boss of everything anymore,” she explains. “It came to be that the greater purpose was served by taking our egos out of this, but it was a process because we had to start thinking about 'us' and 'we' and what we wanted to do instead of just what you wanted to do.”
Hearst says the thing she loves about making music with Trent is that they can do it together as a family.
“The musical partnership is awesome, but I love that it keeps our family together,” she says. “It’s kind of like the circus acts like Barnum and Bailey. We get to be a family, and our crew kind of is an extension of that.”
Musically, Trent feels like being a two-piece gives them more room to be free and to do something he thinks is a little fresh.
“I like the fact that there’s a lot of creative freedom in just being a two-piece and trying to figure out how we are going to pull it off,” he says. “That’s exciting to me.”
Shovels and Rope spends a lot of time on the road and plays a lot of shows all across North America, but Hearst and Trent don’t worry much about balancing music and marriage.
“I wish we could say we even had time to worry about that stuff,” says Hearst. “When we’re out there, it’s all about putting our heads down, making sure the shows are good, keeping everyone safe. We’re lucky we’re young in our marriage, and we don’t have kids. We don’t have to pat each other’s backs and don't have to baby each other. We’re not needy. And we know how to give each other space. It’s like that line in Indiana Jones 3, ‘hey Dr. Jones, no time for love.”
To learn more about Shovels and Rope, visit www.shovelsandrope.com.
– Lindsay Chung (Twitter @LChunger)
Seeing The Light:
An Interview With Peter Hook
As Toronto anticipates the return of Peter Hook and his band The Light, Peter took some time to discuss the tour with The Spill and to take stock of his incredible career as bass player and founding member of post-punk pioneers Joy Division and New Order. Emerging from the punk scene in the late 70’s Joy Division’s constantly evolving experimental post-punk sound was fuelled by the introspective, deep and sometimes downright desolate performances by the band’s legendary lead singer Ian Curtis. Thousands of disaffected youth adopted the band as their spokespersons who, through art, expressed their own feelings of alienation and angst. As Joy Division’s cult following quickly reached new heights Ian Curtis tragically committed suicide in 1980 leaving Hook and the rest of the band to re-assemble under a new name – New Order – and to continue to innovate and evolve producing some of the biggest post-punk hits in the 80’s such as “Blue Monday”, “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “True Faith.”
Hook’s performances with the Light re-visit those early days with vigour much to the delight of long-time fans and younger fans alike. It seems each new generation discovers Joy Division and New Order on their own terms and identify with the genuine passion and feeling conveyed in the music. “It is always good to see young people at the shows,” says Hook, “I think it is a great compliment to all the members of Joy Division and New Order that the music still resonates after all this time because we worked very hard on that initial output and did try to push the boundaries. It's great to see that the songs have all stood the test of time.”
Peter Hook and the Light have a simple mission; to perform the material in chronological order. “We started this project by playing Unknown Pleasures, which we then followed by playing Closer and then going on to play all of the tracks from Still, which meant that we had played every single Joy Division song live once again which I am very proud to have done, I think that's a great achievement by us, and people are very happy to hear that material brought back to life again,” explained Hook. Now with the 2013 tour, it’s time to play New Order’s first two albums; Movement and Power, Corruption & Lies. “It’s a complete showcase of 1980-1983 New Order.”
Fans take the music very seriously and the revered studio albums by Joy Division as well as early New Order were often spatial and sometimes lo-fi as opposed to the band’s more raw live performances. Hook’s band handles this difference with great sensitivity when performing the material. “When we were first approaching that material it was a bit of a conundrum because we had to appreciate that the sound of live Joy Division was very different to Joy Division on record. The live shows were loud, punky and raucous, whereas the studio albums had a sound of their own thanks to Martin Hannett's production.”
“At first Barney (Bernard Sumner - singer, guitarist and founding member of both Joy Division and New Order) and I did not like the sound of the albums because it was so different to how we sounded live but over time I realise that we were wrong - the albums sound great. More people have heard the records than have heard Joy Division live so when it came to playing the songs we had to find a balance between the two sides of Joy Division. We try to be as faithful as we can to the albums but there are some songs that certainly lend themselves to a more rocky sound than on record.”
Alas, Hook left Barney and the rest of New Order back in 2006 due to personal differences and this opened up a legal dispute. “They don't agree with what I'm doing and now I don't agree with what they're doing in terms of using the New Order name to tour again when to my mind they are not New Order.” Yet Hook sees the glass as half-full. “For the fans it's not all that bad, there were many years where there was no activity at all by any of us, but now we are both are out there playing gigs.”
As for his take on new music; “I am a fan of Tame Impala, I think their stuff is really interesting, nothing else out there at the moment sounds like them. Just heard the new album from White Lies which I thought was a welcome return to form and I'm also hearing a lot of Bastille thanks to my youngest daughter.” Far from writing off new music as many critics have done, Hook embraces it. “There is a tendency to rely on older stuff and think that nothing new will reach that level but I think that's quite unfair to the people who are out there working hard now to forge their own new sounds.”
Peter Hook and the Light will perform the first two New Order albums in their entirety at The Hoxton in Toronto on September 19th.
– Michael Filonienko (Twitter @filonienko)
Exploring Another Side:
An Interview With Raine Maida
Raine Maida doubles as frontman for his award-winning rock band Our Lady Peace, who burst unto the alternative rock scene back in 1994 (8 albums strong), and as a solo artist currently touring in support of the release of his second album We All Get Lighter, where he continues to prove his versatility as an artist. The title is take from a quote by John Giorno, a beat poet whom Maida had met at a spoken word festival in Calgary some years back and whose thoughts on life would be a huge influence on the album. In addition to his musical projects, the father of three also lends his time to various political causes, most notably War Child. I had the opportunity to catch up with Maida, where he delved into the deeper issues of the new disc, other projects, and his method of song/album creation.
I started by asking about the similarities and differences between the new disc and his first full-length album The Hunter’s Lullaby. “The process was the same,” he said, “it just took longer due to OLP scheduling and recording. I start with a poem, add a programmed beat, an acoustic guitar and either add or subtract. One element that made this record slightly different was the song choices. I wanted it to be thematically tied into John Giorno’s inscription “everyone gets lighter” that he penned on my copy of his book Subduing Demons in America. So each song had to have something to do with looking at life as a journey that’s not guaranteed, and therefore living it as such. The need to “be in the moment” was paramount as a thread to all the songs I chose.”
As a solo artist Maida’s music is definitely quite different from OLP, allowing him room to experiment in a variety of ways, as with spoken word on The Hunter’s Lullaby. The songs on the new disc are framed by a softer vocal delivery, and frequently explore seasonal or sensory themes as in the first single “Montreal” and “Not Done Yet.” It seemed that nature was a likely source of inspiration, and I am curious as to where else he drew inspiration from.
“Nature has a power that is difficult to match in terms of the elements. A cold wind, a warm breeze, a cloudy day all carry such majestic weight if you allow yourself to appreciate their energy. I draw from human experience: situations or feelings that are very personal, and quite often they are supported by the elements.”
On the flipside of the upbeat first single “Montreal,” the new single “SOS” has much darker undertones, with an equally dark and powerful video, suggesting hope for a dismal situation; a metaphor for society or the world in general. Maida confirms. “It’s definitely about trying to find a way out of the mess we have created. The video is about getting back to basics re-discovering our humility and respect…for each other and for the planet. Navigating the waters back to simplicity.”
But it is the track “How to Kill a Man” that is his favourite. “The message of trying to live your life without having regrets is such a powerful idea; one I have only begun to understand. I am also very happy with the arrangement of the song, the sounds, and the mix. It’s some of my best work as a songwriter, producer, engineer and even singer.”
Maida has also worked with the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Avril Lavigne and Carrie Underwood, and produces other bands under his own record label Kingnoise Records. “I’m focused on developing younger artists these days. The Beaches are an incredibly talented young band from Toronto that I’ve been working with for a few years. I’m much more comfortable helping someone find what’s unique about them, and then writing a song for someone. Collaboration is important and I’ve come to really enjoy the process.” Speaking of collaboration, Maida, together with his wife Chantal Kreviazuk, have ventured into making music for films. I ask him to elaborate a little more on that, and if there is a particular project he is excited about. “I’m always excited about the next thing because it means starting fresh. Chantal and I just scored a short film titled “The Spirit Games.” Film scoring is very liberating because musical form is unlimited and I don’t have to worry about writing lyrics. This makes it challenging on a different level because you have to create an emotion without the benefit of a voice or words, so that can be tricky sometimes.”
On an end note, I refer back to the tour which took Maida to his beloved city Montreal, to attend the Osheaga Music Festival. “I adore Montreal, and Osheaga has grown into an incredible world class festival…so, yes I’m excited to be a part of it. The food is always top notch at Osheaga, so that’s always a nice touch. Great food and music always equal good times.”
– Charmaine Elizabeth Merchant (Facebook @charmaineelizabeth.merchant)www.rainemaida.net
Thinking Outside Of The Indie Box:
An Interview With
Ali Siadat of Mother Mother
A beautiful rainy day provided the opportunity for Spill Magazine to sit down with Mother Mother's drummer Ali Siadat. As a band they are in a wonderful place in their life. Their music continues to grow and develop and as individuals they are leading fulfilling lives.
Originally, on the first album cover, Touch Up, there were three scratches and there was also a five headed rooster on it. But before the band was called Mother Mother, and before there was a record deal, they had independently released a self titled album. At the time the band consisted of only three people. It was a vocal trio and the rooster on the cover had three heads. Ali explained that "it represents the three vocalists, but on a deeper level the number three was a recurring number. It just kept coming up". The three scratches have remained as a main graphic symbol representing the band on every album. "There are three scratches on the eye of the fish on the Oh My Heart cover, and there are also three pixelated scratches inside the album Eureka". The three scratches have been a theme that has defined the band and should continue on future projects.
I Am The Drummer
The band originally started with Ryan, Molly, and Ryan's sister Jean. Things started to happen pretty fast for them and they were getting more and more gigs. It is at this point that they decided they needed a rhythm section. So they did what anyone else would do, they hired a rhythm section, consisting of a drummer and the bass player. Ali recalled that "those faces changed a few times, until they were solidified with Jeremy Page, who remains the base player to this day. Kenton Loewen was the original long term drummer who stayed for a while. He was the drummer on the Touch Up album cycle. Somewhere along the way on that album cycle, the band parted ways with Kenton and that is when I came into the picture. I have been with the band for the last three album cycles". Ali has been with the band for about six years and he really loves it too.
It is a good life and he offers no complaints. He mentions that "bands can become very difficult entities to a deal with, but we are a solid unit. We are quite a dedicated group of people. We are very solid with each other. We are all in it for the right reasons and we get a long pretty well. We are in a good situation".
"There have been some drummers that have influenced me personally, but for the most part I am influenced by music in general. I like the sound of a band as a whole. Nirvana and The Pixies have been a big influence on me, and so have bands like The Smiths and The Cure." Ali Siadat doesn't particularly know the drummer’s name of the Smiths or the Cure, but he greatly admires their songs. He has been a fan of simple drumming that is capable of serving the song well, and at the same time is able to strike an emotional cord.
A Global Citizen
Ali Siadat is a true global citizen. He was born in the United States of America to Iranian parents and did most of his growing up in Dubai. "I came to Canada for my University studies and when I first moved to Canada I wasn’t a musician. I came here to study Mechanical Engineering. I then started pursing Science". He has always been a bit of a math head. Mathematics, and physics in particular have always fascinated and excited him. "It was when I was in grad school that I got really into drumming in a really big way. I only started to explore the scene, once I learned that I might be good enough to play in a band".
As a global citizen he is often excited to tour just about anywhere, but he especially loves touring Europe. "There is such a great diversity there one can experience. There is such rich diverse culture there. There are so many languages, and so many different people. The fact is, you don’t have to go very far to experience an entirely different culture. Here in North America, you can travel from one end of this continent to the other and it is pretty homogenous".
Mother Mother has a very special relationship with War Child and it is the first charity that they have worked with. The band was initially approached by War Child to work together. "They asked us to perform and over some time they kept asking us for more and more performances. We are very privileged to do what we do and this is a very easy and quick way to help out". The word quickly got out that Mother Mother were open to helping various causes and other charitable societies have approached them as well. Ali Siadat is very blunt in mentioning that as a band they "are not very active in these charities, in terms of the day to day activities. We just like to contribute to their efforts". He added that he doesn't believe Mother Mother is doing that much. "We do a little bit in terms of playing music. It is really the people running the charities that are doing the really hard work. They are going to these places, to people that need help. Often they are in war zones, and in Amnesty International's case, in places where a societies lack basic human rights". The real hard work gets done away from the stage and the charitable organizations deserve all of the credit. "They deserve it all. To be honest. We do what we can to help them raise some money, but we definitely are very conscious of the fact that we live a very privileged life. We can wonder the streets very freely, and play music, and be fed at any time. Its those guys that are taking it to the next level".
The Problem With Indie
As a band, Mother Mother has been very lucky to be part of a label which over four albums allowed them to make their own music. They have never felt the pressure to produce a particular sound, or be moulded to a certain musical philosophy. They have a wonderful relationship with their label, and in turn the label has a lot of faith in the band. But there were some raised eyebrows at the mention of being an Indie band.
For Ali Siadat that word has very little meaning. The word simply implies being independent. In the beginning, the majority of musicians had no support from any major label and historically, smaller, independent labels were born to fill the void and help the independent bands. Today however, there are big name bands on major labels but they are making Indie music. "I find it hard to distinguish what is Indie, or what it sounds like, or if we are Indie for that matter. Personally, I don’t see us as an Indie sounding band. We are a pop band. We make pop songs. We make rock songs. You can find great diversity in our sound. Meaning, that the songs tend to be different from one another, even on the same album". Mother Mother's music has been identified Indie because very often journalists and fans alike find it hard to describe the diverse nature of their music. "When I think of Indie band, I don’t think of us. However, we have been on an Indie label for a long time, so I guess you could say that we are an Indie band".
Mother Mother now travels the world and reaches a diverse fan base and they continue to be surprised how far reaching music has become. On their first European tour, they were surprised that there were a lot of fans out there who knew the words to their songs and had intimate knowledge of their sound. They had never been to Europe before and it was their first official release. Ali Saidat is still surprised at their European fan base. "They knew a lot of the older songs. The power of the internet had really revealed itself to us. France and Germany in particular, and Belgium. There are a lot of people over there that were exposed to our music. We were surprised that we had a lot of avid fans in those countries. We did not expect that".
They try to interact with the fans as often as they can. We really enjoy interacting with them and want to foster a close relationship. "We stay in touch with them online, via twitter, and facebook. As often as possible we like to do meet and greets and signings after shows if we can, and if the facilities allow". The band understands that it is an honour for their fans to love the music so much. They try to repay that devotion as often as they can and look for every opportunity to do so.
– Greg Kieszkowski (Twitter @GregK72)
If You're Not Famous, You're Not Welcome Here:
A Commentary On The Temporary Foreign Workers Act
Perhaps our MPs aren’t aware of any musicians who haven’t played at the Whitehouse, Carnegie Hall or Bonaroo. Independent musicians and small label bands may just mean Temporary Foreign Workers to them, but to us, they are inspiring folk heroes, rock ‘n’ roll deacons, poets and more. Canadians have plenty to gain in hearing, interacting, collaborating with, and opening for foreign acts. The resumes of our bands have benefited greatly through sharing the stage with international acts Rolling Stone Magazine will never hear of.
However, as of July 31st, 2013, the Canadian independent music scene has been playing by a new set of rules established by the Conservative Party. The new Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) act requires businesses to pay a heavy initial tax when hiring a TFW. The Conservative Party thought enough to make a small exception for the music business, but not enough for the exception to make any sense. May I preface the following by saying how spectacular it is that our government is looking out for Bon Jovi’s well-being?
As pertaining to music, the TFW legislation has been mired in confusion—not that the confusion does any favors or injustice to its interpretation. Allow me to make one thing clear. The law targets Canadian music venues, not foreign musicians in any direct sense. It stipulates that any venue that is not exclusively a music venue must pay a $425.00 tax per band member in order to host a foreign artist or band. This means they start the night at least $425.00 in the hole. That’s at least one hundred dollars more than most well established bars/venues will pay a band in the first place.
Any venue that offers music or entertainment as its exclusive purpose is exempt from this law. It’s a pointlessly vague exemption. Is the Horseshoe Tavern exempt? How much the word “tavern” means to you. The Black Sheep Inn? The Annex? The Tranzac? The one thing this exemption does make clear is that a 4-piece American band with any bars at all on their tour circuit will hypothetically start several tour dates $1700 in the hole. I say hypothetically because it is simply not feasible that these bands will be booked in bars or cafes at all anymore. The kicker is that while these small venues will be forced to spend big money on a foreign act which will see none of it, Mumford & Sons, playing at the ACC, will not. If roles were reversed, would Mumford & Sons even notice seventeen hundred dollars? Your guess is as good as mine.
At this point, it is important to remember that small towns are often bereft of exclusive music venues big or small. Want to see some Tennessee fiddle in Cornwall? You’re out of luck.
This $425-$2100—because you can forget about seeing anything bigger than a five piece band—stonewalling leaves me with two options of belief. Either the Canadian government believes they can make some serious dough off the North American underground—in which case they have been brutally misled—or they honestly believe they are doing Canadian music a favour by keeping foreign music out of our pubs. Both conclusions betray a vast disconnect on the part the Conservative government with how the underground music scene operates.
I have yet to hear of a musician who claimed to be somehow burned or cheated by a venue hiring a foreign act. Is there some fantasy city I’m unaware of where Canadian artists can’t get gigs because of “all these damned foreigners”? I’m waiting, Windsor. No? I didn’t think so.
Temporary Foreign Workers and touring musicians may look the same on paper—and therein lies our government’s confusion—but they are not. Foreign musicians help our artists. They are among the foremost ways for our artists to make connections in other countries when it’s our turn to share Canadian music with the world. And let’s hope the States don’t levy the same taxes when we attempt to do so.
Now, I don’t expect our MP’s to know anything about the nuances of the underground music scene, nor should they concern themselves with it. But it begs the question: Why would a government that cuts funding to the CBC as well as our arts institutions across the board, suddenly turn around and pass an act that seems to suggest “Canadian venues for Canadian music only”? Could it be that they are concerned with the dilution of a culture they do not value? Is there a town on the border where Canadian bands can’t get gigs due to all the “Temporary Foreign ones”?
The fact is, they don’t care. They haven’t considered it, and they likely consider it a waste of time and resources to do so. Their concern lies exclusively in money leaving the country with TFWs. And even this doesn’t make sense in our context. Most bands touring foreign countries—take Americans for example—aren’t going to make it out of our dispersed touring grid with a whole lot of cash, certainly not the ones playing the small venues this law targets. They will, however, be purchasing OUR gas, renting OUR motels, eating at OUR restaurants, and contributing to OUR music scene. Most bands leave the country with less money than they came with. Why is their contribution to our economy overlooked? Mostly due to big picture laziness. Music after all, was a small, ill-fated afterthought to this law.
Canadian music’s end of the TFW legislation sends an obvious message to the States in particular, an audience most Canadians must tackle eventually in order to maintain or build success. Not so, the other way round, I might add.
Hey America, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but apparently, if you’re not famous, you’re not welcome here.
– Commentary by Anthony Damiao
Not Just About Nostalgia:
An Interview With
Wayne Hussey of the Mission
In a year of comebacks encompassing everyone from Bowie to Boards of Canada, the Mission are preparing to release their first album in six years. Spill Magazine recently enjoyed a chat with singer Wayne Hussey on the phone from his base in Brazil. Having reassembled the band with the original members bar drummer Mick Brown, we wanted to investigate how it came about. So how did you reunite the band Wayne?
“A little coercion, persuasion and bribery! When we were approached to do the 25th anniversary show in 2011, I did say something along the lines of ‘don’t worry we’re not going to be playing new songs, this is all about nostalgia.’ I realize that usually when bands come back and play new songs, the audience goes off to the bar, so I kind of mentioned we’d just be doing old songs. But we started actually enjoying each other, the sound and the noise we were making and we thought: why don’t we make a new record, then one thing led to another and we found ourselves in the studio with a bunch of new songs. It certainly does help in terms of extending our set, we now have a whole new album to choose from, not just the old songs.”
There was, however one member of the band who didn’t make the cut – original drummer Mick Brown.
“When we first started to talking about it back in 2011, I said to Craig (Adams) and Simon (Hinkler) that I wanted Mick involved as well. I went to see Mick… he’s been driving trucks for 15 years which is something he loves doing. That’s what he was doing before the band but he basically said ‘I had a go at playing the drums and I had to take two days off work! I’m not really physically fit to do it. I don’t want to be carried off stage in an oxygen tent every night so I’d better say no. You have my best go ahead and do it.’ Knowing Mick as I do, I strongly suspect it was more about not wanting to let anybody down.”
“Of all the members of the band, Mick would have been the one that they would have liked to see most because the rest of them have been out there doing stuff. But that was fine, you know, same old Mick. He’s happy doing what he’s doing. And I think anything like this would have complicated his life.”
Not that the logistics of reuniting the remaining members was easy.
“I’m in Brazil, Craig’s in Maryland (USA) and Simon is in Devon (England). And Mike (Kelly, the current drummer) is in Brighton. We don’t get together every Sunday in the local church hall for rehearsals.”
But on further discussion it seems that this was not merely a rehashing of old glories.
“The easiest thing in the world would have been to say, ‘Let’s go back and make Carved In Sand Mk II or God’s Own Medicine Mk II but we’ve all changed. We’re into different things, we’re different kinds of musicians. I just thought that we should make an honest record of what we’re about right now rather than try to recreate what we once were.”
The end result is a twelve-track album, an eclectic mix of different styles, some identifiably Mission and some surprises. Hussey and company are understandably happy with it.
“I am happy with it. We’ve achieved what we set out to achieve, which was basically to make an album that I think sounds like we sound live. There’s not a great deal of overdubs on this, there aren’t layers and layers of guitars or vocals, it’s quite raw and that’s what we intended to try and capture with this record.”
The Mission have continued to release albums since their late eighties heyday. Where does this album fit in amongst the Mission back catalogue?
“I don’t listen to my back catalogue, I have to relearn the songs. We’re a band that’s been around for 26, 27 years or so, so there’s a fair few records there. Every record I’ve ever made I’ve put my heart and soul into it at the time we made it. A record is a document of a point in time: sometimes you’re in a good place, sometimes you’re in a creative place, and sometimes you’re not. But each and every record I’ve ever made I’ve tried to do the best that I can do.”
“The thing about new records is you’re always closest to it ‘cos it’s new. Only time will tell where it stands in the canon of the Mission back catalogue. I think the best Mission album, besides the new one of course, is God’s Own Medicine. That’s one album that I wouldn’t skip any tracks on, on all the others, I’d probably skip tracks. Apart from the new one. Yet!”
“I think there’s enough there for people to say ‘this sounds like the Mission’ but there’s also enough to see where we can go in the future. There’s a little bit of blues in there, a little bit of country... If we areto make another record who knows where it will go. It will depend where we are at at a particular point in time.”
In the short term, the band plans a brief tour.
“We’re off to do a short tour of the States and then were back to UK and Europe in December. Two short tours. We do it in small chunks because we don’t want to get sick of it and we don’t want to get sick of each other.”
The ‘goth’ tag dogged The Mission in the past. In this day and age of genres and sub-genres we had a brief chat about how to label the sound of the band.
“In the past what I’ve tended to say is if you think of Led Zeppelin, the Cure and U2, we’re kind of somewhere in between those bands. I would say that s pretty much the same now. We’re a rock band. People see us as being ‘goth’ and dark, but I don’t see it that way at all. I see us as being a traditional rock band with really ‘up’ songs actually.”
Around the time of the formation of the band there was a well-publicized fallout between Wayne Hussey and Sisters of Mercy singer Andrew Eldritch. Is Hussey in contact with any of his peers?
“Funnily enough I was hanging out with Peter Murphy (ex-Bauhaus) last week I got up on stage with him and sang a couple of songs in Sao Paolo but I can’t see that happening with Andrew (Eldritch).”
Did you guys bury the hatchet?
“Yeah. In each others’ heads!”
The wonder is where a band like the Mission fits into the music scene in 2013. Hussey is downbeat when discussing the music of today.
“Funnily enough I’m not a huge fan of modern rock. I think rock music has become quite generic, largely due to the technology that’s used. Everybody uses Pro-tools. In the old days you heard the sound of rooms, the studio, and you heard that on the record. There are things I like, I like the xx, Smoke Fairies, I like Laura Marling’s last album. I just discovered a band last week called Tamarin, from america. I tend to go backwards more to try and find music I like. What I’ve listened to in the last four or five years is Hank Williams, delta blues, 1920s/1930s recordings, even things like Bob Dylan. That’s kind of informed the record (The Brightest Light)… I wanted it to sound like a band playing together in a room.”
“One of the things I wanted to avoid on this record is trying to get that ‘modern drum sound’ that every rock record seems to have. It goes back to the ‘sound of rooms’, the four of us sat in a room playing together and you can hear the space, which I kind of like.”
The band has no long-term plans at this point, but individually the different members all have stuff to keep them busy.
“We’re touring till the end of the year and after that we have no plans. Simon plans to make a solo album, Craig is always out playing with someone or other and I quite fancy making a solo album next year. But we’ve no long term plans.”
Other than music, Hussey appears to be quite content.
“I read a lot, I watch a lot of films. I would call myself a football fan although I’m less than enthusiastic about this new season (Wayne is a Liverpool fan). We have an apartment in Sao Paolo for when we get tired of the countryside – a bit of culture, bit of shopping, go to the cinema. I’m a simple boy. I’m not into astrology, astronomy or trainspotting. I went through the Aleister Crowley phase in my early twenties. I’m not a goth! It’s become a dirty word unfortunately, I don’t know why.”
Would he consider writing an autobiography?
“I’ve got a title and everything. ‘Hussey: My Name and My Nature’. Haha. I’ve actually been approached to do this. I read a lot of autobiographies and I’m kind of assimilating what I should do with mine. I’ve got a few stories to tell. I’ve got to be careful about libel. I think I’ll skip my whole childhood. Whenever you read autobiographies and they go on for 3 chapters about their childhood, genealogy, family history… that’s really boring. You know what I mean? It’s only interesting to their mothers.”
– Killian Laher (Twitter @klaher)
An Interview With
Duncan Davies and Michael Eckert of The Treasures
On a beautiful sunny afternoon, before the skies opened up and drenched everyone at the 2013 Edgefest Festival in Toronto, Spill Magazine had a chance to sit down with Duncan Davies (vocals, acoustic/electric guitar) and Michael Eckert (petal steel, banjo, dobro, acoustic/electric guitar), members of hometown band The Treasures, to discuss their newly released album, Bring the Night Home.
Formed in 2009, the band has slowly built up a dedicated following and continue to win new audiences with their sweet melodies and beautiful harmonies. Their Country and Rock style serves them well, and they have dedicated themselves in performing live as much as possible.
They all hail from Toronto, except for their drummer Galen Pelley, who is from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Their video for “Crossed the Wrong Woman” can be seen on Vevo, or through the band’s website – thetreasuresband.com. The director of the video was Jake Cole and Davies mentioned that it was Cole’s treatment. “He [Cole] brought it to us. We sort of worked on it, to make sure it truly represented ourselves, but in the end it was really his vision. He pulled it off very well.”
The Treasures, travelled to Nashville, the epicenter of all that is Country Music, thinking that their long journey would lead them to exceptional results. At this point, they had been a solid band for two years and were taking their time getting out their first record. Somewhere in Nashville, they realized that the clean and pristine modern country approach didn’t suit their tunes.
So what exactly happened in Nashville? Eckert explained, “A couple of things occurred. But really, what it comes down to is that the results weren’t there. They just weren’t there. We knew enough about ourselves to be able to say okay, we can do better. Let’s do it.” Davies added, “We think we did better. We think and we feel we did. Hopefully, the public agrees.”
They returned from Nashville with tremendous frustration and disappointment but were extremely grateful to be able to work with producer Colin Linden, who convinced the band to record at the Tragically Hip’s Bathouse Studios. Per the group’s bio, the band desired a less polished approach and wanted to capture the sound of a group of musicians playing together in a room. They wanted to combine their energies and believe that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Davies recalled that it was great. “A truly wonderful space. It was nice because we were all living there at the studio, all while working together on the album.” Eckert added that their producer used the space a lot. “He knew it would be a good vibe for us. He said that it was very important that we have a space that we could all move into. We wanted a summer camp kind of vibe for a couple of weeks.”
The recording was done live to tape and there seems to be some magic in the process. A few years ago Ben Harper purchased old recording equipment used by Jimi Hendrix in his own studio, so that he could get back to the roots of music. Eckert and Davies both thought that this was amazing, or as they put it – “bad ass.”
Eckert added that this “is definitely the way some of the recorded music is going, and it certainly worked for us. It is something we will be definitely exploring more of in the future.”
The band is fairly busy at the moment and there is tremendous values in playing live so much. They play as often as they can because they love what they do and they realize they need to play together as much as possible to keep maturing as artists. Eckert believes that there are three specific elements that motivates The Treasures to play live so much. “First, there is the group interaction. The dynamic created by everyone that is on stage. Second, there is your personal interaction with everyone off the stage. Finally, there is the interaction of the group presenting a cohesive face to everyone off the stage.” He continued to explain that all three channels must be engaged. “The more time you have to do it, the better you are for it. It is no different than teaching in a classroom. If you have to get up and speak in front of a room of kids and teach them every day, you have to speak to a collective. However, you cannot reach everyone at the same time, so a good teacher tries to reach each individual kid and tackles their problems at their own level.”
In terms of their lyrics, labeling their music as Canadiana does not tell the whole story. Davies said that “there is a lot of personal material and there are certainly a lot of universal themes, ones that would apply to any individual. We write about the things we all go through. Some of it is a bit more vague than others.” Because they are Canadian, they naturally write from a Canadian perspective, but their message continues to be universal.
The Treasures use multiple singers. They try to find the right singer to suit the right song. “We audition each other,” remarks Davies. “We try to find the right singer that suits the right song.” He explained that everyone will try to sing the part, and if someone is struggling with it because it is too high or something, we try somebody else. We are always moving parts around to make it fit right.”
Eckert adds, “When you’re looking at the lead singer, or the character, or the voice, you are in fact establishing the narrator who is going to set the tone for the whole piece. This is the most important aspect of the song, regardless of who sings the first verse, or if someone else comes in to sing the second verse. That first voice sets the stage for the whole piece. It is very important that we get that right. We are really fortunate to be in a place where we have four really strong singers. I am not one of them, so I get to stand back and watch the other guys work. I sit back the best I can, and listen with an objective ear.” The band is extremely focused and determined to find the right person to deliver the vocals.
The 2013 edition of Edgefest is a very important stage for The Treasures. They have never attended the festival before, but realize that it has been around for many years. They do not take it for granted that they share the stage with many great artists that have come before them. “It feels like we are in the midst of a change,” Eckert believes. “It is very difficult at this moment to figure out what it is happening because we are living right in the middle of it. The fact is that Edgefest as a festival is evolving. The fact that bands like ours are here at all is amazing. We don’t know what to expect but we look forward to it.”
The whole band was trying very hard to take everything in, but most of all they were focused on delivering a wonderful set and checking out the other bands. They hoped to enjoy the rest of the afternoon and take advantage of all Edgefest had to offer. Not all were that lucky.
When asked what his plans were for the day, Duncan Davies responded that he was headed to work. “I work at a restaurant downtown. I am leaving as soon as we are finished. I need to rush to get down there too. We play and are done at two, and I work at four. You have to do what you have to do. We are very happy to do it. It means we get to do this for a living.”
Duncan Davies and Michel Eckert are very dedicated and grateful for being able to do what they love to do. They also believe the band is turning a corner. Please support their new debut album Bring the Night Home, and better yet take a chance and go see them live.
– Greg Kieszkowski (Twitter @GregK72)TheTreasuresBand.com
If This Is Not Music Then What Is It?!:
An Interview With
John Power of F**k Buttons
Despite the rather brash band name, Benjamin John Power was on polite form when Spill Magazine caught up with him. We chatted briefly about the band’s background, the new album and the perils of discovering that not everybody appreciates you. Power and fellow band member Andrew Hung met in school in Worcester, though they had rather different musical backgrounds, as Power describes:
“I grew up on a strict diet of hardcore and punk, Andy would listen to Warp (Records) and trip-hop. Our tastes merged around the time when ‘noise’ was the thing, though it’s detrimental to describe something as ‘noise’.”
Far from your writer’s impression that the band consists of two keyboard-based boffins, the truth is rather different:
“We utilize all kinds of synthesizers, but also use plenty of pedals, samplers and manipulated field recordings. We don’t get attached to any one piece of equipment, we used to use a washing machine drum with some mics! We use electronic instruments but not just keyboards, It’s really just whatever goes.”
Power went on to say how they are not averse to using recognisable instruments:
“We have used guitars and there are vocals on each of our records, but nothing is ever used in a conventional way. I’ve never picked up a manual for any equipment I’ve bought. We don’t like to adhere to the suggested use of an instrument, we like to put our stamp on it. I didn’t take guitar lessons, I just taught myself how to play. That taps into the ideology of the band. We don’t buy instruments to serve a particular purpose. We never have any preconceived ideas, when we start to write it’s a very explorative process. When we’re together, that’s when we start to play around.”
A series of happy accidents then? Attempting to get Power to pigeonhole his band’s sound was to prove even more futile than Spill Magazine’s attempt to describe their latest album: http://spillmagazine.com/album_reviews.html#Fuck_Buttons
“It’s very layer based. We play around until we stumble across a texture that interests us both, then these things grow limbs…it’s almost like automatic writing. We tend to feel our way through things as opposed to planning, we don’t sit down and say ‘oh we want to write a song that sounds like this’. It is a very explorative way of writing.”
We were intrigued to press power as to how this translates live.
“We actually set up how we would set up live anyway, we write in a very ‘live’ capacity, there’s never a laptop present. We set up facing each other at a table. Once we’ve written a track it’s ready to play out live, because we are writing ‘live’, the two go hand in hand, they’re not mutually exclusive. The writing process IS the production process. Things are ready to play live once they’re written. We play the songs together as a band would. So for an electronic group, if you’d like to call it that, there’s still a live aspect to it.”
The unclassifiable nature of the band’s music meant that when the band’s first album, Street Horrrsing, came out, Power went into his local record store to see what section it was in.
”Our album would sometimes be in the rock and pop section, sometimes dance, electronic, metal, so we've never felt a kinship with any scene.”
The band is understandably happy with new album Slow Focus, though they weren’t burdened by record company pressure to follow up 2009’s Tarot Sport.
“We are in quite a lucky situation with ATP Recordings, it’s a family thing. We have complete creative control, they don’t pressure us to release stuff before we’re ready to. It’s a very good position to be in. Tarot Sport came out four years ago. We toured it for two years and then I moved into a new house. There was a room downstairs we turned into a studio, and we wrote the record down there, then we recorded there as well, to our own diary. We set our own pace, we didn’t have any external deadline.”
The new album represents a significant progression from Tarot Sport, and Power agrees:
“We never wanted to put the same record out twice. There’s a sentiment apparent on the new record, the emotional palette has turned a corner. It’s a little darker, maybe not as welcoming and it’s the most dynamic record we’ve done to date. There’s an anxiety to the overall feeling as well. This one is inclined to ‘push away’.”
Anxious music for anxious times?
“It’s not necessarily reflective of mine or Andy’s collective outlook, or what’s going on in our lives. It’s more to do with the emotional palette.”
The band have their champions, the loudest of whom, Mogwai released Power’s solo project Blanck Mass on their Rock Action records but it’s not easy to keep them on side…
“I think I might be in trouble as I missed Stuart’s (Braithwaite) girlfriend’s birthday yesterday!”
Currently Power is enjoying the likes of the equally scary Haxan Cloak, James Hoden and certain “very cold, electronic stuff”. The band are preparing a world tour starting in September, taking in some festivals and running into next year.
Collaborations? Don’t expect Chris Martin to sing on future albums.
“Andy and I have spent ten years honing our aesthetic so I think it would be unfair to drop somebody into that. I can’t picture how it would work. But in saying that were always looking to do new things. We’re not averse but it would take some adjusting.”
Power is far more enthused about where the band are at right now.
“Twenty years ago musicians made their money through record sales, they didn’t need to tour as much as bands do nowadays. There are a lot more bands now. It’s a really exciting time, we’re spoiled. There’s a myriad of subgenres, I don’t even understand what half of them are. It’s really exciting that people can share their music at the click of a button. Obviously it makes it harder to be a professional musician, you have to tour a lot more to make a living out of it. But it can’t be a bad thing to have a platform to share music. It does mean there’s a lot more shit to filter through but it’s very exciting , everyone’s a musician now. Boutique independent labels have become more important than the musicians on their labels as they really craft an aesthetic. Before, labels put out all kinds of stuff but now labels are really honing their aesthetic. I think it’s a good time to be on a small independent label.”
Not everyone, it seems, is so taken with F**k Buttons
“We played in our home town of Worcester in the function room of a pub to maybe 60 people. The owner of the pub came in and switched off the electricity. She said ‘this is not music’. If this is not music then what is it?! That one always stuck with us.”
– Killian Laher (Twitter @klaher)
Digging A Quieter Scene:
An Interview With Brendan Canning
On October 1st, 2013, founding Broken Social Scenester Brendan Canning will be releasing You Gots 2 Chill. While 2008’s Something For All Of Us, bore his name as “Broken Social Scene Presents Brendan Canning”, this promises to be a much more intimate affair.
Canning who darted around the 90’s Indie-Rock scene, first in Hhead, and later as member of By Divine Right for their 1999 standout Bless This Mess, found a larger international audience with Broken Social Scene. But this album returns his focus to the blocks around his house. “I spend a lot of time sitting on my stoop playing acoustic guitar, so this is really just the first outing for that side of me,” Canning reveals, so the writing and recording process was fairly pure. “Sit on my porch, play a little acoustic guitar, get some ideas and record them, and then spend about a month tweak them.”
The first single, available for download at his website, showcases a more brooding Canning than we’ve come to expect. Although he describes some of the songs as getting fairly dense in the layering, it sounds like the album will be more about hazy vibes. “I think that’s my strength as a writer. I’m better at creating a mood versus telling a specific story. I wish I was one of those guys who could really wordsmith a tune, but that’s just never felt natural to me.”
What does seem natural for such a personal project is releasing it on a small label Draper St. Records that he started with a friend, so that even the artwork was Canning’s own. “I’m not trying to sell a million records; I just want to get a simple message out there, so I just wanted to take a more active role. I’m kind of a lazy person in that regards so I’ve been encouraged to take ownership more.”
Yet that doesn’t mean he’s tightfisted on the reigns. As a man who’s made contributions to albums ranging from C’mon to Feist to the Apostle of Hustle, he still cherishes the spirit of collaboration. “They’re definitely my tunes to start with, but I’m always open for collaboration. I would never be closed to any collaboration. If there’s a good idea in the room, I want to hear it. I think that’s just part of the strength in numbers mentality that I believe in”.
− Jeff Vasey (Twitter @JeffVasey1)
Pentagrams, Naked Women And Phantom Strangers:
An Interview With John 5 of Rob Zombie
He’s been a part of some of metal’s most controversial bands, known for his antics in Marilyn Manson and now as a member of Rob Zombie’s gruesome crew. On the afternoon of ROCKSTAR ENERGY DRINK’S Mayhem Festival’s stop in Toronto, The Spill Magazine had a chance to sit down with the legendary, John 5. I await his arrival aboard the floating press area around the Molson Amphitheatre’s Echo Beach, where dozens of reporters are conducting interviews. He walks in wearing a slouchy wool hat and a denim jacket, unseasonably warm attire for Canada in July. I stood to shake the hand of the man, whose music had such a profound impact on my youth, suppressing the inner fangirl inside me. It’s been an extremely productive year for this highly celebrated guitarist and I couldn’t wait to get down to the details.
As we sat down, I congratulated him on being the recipient of the Revolver Golden Gods Award: Best Guitarist of the Year. He smiles, “Thank you, yeah it’s pretty exciting! It’s pretty cool to get an award for something you just sit around and do all day. But I don’t take it for granted. I love playing guitar, so you know, to be recognized for it is awesome.” Taking a glance at the video clip of his acceptance speech will demonstrate his humble demeanour, ending in a dedication of the award to the late, Jeff Hanneman of Slayer.
Believe it or not, John 5 has an incredibly calm energy about him. Our interview feels like a relaxed conversation, two friends just chatting over an invisible cup of coffee. He smiles a lot, stretching out in his chair and lazily playing with my new Rob Zombie tour shirt I had placed on the table. I quickly move the conversation along to the release of Rob Zombie’s latest tongue twister of an album, Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor which I had written in front of me in huge, bold letters.
John 5 lets out a hearty laugh about the title, “It’s very large too, I know” noticing the paper I laid out. He commends me for my correct pronunciation, “It’s quite the name!” I add, “So tell me why it was a good fit for the album and how you guys came up with it” He responds, “Well, Rob (Zombie) thought it just sounded cool and it came out of his mouth …but I think that the songs kind of sound venomous and dirty. So I kind of look at the music as the title as well, just sounding aggressive and dirty and things like that”
John 5 was also credited as the main writer of the score on Rob Zombie’s latest horror flick, The Lords of Salem. Creating these eerie tracks, coupled with writing for the simultaneous release of Zombie’s latest album sounded like an immense amount of pressure. “It was a lot of work, but there is always enough hours in the day I always say. Because I love working and with time, you have to learn how to set everything up just perfectly. If you have to go somewhere then you have to go and if you can, you can’t stay long. You have to keep on a schedule. That’s kind of what I did. I didn’t sleep much.” he continues, “But now here we are on tour, doing interviews about it and it’s great! Because this isn’t like work, it’s more like a vacation.”
I laugh, pointing out his jacket, “Yeah, and I hear you like hot days!” he lights up, “I do, I love hot days! See,” he pauses, looking down. “I have a jacket on, It’s weird. I don’t know why I’m like that but everyone else in the band hates it. I just hate the cold.” We both share a laugh over our common hatred of Canada’s wintery months.
Curious about the writing process of Zombie’s new movie I ask how he went about recording the score. “Well, with a lot of scores, it’s a lot of violin music, cello, viola... and I used this thing called an EBow, it vibrates the strings, it’s really cool. I fingered my guitar and tuned it really high while using the EBow and it sounded just like a violin. And I would tune it back down for a viola sound and then way down for a cello sound. I did a lot of the score that way” John explains, “For the main witches theme of the movie I used this big cello bow across the strings. It created this really eerie theme to it. Just a few notes, but Rob was saying, ‘give me something really memorable, like a Jaws or The Twilight Zone type of thing’, so it came out really well, I’m really proud of it.”
The distinctive notes certainly carry the movie’s spine-tingling aura to the next level. Interested in the old school horror clips Rob Zombie is often inspired by, I ask John 5 if he too uses them as a basis for creating songs. He grins, “I really have always loved taking clips and I did a whole instrumental record called, Remixploitation that is just my songs and little samples from old horror movies…like, ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ you know, ‘Dracula’ and ‘American Psycho’, stuff like that”
I decided to delve into an episode of John 5’s past, concerning the Manson days, “I know you’re now in a band with Ginger Fish (former drummer of Manson) and I was wondering how it compares to your experience in Rob Zombie now?
“I love it. I’ve been offered to join a ton of bands but I wouldn’t leave this for the world” he said peacefully, “But compared to Manson, you never knew what was going to happen. You never knew if we were going to play or not, how many songs we were going to play, and with this, we’ve got to be there on time and do things just right. Because the show is so big, there is no room for error whatsoever. And also, with our crew and everything, when you see it, you’ll know what I’m talking about. You have to even know where to stand at certain parts. And being in Manson, it was very unpredictable, which is very fun too! I wouldn’t change my past for anything. I’m very proud of being in Manson and those times.”
Turning back to the show tonight, I ask about the theatrics that were about to unfold, “I saw a preview of some of the costumes for the tour, which look completely insane and I was wondering who designs them and puts it all together?” John replies, “I just kind of thought about it and designed this costume for the opening number. I had this woman Cody, make it for me. She’s this woman in Melrose and she’s amazing with a needle and thread, so anything I can think of she kind of puts together. So this is a big one, it takes a long time to get on and off!”
“Yeah,” I joke, “I’m surprised you can even see the guitar while you’re playing!” He chuckles in agreement, “I know, it’s tough, sometimes I have to adjust myself.”
As I begin asking about what he has prepared in the future for his solo projects, John says something that throws me completely off guard, “I’m working on a new record—well, I’m always working, doing things like that” he pauses, a soft twinkle catching his eye, “I’m trying to get some guest players on and I’m taking suggestions from people…so who do you suggest?”
Thinking quickly on my feet, I spit out the first person that comes to my mind, “Ohmygosh… do you think Jack White would ever be a pick for you?” I almost wince as he responds, “I don’t know but that’s a great one! Very smart, okay, I’ll take that!”
Happy he didn’t bash my reflex suggestion, we begin discussing his favorite moment on Mayhem’s tour thus far, “The first show was around L.A. and my son who’s seventeen got to come to the show and he’d never seen me live before, because the ex-devil-wife never let him. I mean all those years in Marilyn Manson and all these other tours that I’ve done, he never got to go. He got a chance to come to the show and he freaked out, he lost his mind. He got in the pit and everything!”
There was a tangible moment of connectivity and joy as he recounts this memory of his son moshing in front of him. Following a path down memory lane, I ask, “Who’s been your favorite tour collaborator?”
“Well, I’m friends with everybody. But it’s always fun to tour with these bands. Even out of the business, I’m friends with Kerry King and we did that Slayer tour, the Megadeth guys, Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson. We’ve had really good luck on all these tours. It is a very small world and a small music business, too. So it’s good to be friends with everybody because you’re probably going to tour with them eventually. Whatever I’m doing I try to enjoy.”
“I bet sharing a stage with Alice Cooper was fun.”
“Oh, yes of course. At that time I was really getting into Alice and I read his book, so it was really fun to be on the road and see him.”
This is John 5’s eighth year of being the guitarist for Rob Zombie, so I was compelled to ask about his favorite part about joining such an industrious project. “Well, first, I love playing the songs. I think that’s really imperative. And then, being great friends with them. It’s almost like brothers. You grow really close to someone, which is great because it’s no fun being in a band with somebody you can’t get along with. And, luckily, we get along great” he interrupts himself, staring off quizzically, “Is this thing rocking?” he asks, indicating the steady rhythm of the deck we’re aboard “It totally is, we’re on water” I giggle. He continues, “And you know, writing music and everything. I am just in such a great place, I’m really happy and I wouldn’t change it for the world”
I had one last question for John 5 before I bid him farewell, “So the Red Hot Chili Peppers do a preshow ritual before they go on, do you guys have anything you do before a set?” His eyes widen, thinking for a moment, “You know, it’s seems a little demystifying but we kinda just get ready and I sit and play guitar…What do they do?”
“Oh, I hear they do a type of meditation circle together before heading on stage.”
He laughs, “Wow, that’s crazy. I just sit and play guitar.”
“Well that can be a form of meditation in some ways!”
“Yeah, I guess…or masturbation” he mentions casually, leaving me in a state of bewildered amusement and laughing heavily.
John’s incredible honesty and keen sense of humor made him a pleasure to talk to. As we parted ways, I felt a surge of excitement for Rob Zombie’s show that night and suffice it to say, it did not disappoint. Rob Zombie will lure you into their kaleidoscope world of pentagrams, naked women and phantom strangers, which are sure to please. Check out The Spill’s full review of Mayhem Festival here and keep on the lookout for Mayhem’s latest tour dates in a town near you!
– Ariel Dawn Lando (Twitter @ArielDawnLando)
Ten Signs You Should Stay:
An Interview With Emmure's Frankie Palmeri
It’s been a tough few months for Emmure, a band whose emergence from the American deathcore scene had significant impact on this ever evolving genre. The Spill recently had the chance to sit down with singer, Frankie Palmeri and discuss the year that started off with a bang. At the beginning of May, 2013 Emmure was on tour in Russia, playing to a stadium of diehard fans when Palmeri suddenly received a 200 volt zap through his entire body. Emotions ran high when remembering that experience. “It sucked. It wasn’t fun. The biggest bum out was that the show was actually amazing and we couldn’t play a sold out show in Moscow. My whole body tensed up like a tree and I hit my back on the drum riser when I fell. Really that was the most painful part—me hurting my back.”
Unfortunately, Emmure’s last record, Slave to the game was not widely well received and the band echoed these sentiments, “We were really in a terrible place internally and it came through in the music. It’s sad for me to talk about because I would have loved for it to become more, but it didn’t come to fruition. There are some songs I do like and we play them live and stuff, but overall it fell short for us and our fans, so we are trying to rectify that.”
The band does have plans to record new music for release in 2014. They are in the process of writing and demoing their latest efforts. “My goal is to trump our last record and the record before that completely. It’s going to be an important record for us in that sense because we’re actually going to be going back to our roots.” He goes on to state that future plans include, “Returning more towards what the band was most well-known for—which was being really transparent lyrically, and really cut throat in content. I held back a lot in sharing on the last two records. I’m at a point in my life where I can really lay it all out there.”
Palmeri and the rest of Emmure sound completely psyched about what is yet to come. When asked what his proudest record was to date, Frankie responded, “The one I haven’t written yet. I don’t have a ‘pat myself on the back’ kind of attitude. Never have, never will!”
Palmeri has always had a high interest in graffiti art, “I’ve been writing graffiti for thirteen years now. I got into it when I was a freshman in high school. I had a friend, whose tag is Crap1. He sat next to me in biology class and I would see him do his shit all the time.”
He describes the experience of his early dreams of tagging, “I was like, ‘Damn, that looks fucking awesome!’ I was a fourteen year old kid—y’know? Graffiti is sexy to me.” The fame was alluring to Palmeri, reveling in the adrenaline pumping moments tagging often brings. “I got hooked and I still write today. Do I bomb anymore? Like, really go out?” he pauses, chuckling, “Yeah…but it’s not how I used to be. It’s not for sport anymore, I just write my name sometimes.”
Looking at his tattoo covered body, you might wonder if Frankie has any ink dedicated to his graffiti days. He shakes his head, “I don’t. That just doesn’t make sense to me. I think graffiti belongs on the walls.”
When asked about his favourite graffiti artist, he responds jokingly, “You know, I actually hate other graffiti artists. I do. We are all such pieces of shit. But I’ll give a shout out to my boy, Corn11 from New York City. He’s a legendary dude and a good guy.”
On the topic of artistic inspiration, Frankie replies that Emmure’s core influence exists purely from personal endeavours, “We’re internally inspired. It mostly comes from things we feel in ourselves and really would love to implement in our music.”
Palmeri and the boys always appreciate hearing love from their fans and are more than willing to send it back out to them and some of the best interactions with their followers involve art. “People have made drawings of me, and I’ve seen all sorts of crazy stuff like that. It’s super surreal and flattering. I never expected it to be like that, so every time it’s always unique and special for me.”
Emmure’s love of the stage and the energy from the fans will always remain the essence of this group. Over the past two years, Palmeri says his favorite tour so far is, “Mayhem tour, easily. It’s a breeze. We go every day, we get fed. The shows are amazing, the fans are awesome. Then go to bed at one in the morning and repeat. So a major shout out to John Reese for putting this whole thing together!”
All this touring over the last few years is certain to have accumulated a lot of memories for Emmure. Their most memorable one to date had Palmeri sinking into a deep reverie, stroking his chin with a smile on his face, “We just recently were in Russia and we had to do some crazy back-road driving through the Badlands in a really small van. The whole band almost broke up” he jokes, “Well…not really, but almost. Everyone was stressed out.” With Frankie’s physical ailments from the fall on stage and the tensions rising from their inability to play, this was undoubtedly a difficult experience for Emmure. But despite everything the band has worked through in the past few years, they remain steadfast and stronger than ever.
He emphasizes that Emmure is all about business nowadays, “We expect so much from ourselves and from each other. We’re early to the stage and waiting to get up there, anxious to go out and play” Palmeri happily reports that, “Everyone is keeping themselves in check and looking out for each other. It’s a real organic thing we have together. We get up there and there’s no bullshit; we give two hundred and twenty percent.”
This will definitely be a comeback year for Emmure, beginning with their eighth full length record which fans eagerly await. If their raw, visceral energy on stage at Mayhem was any indicator, they are sure to send 2014 into a tailspin.
X'd Out To A New Beat:
An Interview With John Clardy of Tera Melos
With the release of X’ed Out, I chatted with drummer John Clardy of Tera Melos while on tour about the band’s new sound and creative process.
Spill: How’s the tour going so far?
John Clardy: The tour is going really, really well. We’ve had some problems like things getting stolen, but the actual shows are great.
Spill: So would you say getting things stolen has been the craziest thing that’s happened so far?
JC: Yeah, probably. In Montreal, the van got smashed out and somehow and my backpack with my laptop, you know... everything besides my clothes and gear and got stolen.
Spill: Describe Tera Melo’s relationship with Canada.
JC: Canada’s great. We really enjoy coming up there. We had some awesome shows and it’s just a nice country to visit. We have some really passionate fans up there, that’s the one thing that really jumps out. Actually, it kind of surprises me—some kids after a show in Toronto they were saying there were killer vibes and “we’re really insane for you guys”. It’s really flattering and the kids were just really, really excited. It was really flattering to hear that we could get a positive response to something that isn’t generally the norm.
Spill: X’ed Out sounds more Pop-like than anything you guys have done before. Did you decide that for this album, that’s what you were going for?
JC: Kind of. We had discussed a little bit about the direction we wanted to go in. Nick was saying he wanted to do something a little more simplified. Once we got in and started writing all of these songs, things like took their course and the way they turned out was a little bit different, I guess. It wasn’t what was expected. I guess it was a logical step for us. We were like “Okay, let’s see how much we can do, plus a bit more pop structures while still keeping it a little bit weird.”
Spill: How does distance play a role in the creative process with Tera Melos?
JC: [Laughs] Distance is a lot easier now. I don’t know how bands might have done it 20 years ago with living in different states and everything like that, but the internet has done a lot for that. It affects in terms of how we write. We get the guitar frame work, like a skeleton, on a file, and everyone kind of works on their own things separately. And when we convene, and start fleshing it out we see if it works and other times we go back to the drawing board. It seems to me that the element of trust is a lot of it. We are trusting that everyone is working on stuff on their own and thinking “Yeah, they’ll work on something rad and interesting and when we get together we’ll see how that works.” And it usually does.
Spill: Where do you guys usually find inspiration when working on new material?
JC: In a lot of different places. In a lot of not necessarily musical things. I think the three of us tend to draw inspiration from different things really. But at the end of the day we all appreciate what we do in our band and get to travel, and put out records. That itself, I think, is really inspiring. That’s why we keep doing it. If you enjoy creating and playing music, it’s just a natural thing to keep doing it, you know?
Spill: How about you? Where do you look for your inspiration, personally?
JC: It’s hard to say, with me playing drums. There’s rhythm all around you, whether you’re in the city, or in nature, or even sitting at a coffee shop or a restaurant. So all these constant rhythms are toying through my hands. When I’m practicing at home, those rhythms just come out through the drum set. So, that’s a lot of it but there’s always non-musical things like looking at art. It’s always made me feel this incredible thing.
Spill: “Melody Nine” was redone from Complex Full of Phantoms. Why did you guys decide to re-release this song specifically?
JC: With that song, we worked up a live version of it to play and we with the incarnation we had going live we thought that it kinda made sense with the other songs we had in the new record. It’s really tricky recording a song you’ve been playing live for a long time. If you’re used to playing it a certain way live, in the studio, it can be hard to capture it [on the recording]. Luckily, it came out really well and it just was natural for us to have it in there.
Spill: Where did the idea for the “Bite” music video come from?
JC: That was kind of a combination of things. Seeing a J-Pop video, we felt like “Oh, it’d be cool to see what our director friend Behn Fannin would do.” Nick had also seen something on the internet about eye makeup where when you close someone’s eyelids it looks like anime eyes. So it was the synergy of those two things.
Spill: What was it like transitioning from Fish Boy to Tera Melos regarding music style?
JC: [laughs] It was a very, very big transition. Musically, it’s the transition I wanted to make for a really long time. I always wanted to play in that style where it’s like there’s a lot of hyper-technical things going on, but where there’s still a really strong melody. Instead of just playing crazy for the sake of playing crazy and being a show off, I like playing really interesting music with a really strong melody. It’s something where everything is so available to you. It was a really awesome opportunity to have. I had been out of college for like a year with the really strong desire kind of needed, but at that time in North Texas, nobody that I was aware of was really doing that.
Spill: Can you describe the kind of fan outreach Tera Melos has?
JC: We try to be very active with fans in general with things like Facebook and Twitter. It shows that we’re still out there and talking to fans, or to anybody really. It’s just fun. It’s cool to interact with people that really appreciate music like that. Community is a weird word to use, but it’s kind of like that. It’s good to interact with people that have shared interests and everybody knows we’re really, really big Simpsons maniacs. It’s a fun thing to do and we really appreciate that people care about our band enough to want to interact with us like that.
Spill: Is there any demographic the band would like to reach out to more?
JC: Not really. Well, we did a handful of shows with fIREHOSE and that was really cool for us because there were a lot of people coming to our shows that were fIREHOSE fans when they were younger, like the late ‘80s. So there were a lot of like older people coming out and appreciating our out-there music with a punk spirit. But ideally, you try to reach as many people as possible. Obviously there’s going to be some people that can’t appreciate that we’re out there like that, but it’s awesome getting to expand into other countries that wehaven’t had the opportunity to. But it’s really of more wanting to fly to places like South America or Australia.
Spill: Are there any plans on releasing an Idioms Volume 2?
JC: No immediate plans, but hopefully in the foreseeable future.
Spill: What songs would you like to see covered on it?
JC: I’ve always really wanted to cover “The Father” by Black Flag because that’s my favourite Black Flag song and it’s one you don’t really hear people talk about. I think we’d do a really cool version of it.
Spill: What are the band’s plans after the tour is over?
JC: We’re just going to take out time off, hopefully not too long. Then the plans are to go back to Europe in the fall then we’ll be touring North America by the end of the fall possibly. Just to keep touring in general. We’re really excited to have this record out and want to be playing these songs in front of people and hopefully making some new songs along the way.
– Emily Rivas (Twitter @RivasEmily)
Q&A: Tre Mission
SPILL MAGAZINE: What or who inspired you to be a rapper?
TRE MISSION: “I was inspired by my uncles and other older dudes in the area that were rapping while I was growing up. Ever since I could walk and speak, I wanted to be a musician. As soon as I realized I wasn’t great at singing I took up rapping at around the age of 6-years-old.”
SPILL: What’s the writing process for your music?
TRE: “More than anything, the beat has to speak to me. I’m not a person that’s easily inspired, so you won’t find me making five tracks a day. I take my time with my music and plan it out. I only write rhymes when I really have something to say.”
SPILL: Who’s been your biggest inspiration as a rapper?
TRE: “My biggest inspiration right now would have to be Kendrick Lamar. I’m big on lyricism although I feel like it’s been missing in hip-hop and in rapping in general over the past few years. I’m not really an old hip-hop enthusiast either, so it was great to see a young guy show everyone that you can still be lyrical and make good songs at the same time. In fact, the lyrics make a good song great. He also showed the world that you can be lyrical without sounding like you’re preaching in 1995.”
SPILL: What do you find most difficult about being a young rapper?
TRE: “I’d say the biggest difficulty is staying out of trouble. Most of the people I grew up around are living crazy, fast lives. I could of easily taken that road but my relationship with my mom and my love for my craft helped me straighten out, as I got older. Music takes up so much of your time but you still have to feed yourself and keep a roof over your head. Temptations can be overwhelming if you don’t have a leveled head.”
SPILL: If you weren’t rapping, what would you be doing?
TRE: “If I weren’t rapping, I’d probably just be making beats.”
SPILL: What was your dream job as a kid?
TRE: “As a kid, I just wanted to make music and be in the studio. I never really had a dream job.”
SPILL: Who do you want to work with in the future?
TRE: “In the future, I really want to work with Imogen Heap. I think we would make some crazy music together and I’ve sampled her songs on almost all of my projects to date.”
SPILL: How did everything fall into place from getting discovered and being in the UK and Toronto?
TRE: “I really just started getting big on the Grime forums. I use to do hip-hop and I was good, in my opinion, but I felt like I was just following the herd. I wanted to do something that would automatically set me apart from everyone and everything else. Grime gave me that. Next thing you know, I’m getting thousands of hits and followers, co-signs from the biggest names in the scene and bookings half-way across the world.”
SPILL: Being from Toronto, but rapping with the UK style… why? Why Grime? Which Grime artist influenced you?
TRE: “I just wanted to be different. I hate the sense of conformity that rap music has adopted and I like standing on my own. I was most inspired by Wiley, Frisco, P Money and Chipmunk. Wiley the most. JME inspired me the most from a business angle because he showed me that you don’t need a huge machine backing your music, all you need is a niche and a loyal fan base and you can be successful.”
TRE: “That statement is funny to me because I go all over England and the only place I hear people saying that is in London. The thing about London is the music community churns out a new scene every two years, so nothing ever gets to be the big thing for really long.”
TRE: “I can’t even really describe Malmaison. It’s not your average Grime album, but then again, how many have there really been? It’s a crazy mix of drum & bass, garage, etc. but kept within the Grime format. I produced most of it and the only feature is Julian Cruz.”
SPILL: “How satisfied are you with the album?”
TRE: “I’m very satisfied with the album, not because I think it’s perfect. But, because I feel like it’s a good introduction to set me up to make bigger and better music. Around the time we were prepping for release, I go this big boost of creative energy and ever since then I’ve been making a lot of songs and I can feel myself getting better with each one.”
SPILL: What do you enjoy rapping about?
TRE: “I just like to rap about my thoughts. My thoughts are usually about my life or the lives of those around me. So, everything you hear is real, but you may not always understand it.”
SPILL: What’s do you have planned for your fans in the future?”
TRE: “New album coming during the last quarter of the year and a lot more videos. I won’t be sleeping.”
SPILL: “What’s been your favourite project to work on so far?”
TRE: “Definitely Malmaison. You only get once chance to make your first album and I’ve been waiting since I was a toddler.”
Somewhere Between East and West:
An Interview With Rishi Dhir of Elephant Stone
On the eve of playing the Austin Psych Fest, Rishi Dhir, the founding member of Elephant Stone, was enjoying his rare and deserved third day off. He was spending it with his wife and kids, he notes is a precious time compared with the fast paced and intense Black Angels tour.
I had an opportunity to speak to Rishi about the band, their musical inspiration, and in particular their hidden gem, Sea of your Mind.
Rishi Dhir started Elephant Stone in 2006 when he left The High Dials. He recalls that when he left the band he felt burned out because of touring. “My intention was to focus on the sitar, which I had been studying for six years at that point. I started writing songs again and things just got rolling. We recorded our first record and I brought in some friends to help with the sessions.”
The band received an award nomination, something that motivated Dhir to play live on a more consistent basis. At this point it’s 2010 and he was asked to support the Brian Jonestown Massacre on their North American tour. He adds “we released The Glassed Box, recorded especially for that tour, and this is also the time when Gab, our guitar player joined us. He has been the main fixture along with me. We went through a couple of lineup changes with keyboard and drums, but the current formation is very solid today.”
Musically, Dhir was brought up on a steady diet of The Beatles, Bollywood, The Who, The Jam, and Teenage Fan Club. “I definitely come from the Pop world. Bollywood is pretty much Pop music, but with an eastern twist. Thematically I draw a lot from my wonderful Hindu upbringing.” He reflects that philosophically he is always absorbing things that are around him, “Through people or through what they say. Something can set off a song in my head at any time.”
When asked if he had any desire to break into the Eastern Music scene in India, Rishi states, “It’s funny. When I started Elephant Stone my initial desire was to take the band to India and see where it could go. For a while it looked like it was a real possibility but that was before the recession.”
At the time the British government was building and putting a lot of money into the music industry in India. He adds that the British “We’re trying to build this Indian Idie-Rock touring system. It seemed at one point that in was feasible, but since the recession, we are in a different space but who knows what the future will bring.”
Surprisingly, in Rishi’s experience, not a lot of Indian kids were not interested in popular music. When he was there, not so long ago, many of them were fascinated and absorbed by Death Metal. Have no fear. Elephant Stone has no intent to reinvent themselves as Elephant Death Stonalica.
“The Sea of Your Mind” is an important song on the Elephant Stone’s album. It’s the longest track and probably the most musically daring. I asked Rishi about this Pink Floyd-esque song that seems to complete the already strong recording.
“On each album I try to have one long expansive song that moves in many different directions but a track that comes together in the end. On Seven Seas, I wrote “Don’t You Know,” which is eight minutes long. With that song in mind I was looking for a groovy sitar, Eastern driven song.” Sea of Your Mind was heavily influenced by a song called “Sitar Beats.”
Rishi explains that “It’s a song from this compilation I bought called Saragama Funk. It’s Psych-Funk music from India with a wonderful groove. I kept playing the record again and again, not being able to get enough of it. All of these melodies kept flooding my mind and all of a sudden, I took them and mixed them into this long freak out song.” Rishi admits that Pink Floyd is indeed a big influence.
Where does Dhir’s soul take him? The East or the West?
Rishi pauses for a moment and exclaims that his upbringing was a nice blend of both cultures. “I find spirituality in The Beatles and I also find it in both Classical and Indian music. There are people that feel that the sitar is a kitsch instrument, and then there are those in the Indian musical community who look at Pop music as an inferior form of music. I consider both music forms very serious. The great thing about the band is that we are in a position where we can do whatever we want.”
Many Elephant Stone fans see them playing Pop songs that may seem a bit off kilter, and then they are treated to music that is more Raga, Stroni, Eastern based songs, but at the same time with very strong Pop elements. In the end, Rishi Dhir loves many types of music and that is the strength of Elephant Stone. He finds beauty in many things.
– Greg Kieszkowski (Twitter @GregK72)
Sisters In Arms:
An Interview With Blanche DuBois
They’re named after a character that is considered tragic and fragile, and their latest album sees them writing songs about love, hurt, loss and letting go. They are Blanche DuBois, and they’re making their Canadian debut this month at NXNE in Toronto.
Blanche DuBois is two Australian sisters, Nadija and Adriana Begovich. They’ve been making music together since 2002, and they recently released their third full-length album of melodic Folk-Pop, Young Heart.
Adriana says they came up with the name Blanche DuBois because she has “a sick fascination” with the Tennessee Williams play, A Streetcar Named Desire.
“We were fighting over names maybe ten years ago when I was young and stupid, and I’d studied the play at school and I just really liked the character,” she says from her home in Perth. Adriana feels Blanche Dubois is a beautiful portrayal of femininity and fragility at the same time. “I really liked that image, and we try to reflect that in our music sometimes, without sounding too cliché, but I think we just do it without realizing. Years later, somebody told me that in certain French dialects, Blanche DuBois translated to white trash, and I was like ‘that’s so awesome.’ But I don’t know how much truth there was to that; that was some crazy random fan in Germany.”
The Begovich sisters formed their own label, Streetcar Productions, in 2002 and released their debut album, Raging Favourites that same year. Two EPs later – Slow Motion (2004) and Love Only Hurts (2005) – the band landed a deal with Australia’s largest independent publisher, Mushroom Music Publishing, and a series of licensing and sync deals followed. Blanche DuBois released its second full-length album, All The Things We Never Say, in 2007, with Australian Recording Industry Association Music Award-winning producer Richard Pleasance at the helm. Blanche DuBois released Young Heart in January 2012, and the album was produced by Matt Fell at his Love Hz Studios in Sydney.
Adriana and Nadija are from Perth, and Adriana says the music scene there is quite close-knit.
“The most cliché thing about our city is that it’s one of the most isolated capital cities in the world because it’s on the opposite side of Sydney and Melbourne and there’s a big desert that separates us from anyone else, so I think that in itself has led to a really unique and vibrant and close-knit community here,” she says. “That being said, it’s not like we’re all incestuous or anything; there are many bands that just plodder along and do their own thing and think outside the square, and I think my sister and I have always been one of those bands.”
Adriana says playing music with her sister “has always been quite easy.”
“I think even though there’s almost four years between us, there’s that kindred spirit,” she says. “We did have our Noel and Liam Gallagher moment; it was before the release of this current album, and we didn’t speak for a year. It was because I was dating a sociopath. I broke up with him, made up with my sister and made a record, and it was actually really easy. I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I think a lot of other musicians who create music with a sibling would say the same thing. It’s really natural.”
Blanche DuBois as a band was born during a “girly weekend” when the Adriana and Nadija flew to Melbourne. “I think I was 18 and she was 21,” says Adriana. “On the plane, we said ‘do you want to write a song?’ and we did. It just spiralled from there. It just felt right. We’ve both tried to write with other people, and I don’t think it comes as naturally. Even me writing on my own as a soloist, it doesn’t feel as right as when I have Nadija beside me.”
Adriana says Young Heart was born out of the sisters not talking to each other for a year. She came in with a lot of songs she had written as what she calls “half-baked ideas,” and they took shape through some pretty emotional times.
“There was the concept of building bridges and letting go,” says Adriana. “We were actually feeling it at the time; it wasn’t like we were faking it. If I hadn’t have [stopped talking to my sister], we wouldn’t have made that record. It was quite cathartic and meant to be. The messages we wanted to convey were universal feelings of hurt... everyone goes through pain and then you get over it and you are better for it. It was quite an emotional experience.”
Adriana says it can be tough to relive some of those emotions when she has to sing these new songs. “There are a few songs I don’t like to play because of that,” she says. “Sometimes I get over it, but sometimes, I hate a song for all the reasons I wrote it. But I had to write it, so it’s a catch-22.”
Blanche DuBois will be in Toronto for NXNE and will perform showcases Thursday, June 13 at Tranzac and Friday, June 14 at Czeboski. This is the sisters’ first time performing at NXNE and their first time performing in Canada.
“It’s my first time to Canada as well, so [I’m looking forward to] just that and just the opportunity to share our music with you guys because we’ve always thought it was a country we wanted to explore,” says Adriana. “A lot of industry people have said our music would be well received there just because of the nature of our sound and what charts there and what you guys celebrate, and the bigger artists in Canada are artists that we love.”
When Adriana and Nadija come to Canada, they will spend a week in the studio recording their next album with Mike Timmins from the Cowboy Junkies. Adriana says they’ve always wanted to work with Timmins. The Cowboy Junkies have always been Adriana’s “most favourite” band, and about seven years ago, she found an e-mail address for Timmins and sent him a message asking if he would record an album for them. He wrote back and said yes, but Adriana and Nadija never made it to Canada. When they were accepted to NXNE, they dug up that old e-mail, got in contact with Timmins again and put plans in motion to record this June.
Adriana says they don’t have a vision for the new album yet – “and that’s fine.” “The vision, hopefully it will come to us when we are in the studio when our songs are taking shape,” she says. “The record always tends to grow in the studio anyway because it’s just me and my sister bringing in guitar and vocals.”
For more information about Blanche DuBois, visit www.facebook.com/blancheduboismusic.
– Lindsay Chung (Twitter @LChunger)
Steam Whistle UNSIGNED:
An Interview With Matt Weed
The Steam Whistle UNSIGNED Indie Music Series has been described as “an ongoing concert series that showcases Canada’s indie music talent, while also developing its future.” What drove you to create Steam Whistle UNSIGNED and how did it come together?
Well, we had our first show back April 2007. We used to put a fair amount of resources into sponsoring some of the local music festivals, but we really saw that a lot of that money wasn’t going to the artists per say. We wanted to find a way to bring something directly back to the artists and the community. Likewise the brewery down here has this really great space for shows. The hall has thirty-foot ceilings, all kinds of exposed brick, and really nice wood beams. It’s just a really neat, funky, old building that lends itself perfectly.
So, we kind of came up with UNSIGNED as a solution to both problems. It’s a way to ensure that the resources we’re putting in go directly toward the bands and some of the charities that work with the music community in and around Toronto and across the country, as well as a way for us throw some really amazing shows down here at The Roundhouse.
What do you think indie bands struggle with the most today, and how does UNSIGNED aid in that struggle?
Well, I think the blessing and the curse of how technology has changed is that now it’s really easy to get your stuff out there. Also, as a result it can be really easy to get lost in the noise. There’s an awful lot of people making music out there and it’s becoming harder and harder to find the bands that are doing something really new, interesting, and different.
That’s something I like to think we do well in terms of teaming up with a variety of different bands doing different styles, and we definitely don’t close ourselves off to one particular genre. We’ve worked with everybody from New Country Rehab, which is kind of a “nouveau-old-country” band, to Notes To Self, which is a Toronto hip-hop crew, to electro band Austra who are doing amazing things, all the way to The Darcys, who have been signed to Arts & Crafts since playing our show.
We really just try to find bands that are doing fantastic things and try and spread the word. Canadian music is in such an amazing place, and the next decade’s bands are the ones that are playing in their garages right now. Anything we can do to help give them a boost on the way up is great because we’re going to be enjoying their music for a long time to come.
On what basis are bands selected to participate in the series and what do you look for?
I pretty well choose all the bands myself, so it’s a combination of acts that are submitted, and whenever possible, actually going to check out bands live before booking them. I go to a lot of shows myself, so some bands have had opening slots for other bands I like, or sometimes I learn about them during music festivals like North By North East where you get a chance to catch a lot of different bands all in the same place.
When that’s not possible, I just really try to check out some of their stuff online. If they’ve got some great recordings, some live videos, and again just trying to find people that are doing things a little different. I try to avoid booking bands that just sound like Led Zeppelin, cause even though they were a great band, nowadays Canada’s putting out some really awesome, new and fresh music, so we’re really just trying to find that and bring it in.
How important is brand association, in your case Steam Whistle, to the success of a series such as UNSIGNED and others like it?
It’s kind of interesting because we’re different from other series in that we’re not working with marketing agencies or experiential marketing firms who are coming in and saying: “hey you, give us hundreds of thousands of dollars and we’re going to put together this great series for you.”
Now, that really stems from the fact that in the beginning we just didn’t have the resources to do it, so we really learned to do pretty well everything in house here from our creative design to our advertising to the distribution of the beer.
Because we don’t work with a lot of outside agencies, I think a lot of the stuff comes off a bit more genuine. I attend and host every single one of the UNSIGNED shows because I am really a fan of the bands that are there. We really try to do everything in the same way we would want it to be done if we were on the other side. For us, the goal has always been to make sure that everybody has an amazing time, that we give them the best experience we can, and everything else follows from there.
It seems that there are two key components to the UNSIGNED series; the first being showcasing unsigned Canadian talent, and the second being generating revenue to help the support and growth of various arts communities around the country. Can you tell me a bit about the foundations you have chosen to work with and why they are so integral to what you guys do?
When we were starting out we really wanted to make sure that we were giving back to the organizations that were helping to facilitate things behind the scenes. Our biggest partner in that sense is called The Artist Health Alliance, and they do some really great work with various types of artists, not just musicians.
They have a clinic in the Toronto Western Hospital as well as an outreach program, and they work with artists to make sure that they maintain their health. They provide services that aren’t always available under OHIP, and ensure that artists are getting access to the kind of coverage that often just isn’t accessible to them.
Some other really notable groups we’ve worked with in the past are The Regent Park School of Music here in Ontario, as well as Music BC which helps to bring music form BC across the country and the world. We also work with a really great organization out there called Solidarity Rocks, and they do something really fascinating. They pair up Canadian bands, particularly hardcore punk bands, with Cuban punk bands and they bring Canadians down to Cuba to do a cultural exchange.
We really try and spread it out, but ultimately we want to work with organizations that are making a difference in their particular communities, and it’s been great for us to help raise some money for them and make that happen.
– Juliette Jagger (Twitter @juliettejagger)
10 Questions With:
Straight out of Mexico, The Flexican has been an active and professional DJ and producer for seven years and is setting the bar with his passion and accomplishments.
Spill: Why do you refer to yourself as a ‘music maestro’ and how is that different from a DJ or producer?
The Flexican: I don't refer to myself when I quote that... I refer to Mozart! That’s a joke on my Twitter, hahaha. When I refer to myself, I refer to a music lover, producer and DJ.
Spill: What are you currently working on?
TF: Working on a follow-up of “Watch Out.”
Spill: What can we expect from you in the future?
TF: Lots of tracks! Dope mixes and shows, shows, shows!
Spill: What keeps you motivated?
TF: Music, the energy from the crowd when I perform.
Spill: What’s your biggest accomplishment?
TF: I’m working hard to get to my goals and so far I reached a few like scoring a hit with Major Lazer, having my own event ‘Yours Truly’ sold out in my favorite club. Getting my USA Visa to set up that event, doing remixes for George Michael and Rita Ora, those are a few accomplishments I’m very proud of. I still need to get to my biggest accomplishment which is starting my worldwide ‘Yours Truly’ tour and my own The Flexican album sold worldwide.
Spill: What’s your biggest weakness as an artist?
TF: I can’t deal with stress very well. If I’m stressed it blocks my creativity. So I train a lot to get my mind empty and focused in the studio.
Spill: Who’s been your biggest influence?
TF: As a DJ, Tony Touch and his mix-tapes. In general with my music; I’ve been influenced by many different styles and great artists.
Spill: What got you started in this? Why?
TF: As a teenager going to clubs, I only had eyes for the DJ. I was a shy boy and was not interested in chasing girls, dancing or drinking. I just loved to see the DH and I noticed the hard work it actually is. It was a trigger for me to start DJ’ing and I have never stopped since.
Spill: Who do you want to work with?
TF: Daft Punk, Neptunes and Armand Van Helen.
Spill: What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
TF: Jai Paul’s bootlegged album.
– Jaii Bhamra (Twitter @jaiikbhamra)TheFlexican.com
Working Their Fingers To The Bone:
An Interview With Gustav Wood of Young Guns
“A drunken night out. That’s where Young Guns came from,” says Gustav Wood.
Coining their name after a drunken night out, UK band Young Guns has faced a lot of pressure with their newly released album, Bones. But it was also one of lead vocalist Gustav Wood’s greater experiences.
“There was a lot of pressure on us where this album had to be a step up and the press was saying big things about our band in the UK,” says Wood. “There was a bit of pressure there. I think it was the stress and limited time to record and write and there was no room for error. There were a lot of times where we felt like it wouldn’t happen, it was difficult.”
Particularly off of this album, Wood said his favourite tracks to work on were “Bones,” and “Broadfield,” because of the feelings associated with these tracks.
“I really enjoyed the recording of “Bones,” says Wood. “I had a gut feeling it was going to be something, I wasn’t sure what, but I felt there was going to be something about this song that would do something good for us. I also enjoyed “Broadfields,” because it’s about the place I grew up and not only is it a subject that’s important to me, but we didn’t worry too much about it. It was all done in one night, a spur of the moment and quickly done track. It was all done in a fun and creative way that was very organic. A beautiful thunderstorm was going on that night and it was a special night.”
Wood describes this album so effortlessly and reflectively of the band and says they are already working on their next album.
“It’s the sound of five guys who are trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be,” says Wood. “It’s a bit more adventurous and ambitious than the first album. We’re on tour at the moment and on our downtime, we’re actually planning the third record. We were in New York, in a studio near Times Square and we demoed what I think is the best song we’ve written today.“
Wood says he couldn’t imagine doing anything else outside of Young Guns and that the bands success and his own are some of his biggest accomplishments.
“There’s nothing else I enjoy doing,” says Wood. “Somehow, I’ve managed many random and fortunate situations and I ended up finding something that I have completely fallen in love with and makes me feel so good in a way nothing else ever has. I never want to let that go. I can’t imagine doing anything else, so I have to make sure I never have to do anything else.”
“I’ve dreamt of being in America since I was a little boy, having an American phone line, an American bank account and having a number one song. I think my biggest accomplishment is that I get to do this every day. I have a lot of fun doing what I’m going and touring all the time, but I admit I could be a little more focused. I have always loved music and I accidentally met a bunch of guys who I now play in a band with. It was a gradual process and a fortunate accident and this is what I do as a career and I need to make it work.”
– Jaii Bhamra (Twitter @jaiikbhamra)
Art, Truth and God:
An Interview With Kae Sun
Kae Sun is an artist who believes growth and expression in life is important. Releasing his second record, AFRIYIE, on May 28th and currently touring, he has a lot to show his fans.
“I just finished the new record,” says Kae Sun. “Right now I’m getting ready to get on the road and play some shows and to promote the record.”
Kae Sun says he cannot describe the sound of his new album for his fans and set a direction for them, but he would rather they listen to it and take from it what they want.
“I wouldn’t describe this album in the terms of sound or anything because I think when people hear it, they’ll take it for what it is,” says Kae Sun. “It’s been four years since my last record came out and there’s been a lot of change, a lot of growth and a lot of experience. So it’s me, I found a sound and true to what I’ve been trying to express for a long time. That’s the short form of how I would describe it.”
As for Kae Sun’s biggest influence, he says it’s God. “His influence on my life enables me to create music and express myself. God’s work has influenced me,” the artist states. “In terms of artists who influenced me, it’s a long list: Lawrence, Marvin, Nas, there’s so many.”
As for what Kae Sun has in store for his fans in the future, it’s what’s he’s working on next and how he’s growing as an artist and person trying to express himself.
“I plan to keep recording, keep touring and keep playing shows and keep bringing fans this experience that I’m trying to deliver. That’s what fans can look forward to. I think what I do is my own expression, but has certainly been influenced by soul, folk and reggae. I don’t necessarily play those genres and I wouldn’t label my style with those.”
“There’s a spirit of truth and love I feel from music which put me and sent me on this journey to make music. Music has guided me to something pure that I identify as God and I want people to feel that when they come to a concert. Not just come because something it’s new or cool or because its an artist they have heard of, people come to concerts for all kinds of reasons, but I do shows to communicate something bigger and truthful.”
He keeps motivated simply by life itself and what Kae Sun believes it means to him and every opportunity he has.
“Life keeps me motivated, everyday,” says Kae Sun. “We are given an opportunity to express life everyday, we are blessed with so many things, we wake up with health and we live life, make the most out of it and try to be purposeful about the things we do. That motivates me a lot.”
– Jaii Bhamra (Twitter @jaiikbhamra)
An Interview With Christiaan Mader of Brass Bed
This past week I had the pleasure of catching up with Brass Bed’s gregarious and eloquent frontman, Christiaan Mader, after the band’s soundcheck at the Garrison (where they opened for Generationals on May 2nd). I got the scoop on the band’s latest album, what it’s like touring with friends, and the band’s hypotheses about North American food culture.
Spill: So you guys are on tour supporting Generationals. How’s the tour going so far?
Christiaan Mader: It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve known those guys for a long time, because we’re all from Louisiana; they’re from New Orleans, we’re from Lafayette. So it’s nice to be on tour with people you’re already kind of familiar with.
Spill: Were you guys on the same label?
CM: We were. We both used to be on Park the Van Records together. They’re on Polyvinyl now and we’re on a label based in Davis. It’s called Crossbill/Off the Air; it’s like a joint venture.
Spill: So regarding your tour so far, what was the most memorable place you’ve been to?
CM: So far I think the thing that’s probably going to ring out for the rest of the band for now is their trip to Montreal, just because that was their very first foray into foreign territory. It’s always interesting to go someplace where English is not the first language, even though people obviously speak quite a bit of English there, and to be in a different environment. We had a good time, we have a good friend there, who comes down to Lafayette a lot; he’s from Montreal and he’s a French-Canadian Rockabilly musician named Sunny Duval. He took us down to a bar closer to his side of town. A lot of times when you’re on tour, you end up in these places and you stick around a block and you don’t really get to experience much of anything from a ground level, so it was cool to have somebody who could take us around and show us something that we wouldn’t ordinarily see.
Spill: Did you try poutine, by any chance?
CM: We did. Yeah, we’re food travellers. Everywhere we go we like eating something regional. Whatever the regional food pile is, we’ll eat it. We’re starting to develop a theory that every culture in North America has its own food pile. You know, whether it’s poutine, where it’s a pile of fries with cheese curds and gravy, or in Louisiana, it would be Jambalaya. Food piles!
Spill: Well, speaking of food; the first track on your new album, The Secret Will Keep You, is called “Cold Chicory,” and according to my research, chicory is a caffeine-free coffee substitute, or an ingredient in New Orleans coffee?
CM: Yeah, it’s an additive. My understanding is that traditionally, where it came from was when they didn’t have enough money, because coffee used to be pretty expensive especially in that area, they would use chicory as a substitute, but not so much to substitute parts of the coffee, but because they couldn’t afford to stretch out coffee. So coffee in Louisiana tends to be very strong and also have kind of a bitter taste to it, and that comes a lot of times from chicory, so a lot of people who come to Louisiana and sample local coffees, like Café du Monde and stuff like that, don’t really like it, (laughs) because chicory’s kind of an acquired taste.
Spill: Is it really bitter?
CM: I don’t find it that bitter, but it’s something that I didn’t really pick up on, what was differentiating these types of coffees from one another until much later on in my coffee drinking life. I don’t think it’s too bitter, I actually like the flavour. I was reared on it, in a lot of ways.
Spill: So The Secret Will Keep You is your third LP. Can you tell me a bit about the creative process? Was it different from your other releases, in terms of songwriting?
CM: Absolutely. I think the biggest distinguishing factor between this record and other ones, from the songwriting perspective, is I think this is the first one that at least attempted to draw similar themes within each song. When we went to our song selection, we wanted something that was at least cohesive on the basis of an emotional scale (laughs). We didn’t want something that track one was going to be super chipper and upbeat, and then the next one would be dark or something. We wanted it to meet the same kind of tone, and so we actually worked pretty hard to try and capture something that was a little more uniform at least thematically, whereas other records we just wrote what we felt like (laughs) at the time.
Spill: Were a lot of the songs composed in studio, or live, and was it just you writing, or the whole band?
CM: Well, we kind of have a hybrid process that we do a lot of the time, which is, Jonny [Campos] or I, we’d bring in a song and maybe it’s half completed or maybe it’s complete, and it’s not really a full thing until the rest of the band kind of gets together and edits and makes it coalescent and something that’s pretty uniform. So with that record, I think Jonny and I came in with more complete material from the get go, whereas in records past we would finish more writing as we went. But this one was actually performed live in studios, so we didn’t have the luxury of being able to write parts in there, so we did everything ahead of time. Our recording process was all execution, just live take after live take to get the right take.
Spill: I understand that you guys recorded it all in ten days. How was that compared to, maybe, taking a few months? Do you guys prefer the shorter time?
CM: Obviously, like anything else, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. I feel really good about that process. I’ve never made a record where there are things that you didn’t want to do differently, and I guess that’s why I kind of like the ten day do-it-all-in-a-minute kind of process, because I think , inevitably, whether you take two years or two weeks to finish any sort of artistic project, there are going to be things that you might have wanted to do differently, so condensing it that way, I think, makes it more of a record of what the band was like at that time, whereas when you sprawl things out, you’re a different person in six months, and you might revisit something and hear something in a song that maybe you didn’t intend when you wrote it, so being able to do it immediately kind of captures the idea in a very nascent sort of way.
Spill: That’s true. Well, you said you wanted to keep a uniform feeling to the themes of the songs. I’ve noticed that a lot of songs are kind of upbeat sonically, but then the lyrics are kind of darker and more mature. Does that just come with the territory of growing older and seeing life differently?
CM: I think so. I can only speak for myself as a songwriter, but in the past, lyrics were sort of secondary to me, because that’s not what I gravitated towards first as a listener. I was always a big Beatles fan, not that the Beatles don’t have some awesome lyrics sometimes. But I liked the arrangements and the chord progressions and stuff and that’s what interested me. I guess, in a lot of ways, what happens is that you get older and, yeah, I think I realized that I needed to be more emotionally bare artistically. Otherwise what I was doing was basically craftsmanship and not really art. I’m not like an emo kind of guy, feeling like art needs to be depressing or something, but that’s where I was at that point. I do think it’s a dark record in that sense, because I think we were all dealing with a lot individually in our lives, and there was something natural that came out. To be honest with you, I don’t think we set out initially, when we were all writing, to just write a bunch of sad songs, but like I said, once we sat down and listened to what we had, the decision was, ‘Well this is the most cohesive thing that we have, and this makes sense to us’, and we kind of came up with a tone palette, where this is what we want it to feel like.
Spill: So you guys worked with producer Danny Reisch on this record, and you also worked with him on your previous LP, Melt White. I take it that you guys worked well together, since you chose to work with him again?
CM: Yeah. First and foremost, Danny is an awesome dude. Well, I guess I should say, actually first and foremost, he’s a very very very talented engineer and producer. I think when we decided that we wanted to do this live and we wanted to track it very quickly, we needed somebody who was familiar with us personally and as a band, because you want to minimize the amount of external stressors that you might have when you’re putting yourself in that sort of situation. I think Danny was the logical choice because we’d worked with him before and enjoyed what he had done with us, and we knew we needed somebody who knew what we were trying to do, who we felt comfortable with.
Spill: Did you record your other records in such a short amount of time?
CM: No (laughs). The other two were longer. Not like Chinese Democracy (Guns N’ Roses, recorded 1998-2008) long or anything, but I think we tracked Melt White in 20 days, with maybe ten days of mixing, so maybe a month. It was all spread out over several months, but in total studio time, it was probably 30 days.
Spill: That’s still not very long.
CM: It isn’t, but for us it still felt like as we went, people were going back and second-guessing themselves. Our first record took a long time, but it was also our first record, you know? And we did it in a more local environment with a friend who had opened a studio outside of where we live. So, a lot of that was just learning how to work in a studio. It tends to make things last a little bit longer.
Spill: I’ve noticed The Secret Will Keep You features a lot of cool sonic detailing and textures. I especially like what’s going on at the beginning of the first song on the record, “Cold Chicory.” Did you guys use any unusual instruments for this record?
CM: I don’t think there was anything particularly unusual. I think the one thing that we did, that we’d never really done a whole lot of before, was we tracked a lot of the keyboard stuff live, because everything was done that way, so I think on that song in particular, all that swirly stuff was performed live by Andrew [Toups], our keyboard player at the time, with a Rhodes piano, and then he used a vintage Roland Space Echo, which is like a little tape machine which spins. So he was manipulating all that stuff live, so that was kind of unorthodox. That’s the sort of thing that, I think, nowadays somebody would go in and just record the keyboard track and you’d pull up the file in Pro Tools and add a tape echo to it and screw with it later until you got it just right. What’s cool about doing it this way is all of those weird textural noises and stuff, everything that was done while we were performing, which is probably an unusual way of going about it, I think. I could be wrong, but it was unusual for us.
Spill: On a side note, could you tell me a bit about the history behind the name Brass Bed?
CM: Originally when we got started, we were kind of just a bedroom project and we really love Wilco and bands like that, and we just learned to make records in my parents’ house, by ourselves. At that point I think we were so enamoured with all of these sort of Alt-country bands, and I wouldn’t say that we were quite Alt-country ourselves, but I think we had sympathies in that direction, and we wanted a name that sort of captured something old and comfortable, which is kind of ironic because brass beds really aren’t that comfortable. So it was sort of born by youthful ignorance of what things actually are. I remember it this way; it’s funny, I always attribute this to Jonny and he always disagrees with me, but I remember him saying that he wanted the name to start with the letter ‘B’, because all good bands started with the letter ‘B’, like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, The Band, and so on and so forth, so we thought we’d be with good company that way. Like I said, we wanted something that conveyed something vintage and warm but comfortable, like an old pair of jeans. That’s how I remember Jonny saying it. He doesn’t remember ever saying that. So that’s kind of where it came from. The actual origin of the name itself came from the Bob Dylan song “Lay Lady Lay,” and there’s also a Neil Young song, “Out on the Weekend.” We just like the sound of it. It’s funny, because people say it’s hard to Google us because of it, and also, when we travel, because we’re from Louisiana, people always kind of assume that there’s going to be brass involved, so we’ve disappointed a lot of people over the years that way.
Spill: So what’s next for you guys after this tour?
CM: Well, we’ll be home in June, and right now we’re planning a tour of the West Coast. We’ll finish the year touring in support of the record. I think we’ll probably track some other stuff this year and probably get back to the studio as soon as we can. It took awhile to get this one out, so I think we’re eager to put out some new stuff.
Spill: Great. So I just have a few ‘Lightning Round’ questions to wrap things up.
CM: Cool. I like the sound of that.
Spill: Do you have a favourite album or artist that you like to listen to while on tour?
CM: Off the top of my head it would be Big Star, Radio City. That’s probably my favourite one. That one’s been a favourite for a long time. It’s a go-to record for me. I just love the way it sounds when you’re driving.
Spill: What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you guys on tour, off the top of your head?
CM: Oh, that’s easy, actually. In Dallas, Texas, about five years ago, we played a show to nobody, which happens.
Spill: Oh no.
CM: It’s ok. At that point, we didn’t have a publicist (laughs). So, we played a show, and it was really awful, no one was there and it was really cold. We packed up early, and there was this Industrial band that was playing when we were packing up the van, and my friend Ben, who was going to college there at the time, was like, ‘Hey dude, Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse is totally inside’, and we were like ‘Oh no, really?’, and he was like ‘Yeah, he really is’, so we all went and we said hello to him and we kind of met him. The owner of the bar felt really bad about nobody being there, so she tried to talk Isaac into letting us play a set for him, and he was like ‘You know, I don’t really want to watch them play, but I’ll play with them’, and so after the last band left, we loaded all of our gear back on stage, they shut the bar down, and I guess some of their friends showed up, and we played with Isaac for about 45 minutes (laughs).
Spill: That’s fantastic.
CM: Yeah. We haven’t kept in touch, though (laughs).
Spill: Aww. I saw Modest Mouse live once, and it was a raucous show. So good.
CM: Actually that was what was cool about it, well, other than the playing with him. They were playing in Dallas the next night so he put us all on the guest list. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen Modest Mouse. And I met Johnny Marr after that, because he let us go backstage. I don’t think Johnny Marr is playing with them anymore.
Spill: If you guys weren’t musicians, what would you be doing?
CM: If I weren’t a musician, I think I would be a high school teacher.
Spill: Teaching what?
CM: Some sort of liberal art. I do history and English at my old high school. Every time I teach a history class I’m like ‘I want to be a history teacher’, and when I teach English I’m like ‘I want to be an English teacher’. That’s the only other thing I’ve ever done in my life that I would go back to. I like teaching.
Spill: Well, thank you so much for your time.
CM: Thank you.
− Maria Sokulsky-Dolnycky (Twitter @marisodo)
Juno-Winners Keep Truckin' Along:
An Interview With Jon Harvey of Monster Truck
To say April was a big month for Hamilton rock ‘n rollers Monster Truck is an understatement. It’s like saying these guys are a little bit hairy.
Monster Truck captured the Breakthrough Group of the Year Award at the 2013 Juno Awards on April 21 in Regina, beating out Walk Off The Earth, Yukon Blonde, Hey Ocean! and The Pack a.d. And less than a week before that, the band – Jon Harvey on bass and lead vocals, Jeremy Widerman on guitar and vocals, Brandon Bliss on organ and vocals, and Steve Kiely on drums and vocals – played its very first arena show.
Harvey says one of the best parts of the whole Juno Awards experience was the people they spent time with. “It was pretty awesome,” he says, on the phone from his home in Hamilton. He says they spent a lot of time with guys like Bahamas that the hard rockers wouldn’t necessarily normally cross paths with, and that’s one of the things he liked about being at the Junos. “I find it really neat to meet a lot of the Folk artists,” he says. “The people were really cool. We went to a lot of late parties and Jim Cuddy was just hanging out. We met guys like Adam Cohen. There’s a lot of camaraderie in Canadian music because the scene is so small.”
Harvey says he already felt like Monster Truck was a successful band before they won the Juno. “It feels pretty good to be recognized by Canada,” he says. “It’s a pretty intense thing for us to be in the national spotlight.” Then he laughs. “I can’t say I hate it.” For Harvey, success means being happy and being able to achieve the goals you want to achieve, and winning a Juno hasn’t changed that. “For me, [success is] to keep moving forward and see how far we can push this and what we can experience,” he says. “I would rather experience one million cool things than have a million dollars. Success to me is the ability to do more cool things that you wouldn’t normally get to do.”
Right before the Juno Awards, Monster Truck joined Billy Talent for the final four shows of the Dead Silence Canadian Tour. It was on this tour that the Hamilton rockers got their first taste of playing an arena show. “It was pretty awe-inspiring,” says Harvey. “We played with Billy Talent in the U.S. before in smaller clubs, and it was pretty easy. This time, we walked in, and it was surreal the whole time. It was definitely awesome for those guys to come and ask us to do it. It was an experience I’ll never forget, playing before 1,500 or 1,200 people.”
Harvey describes that moment of stepping onto the stage at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa for the first time as intense. “It was really frightening, but at the same time, I felt right at home,” he says. “It’s hard to get nervous now, but that definitely did it. Outside in front of that many people is not as intense as in a building; inside, it’s way more intense.”
Since the Junos, Monster Truck has gotten right back into what the band normally does, rehearsing and getting ready to hit the road. “The Tenors followed us on Twitter; it was pretty awesome,” laughs Harvey. “Other than that, everything’s same old, same old game, promoting our new record and moving right along.”
Monster Truck will release its debut full-length album, Furiosity, May 28 on Dine Alone Records. Furiosity was produced by Juno nominee Eric Ratz (Billy Talent, Cancer Bats, Three Days Grace) at Vespa Studios in Toronto and Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, North Carolina. Ratz also produced the band’s second release, The Brown EP.
Last April, the band headed to Los Angeles to record the album, but when they got home after recording, they decided they didn’t really like the album, and they didn’t want to release it, explains Harvey. “It was pretty much just a frustrating experience,” he says. Monster Truck decided to start all over again, and with support from its label, the band recorded Furiosity in North Carolina and in Toronto, using most of the same songs they had recorded in L.A. Harvey is really happy with the “big rock record” that came out of this second recording process. “The one we got from L.A. sounded like an indie record; it was under-produced,” he says. “The record we have now, I think, is adequately produced. We’re pretty excited about it. You’re always anxious, but I think it’s going to be really good.”
Monster Truck’s influences include classic rock and “anything that feels rootsy, hard and strong,” says Harvey, adding they’re all big fans of bands like Rage Against the Machine, Soundgarden, and Clutch. “Growing up, we were all Punk Rock kids. I was a huge Metal head in my late teens and early twenties.”
It has been said that Monster Truck is keeping Classic Rock alive or bringing back Classic Rock, and while Harvey appreciates the idea, he doesn’t think his band is necessarily doing anything special. “Basically, we’re just playing what we like,” he says. “I think people have put this stigma on us to be this new Rock saviour. Honestly, I appreciate it, but we’re just playing what we like to hear.”
Looking ahead, Monster Truck is playing a short U.S. run with Sevendust in late May, and has booked a Canadian tour with Alice in Chains in July. The band will be playing the main stage at Edgefest in Toronto this July, along with The Lumineers, Band of Horses and Mother Mother. “We’re the only Rock band on the whole thing,” laughs Harvey. “We’ll see a bunch of girls in high-waisted shorts saying ‘I can’t stand these bearded guys.’”
Harvey, Widerman, Bliss and Kiely came together “from the ashes of various Canadian indie bands” to form Monster Truck in 2009, according to the band’s bio. Monster Truck self-released a self-titled EP in 2010, and followed that up with The Brown EP, which was released on Dine Alone Records in 2011. Singles “Seven Seas Blues” and “Righteous Smoke” reached Top 10 on Canadian Rock radio, and the band toured relentlessly. Monster Truck played a cross-Canada sold-out run with The Sheepdogs in 2011 and was handpicked to open for Slash on his North American tour in 2012. Monster Truck also supported Deep Purple for sold-out dates in 2012.
For more about Monster Truck, including tour dates and details about pre-ordering Furiosity, visit http://ilovemonstertruck.com.– Lindsay Chung (Twitter @LChunger)
Democracy And The Giants Of Punk:
An Interview With JJ Burnel of The Stranglers
There are precious few collectives synonymous with the ’70s British Punk scene. The sadistically photogenic exploits of the Sex Pistols and the star power of The Clash have very nearly laid claim to the time, the genre and the ethos in one enormous, gap-toothed sweep. Contrary to what music history may suggest, however, these are not the only success stories.
JJ Burnel, frontman of seminal Punk/New Wave/Art Rock band The Stranglers spoke to me from London. We discussed the beginnings of The Stranglers, the marrow of Punk Rock, world issues, their new record, Giants, and their upcoming tour.
The Stranglers outsold both The Sex Pistols and The Clash in 1977. They outlived both bands by decades. They were the first band selected to open for fellow punkers across the pond (Patti Smith and The Ramones). This apparently caused division between The Stranglers and the rest of the London Punk scene, but these rifts have deeper roots.
The Stranglers were a breed apart from the get go. While other bands were assembled in order to suit the new Punk image with entrepreneurial swagger, The Stranglers came together, as Burnel puts it “completely by accident.”
“I gave a hitchhiker a lift, dropped him off, he introduced me to his mates who had come to England from Sweden. I must’ve met Hugh then, and Jeff. Hugh came to visit me and saw that I played guitar so I played him a few songs. He said ‘You should record that,’ I said ‘Alright but I’ve got other things on my mind.’ But we formed the band with Hugh, myself and Jeff in ’74.”
They employed the use of organs and synthesizers that were widely noted as unfashionable – particularly by their own genre. While other bands avoided solos with an aversion matched only by their contempt for ’60s iconography, The Stranglers were known to descend into Art Rock organ pieces reminiscent of The Doors. JJ Burnel expresses a staunch commitment to exploring music regardless of what genre dictates.
“That goes against the whole ethos of what I believe was to be Punk. It was to be free and not to subscribe to any new orthodoxy or fundamentalist. I was mates with Joe [The Clash] and Steve and Paul from The Pistols but they suddenly got stuck in this rut and it proved commercially successful so they didn’t want to get out of it... we thought, ‘Fuck that, we’re going to be honest to ourselves.’ We could’ve been much more successful, possibly, but we’ve done okay, and I can still look at myself in the mirror, and we can still produce records... we didn’t give a fuck what the others thought of us.”
As far as following the Punk status quo, The Stranglers have always been indifferent to say the least.
“People forget that we outsold The Clash and The Pistols in ’77 in the UK. All the media was still talking about The Sex Pistols and The Clash, not The Stranglers, and we just got on with it. We didn’t care.”
The Stranglers have enjoyed a longevity matched by few. It’s due primarily to their zeal for new ideas clearest in their 1981 hit “Golden Brown.”
“The luxury that The Stranglers have had – and we’ve made a decent living of it without having to bow to any commercial pressures – is that we have ploughed our own furrow ... “Golden Brown” was a worldwide hit despite the record companies not wanting to release it. ‘It doesn’t sound Punk, it doesn’t sound New Wave, you can’t dance to it blah blah blah blah.’ We insisted on them releasing it and it was a hit despite them. We’ve had the luxury of not having to succumb to the commercial imperative. In other words, we’ve managed to explore different avenues, sometimes falling flat on our faces, but other times actually coming out of it with a bit of credit.”
The Stranglers are daring in a way that transcends hair dye and rebel angst. They continue to explore musical avenues to an extent exceeding many of their contemporaries with the new record, as always, subjecting themselves to the inevitable backlash of some fans preferring – to put it sensitively – the material before the transformation. It’s a familiar risk. One I don’t imagine fazes them. Giants is a new sound, and, while this is not a record review, it does not sound dated. Still, parts of it do bear a striking resemblance to The Stranglers’ early material.
“Of course there’s a common thread because we’ve got three of the original four members from forty years ago. Another common thread is that a lot of what we write now is happening in front of your very eyes [live off the floor]. The organ and the bass dominate the soundscape; it’s always been a constant, and we haven’t been luddites about any technology gains.”
“We look at the world and I have never shut myself off from the rest of the world. What is happening in the world is relevant to me and geopolitically there’s never been a richer scene of inspiration. Just look around you and look at the themes on Giants. Hopefully I’m not ramming them down your throat... There’s one song called “Freedom is Insane,” it’s about the arrogance of the West, about how we impose our values on other societies. Democracy is this word that we like to impose on people but it’s taken us two thousand years of cognitive evolution to get to that and get to a Christianity that we impose on people and it blows up in our faces. So that’s why freedom is insane. Freedom for one person is another person’s totalitarianism. I know an American guy who’d been to Vietnam. He came back thinking he would be treated as a hero. He got back to San Fransisco and he was spat at. This is in the late ’60s early ’70s. He couldn’t believe the difference between what he believed he was doing and how it was perceived back home. It’s the same thing recently. We’re imposing democracy on Iraq which has never known democracy. We’re making the same mistakes that we made in the 19th century in Africa. We left Africa and thought, ‘Alright, we’ll impose democracy and Christianity on them,’ and it’s not really a surprise that they revert to tribalism and what they’ve known much longer. It’s a form of arrogance. They’re doing the same thing in Afghanistan but has it made the world safer? I don’t think so. I think there’s more lethargy and disinterest in democracy. People have become disillusioned with it because they don’t believe you can change much. The multinational business seems to have taken over. It’s taken over the music business. Most musicians are happy to take their money and not disturb the apple cart. So everything’s gotten a bit sterile and a bit safe. And what a shame, because it’s a great medium to ruffle feathers and to make people think. But the world’s made up of lots and lots of people, lots of individuals. Everyone should be responsible for their own faults. So some people will mobilize and get uptight about things, and that’s their right, and others won’t. It’s the same all over the world. So whether the world is ready [for a musical/political revolution similar to those of the ’60s and late ’70s] is a big question. Though there are certainly lots of people who are ready to confront certain realities. Even the Taliban, for example, are fighting to protect something which we consider an anathema. But we can’t dismiss it, because they’re dying in their droves to protect something that we don’t understand. And we don’t want to understand.”
The Stranglers are hitting North America with a nine show tour this spring, stopping in Toronto on May 31st and Montreal on the first of June. Having started the band with some members already in their thirties – and keeping in mind the band will be celebrating their 40th anniversary next year – it’s anybody’s guess what keeps them travelling, writing, and playing.
“The fact that we’re still alive is vital. But the fact that we’ve released an album with so many positive reviews means people inquire as to our availability so we’re living in the moment. Me, I want communion. It’s what all human beings seek... Communion with anybody.
So there you have it, The Stranglers’ JJ Burnel. Punk Rock astronauts. New Wave cartographers. No nonsense. The Stranglers are one of those bands you’ll want to be able to say you’ve seen. Danforth Music Hall, Toronto, May 31st. Get communion.
– Anthony Damiao
Q&A: Martha Johnson of Martha And The Muffins
Spill: You are in the process of recording your first solo record, Solo One, what prompted you to record a solo effort at this point in your life and career?
Martha Johnson: A number of things happened. I’d been writing a lot on my own over the last few years and also wanted to compose music with other songwriters. That started when Mark, (Mark Gane, my Martha and the Muffins partner), and I co-wrote a song called “No Man’s Land” with Hill Kourkoutis which she recorded for her Hill and the Sky Heroes album.
Also, my manager Graham Stairs organized a few songwriters’ weekends where he had artists he’d worked with over the years get together to collaborate. Out of that came the song “Bye Bye Love” which I wrote with Will Whitwham of Wilderness of Manitoba and Alister Johnson of Grand Analog. Then, Ron Sexsmith and I got together and out of that came three songs at which point Ron said I should do a solo album and so I did! It turned out to be a great process. I would come in with about a dozen finished lyrics and then together I’d write the music to go with the words with all these talented musician/songwriters. I really think my expression of some very intense emotional experiences was the birth of this album. I hope that intensity is felt when people hear the songs.
Spill: With the music industry being what it is today, many artists are turning to crowdfunding platforms to help bring their records into fruition and to bring the fans into the experience. You’ve recently launched a campaign with Pledge Music, as an artist, how do you feel about the idea of crowdfunding and do you think we are going to see it become a more integrated part of the industry moving forward?
MJ: I think the crowdfunding concept has great potential. This is the first time trying it for me and so far it’s working really well. At this point I’m over 75% towards my goal and the response from fans, friends, and family has been fantastic. The music industry as it was when Martha and the Muffins started in the late seventies is dead. The few major labels that are left are not willing to take the time or risk of supporting artists in the long-term. Any independent band or artist who has a strong sense of who they are has to go their own way and do for themselves all the things the record companies used to do. The crowdfunding model brings the artist and listener together in such a way that could not have existed until the Internet.
Spill: This past weekend, you took part in an exclusive taped performance at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Toronto, which featured you playing the famed 90-year-old Casavant Freres Opus 1034 Pipe Organ. What drew you to the organ and to partaking in a performance of this nature?
MJ: There was an article a month or so ago in The Globe and Mail about a church in the west end of Toronto that was being converted into condos and the developers, much to their credit, were trying to find a new home for this beautiful organ. Mark and I thought this would be a great location for a viral video and the developers kindly gave us permission to shoot one of my videos there. I wasn’t the one playing the organ, that was Marty Smyth, a very talented multi-instrumentalist.
Spill: Even though this is the unsung era of digital music, it seems that we are seeing a resurgence of interest in more traditional sounds and musical elements like the organ, why do you think that is?
MJ: Everything comes and goes in popularity. With all the airbrushing and auto-tuning surrounding us, a lot of people want to reconnect to something real. Real people playing real instruments.
Spill: Martha and the Muffins rose to New Wave prominence during a time when the musical landscape looked quite different. Having experienced what you did as an artist, what do you think independent artists struggle with the most today, and how does releasing a record today compare?
MJ: One of the biggest struggles for indie artists today is not the making of their music, but getting it heard. Anyone can make music now and for better or worse, there are a lot more people releasing their efforts than ever before. It’s not about whether it’s good or bad, it’s a very crowded field and the challenge is getting yourself noticed.
In the old days, the record company took the risk of funding an artist, put the money upfront for the manufacturing, distribution, marketing, promotion and touring. They typically kept 85% to 90% of any profits and you would only see your 10% to 15% if you paid off the cost of all these things, which often never happened. Now we do it all ourselves, or hire people to take care of certain things. We assume all the risks but have complete artistic freedom. It’s not a business for the faint-hearted.
Konnecting With Katatonia:
An Interview With Daniel Liljekvist of Katatonia
I find Daniel to be a really exceptional drummer and even better guy. He put up with all my dumb fanboy questions and answered them to the fullest extent of his abilities. I really appreciate his taking some time away from his family and his relaxation to talk to me on the phone. He just got off tour, was fighting a pretty bad cold, and moreover we had to deal with poor phone reception. But it turned out to be a very candid interview. It was a blast talking with the man. I’m here on the phone with Daniel Liljekvist, the drummer of Katatonia.
Spill: I understand that you guys are on your tour cycle in support of your most recent opus, Dead End Kings.
Daniel Liljekvist: Yeah. Right now we’re on break. We just recently completed our Australian tour and now I am at home eating McDonalds with my kids.
Spill: How was the Aussie tour?
DL: It was excellent. It went off flawlessly.
Spill: I had the pleasure of seeing you guys open for Opeth on your U.S. tour in 2011. I had already purchased The Great Cold Distance and Night Is The New Day, but that show blew me away. That night you guys made me a Katatonia fan. I was thoroughly impressed with the band in a live environment. All of you made the atmosphere electric. Your instrumentation was absolutely flawless.
DL: Thank you, that means allot to me. I’m glad you enjoyed it. We found that tour to be very successful and the crowds fully embraced us. What venue did you see us play?
Spill: I saw you at the Trocadero in Philadelphia.
DL: That is a beautiful venue.
Spill: Is there a group floating around in the ether that you haven’t toured with yet, that you would like to?
DL: Oh yes, Alice In Chains. I’m a huge fan of theirs and I have been for a long time. Alice In Chains, most definitely.
Spill: I can visualize this happening and you guys would be a great pairing, though I honestly would like to see you go out on the road with TOOL. I believe that Katatonia would be openly received by their audience.
DL: Thanks again. You know you are not the only person to say this. We’ve been hearing this for a while… Katatonia and TOOL. The fans want this.
Spill: You guys are definitely a quality enough group. Hell, they’ve toured with Meshuggah and Yob… Sometimes when you put things out in the universe, you get what you ask for.
DL: We shall see. You never truly know what is around the corner.
Spill: You’re on tour supporting Dead End Kings.
DL: Yes and we will be starting our U.S. tour this month (April) on the 18th.
Spill: The album is a fucking masterpiece and to me it’s a logical extension of The Great Cold Distance and Night Is The New Day.
DL: That is what we were going for. I believe we made a truly successful album.
Spill: Absolutely. How was the recording process of Dead End Kings executed?
DL: Jonas (vocals), Anders (guitar) would come up with their parts. They record ideas in their home studio. I would add drums later. When you’re in it, you truly don’t know what the fuck is happening. I’m given guitar parts and I jam over top of that until I feel like I’ve got something. Half of the time I don’t even know what song I’m working on. The songs are broken down into four parts. Five parts for more complex tracks. One thing that separates us from other bands is that we never jam out our ideas. It’s always broken down into parts. The only time we ever play complete songs together is to rehearse for tour and then obviously on the tour.
Spill: So you work on parts of tracks and assemble them together after the parts are complete?
DL: Basically yes. When it’s done… when all the parts are finalized… I’m like, ‘Did we fucking make this?’ It’s great. When everything comes together it just blows my mind. I can’t believe how everything works out.
Spill: Did you do anything differently in regards to recording compared to previous albums?
DL: We record everything pretty much the same way. The only big difference is that we recorded the entire album in one studio in Stockholm. It was the first time we’ve done this. Before we had recorded drums in different studios. Various parts in other studios.
Spill: You guys put allot of work into your releases and it’s obvious but is there a personal favorite Katatonia release of yours?
DL: Yeah… wow… I would have to say Night Is The New Day is my personal favorite.
Spill: That was the first release I had picked up and it really grabbed a hold of me. It still sticks with me to this day. I personally felt like it was a milestone for you.
DL: I’m not putting down any of our other releases, or Dead End Kings, but that (Night Is The New Day) has a special place in my life. I feel like everything just came together in a really incredible way. The instrumentation, lyrics, vocals, everything.
Spill: You’re an incredible drummer, a master of your craft. How long have you been playing?
DL: Since the fourth grade.
Spill: Were they your first instruments?
DL: Yes, my only instrument. Actually no, as a child they forced us to play the recorder in school, but I fucking hated it. So technically the recorder was the first instrument I picked up.
Spill: Who inspired you to pursue drumming?
DL: Mainly myself and my grandfather. When I was in the third grade our teacher let us a play a snare drum. We played “Rock Around The Clock.” We played with brushes. Turned out everyone sucked but me. My teacher told me this in more or less words. From there my grandfather had purchased a drum kit for me and I never stopped playing since then. I was never really good at sports and I made a horrible gangster. So I stayed with drumming. I had to choose something. It became my creative outlet.
Spill: As an adult who inspired, or inspires you musically?
DL: I like, correction, I love Dave Grohl’s drumming and how he wrote music later in his life. I have been inspired by all his works. I’ve never met him but I have seen him in many documentaries… I’m really impressed by his playing. I’ve seen Foo Fightes live, five or six times. He’s the complete musician in my eyes. I need to stop now before I sound homosexual.
Spill: No, I know how you feel. I have a hetero-man-crush on Edmond and Jimmy from Dordeduh. I find them completely inspirational as musicians and they’ve very much impacted my life.
DL: EXACTLY! That is exactly how I feel.
Spill: On a related note, what is your favorite musical work of all time?
DL: Nirvana’s Nevermind . It is THE best album ever made. I never get tired of it. I used to listen to it almost daily. Now I listen to it almost twenty times a year, more or less.
Spill: It always intrigues me when I read interviews of musicians in the Metal scene, they pull a lot of influence from outside the genre. I play drums too. I’m not very good at it but I look at “Metal” drummers for influence.
DL: I know what you’re saying. If you listen to Metal only you can only hear so much. You need to listen to other genres of music. You play what you hear. You can translate that into Metal. That makes things quite interesting. If you use a Jazz fill, during a blast beat, it makes things very interesting. It’s really fucking cool.
Spill: As far as music goes, in Sweden’s scene, who do you feel needs more attention?
DL: That’s a good question. I don’t know if you’re aware of them, but I find myself listening to The Knife very frequently. They are an electro, synth group with a bit more of an avant-garde sound.
Spill: I know The Knife. They are wonderfully strange. At times they remind me of The Residents peppered with some Kraftwerk.
DL: Yes! They are remarkable. Another band I have been listening to heavily is Kvelertakfrom Norway. They sound like a mix of Satyricon and Turbo Negro. They are incredible. Their debut album is almost as good as Nevermind and it takes a lot for me to say that. It’s an instant classic.
Spill: I actually have that album. It’s incredible. I’m curious if you’re in any other musical projects. Many of your bandmates like to explore their Death Metal side in Bloodbath. Are you in any other projects?
DL: No. When they are in Bloodbath with Mikael (Opeth) and Martin (Opeth) I am at home with my family. When I have down time, at all, I’m at home. It is very important for me to have time with my family. I’m not saying it will never happen. But the way I feel now is, I’d rather be home. If Dave Grohl called up, I’d say, ‘Yeah Dave, let’s jam’.
Spill: Finally, just for fun, if you could put a side band together − a supergroup of musicians living or dead − who would you choose?
DL: Wow... wow, that’s a damn good question. Let us see. I want Freddy Mercury on vocals. I want Jimmy Page on guitar. On bass, who the fuck do I want on bass? Fuck it, Paul McCartney on bass. Dave Grohl on drums.
Spill: You have to be in there too, I should have specified that stipulation.
DL: Fuck it, we’ll be co-drummers.
Spill: That’s fantastic. Daniel, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. Have an awesome day, brother.
DL: You’re welcome. You too, Dave.
− Dave Meredith
Tales Of Opulence And Decay:
An Interview With Sam Fogarino
Over the last several years Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino has been throwing any free time into the side project EmptyMansions. The moniker is eerily appropriate both as a band name and album title since the album creates sonic visions of rotting palaces, strewn with broken antiquities and Liberace tact. I was fortunate to speak with Fogarino about the album`s creation, upcoming touring plans, and Interpol’s return.
Spill: How long ago did you start working on these songs?
Sam Fogarino: I wrote the main melody for the first track, “Led to Measure,” while the rest of Interpol were doing overdubs on My Love to Admire. We had this rehearsal space in midtown Manhattan in this infamous building that has this very rich history; people from Madonna to The Talking Heads used to rehearse there. It’s eight stories tall and over-the-hill, with a freight elevator with 80 layers of paint on it and it just reeks of history.
So I’d set my drum kit up back at this rehearsal space while the rest of the band were working on overdubs, and in the hallway outside of our door there was a piano that was just trashed and scratched with stickers on it. So I looked around and just started pushing it into our space and this guy peaks his head out of a neighboring space and said he’d tried to sell it but nobody wanted it so he just left it out for someone to take. It was beautifully out of tune, you could hit the happiest major chord like a C, and it would sound creepy, so that’s where I came up with that melody and it just kind of stuck with me.
SF: That name was bouncing around in my head since about 2008, and I’ve almost built a whole different aesthetic around the name. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, I just remember thinking that it was a great band name. I was sitting on my porch in Athens, on one of those typical Georgian summer nights where you break a sweat just sitting still.
Being a member of Interpol for the last 13 years, concept does kind of filter into everything, and it’s almost unintentional. It’s not really calculated, it just kind of flows, when it works. Within Interpol or within this project, if there’s an attachment to it, if you feel it on a personal level, it will just flow.
Spill: Once you have the concept in your head, what do you do with ideas that don’t fit the concept? Do you just set them aside for another project?
SF: Yeah, but I cry like a baby first. You try to fit the square peg in the round hole, and then there’s this demoralization that you go through where you say, “I suck, I should just play drums.” But when I know something is kind of good, but it’s just not working, I do set it aside, put it on the proverbial back burner and see if it can find a place somewhere else.
Spill: On the album, the sounds themselves are really in the forefront, do you use the sounds to inspire the performances?
SF: I typically write that way. I think it comes from having a musical background that isn’t learned, I don’t have a theoretical background. I can’t read or write music as opposed to someone like Brandon Curtis (bass) or Duane Dennison (guitar). Therefore sound is crucial. I’m not the guy that can go, `Oh, this augmented add nine chord works perfect for this kind of feel.` I find a sound, and the sound takes me to the chord, and hopefully a progression and melody will follow.
Spill: The cover of “Down By The River” (Neil Young) was a surprise that really worked because it’s such a sinister song lyrically, but he recorded it very straight ahead. Was that an obvious choice for this project?
SF: The desire for that track comes from my childhood. My mother played that song all the time when I was between the ages of five or seven. But because of his straightforward delivery, I never heard the really dark aspects of the song. What I keyed into now is the pain of the protagonist, just being gutted and heartbroken before he goes to shoot his girlfriend. And that actually did happen, which I didn’t know either.
I kind of appreciate that approach, where you take this dark content that’s really macabre and evil and just twist it so it makes you want to sing the chorus with glee. It’s so hopeful sounding, and my Mom would sing the vocal lines with dead on pitch and it wasn’t scary. It was kind of joyful. I think that’s just brilliant and I really want to do that one day, but for this album I just wanted to hone in on the darker side of that track and give that sound to such a fucked up happening.
It can be tough when your muse isn’t as tied to a cohesive vision as you are, but Fogarino’s persistence was definitely rewarded on this record. He seemed appreciative that I “got” what he was trying to do, but I think that’s more a testament to how vividly he realized that vision.
− Jeff Vasey (Twitter @JeffVasey1)
An Interview With Claudja Barry
Remember the travel advertisement featuring Bob Marley’s song “One Love” telling people to “come to Jamaica and feel alright”? The original song asks “Is there a place for the hopeless sinner who has hurt all mankind just to save his own?” It’s a song calling for revolution in a place where there has always been unrest. The press release for documentary Losing Paradise describes the belief that many think Jamaica has become a “culture of violence” and Dancehall “contributes to the negativity of the culture.” Unfortunately, Losing Paradise didn’t explore this idea sufficiently, but I had the chance to speak with the film maker Claudja Barry to find out more.
Losing Paradise actuallytakes a look at current Dancehall music in Jamaica and addresses concerns of the negative messages this music is sending to Jamaican youth. The film was directed, produced and mostly funded by Jamaican born singer and actress Claudja Barry. Barry, best known for '70s disco hits “Dancin’ Fever” and “Boogie Woogie Dancin’ Shoes,” has spent most of her life in Toronto and returned to her homeland to make the film.
Spill: What originally made you think that people believe Jamaica has become a culture of violence, rather than the “One Love”, happy, relaxed culture Jamaica has been known for by tourists?
Claudja Barry: I’m not saying it has become a culture of violence. I’m talking about the music and what’s being represented in the music. I think that people will get from the music what’s being said and there’s a lot of violence involved in it. It’s running into a lot of what’s being glamourized in Rap music from the United States.
Although Barry is “not aware of much Dancehall with positive messages,” the film does include footage of musicians making radio friendly music with positive messages. Some of it sounded like Dancehall, known for its half singing, half rapping vocals set to a faster, drum machine created Reggae-based beat.
Spill: In the film there was some evidence of Dancehall with more positive messages. Have you found that to be true, or are you finding that it’s still predominantly negative?
CB: It is positive in order to get around censorship and get music played on the radio. Broadcasters now are requiring that music not have so much violence in it. Not so much referrals to things that are absolutely negative. So what’s happening is a lot of the music have two different kinds of lyrics, one for the radio and one with the more harder lyrics are being sold. I don’t know how they are being sold, but you do hear two different versions of the same song. Then the harder lyrics are being heard by little kids whose parents will play that stuff inadvertently at home and think it makes no difference, or hear it on the bus, or hear it on a CD in the taxi, or at parties. You can’t get around this stuff. It’s not rocket science to find other ways to circumvent the rules.
There was some footage of The Daggerin type of dancing in the film. This dancing style can be mild grinding/gyrating to simulate sex, but the extreme version involves men jumping from heights to land on a woman lying on the ground. I asked Barry how prevalent this type of dancing is. She talked about how men were injuring themselves and you don’t see it much anymore because they figured out that 'it’s not the most intelligent thing to do'.
Spill: Does Dancehall truly reflect the realities of what is happening in some parts of Jamaica today?
CB: Definitely a reflection, but all the people who live in those areas are not into it. I think people all over the world have the idea that we should try to come up. I think a lot of the Dancehall music wants you to come up which ever way you can, but there are certain rules in our society. We have to adhere to the rules and with recognition there has to be responsibility.
I read that Barry plans to expand this project to a full length movie. I asked her when filming in Jamaica if she was able to find out how big of an impact Dancehall is having on Jamaican society, or if that is part of why she was planning to expand. She said that it has made a “huge impact” on young Jamaican women that think it’s okay to go out in the day dressed like they are going to a club and openly use lewd language.
In Losing Paradise Barry talks with various musicians, writers, doctors and teachers focusing on how Dancehall has had a negative impact on Jamaican youth. Bob Marley and other artists of that era also reflected the poverty, struggle and injustice they saw in Jamaica in their music. Donisha Prendergast talks about how there should be government control to ensure “only positive values are communicated” on the radio. I was having a hard time understanding why it wasn’t okay for today’s Jamaican artists to express what they were seeing. Talking with Barry re-enforced the overall message she was trying to share with the documentary. Music is powerful and if Dancehall is all you know, Barry asks, “How do you rise above? What will inspire Jamaican youth to do anything differently?” Dancehall is very aggressive and in her opinion there is “no emotion, no love” in this music. I was surprised to hear that many children in Jamaica “have no concept of Marley.”
Dr. Marcia Forbes talks about how Reggae music evolved from originally being protest music. I asked Barry if she thinks Dancehall is evolving and there will be a new era in Jamaican music. She doesn’t see that happening with Dancehall music. There is a “one drop revival” and believes there needs to be a trend setter like Tarrus Riley to start a new movement.
Overall I don’t think this documentary presented a clear vision of what it was trying to accomplish, other than to portray Dancehall as an undesirable style of Jamaican music with violent and sexually derogatory messages. It’s ironic that a film condemning negative messages in music offers little hope for change and ends oddly with Barry saying “The choice is really up to you. Whether it’s Rocksteady, Ska, Reggae or Dancehall you can turn it up, or turn it off.” On a positive note Barry is working with Music Unites Jamaica Foundation promoting the work of Jamaican composers with music of many genres including Classical. The foundations mission follows the description given in the press release for Losing Paradise to “look back at Jamaica's rich heritage, understand it, celebrate it, sing, dance, and let the rest of the world join in.” It’s unfortunate that the film did not do that.
− Jen Vasey (Twitter@jenvasey)
Patti Smith - Camera Solo:
Patti Smith At The AGO
Her photography and art exhibit, Camera Solo, is on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario until July 14th
It would be a profound understatement to say that Punk rock icon Patti Smith has many artistic hats. Smith is an accomplished musical artist and performer, yes. But she has also made waves as a poet, photographer, writer, and visual artist.
At 66, Smith has a body of work that is, to say the very least, astonishing. Yet, she remains very humble when asked about her artistic process. "I work hard, I work everyday,” she says. "Whether it’s the continuing job of being a mother, or writing, or drawing, or taking photographs or helping my fellow man − I’m a worker."
Smith's visual art is currently on display at the AGO in Toronto, until July 14th. The exhibit, christened as Camera Solo, showcases photos (and some of Smith’s sketches) of people, objects and places sacred to Smith − French poet Arthur Rimbaud’s grave, and Irish poet W.B Yeats’ bed are examples. Her late father’s cup, and Pope Benedict’s slippers are also featured.
"It's endlessly interesting and exciting to me to document the tools of people who work, who create. Their resting places, their beds. For me − it keeps, it enriches my vocabulary."
The exhibit offers up sections that are tributes to Smith's muses, including Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, and the late American photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe. A glass case containing memorabilia and pictures of Mapplethorpe, who was an artistic collaborator, a close friend and a former lover of Smith’s, is particularly touching.
The photos were taken with her Land 250 Polaroid camera, and appear as grainy, black and white portraits. Smith says her goal is not to capture a flawless image, but rather, to show its ambient nature. "I don’t consider my photographs blurry − I think that they are atmospheric," she says. She cites her photograph of Yeats’ bed as an example. "What I wanted (to capture) was the atmosphere of the illness that he suffered when he slept in this bed," she says.
Even when the lighting is good, the essence of a place can still come through in the photo, she explains. She recalls a picture she took of a building in Hiroshima. Even though it was taken on a clear day, the images came out rather "misty" she says. "It was what the soul of the building gave to me, and that’s the picture I got."
Smith agrees that the photos document her relationship to the subject. "I think of my pictures sometimes as second and third class relics because they are in proximity of someone saintly to me or important to me − whether Victor Hugo or my child."
There is no question − the spiritual is a theme that permeates Camera Solo. There are relics of death (such as a photo of Rimbaud’s grave), and various objects belonging to the dead (Virginia Woolf’s cane, her father’s cup). At the entrance of the exhibit, a quote from Smith explains this theme: "I have a strong relationship with the dead, even a happy one. I get pleasure out of having their things and sometimes photographing them."
Smith says that visiting the graves of artists she admires helps her to feel close to them. "When I take pictures of people's grave sites, its not a morbid thing at all. I go to visit them, to talk to them in a way, or thank them."
Religious artifacts are another aspect of the spiritual theme. Perhaps the most prominent items are slippers that belonged to Pope Benedict the 15th. "My relationship with Benedict the 15th is twofold," explains Smith. "One (reason) is (that) he worked very, very hard to stop the advancement of World War I − he was a man of peace. And he canonized Joan of Arc, and I have a very strong relationship with Joan of Arc. I have since I was a young girl."
Smith believes that the sacred exists in pop culture as well. Neil Young’s guitar Blackie, which she photographed very recently, is an example. "It (Blackie) has created some great songs, performances, solos, that is synonymous with rock and roll-especially (from) the late '60s on."
Despite being a rocker herself, Smith says her own music doesn’t factor into her visual work, and vice versa. "They don’t really crossover that much, except (that) I do them all. And with equal enthusiasm," she says. "It's all from the same person, but music and performance is a very public and collaborative field-where visual work requires solitude and is independent."
Near to the exhibit's entrance, a visitor can bear witness to Smith's other works. There are couches equipped with headphones, where you can listen to Smith's albums and read her books.
There's also the chance to sit and watch a film directed by Patti, whilst sitting on wooden benches that resemble church pews. The film, shot by Jem Cohen, documents 24 hours in the "life" of a cherub statue, in San Severino, Italy. Smith's haunting spoken word poetry serves as the film's soundtrack.
Smith notes that there is a replicate of that cherub on the grounds of AGO. "It proved to me that I was supposed to be here," she says.
− Andrea Pare
Life On The Road:
An Interview With Rod Campbell of Mindil Beach Markets
When I interview Mindil Beach Markets' keyboardist/vocalist Rod Campbell, the five-piece band from Victoria, B.C., is on the road. Campbell answers the phone from the band’s RV, which is parked at a community centre in Kenora, On. And that’s pretty fitting because the road is exactly where the band wants to be right now.
Mindil Beach Markets released their second album, It Might Take Long, in early March, and the band is currently touring from Vancouver Island to Toronto in support. Before leaving on this two-month tour, Campbell and fellow band members Cam Ainslie (drums), Patrick Codere (vocals/guitar), Daniel Kingsbury (vocals/guitar) and Matt Posnikoff (bass/guitar) gave up their apartment in Victoria and bought a 32-foot RV, committing themselves to life on the road. “We’re trying to do the full-time touring lifestyle,” says Campbell. “We’ll do this tour and then a couple weeks of performing in high schools. We might crash at our parents’ in the summer when we’re not doing festivals.”
It's a busy and exciting time for the Rock band, which fuses sounds of Reggae, Funk, Hip-Hop, Funk and Blues. It Might Take Long was released March 5, and the band released the album's first single and video, “Smoking Gun,” in January. The song was recently added to regular rotation on The Zone, a modern Rock radio station in Victoria, a first for Mindil Beach Markets.
Campbell states that with It Might Take Long, they are starting to discover who they are as a band and tighten up their sound. “I think on our first record, it was a lot of songs we had lying around before the band was formed, and it had a lot of reggae sound,” he says. “We liked the songs, but we hadn’t had a lot of time together as a band to figure out what we liked. I’d say [this album] is more a representation of us as a group and the sound of us as five guys. I wouldn’t say we’re narrowing our sound or nailing it down; the music is just more true to us as a group now. It’s still pretty diverse.”
When it comes to songwriting, Campbell says Codere and Kingsbury share most of the lead vocals and write most of the songs, but everyone in the band contributes once something is brought into the jam room. “It’s definitely a real collaborative effort,” he explains. “The base of the song, someone brings that in. I don’t think we’ve ever sat down as two of us or however many of us and said we’ll write a song. Someone brings in something, and that becomes Mindil Beach Markets.”
The five members of Mindil Beach Markets have all known each other for a long time, and Kingsbury, Codere and Posnikoff played together in high school. Mindil Beach Markets released its self-titled debut in October 2010 and then toured from Vancouver to San Diego, giving away 10,000 free copies of the album on the road.
Campbell feels they’ve all grown a lot since they first formed the band. “I think just as people, with time, you have more relationships and more experiences with people − with each other and with other people,” he says. “Everything just sort of gets matured. It’s funny to look back at pictures of ourselves. We have definitely come a long way since those days, but it’s so gradual.”
A lot of this growth has also come from being on the road so much. “We’ve always wanted to tour a lot,” says Campbell. “That’s sort of why we wanted to be in a band, to see places. We’ve definitely learned a lot as a band from touring − mostly about failures.”
Campbell says his favourite part of being on the road is connecting with new people. “It’s very cool, the people you meet along the way who bring you into their homes and who feed you,” he says. “A huge part of it is always the relationships you make all across Canada. I think that’s one of the real special things for us. And, obviously, playing for new people and getting new fans is exciting for us. In Victoria, you play for lots of people, but you don’t know if it’s just your friends and their friends. When you play for people you’ve never played for and they react positively, it feels really great. You feel like you’re doing the right thing, making music that really connects with people.”
Campbell thinks one of the worst parts of being on the road so much would be trying to eat healthy. “Right now, we have a big bag of turkey and stuffing that someone made for us but no place to cook it,” he says. “There’s a lot of fast food. Also, Canada is really cold. Last night, we were driving on the highway, and it was minus-30... there was frost on the inside of the RV.”
Off stage, Mindil Beach Markets is spreading awareness about ocean sustainability, climate change and environmental stewardship through its Jellyfish Project, an educational initiative the band started in 2011 that focuses on generating awareness among youth about the declining health of our world’s oceans and the environment at large.
Kingsbury says the project evolved from the band’s search for a logo. “We were selecting our band logo, and someone brought up a jellyfish,” he recalls. “Aside from the jellyfish being a cool looking image, we also learned it’s a symbol of the declining health of our oceans. Before that, we had played in high schools a few times, and wanted to find a way to continue to play in high schools. It was fun, and we wanted to combine it with an environmental message. We’re now playing in high schools and middle schools, and it’s really exploded.”
The Jellyfish Project combines musical performances with educational presentations, and Kingsbury says they tell the students about ways they can become politically active and make a difference by signing petitions and how they can make decisions such as eating only sustainable seafood. “It’s an education and awareness initiative, but we definitely have a focus on plausible solutions,” he says. “It can be pretty gloomy at times, so we focus on solutions and give kids a lot of hope there as well.”
This year, Kingsbury and Campbell took part in Climate Reality Training in San Francisco with former U.S. vice-president Al Gore, and they’ve been incorporating a lot of what they learned there into their presentations. “It was fantastic; it was very inspiring because we were being trained along with thousands of people from all around the world, so there was a lot of positive momentum,” says Kingsbury. “It definitely got me more fired up to do the work.”
Kingsbury feels students have been really receptive to the Jellyfish Project presentations, and from what he can tell, the information they share is sinking in.
“We feel it’s important work, and one thing about it is we are not necessarily professionally trained public speakers or a band with thousands of Twitter followers,” he says. “You don’t have to be at that level to speak about these issues. It’s such an important issue that everyone should speak about it. You don’t have to wait until you’re famous. We encourage anyone who has the privilege to be on stage to engage in some type of activism. We’re also not scientists, and that’s OK. We're just normal people. We’re just trying to be leaders in the sense that it needs to be normal people talking about it; it needs to be the conversation happening in the background.”
– Lindsay Chung (Twitter: @LChunger)
Benji Rogers: Founder/CEO Pledge Music - CMW 2013
Pledge Music is different from other crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo in the sense that it strictly caters to music, how does that benefit artists and their campaigns?
I think that if you are an artist interested in doing this kind of thing, you want to go where the music fans are. One of the biggest differences about Pledge is that when you log onto other platforms there are thousands and thousands of different projects, all of them doing different things, where as we’ve got thousands of projects but they’re only doing music.
I see Pledge as not quite a crowd funding company but rather a music company, and we are very good at music so we really want to focus on that. A platform like Pledge means that artists today can take more risks and be as creative as they want to be, because the campaigns themselves are co-designed by both the artists and us.
We send out an email every couple of weeks to about 135,000 fans, all of who have said, “Please recommend us music.” If we were doing other things like films, books, and documentaries, we wouldn’t be able to do that; it would just be too many things.
You were a working, recording, and touring musician for over a decade before you launched Pledge Music, how have you seen the music industry change over the course of your career?
The main thing was that back in the day when I was making music – man that makes me sound old – it was all about getting a record deal and all about someone else doing that work. It was never about the fans. Now-a-days it’s all about the fans, and we have social media to both blame and be thankful for.
Things have changed a lot over the years, but it has also taken the industry a really long time to realize that selling fans a 99-cent single is one thing, but it isn’t necessarily what they want. What music fans really want are 55-dollar signed CD’s, hand-written lyric sheets, and access to the making of the album.
Where did the seed of the idea for Pledge Music come from?
There are a few founding principles to our company, the first is that it is our job to get the most amount of money into the hands of the artists in the shortest possible time – any delay is a threat to our business. The second is, because things can be amazing, they have to be, so that means that we’re always reaching to make it that little bit better. The third is, we’re not subject to what was only to what works, and what that means is that we can honour and respect all of the past the came before us, but that we shouldn’t tie ourselves up to it because things can be done differently.
When we were outlining the original Pledge Music business plan – keep in mind I had never done a business plan in my life – the core concept was “everybody wins.” The artist wins because they get to make the music they want to make in the way of their choosing, the fan wins because they get access to it, the charity wins because they get a cheque delivered to them, and on an even deeper level than that the producer wins, the engineer wins because he gets a studio to work out of, and the manufacturer wins because vinyl and CD’s are being produced.
When things are done differently, and when artists are really allowed to be creative not just in their process in terms of making music, but also in the way they reach their fans, the results are really phenomenal.
The core idea behind Pledge Music is the direct-to-fan platform, why do you think it works so well in the digital age?
I think that there’s an immense amount of power available to the artists at this point, and there are fans that just want to support this kind of thing. They want to see the albums be made and be a part of the process, whereas before that was never an option.
With that in mind, and from the global business side of things, labels today can take fewer risks because if they sign someone whose done well on Pledge, that’s less money they personally have to spend, the deals get better, and everybody benefits. It’s really about “de-risking” a music business that normally takes a hit every time something goes wrong.
You recently participated in a Nielsen study that found that 8% of Pledge Music users are actually big box consumers. What do you think that says about the digital experience at the present time?
What was incredible about the Nielsen study was that we were really surprised to find out what the casual and big box consumers actually wanted. It turns out that the way music is sold today is not the way in which the fans want to buy it.
If you send me, as a super fan, to iTunes or Amazon as a retailer, I simply cannot spend what I want to because there’s no experience attached to it, there’s just that one moment. My personal theory is that if your sole place to buy music is a WalMart or a Target or a Best Buy, you simply don’t know that these other options exist. It’s the job of the record labels, and perhaps it’s our job, to find a way to deliver that experience to these guys because once we do, they’ll be inspired, and those other options become possible.
With the industry being what it is today, there is a very small divide between whose independent and who isn’t anymore, and you really do have everyone from the artist whose recording in their bedroom to band’s that have had hit singles or critical success, using Pledge Music. How do you see the “direct-to-fan” campaign platform fitting into the larger whole, both from a fan perspective and from an artist and industry perspective, as we continue to move forward?
The most important thing for us as a company is that we’ll spend as much time on an artist that’s raising a very small amount of money or working on their first EP, as a larger artist because both are the same in our eyes. Let’s say a band like Coldplay did this, it would still be Chris and the band in the studio sharing the experience as it’s happening. As long as that remains authentic and real, it will work at every level.
At Pledge, we know that as long as bands are delivering an experience to their fans, that first EP will lead to the big one next time, and what we’ve found is that when people really get the concept and run with it, the second campaign is better than the first and the third is better than the second. The reason for that is because the fans then expect the experience. That’s something you make up as it’s happening in real time and it can’t really be re-produced.
What really kills me is that I watch these big artists tell the story, and give it away through Facebook posts and on Twitter, but I can’t buy in and be a part of it. At that point, my only interface with the artist tends to be a static page with a buy shit here button. That’s what has to change, then the industry will become healthy again.
What the record labels need to realize is that, if your album is coming out in September, why can’t I be a part of it now? Why do I have to wait until then for you to open up this window and send me to iTunes? It's kind of madness when you think about it.
– Juliette Jagger (Twitter @juliettejagger)
There's Always Music Playing In My Head:
An Interview With Patrick Krief
For as long as he can remember, Patrick Krief has had music in his head.
Melodies and lyrics rattled around in his brain as he waited at a bus stop as a young boy. The melodies continues as Krief started to learn the guitar. When he began forming bands as a teen, he always wanted to people to hear his ideas. And now, with his new album, Hundred Thousand Pieces, Krief is sharing some of his most personal music.
“I just always had jingles in my head,” the 32-year-old says from his Montreal home. “Even as a kid, if I was waiting for the bus, I had in my head a waiting-for-the-bus song. It was just always a reflex for me to spend my time and to entertain myself by making music in my head − and that’s as far back as I can remember. I started playing guitar at a really young age, and my parents couldn’t afford to give me lessons, so I had to make stuff up to play. It never was a thought process; it was just automatic − I’m going to write songs.”
Krief says ideas for songs come to him in waves. And he never knows when those waves will come. “I have these bouts, these freak outs where I write a ton of music in a short period of time, and then I'm dormant for a while,” he says. “Whether it’s old stuff or new, there’s always music playing in my head. It’s really random, and I can’t control really when I’m going to get inspired. I don’t sit down to write.”
Hundred Thousand Pieces is being described as a collection of “intensely personal music,” and Krief sees no other way of doing it. “I always felt like I hear these cheesy love songs that say everything a woman would want to hear, and I would be humiliated to try to sing something and be embarrassed because, to me, it’s so transparent and cheesy,” he says. “To me, [writing] is kind of a therapy. I need to get this off my chest. To me, it’s an easy thing to emote as a singer because it’s a true story, but if I was just telling a story or trying to seduce the ladies, it would feel lame − I wouldn’t believe what I was saying. That’s why, to me, it has to be personal.”
The songs Krief wrote for Hundred Thousand Pieces are so personal that he actually had to walk away from the project for nearly six months. There was even a time when Krief thought the album might not get finished.
“I was going through some stuff in my life,” he explains. “Every time I would start working on this record, it was the one thing that would trigger all the negativity and all this anxiety in me. This album was very tough to sit with. It was also very ambitious, doing all the instruments myself, and the lyrical content was like putting my problems in my face. I had to step back and maybe not even finish it. After a break, when I came back to finish it, I was so into that record that it gave me the right perspective to finish it.”
Krief says “Just knowing it had to be finished” is what brought him back to the album. “The songs were always in my head, and I felt like I would never get over it if I didn’t finish it."
The long-time guitarist for Pop-rock band The Dears, Krief has been making music as a solo artist for many years. He released the EP Take It Or Leave in 2007 and followed that up with 2009’s Calm Awaits, which he released as Black Diamond Bay. While he was working on Hundred Thousand Pieces, Krief started questioning his future as a musician. He says he never came close to quitting music, but after ten years of never being able to project anything past three months, he started feeling like his future as a professional musician was beginning to look grim.
“There was part of ‘I don't want to ruin music by doing a bunch of shit just to make money, like playing in a cover band every Thursday night,’” he says. “Where does the balance happen without compromising art? After coming out of it, I realized my compromise is going to come in my standard of living, not art. At the time, I was juggling ‘what if you want to buy a house?’ and then I just accepted my reality would never be normal.”
Krief produced and mixed Hundred Thousand Pieces himself, and much of the album was recorded in his Montreal apartment. He played nearly all the instruments himself (with help from former Black Diamond Bay member Roberto Piccioni), and he also composed the album’s string, brass and choir arrangements.
“I’ve always produced my own records,” he says. “Usually, I would make a home demo and show it to whatever band I was in and we’d record it. With this record, my home demos were striking just the right feeling in me, and I didn’t want to screw with it, so I didn’t involve anyone else.”
Being so hands-on with a project has its positives and its negatives. “I guess from anybody’s outside perspective, people might say you’re lacking objectivity if you’re doing it all yourself,” says Krief. “But, honestly, I did not feel one moment of ‘I should have done it different'. I guess at the end of the day, at a selfish level, that’s all that matters − as an artist, you have to sit with something and deal with it for the rest of your life. You are not in control of whether it succeeds or fails. A plus is you have this music that’s very true to you and whatever you were feeling at that moment, and you deal with it. A negative is it’s a lot of work, and it’s a lot more stressful. It’s a ridiculous amount of work. As much as I knew it was going to be a lot of work, I still felt overwhelmed at times. Sometimes you can bounce ideas off people and take it to the next level, but I didn’t feel like this was that record.”
Krief says releasing an album can be scary because once it’s released, it isn’t yours anymore. But sending Hundred Thousand Pieces off into the world was less frightening than his previous releases.
“I stayed so true to my vision,” he explains. “I felt like I wouldn’t really take anything to heart if someone said something bad about it. But still, there’s the ‘what if it’s a complete failure?’ But I didn’t really care because a part of me was almost OK with not even putting it out.”
Krief kicked off his Hundred Thousand Pieces tour at Toronto's Sneaky Dee’s. The show leads into a 24-day U.S. tour that will see Krief perform at South by Southwest. Krief is currently dealing with some last-minute visa issues, and he’s excited to get them resolved.
“I just want to get into the country − that will be the moment I’m excited about, crossing the border,” he says. “I’m looking forward to every moment. I love being on tour; you just play a show every night. It’s what I want to be doing.”
– Lindsay Chung (Twitter @LChunger)
Note To Self - Embrace The Toronto Rap Scene:
An Interview With Bronze One and Swamp Donkey of Notes To Self
Toronto-based Rap group Notes to Self is on the radar and worth keeping your eye out for. Their new album, Target Market, is keeping old fans happy while securing new fans at the same time.
The group features rappers, Swamp Donkey and Roshin, producer and rapper, Bronze One and world-known DJ, DJ Dopey as well as a hidden fifth “Jarobi” member, writer and illustrator, Elicser.
Notes to Self came up with their name through one of Bronze One’s university art projects. “We were thinking of names as a group in 2000,” says Swamp Donkey. “Bronze thought of it, he actually used it for an art project when he was in university.”
“It was for a branding project or something, that’s where it floated from and we played with it for a little while,” adds Bronze One.
Bronze One and Swamp Donkey speak out on where their music creativity comes from in older generations of music and todays generation of music and why. “Primarily, we like to stay relevant,” says Bronze One. “I’m very influenced and inspired by everything that runs a gambit that comes from rap music. From the early '80s or late '80s to last week or last month – anything. We really appreciate all of Rap music as a whole. From what we were raised on to the boundaries that are pushed now, creating new sounds, we embrace that as much as any underground and commercial artist. We aren’t either, we are just making music, there’s no clear message as we pay homage through what we’ve learned growing up on rap music and music in general.”
Swamp Donkey adds that he feels it’s what you get from music. “We appreciate the art form. The feeling we get from good music, a feeling that makes you happy and excited. Something great that touches you in a different way, a full product, the feeling of fullness or completion. Real Hip-Hop stuff, that’s how we grew with it.”
As far as what inspires Notes to Self, Swamp Donkey and Bronze One have a clear insight and agree on the importance of these things. “Music, art, movies,” says Bronze One. “I think I can speak for everyone on this; our family, our personal lives, we bring that to the table all the time when we create music. My parents and even Swamp's father is a great influence and inspiration to me, we all share families. Roshin’s and Swamp's father is a father to me, they’re my brothers and that’s what Notes to Self is, a brotherhood. Friends and family, across the board, Swamp's friend T-Rexxx Rex, the host of Much Music’s Rap City and also the 1 Love T.O. movement, which we are very much a part of and they’re closely involved in what we do. We’re in a place and age in Toronto where our team and extended team is starting to reign. What we can do with our music is an inspiration itself.”
Musically, Swamp Donkey and Bronze One agree De La Soul was their biggest influence. Having opened for them in 2009 on their 20th anniversary at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto was a big treat.
“Across the board, De La Soul,” says Swamp Donkey. “As a group model, they had no bad albums, they gave a shit about their art form. As a group, collectively, De La Soul is the perfect answer because they care about Hip-Hop and everything we care about. We opened for them at their 3 Feet High and Rising 20th anniversary tour, it was one of the best shows we’ve ever done,” says Swamp Donkey. “Those guys are cool as fuck. We gave them some of our merchandise that fans were wearing and they reinforced everything I assumed about them, they were cool.”
Bronze One adds that De La Soul is still relevant today. “Absolutely relevant. Look at their catalogue and albums and you’re only as good as your last record and they’re still the shit. I was listening to lots of stuff on the radio and watching videos on Rap City. I am a product of my parents as far as music is concerned; I came into my own when I started listening to Rap music and developed that sound and that ear. That’s just a small portion of what music was playing in my house.”
Toronto has been so under the radar in the music scene but things have changed lately with so many artists representing Toronto and it being a popular name to represent. But, there are challenges to face with being a Toronto artist.
“I agree on the Toronto assessment,” says Swamp Donkey. “It’s cool to be from Toronto, the popularity with Drake opened the door here. There are great artists from here. Historically, artists kind of liked each other but weren’t supporting each other, because it’s like a rat race instead of working together and building, but that seems to be happening more now where things and people are now coming together.” Bronze agrees that Toronto has been a city to represent and embraces it. “We’ve been fortunate to have this in the past few years and Toronto has really been the place to be from and represent,” Bronze says. “We still have a lot of attitude but the 180 that Toronto has done from the '90s to the 2000s to now, we’re starting to embrace each other.” As a Rap group constantly labeled with bringing back older elements of the Rap scene, it was never intentional says Swamp Donkey and Bronze one, they’ve created their own brand within rap and hip-hop music.
“We don’t feel like that. I think people say that because we are a Rap group with a centered sound,” says Swamp Donkey. “Having unifications is reminiscent of old albums, one producer or production team working with an album gave it that feel.” Bronze One says, “I don’t know how to categorize true Hip-Hop. To be honest I like everything from a dude talking about a struggle to the most ignorant of Rap. I can respect and appreciate the kind of skill involved in what they’re doing. Us four dudes are going to bring four different elements to the studio that are always going to be different, that’s where we have to bring in that cohesive sound and that’s when it becomes more of ours than anyone else’s. Now, we’ve created our own brand.”
However, Notes to Self does believe they can be set apart from others because they’re a group and none of them have solo careers and they have Swamp as a choreographer. “There really aren’t any more Hip-Hop or Rap groups,” says Bronze One. “They rarely exist, collectives like Odd Future or A.S.A.P. Rocky are the new brand of Rap. When you look at us, we don’t have solo records out, we’re a group and we put out group records.”
As for what Notes to Self is working on for the future, it still has a lot to do with Target Market, but also their next project that they are hoping to complete and release by Fall 2013. “Some shows with Sean P coming up and Hill TO from Australia,” says Swamp Donkey. “Bringing out a couple artists to do stuff in Canada, quite a bit of follow ups, we’re looking at tapes to put out, a slew of videos are going to be dropped and of course the opportunities that come with dropping this album.”
Bronze One has another perspective on what fans should expect. “I do Top40 Pop as well, so you never know what’s going to come across our console what we’re going to play with,” says Bronze One. “People may see some unexpected things, we’re always working on something new. I spent six hours with JR who I co-direct with, we were working towards supportive content because we want this to be the record that gives us an identity. Roshin is writing Pop hooks for me now, but this record is still our focus. We have great material in the can for our next project, hopefully coming out in the fall.”
Notes to Self is putting in the work and proud to represent Toronto, with all of their new projects coming along and wanting to work with Chromeo, Kendrick Lamar, Yelawolf and more, we can only wait and see how far they’ll go and how high on the charts they will be.
– Jaii Bhamra (Twitter @jaiikbhamra)
The Quintessential Canadian Indie Band
I remember when Metric played Letterman for the first time. It was right after they put out their fourth studio album Fantasies in 2009, and I had this distinct feeling that I was watching things takeoff for them – that it was all finally happening.
As a teenager who gauged people by their musical knowledge, I didn’t like Metric at first because I thought that the hook from “Monster Hospital” – “I fought the war but the war won” – was a direct rip off of the Crickets song “I Fought The Law.” Of course in my infinite teenage wisdom, I didn’t quite realize that the band was in fact referencing the Bobby Fuller Four who had a hit cover version of the song in 1966, and that they had said so right in the lyrics. Oh well, you live and learn.
The moment I did finally decide that I liked them came when I discovered the song “Poster of A Girl,” and mostly cause I couldn’t believe this skinny white woman was singing the words; “coming in your pants for the off chance.” I think Emily Haines’ muted sort-of-sexuality shocked me, so I bought all their records.
Metric really is the quintessential Canadian indie band, and not because that’s what we like to call every band these days, but because Metric as a band, is actually a fully functioning, self-sufficient business called Metric Music International.
Metric Music International is a whole different kind of independent label. It’s the sole body that houses their band and no one else’s. It’s a direct connection between Metric and it’s fans, and with hired in house staff that handles everything from publicity and radio, to sales and administration, everyone is working toward the attainment of the same goal – the success of Metric.
Metric formed in 1998, that was almost a decade before their Letterman performance, so it really does go to show you that as a band, you need to wrap your head around going all in for the long haul, if you ever want to come out on the other side of success.
As we continue to watch the gap between labels and artists widen, more and more independent bands are learning to do things themselves – it’s pretty well a necessity these days. Unfortunately the nature of technology has put bands in a position to have to give away their music for free, and that seems to have caused a major shift in work ethic.
Today, a lot of bands put their music out there and wash their hands thinking that they’ve done their part. Then they sit around hoping that the right person will hear it, and that it will magically take off. That’s a really strange and lazy way of looking at things, and it’s breeding a lot of inevitable failures. Band’s are doing the X,Y, and Z, and learning how to self-manage, self-market, and self-promote, but they’re still out there leaving things up to chance and giving away their bread and butter for free.
If you were the CEO of a new sports wear line that was trying to break into the competitive market place, and you were planning to go up against major brands like Nike and Adidas, you wouldn’t offer the consumer the exact same thing that they were already getting from your competitor, stop at that, and let the market decide, would you? No, you’d find out what they’re not offering and offer that instead. Yes, you need to play your part, and yes you need to play the game, but you can’t do the exact same thing a million other people are already doing in the exact same way they’re doing it, and expect a different result. Bands need to think the same way.
Look, there’s simply no way around it, if you play in an independent band and you want to “make it big,” you have to work harder and longer than everyone else around you until you do, especially today. Metric truly is proof that an independent band that never wavers and is willing to almost go bankrupt in the process, can have a long and lush career in music, and succeed on an international scale.
You can catch Metric at home here in Toronto this week during CMW 2013, both as one of the festival’s featured celebrity interviews, and as performers at the SiriusXM Indie Awards on Friday March 22nd.
– Juliette Jagger (Twitter @juliettejagger)
Canadian Hip-Hop Grows Up:
An Interview With Prevail of Swollen Members
Vancouver-based Hip-Hop group Swollen Members has been putting out records since 2000 and have always promised to stay true to themselves and their roots. From the beginning, Prevail and Mad Child worked well together and believed compromise and meshing what both rappers could bring is what would make them successful. Prevail says working with Rob The Viking helps enforce this.
“Swollen’s been putting out records since 2000, so those three-to-four years leading up to that, Mad Child and I were figuring out who the other person was,” says Prevail. “We wanted to bring our two styles, sounds and elements together. With our first album, Balance, we realized we have a great chemistry together, a great understanding of a goal we both wanted to achieve and our styles started mending together and being very complimentary. I feel when Rob The Viking came in as our producer and DJ, it really elevated our level of creativity, and he’s a musical genius. He pushes us in directions that I think are challenging and force Mad Child and I to open up to different styles and approaches developing new material.”
Swollen Members are proud to call themselves an elite group and to be pushing for something positive over their over 15-year career span that they thank their fans for. “I’m proud to say we’re part of an elite group of underground groups we grew up listening to and grew to be friends with,” says Prevail. “Not only to be influenced by them, but to know them on a personal level, that’s great, we grew a bond with them. We’re all pushing for something positive, we’re lucky and thank our fans.”
Prevail and Mad Child, along with Rob The Viking, try to always bring that element that their fans love about them, to every project of theirs. “We’ve had a couple albums where we strayed from the path we originated for ourselves,” Prevail stats. “For a couple albums, people have said ‘Yeah, I can see where you’re going but it’s not what I fell in love with,’ and we’ll take a step back, listen to our discography and ask ourselves what we want to take to illustrate our thought process. Rob The Viking pushes and urges us to stay true to our voices.”
Prevail believes staying true their original voices and underground roots is important. With the latest album, Beautiful Death Machine, they express that and say the process was much like the beginning for him. “With Beautiful Death Machine we were trying to get back to our true underground roots. We wanted to just spit our lyrics, they can be as vicious and raw as we felt they needed to be. You can feel that in the aggressiveness of the beats. It has the class of the Swollen Members sound but has a dark undertone, that’s what we wanted to do. Get back to being ourselves and celebrate our true original voices.”
“The name, Beautiful Death Machine, has been in the wings for a while,” adds Prevail. “It should have been used two albums ago, but we decided to wait until we were ready to make that album. It was something Mad Child and I saw referenced in a movie and we thought it was a great title. It was going to be a track titles but it was too good so we decided to wait.”
Like any project, there were challenges faced and proud moments to relish in. “It felt like recording the first album,” says Prevail. “It was very easy getting into the studio, Rob The Viking opened a new studio called The Chamber, a home base we can go to on neutral ground for everyone. No inhibitions of daily life going on around us, we could fully concentrate and when you can put yourself in that situation free of distractions, you let the music speak for itself.”
“I just listened to the album with headphones on a few days ago,” says Prevail. “It has the most ferocious lyrics we can muster. I’ve got to take my hat off to Rob on this one because when you listen to it, through and through, it’s the way he coordinated and laced the interludes, he made the final project feel like a seamless album. Producer C-Lance also worked on this album and it’s incredible how him and Rob understood each others musical vocabulary. To be able to listen to an album beginning to end, how Rob made it correlate with real meaning and messages, it takes away the tendency for people to skip through the album. We like to give fans a complete full body of music.”
As for who Prevail looks up to and why, his story shows a genuine and humble person and artist. “Currently, I look up to the conductor of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Bramwell Tovey. I’ve heard him speak on a few different occasions and just a pure artist who really embodies the freedom music can express. I would say currently he’s one of my all time heroes. If we’re going old school, I grew up on comic books and Spider-Man was my childhood hero, created by Todd McFarlane, another Canadian.”
“If I could be any super hero, I would be Spider-Man. Unquestionably, no questions. What I like about the character of Peter Parker is he was a lab geek before it was cool. He was the ultimate lab geek during the day, but at night he’d go put on a mask and fight crime. He wasn’t a macho, naturally gifted with strength or alien super powers; he was a kid who fell into (or as he must have taken it at the time) a tragic accident. He has a compassionate understanding for humans which I think makes a great role model.”
Though when it comes to Hip-Hop, Prevail likes to hark back to the genre’s Golden Era. “I go back to groups like Big Daddy K, Boogie Down Productions and LL Cool J,” says Prevail and adds, “I’ve been a great appreciator of symphonic music, Opera, Jazz, Rock.”
As for Mad Child, he “grew up on Punk, Country, he’s a huge fan of Willy Nelson. He introduced me to Chet Baker who I’m listening to right now, a great Jazz player and vocalist. Take the range between the two of us, then add in Rob the Viking who listens to everything and dissects it like a scientist, you get those three influences all together and it blends to the lively atmosphere of the music that we make.”
Prevail is proud of how far he has come and where he has come from and who he is. He concludes that no matter where he would have come from, he would still stay true to being himself.
“I’m originally from Victoria Island, Vancouver. When you weren’t exposed to the daily Hip-Hop lifestyle, not growing up in Chicago, Boston, New York or Los Angeles, you had to search for it. Growing up on the island, I found a style that suited my environment and me. So yeah, would it be different? Yeah. Would it be me? Yeah. But that would be the Atlanta, Chicago, New York, or Boston me, not the me I am today from Victoria, Vancouver, BC me.”
– Jaii Bhamra (Twitter @jaiikbhamra)
Brainstorming With ZZ Ward:
An Interview With Zsuzsanna Eva Ward
ZZ Ward (Zsuzsanna Eva Ward), Singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Roseburg, Oregon, is grabbing everyone’s attention with her incredible voice. Sucha voice certainly made it easy for her to be discovered on MySpace by her manager, Evan “Kidd” Bogart, when she moved to Los Angeles.
“Right when I first moved out to Los Angeles, Evan wrote me an e-mail,” says Ward. He heard my music on my MySpace and wanted to hear one of my songs. We’ve been working together ever since.”
Before all of this ZZ Ward was playing with her father's Blues band and working with local artists and performing her own music while co-writing with others.
“At about the age of 16, I started driving my Dodge Ram around Oregon where I got involved in the local Hip-Hop scene. I would write chorus’s for local Rap artists and open up for Bone Thugs N Harmony and Mike Jones. I was singing in a Blues band and doing the Hip-Hop scene.”
The bluesy, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Soul and R&B artist has drawn in quite the crowd on her sold-out tour with Delta Rae, and the fan-base keeps growing. “It’s amazing,” says Ward. “Just putting the record out and watching the crowds grow, it’s amazing. It’s very inspiring. I had no idea my music was going to touch people the way it has.”
Ward’s debut album, Til the Casket Drops, was released Oct. 16, 2013, and features artists like Kendrick Lamar, Freddie Gibbs and The O’Mys. The biggest part of this process for ZZ Ward was how different it is working alone. “It was awesome working with them,” says Ward. “They’re all very different artists. It’s inspired me a lot to work with different artists too. They all have a different process, it was incredible to watch them write and do music in a different way than I did.”
Ward also believes she discovered who she is through her music. “To me, it was always there,” she says. “You kind of discover who you are in the world and I love creating the kind of music that I really love listening to. It took some time for me to figure that out. I had a conversation with my manager, Evan, and he was like ‘just stop thinking about what other people want to hear and make music that you love.’ That’s what I did.”
As far as keeping motivated and inspired, it’s not just her fans and her success that drive Ward, but the mechanics of getting there. “Being creative is really inspiring to me,” says Ward. “For me, just writing songs is really the most inspiring thing. If I can keep writing music for the rest of my life and have people out there in the world listen to it, then I’ll keep doing it.”
Fans have their opinions as to what sets her apart from other Blues, Jazz and Hip-Hop artists - and even female artists - but the humble ZZ Ward couldn’t comment. "I’m not really sure,” she says. “I don’t think I can answer this question. I think as artists, we can only be the best that we can be. We can only make the kind of music that we love and it’s bound to be different than anyone else. I don’t know what makes me different from other people, I think other people have to decide that.”
As for being on tour and coping with being on the road, a good team and plenty of rest is what’s most important to ZZ Ward.
“Sleep,” says ZZ Ward. “Today, I woke up at 6 a.m. to go film a show and play some music, then I went back to sleep, got up to play another show. Sleep when you can. Get your rest. I think that’s the biggest thing. You need to really take care of yourself.”
“The lifestyle of being on tour, it takes some time to figure out what you need and how to make it comfortable, because that becomes your life when you’re on the road. You have to surround yourself with a bunch of good people, you know? I’m on a tour bus with a bunch of guys, but I have a great crew with me and it makes all the difference in the world.”
ZZ Ward is currently brainstorming on ideas for her next music video.
– Jaii Bhamra (Twitter @jaiikbhamra)
Dick Cavett once asked Janis Joplin why more women didn’t do what she did? Her response: “I don’t know, it’s not very feminine, maybe that’s why.” Just over a year later, she died of a heroin overdose inside a Hollywood motel during the recording of what turned out to be her most famous album, Pearl.
When I was growing up, my father – the barer of much of the great music that has found it’s way into my life – always interpreted Janis as the incredible creature she was. He used to say: “she may not have been the prettiest thing around, but there wasn’t another woman like her who ever sang the blues.”
Of course he was right, and Janis will always exist onto herself. I mean, she was completely uninhibited; she was complex, vulnerable, bold. There’s just something about a woman who doesn’t concern herself with what she looks like while that soul content is pulsing out of her, raw and flawed, for everyone to see.
Lately I’ve been feeling that way about Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes. I’ll be it that I’m late to the game on this one, but finally discovering her has been the first musical revelation I’ve felt in months.
There is something, perhaps its spirit, which simply escapes her when she opens her lips onto the mic, and that absolutely enthralls me. When her eyes squint through the salt of her sweat, and she sticks that bottom lip out like she just caught a whiff of the vilest of smells – there’s nothing like watching somebody’s body respond to music.
History would seem to suggest that we are attracted to rock and roll because it relishes in imperfection, and that we are compelled to engage with the Janis’s of the world because what they exude feels incredibly human. Why is it then that when someone like Brittany Howard shows up, deep down inside, there is still a part of each of us that defaults to thinking what she’s doing is in some way made more amazing by the fact that she isn’t conventionally beautiful? What is that? As if to say: "congratulations, you are this amazing thing, it must have been so hard for you." We’re such assholes.
You know, there’s nothing unfeminine about being human; most of us are just too afraid to admit that’s what we are. Before Janis Joplin, the world had never seen a woman expose herself as so passionately tortured and all-consuming. When women like her come along, I think we just stand there watching because we wish we could ever be so free. Today, in a world of perpetual indie, rock and roll desperately needs an artist like Brittany Howard. Her presence is completely overwhelming, and I think people can feel it.
– Juliette Jagger (Twitter @juliettejagger)
Sitting down to have a formal interview with Ron Sexsmith was quite the experience; he’s one of my all-time songwriting heroes with talents beyond the reach of most any successful artist of our generation. This is a man who is celebrated in the ranks of musical heavyweights such as Gordon Lightfoot, Elliott Smith, and The Beatles.
I’m sipping coffee with the man himself, separated by a wobbly Starbucks table. We settle in for some questions about his new album, Forever Endeavour. I aim to dig a little deeper into the songwriting process and see what else I can get out of the soft-spoken tunesmith. Although initially nervous about being late for the interview, Sexsmith seemed not to care about such technicalities. As we spoke he was honest, polite and even recounted our first meeting a year back at a Toronto bar where I introduced myself and we shared a pint and talked about music. I was flattered.
First off, it was imperative to find out about the change in direction with Ron’s writing and his choice of producer on Forever Endeavour. He had originally lined up Bob Rock to produce the album; however, during a show in L.A., Bob was invited to hear Ron’s new songs. Bob Rock couldn’t make the show, instead Mitchell Froom showed up with Bengals singer Suzanna Hoffs. Not long after, they started talking and decided to work together and revive a working relationship that dated back to the early ’90s.
Spill: Tell me about the differences between Long Player Late Bloomer and Forever Endeavour.
Ron Sexsmith: The songs on Long Player were just as personal as this one; however I’d never done anything that came crashing through the door like the last album. This is definitely a softer album with different musical direction. Froom had it all mapped out and would send me demos with all the drums and other instrument parts mapped out. There was no real room for the bass or keys to go whaling’ and jam out in the studio. Froom painstakingly paid attention to detail and actually had all the instrument parts written for the entire album from guitars to the orchestration, even the drums were written out, and everything was charted. I wasn’t sure how it would all turn out but in the end I really liked the results.
Spill: In the song “Out the Back Door” you sing about wanting to get out of forced situations, were you writing about one situation in particular or a combination of things?
RS: It started about when I finished the last record, Long Player Later Bloomer. There was all this interest in the U.S., which is rare for me, and then when we finally started playing the record for all these labels they ended up not being very interested. So that got me kind of depressed again and I wanted none of it in the end after being built up so high, so this prompted some ideas for the song. There are many times I’ve been in situations that I felt I really did not belong and I would make an inconspicuous backdoor escape without saying goodbye. I’d rather slip away then have people asking me to stay and making me feel uncomfortable. And it touches on the end of my life too, when my time’s up I want to slip away then make a big scene out of it.
Spill: In the song “Snake Road” what part of your life were you singing about specifically? The lyrics recount some very indulgent times.
RS: I was talking about the ’90s, that’s when I got signed. Back then in my 20’s, being dad with two kids and working as a courier and I thought that music just wasn’t going to happen. Then I found myself at the age of 30 with a record contract with a big company and things really started to move. It was this crazy time, and kind of a destructive time. I had a family and that went out the window. I had all these women interested in me all of a sudden. Any time before that girls wouldn’t give me a second look. When I was on stage and playing music, there was a lot of power behind that; girls would walk up to me with my album in their hands and would have already made a decision about me that they wanted to be with me. It was basically between the years of 1995 to 2000. Things were happening fast and I wanted to live the Rock Star life and this is what the song is about. I mean it came with a price too, it broke apart my family and that was hard, it was all due to temptation on the road really. It was a great time and I don’t regret it any of it really.
Spill: Tell me about “Autumn Light.”
RS: There’s this guy, he’s a legend in the UK called Don Black, and he’s in his 80’s or something. He wrote “To Sir With Love” by Lulu, and he’s a legend of a songwriter – he wrote tunes for Michael Jackson and big Hollywood movies. He wrote all these tunes I used to sing as a kid and thought we could try to work together. So I met him and he was really cool and he gave my lyrics to “Life Without a Broken Heart.” So in a cab ride home which was about 40 minutes and I wrote the tune in my head and it turned out amazing. Then we did “Autumn Light” together and the writing was quite easy with the great set of lyrics in front of me. So we keep in touch and will likely do more work together.
Spill: What about the writing process, what did you draw from on this record for content?
RS: I had a health scare not too long ago which prompted a lot of songwriting output. As I was waiting on the doctor’s prognosis I was writing as though my days were numbered and I came up with some of the best tunes on the album. Luckily nothing was wrong in the end.
Spill: I have to set the record straight on something here. I’ve heard what is surely a broken telephone version of your Paul McCartney story – that you were invited to lunch with him at some point. Can you tell me about that?
RS: Well it all started after Elvis Costello posed on the cover of Mojo Magazine with my debut album in his hand quoting “Best album of the year”. Interscope was just about to drop me because the album didn’t take off in North America and had very little buzz elsewhere until the Mojo cover things happened. After that, there was a huge buzz about me in Europe and all of a sudden I was like the toast of the town. So the label decided to do a European re-release of my album and things really picked up from there. Next things I knew I was on tour with The Squeeze and playing high profile shows all over. I became friends with Glen Tilbrook and Chris Difford from The Squeeze and one night after a show Chris invited me to stay at his country home. On our way to his house we passed a rather large estate and Chris asked me, “You’d never guess who lives there?” And I thought of the biggest Rock Star I could think of and jokingly said “Paul McCartney,” he laughed and said “Good guess, would you like to meet him? I can call the house and see if they are around tomorrow.” I was in awe and thought he can’t be serious, but sure enough the next morning he called the house and Linda McCartney answered the phone. After a brief conversation Chris had arranged a breakfast with the McCartney’s, it was the craziest thing. Later that morning, we were at the McCartney mansion, we spent about three hours with them, had breakfast and Paul played some tunes from his upcoming record – it was a surreal. I also got to play with Ray Davies from the Kinks, which was huge for me, actually beyond belief. They were my favourite band as a kid.
As Ron told me these stories, not only was I picking my jaw up off the floor, but I was simply in disbelief and covered in goose bumps. Now I have the facts, and so do you.
Needless to say it was great to sit down with Ron Sexsmith and dig a little deeper into some of his lesser known secrets. He’s working harder than ever and has no intention of slowing down. The new album proves his songwriting is only getting better with time. The album’s a diamond in the rough and I suggest to anyone reading this article to pick it up and dig in.
– Andre Skinner Follow Andre on Twitter @andreskinner
On-stage, Luz Elena Mendoza cuts a hypnotic figure with her big, reedy voice, fluid movements, and stage presence to rival Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie. Off-stage, however, the Y La Bamba woman recalls another iconic figure – Rayanne Graff, the good-time gal best friend from the beloved TV series MY so-called LIFE. As Mendoza peels off circuitous vignettes, she lets forth a great, ringing laugh from deep within her. You can feel her love of family, her hard-won optimism, and her gratitude for her band’s current good fortune.
Mendoza has a great deal for which to be thankful. Y La Bamba’s third album, Court the Storm, was financed through a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. After its release the album ended up on many year-end lists.
Though Mendoza grew up with a father who played music for fun, she had no formal training. “In high school, I would record along with a cassette tape player. There would be two stereos, one on top of the other. Hip-Hop was awesome – the CD singles would come with an instrumental version of the song, and I’d sing along to that.” Though she also wrote “cheesy” songs after “figuring out the volume and how to program a beat on a shitty Yamaha keyboard,” learning the guitar would come a few years later. “This guy Joel Swenson taught me some chords. He wrote down a strumming pattern with arrows on a piece of paper, and on my own I figured it out. I haven’t been able to stop playing the guitar.”
Towards the end of the 2000s, Mendoza formed Y La Bamba as a home recording project. After the release of her first EP, however, she rounded out the lineup with several other musicians. “I feel like I’m stating to understand the musicianship behind it,” she notes. “I write the songs, (and) I’m starting to understand my brothers. I’m able to tap into what part they’re going to resonate with, what’s going to sound the best, and what’s going to be comfortable. I’m hearing a whole other world for harmonies. It’s fun being creative like that.”
The band’s unusual sound – a blend of verbose Bush II-era Indie-Chamber-Rock and traditional Mexican musical forms – has attracted some big-name collaborators. Los Lobos keyboardist Steve Berlin produced Court the Storm, and Neko Case sang backup on one track. For Oh February, Decemberists rhythm guitarist, and fellow Portlandian, Chris Funk manned the boards. “Chris is our homey,” Mendoza says. “He’s so down to earth and enthusiastic, you can tell he’s generous and wants to work on the project.” The presence of a buoyant personality like Funk’s must have helped in the album’s quick recording. “I forced it onto the guys!” she laughs. “We totally did it, gave it our all. We made something we got to see work so quickly and have a heart.” Mendoza’s direction of the backup vocals on the title track encapsulates the endearingly off-the-cuff qualities of the album. “That was a second take,” she says of her spoken word appearance on the record, noting that her roommates sang backup on the track. “I was saying to them, ‘This feels good, how’s everyone doing?’ That song feels the best.”
Y La Bamba recently completed a tour with the Lumineers. Mendoza’s familial attitude towards her own band (whom she calls “hermanos”) extends towards some of her fellow up-and-comers. “We had some mutual friends,” she notes, “My ex did videos for them. When we crossed paths, it became infectious.”
The bands’ mutual appreciation society paid off for Y La Bamba, who gained many new fans from this tour. These new followers have much to look forward to, including a potential new release down the line and a tour in the spring. In the meantime, Oh February is a great point of introduction.
– Chelsea Spear (Twitter @two_ontheaisle)
Cuff the Duke have been growing as artists by diligently recording and touring, something that has resulted in an expanded musical reach into Europe. The future looks bright as their fans await the release of a second EP, which will complete their quadruple release for their new record label, Paper Bag Records.
I had a chance to interview Wayne Petti of Cuff the Duke and get his thoughts on the release of Union, the music industry, and the dichotomy of a life on the road. Union was released in Canada October 2nd, and is the second part of a two-part album project that started with the release of Morning Comes late last year. The two albums relate both lyrically and visually, with a number of the songs on the new record acting as responses to the songs from Morning Comes.
Release of Union
Cuff the Duke had a lot of material when they came to record Morning Comes. They were just signed to Paper Bag Records, and Wayne Petti explains that “it sort of felt weird to put out a double album when we just signed to a new label and took on new management. It all seemed a bit overwhelming.” At the time Joel Plaskett had released Three (2009), a long, triple disc release. A double album from Cuff the Duke just didn’t look that impressive in comparison, Petti jokes.
“Most of all, I personally like a record that is simple. I love records that have thirty or forty minutes of recorded music on them. Those are often my favourite types of records.” They met with their record executives and decided to release Union exactly one year later.
Half of the album is a response to Morning Comes. The other half are songs the band already had but didn’t want to release. Wayne Petti mentions, “For me this is kind of cool. Union is an extension of Morning Comes, but it is also its own entity. I like the idea of working on something that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. I also love the fact that the artwork connects the records. If you put the albums side by side, the artwork all lines up.”
The top half of the image is Morning Comes and Union, and the bottom left corner is the cover of their 2012 released EP In Our Time. The final piece and the bottom right corner is the cover of their upcoming EP, to be released in early March. Wayne Petti remarked that “if you put all of them together, you form a complete picture. This is why we have the full image on our website to remind people of our concept. You will also find the undisturbed image as an insert inside of Union. It makes a great poster.”
Paul Lowman, Cuff the Duke’s bass player, also created that wonderful image. He approached the band wanting to create something specific and concrete. Petti has always been in love with abstract art, loving images where the meaning isn’t necessarily clearly defined. “It allows for whoever is looking at the artwork to form their own opinion of it. Every time I look at Paul’s artwork I see something different. The greatest strength of his piece is that it is somewhat undefined.” Ultimately the eye is lead to the upper right corner – back to Cuff the Duke. “All of the abstract things ultimately lead to the tangible music we create,” he remarked.
Greg Keelor as Producer
Cuff the Duke opened for Blue Rodeo back in 2008 and they really made an instant connection. Both bands loved hanging out with each other, but Petti and Greg Keelor in particular noticed a special bond. Keelor invited the band to come visit his farm and do a bit of recording. Petti recalls, “He said to come up for a couple of days and record some material and see how we like it. There was no pressure to record an album, but if the chemistry was there, there was certainly the possibility.” During those sessions there was no discussion of money or anything business related, it was just a great opportunity to work with Greg Keelor and everyone was extremely grateful for the opportunity. The recording session lasted for four days and in that time they managed to record and mix four complete songs. All of those songs ended up on Way Up Here (2009) and it all sort of came into place. Wayne reveals that “on that record, Greg discovered that I can sing a pretty high falsetto. Whenever someone was singing a harmony along with my vocals, I would usually double them in a very high falsetto. Greg really loved the effect, and he told Jim about it. I ended up singing on their album as well. It was one of those ‘one thing leads to another’ moments. We met. We recorded. They invited me to tour with them.” The rest is musical history.
The Artistic and Musical Process
Every artist has a unique way they approach their music and presents that music to the general public. Cuff the Duke are no exception. They begin with an idea that ultimately leads to creating artwork for a vinyl record. They’re conscious of the fact that the majority of people listen to their music on some digital platform, through smaller headphones, or in their car, but they don’t worry about that. The band focuses on creating what they love. They create records that sound the way they want. Petti mentions that Cuff the Duke “makes music that resembles what we listen to. When I listen to a test pressing, that to me is the ultimate experience. It’s so fulfilling and satisfying. In high school I discovered vinyl in Oshawa. There is a great store there called Star Records and I would spend my time there looking through new and old recordings.”
The Demise of Big Record Companies
I’m always curious what musicians think about the changes in the music industry. Napster has come and gone and we are in the middle of the iTunes revolution. When asked about today’s music industry, Wayne hesitates, mostly because this is a very complex question. “I guess there is a bit of give and take. I think music has reverted back to the days when artists worked for themselves. I think it has liberated people. Back in the day, the only way you could make a record is if you had a deal. The only way to have a record deal was to be signed by one of the big record companies. At least that was the reality here in Canada. It has totally changed now. Musicians are no longer dependent on anyone. You can make the record yourself, and with minimal cost, release it online. What is more interesting is how music has changed to a whole new generation of listeners.”
Wayne explains that the younger generation seems to have devalued music. “I went out recently with a friend of mine, who is in a Los Angeles band called Everest, and we were talking about the fact that music surrounds us, no matter where we go. It is around us more than ever. Most people have music in their pockets. What is ironic, however, is that with such universal access to music, music as a whole has been terribly devalued. Its importance doesn’t really resonate with most people, the way it used to,” he sadly concludes.
Touring is the blood stream of a good band. For Canadians it is necessary to travel many kilometers in order to reach devoted fans and attract new ones. The beauty of touring Canada of course is the vast wonderment that spans from the east to the west. At the same time it is also a big draw back because of the daunting drive across the vast landscape.
“It makes for some very long days. I think to date I have gone eighteen times across our wonderful country. The two biggest things for a band at our level are indeed the long drives, and the food on the road is pretty horrendous.” But Petti wants to be clear, no matter what his thoughts on touring are, he absolutely loves it and never wants to stop. It’s an integral part of the life of a musician and if he didn’t like it, he would have stopped his dream a long time ago.
Cuff the Duke, loves to be on the road. “You meet so many wonderful people and you end up at some many wonderful random places you would never dream up of going. On the very first album we had a song called “Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump,” which is a place just south of Calgary. It’s where a long time ago, Native Canadians would use this particular cliff to drive Buffalo to their death, so they could live. This was before Europeans brought horses and before they brought guns.” Petti explains that it was the type of tour where they had time to go to places and experience things. How often do you get an chance like that? “As Canadians we are very similar as a people, from coast to coast, we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.”
As rewarding and difficult touring Canada can be, Europe is vastly different. Wayne was very candid when he mentions that touring Europe is a great treat. “First, the longest drive we had was four hours and most places can be reached a lot faster than that. Our driver over there kept telling us how exhausting a four-hour drive can be. We of course smiled and thought the four hour drive to be quite pleasant.” Cuff the Duke are heading back to Europe in June to tour more extensively. A recent tour took them there in December and they played a few shows in London and the surrounding London areas.
Petti reveals that they have a great fan who lives in Spain, by the island of Mallorca, very close to Barcelona. “I was there a couple of summers ago, doing some solo work, and it turned out that he is a big fan of the band. He told me that if we are ever in Europe, he would love to book us. He helped us to get a show in Barcelona, and then we did a few shows in Mallorca, which was incredible. It’s funny in a way, you forget how accessible music can be.” It’s a truly wonderful experience for the band to arrive in a foreign place and have people sign along with them. Having an agent in Europe, who is based out of Holland, they are making plans to tour Holland, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, France, England, and of course, Spain.
The road it seems is not a good place to write anymore – and perhaps it never was. A van is not the most inspiring of places. There was a time early on in the band’s career, where they did more of that, but those days seem to be gone.
So where do the songs come from? “Occasionally we will work on an idea during sound checks. We sort of jam and riff on it a bit. Often, if we have a day off, I will try to do a bit of writing. Especially if we are in the mountains. The guys will go for a hike, and I will usually go for a walk. I don’t do it to be anti-social, but I find this kind of environment to be very inspiring. I like to go and sit and play the guitar, and see where I end up.”
Great things are in store for Canada’s Toronto-based quartet. Cuff the Duke will set sail for Europe and bring back with them new fans and new memories. Please take a listen to their melodic and lyrically strong “Stay,” an amazing single from their latest effort, Union, and go see them live when they come to your town.
– Greg Kieszkowski (Twitter @GregK72)
The Spill was fortunate enough to talk with German synthesizer virtuoso Ulrich Schnauss about his upcoming album, A Long Way To Fall. Also in conversation was his process for writing music, his love of traditional hardware synthesizers, and his renewed interest in obviously-synthetic textures and atmospheres. This latest solo effort is a departure from Schnauss’ Shoegaze-inspired Electronica, marking a return to his synthetic musical roots.
Spill: Thank you, Ulrich, for giving us some of your time to discuss your upcoming album release, A Long Way To Fall. This latest piece of work is absolutely a masterpiece of mood, atmosphere, musicality and synthesizer textures. The programming and engineering are top-notch. What inspired you to write this album and change direction from your previous releases?
Ulrich Schnauss: Basically, I had this idea about ten years ago to try to merge a Shoegaze influence/aesthetic with Electronica and I did three albums exploring that idea. After the last album, Goodbye, I kind of felt like there wasn’t really much else I had to say regarding that subject. I then went through a period of two years trying to find a different challenge, a sonic idea that I would find equally or probably even more fascinating. Around that same time my music taste changed as well. I had been listening to a lot of guitar-based Indie bands but then I started really getting back into Electronic music. Out of that came this idea of trying to do something that is more like a very synthesizer-based album where it is recognizably the sound of synthesizers rather than trying to impose a foreign aesthetic of guitar/indie rock sound into it.
Spill: I still hear some influences of Cocteau Twins and I know you’ve done work with Robin Guthrie. I even hear some Harold Budd I think because of all the reverb that you use, which I love.
US: It’s never a question of completely abandoning something. You know, it’s always a process. It’s always about merging different ideas. It’s not a radical departure in a sense of a 180 degree turn and now it’s something completely different. Obviously elements of what I’ve done previously are in there, but I also wanted to try to incorporate some new things as well.
Spill: Can you tell me about your process for writing songs? Is there anything you do consistently or does each song develop in its own way?
US: No, it’s pretty much the same process each time. I write all my stuff on the piano. I’m not really good at writing music on synths. Once I have a basic theme, I put it into a sequencer, Logic, and I begin arranging other elements around different chords. So the procedures are pretty much the same each time.
Spill: I saw some pictures of your studio when I was preparing for this interview and I noticed you have a ton of hardware. Do you prefer hardware over software?
US: Well, it depends on what it is. In terms of synthesizers, yes. But I do enjoy using plug-ins a lot to treat the recorded material. There are a lot of effects plug-ins that I really like but I prefer to create the actual song material with hardware synthesizers.
Spill: How do you translate your music for live performance? Do you bring all of your synthesizers live or do you sample bits of your music and trigger it in software?
US: My live performance setup is a completely different story. It’s very different from how I work in the studio. Once I finish a piece I break it down into individual elements. I feed those elements into Ableton and when I’m performing I do a live remix or rearrangement using these pre-recorded elements.
Spill: So you use elements of songs that are a few seconds long and load them in to Live and trigger them in real time?
US: Usually I break down each section of a song into an average of 16 elements. I play back those elements in a way that creates a different take or arrangement of the song.
Spill: So each live performance is different?
Spill: That’s excellent. A lot of people will just press play and let it run.
US: I think live performances are getting better. They’ve changed a lot. Now it’s so easy and so convenient to do something interesting with software like Ableton Live, I think more and more people are taking advantage of these capabilities. That’s been a very healthy development for Electronic music over the last ten years.
Spill: You’re also in several other bands. I just purchased an Engineers record yesterday, which I like quite a bit, and I see you’re in another band called Longview. Do you prefer to work in a band setting or do you prefer to work alone?
US: The core of what I’m doing is always the solo work but at the same time I think it’s really important to play with other musicians as well. I think playing in bands has helped me to become a much better musician in terms of playing and it’s always interesting because in a band you have to compromise. You have to come up with solutions for three or four other people that may have quite strong opinions as well. It teaches you to understand how other people listen to music and it’s quite inspiring as well to learn what kind of techniques they are using. So it’s important but the main project for me will always be the solo stuff.
Spill: In the band setting, do you approach songwriting differently than you do for your solo efforts?
US: It’s really different for each. When I was playing in Longview, usually the main guy, Rob [McVey], he would come up with chord progressions and we would jam on that for a couple of hours and every member came up with his respective part. With Engineers, it was more of a situation where Mark [Peters] and I do quite a bit of writing together anyway and so it’s much more of a collaborative process.
Spill: So how do you put a solo album together?
US: Well, in the case of A Long Way To Fall, I actually wrote and recorded the exact amount of songs that ended up on the album because I had quite a specific idea of how I wanted this album to develop. I’ve also gone through phases where I’ve recorded a lot of stuff and then selected the best stuff. Far Away Trains Passing By was made that way. There were loads of songs left over from that period actually.
Spill: You also do a lot of remixes. Does it take away a significant amount of time from your solo work?
US: It can take quite a lot of time. I mean, I think right now I’m doing quite ok balancing that out but there have also been periods where I basically agreed to too many projects and have had too little time to work on my own music.
Spill: Do the remixes inspire and influence your own music?
US: Yea, I think to varying degrees. Some remixes you work on, you find more challenging and more interesting… others, less so. But in general I find it an interesting task because I usually try to not change the basic song structure too much. I more try to come up with an alternative arrangement and it’s always quite interesting and challenging to work out how someone else’s song is written and to enhance the elements that you like.
Spill: For your remixes, do you use a different process of writing? In other words, do you Live instead of Logic?
US: I tend to use Logic for all studio stuff really because I think it’s just the setup that I’m most comfortable with and I think it sounds a bit better than Live. Yeah, the process differs definitely in the way, like, with a remix I’m not really doing too much on the writing; I’m more concentrating on how to arrange the piece.
Spill: Do you have a favorite piece of gear in the studio that you use?
US: Yea, there are certainly instruments that I’m probably a bit stronger attached to than other ones. Hmm, maybe because they have a sound that I particularly like or maybe because I’ve just owned them for such a long time that I’m very familiar with them. The Oberheim OB8 is a starting point that I use because I’m just very comfortable with that instrument. I really like the basic sound that it has. I’ve owned it for a very long time and that’s usually an inspiring starting point.
Spill: Because you use mostly hardware to compose your music, how hard is it to recall an entire song. For example, on a computer you can just load the song and it’ all there, but on hardware you have to recall individual sounds and you have to set knobs they way there were set on the analog synthesizers when the song was recorded.
US: I would say everything through A Strangly Isolated Place, it would be impossible for me to recall anything because up until that album I was still doing the sequencing with the Atari computer and recording everything straight to DAT in stereo so I really cant recall any individual elements of those songs. But the newer stuff is easier because I now record every element into Logic. I use Logic like a multi-track recorder. So although it may be very difficult to recall a specific sound from the synthesizer itself, I have the audio recording of every separate element.
Spill: You were born in Kiel, Germany, which is a small seaport town, where are you living at the moment?
US: I’m living in London. I moved here from Berlin about ten years ago.
Spill: It seems like that environment would be more inspirational to the type of music that you make.
US: Yea, I think at some point I definitely would like to live in a quieter place again. Probably close to the sea as well. But at the same time I’m trying to make a living out of making music so for very pragmatic reasons it’s good to live in an environment where you can meet colleagues or other people that you want to work with easy and a place that you can travel from easily and that is obviously the case in London.
Spill: Do you have any tour planned to support your new album and will you be coming to U.S. and Canada?
US: Yes, around the April/May timeframe but I don’t have any set dates yet.
Spill: Now that this latest album is complete, what’s on your plate?
US: Right at the moment I’m working with my friend Mark [Peters] on a second collaborative album. We’re nearly done. I also have several smaller collaborative projects that I’m involved with. I’ve also started working on a couple of ideas for my next solo album. So there is plenty of stuff to do. There always is!
Spill: It’s great for you and your fans alike that you have so much work on your plate. Is there anything else you would like to tell us about?
US: I don’t have the dates of our upcoming tour yet so I can’t really think of anything more at this point. Once we have all of the dates confirmed we will announce the tour schedule, so please keep listening for the announcement.
Spill: Thank you so much for your time. We at The Spill are confident that your new album will be a big success.
– Rob Early
The current trend of reunions can and should be approached with a healthy dose of skepticism. For every triumphant return to a new found audience (Refused or The Pixies), there are many more that come off as a midlife crisis or blatant cash-grab. Oddly enough, the recent reformation of The Grapes of Wrath doesn’t seem to fit in any of those categories.
Founded by adolescent friends Kevin Kane (guitar, vocals), Tom Hooper (bass, vocals), and his brother Chris Hooper (drums), The Grapes of Wrath have always been an anachronism in the best sense of the word. When keyboards were in vogue, they stuck to guitars. As popular songs got louder and political, they got quiet and introspective. But most importantly at a time when most people were leaping to get on a major label, Kevin Kane was asking difficult questions. Kane’s skepticism over the major-label status quo ended up driving a wedge between himself, his management, the label and eventually his bandmates.
Originally signing to a then fledgling Electronic label, Nettwerk Record, The Grapes of Wrath caught the ears of Capitol Records. The Grapes’ recording rights were then traded to Capitol, in exchange for a lucrative distribution deal for the rest of Nettwerk’s catalogue, setting the stage for Nettwerk to become one of the largest Indie labels worldwide. Meanwhile The Grapes built an enviable fan base through steady touring, and heavy airplay for their albums Treehouse (1987), Now & Again (1989), and These Days (1991), but eventually fell prey to the typical major label business model.
I spoke to Kevin Kane about the band’s re-emergence, upcoming new album, and how the band has adjusted to the new realities of the music business.
Spill: The new album was tracked in two weeks in Orangeville, is that unusually quick for you?
Kevin Kane: Yeah, most of our albums took six weeks to track and two weeks to mix, and this one took about two weeks to track and six weeks to mix. Nowadays, mixing is a much slower process.
Spill: Did the recording feel similar to any of the old records?
KK: I think, interestingly, it has a bit of all of them. Each record we would change a bit between, based on what we’d experienced or being representative of the time. I think this record kind of covers all the stuff we did, and more. It’s pretty varied.
Spill: There are fewer barriers between the artist and their fans these days; do you find that easier or harder?
KK: Well, it was easier when everybody did things for you. When there was a record label, they would do everything. You’d just get in a tour bus and go to the next show, and that was easier, but I wouldn’t say it was better. When we started out as kids, we loved The Beatles and Pink Floyd and bands like that. But as Punk Rock came along, it was the do-it-yourself thing that really got us excited, and it’s pretty much returned to that. Even bigger artists are doing it themselves. It’s a combination of, “It’s got to get done, so we might as well do it ourselves,” but also, it’s really fun. Chris designed the cover to the singles compilation, very much like the old days.
Spill: The Grapes were at their height at a time when major-labels still controlled most of the music business, especially radio and MuchMusic. How will you go about reaching people now?
KK: I don’t know. We’re just going to go out and play shows, but it seems like you have to be strategic about it. I don’t necessarily think that our fan-base wants to go out to bars, so we’re looking at doing festivals or package shows in theatres. We know that when we get out there and play it makes a difference, and we love playing. But we’re not the same, our fans aren’t the same, and the world isn’t the same as when we were 20 year olds. Obviously there’s the internet, but there are way less print outlets out there now so magazines aren’t really an issue anymore. I think everybody is still trying to figure it out.
Spill: What else has changed?
KK: It was easy before, everybody knew what the goal was. To get signed to a major-label, and they would spend a whole bunch of money. Then you’d go out on the road and make absolutely nothing in royalties, and that’s the way it was. Hopefully you’d make some money from publishing if you got on the radio, but that whole model has been smashed and is in the process of being reassembled because people still like music.
Spill: I’d read an old interview where you compared Nettwork Records to the early Rock labels that tended to take advantage of naïve artists. There are many similar stories surrounding ’80s Indie labels like SST. Do you think that’s inevitable, or just a lack of organization?
KK: In those days it was all about the creating and distributing a product, and a lot of those labels were started just to create the physical product and distribute it. I think now a physical product tends to be a limited edition, like Peter Buck’s solo record, I think he only pressed 2000 copies on vinyl. So people are looking at things in a more artistic way rather than “lets sell as many of these things as possible”.
Spill: Will you be doing vinyl for the new record?
KK: That’s the talk, so I’m really hoping so.
Spill: Did you record the new album in analog or digital?
KK: It was digital. We had the option to use a 2” tape, but we remembered what it was like. The reason records took six weeks to record was because a week of that was spent setting up tape bias, aligning heads and changing tapes. I don’t think there are many people who’d worked in analog who want to go back to that. The people doing analog now, are those that never did.
Spill: Was it pretty seamless to reunite or did you have to relearn for how each member plays now?
KK: I think you’re always making adjustments for anyone you play with. For us, we learned to play our instruments together, so we still really understood each other going into it. I think that was part of the fun for us was that it felt easy. As soon as we start playing together, it automatically sounds like The Grapes of Wrath.
Spill: Does it make it easier or harder to work together now that you’re responsible for so many facets of the business yourselves?
KK: It’s a lot closer now to the way things were before we’d released our first EP than any of our time with Capitol records. We’re more self-sufficient. Sometimes we’re even digging up our own shows. We get in the van, we don’t take a soundman, and we just set up and play.
I really hated that some of our biggest tours we’d play places like Massey Hall, and be selling out mid-sized theatres in any city in Canada, and we’d come back and find out we lost money. It seemed like insanity, but that was because we had a semi full of PA gear, and we’d be told, “Oh, you moved to that next level.” Apparently the next level was where you’d lose money playing to thousands of people every night.
We’re definitely a lot smarter now. As kids, they tell you, “You’ve got to get out there and promote the record. You want to be a star don’t you?” And what you don’t realize is that you’re not making any money, and in that system you’re never going to make any money unless you become mega-mega-huge. So all you’re really doing is making money for the management company and the record label.
Spill: And so much of the money was spent to create mystique. I’ve heard many stories of artists being bullied into using a limo for an appearance, only to find an exorbitant limo charge on their next royalty statement.
KK: That’s really sad, but that’s the kind of thing that would happen all the time. We would get paid by the record company to make a record, and I won’t even tell you what we got paid. But for three months work, we would have made more money on welfare than we did making an album that they’d end up owning at the end of it. Now your average major label is running on five-to-ten percent of the staff that they had eight years ago.
Spill: So with their decline do you see music becoming more regionalized?
KK: It could be a combination of things. Obviously the internet can make anything international. But major labels are doing everything they can to restrict trade. I recently got a message from someone asking when our records will be available on iTunes in the U.S. I can’t understand why the major labels are so intent on limiting distribution. They used to be the way that music got distributed. Now they’re the way it gets restricted. They spend so much time and money on lawyers trying to prevent people from getting music.
Spill: So for the retrospective compilation, did you buy back the rights to those songs?
KK: Because I live in Toronto now, I connected with Warren Stewart at EMI who is a project manager who works on reissues. He’s an actual music fan, so his attitude was that he was in a position where people wanted their music – so he was going to get something done. Shortly after that we were approached by Aporia Records about doing the new record. So it just made sense to try and tie the two together. So Shannon Marks who works for Aporia, and Stewart from EMI worked together to get the compilation out with two new songs. It helps us get the word out about the new record, and it was nice to see a case of two record companies collaborating. Just the fact that things have been rolling in such a cooperative way is really encouraging.
Just like every new band, The Grapes of Wrath are groping their way through the new landscape of the record business. While they have the advantages of a stellar back catalog of songs, and a few well placed fans, it’s still obvious that there are no sureties in music. What does become obvious though, is that as ill-defined as the new music business may be, it definitely seems a better fit to both the music and the spirit of the band.
– Jeff Vasey (Twitter: @JeffVasey1)
American Hip-Hop artist Joe Budden is releasing his long awaited album, No Love Lost on February 5.
Appearances on the album will be made by Wiz Khalifa, French Montana, Emanny, Kobe, Joell Ortiz, Lloyd Banks, Kirko Bang, Lil Wayne and Fabolous, to name a few. No Love Lost will include production from araabMUZIK, SLV, Blessed By The Beats, Cardiak, Dark Night, 8 Bars and Beewirks.
Having worked on this album for over a year, Budden says it’s all coming from an honest place. “I put my heart, blood, sweat, tears and soul into this album,” says Budden. “People come from many different walks of life. I’ve been working on it for well over a year, whatever they get from this album, it’ll be coming from an honest place.”
He adds, “I enjoyed the entire process with every song. It’s my most diverse album, I’m still working on different records and difference vibes. I just really enjoyed creating the entire body of work.”
As for who else Budden will collaborate with, that can be anyone. “I’m very open now,” says Budden. “Anyone who shares the same passion that I do, I’m all for to work with. When I was younger, I preferred working alone because it was the easier thing to do, knowing what you like and don’t like and how to cater it. It came down to the cost of music though. Today, I don’t want to sacrifice the music just because it’s easier to work alone, I’m willing to do anything and everything that I have to do to make the best music possible.”
Budden keeps motivated by everything in life, anything that inspires him and it certainly isn’t just one thing. “Life. Passion. Music. Family. God. I don’t know if I would ever say it’s one thing solely. It’s really that combination of things. When it’s I’m inspired, it’s off life and it’s happenings. You come with that will to never stop, that vibe, you keep pushing no matter what.”
Having grown up and came up from battles and open mics, Budden says Rap battles are an important element of Hip-Hop. “That’s how it started. It started with two turntables and a mic in a park with somebody spitting something and then someone coming in saying ‘I’m doper than you.’ Battling, MCing, DJing, all of these are core elements in the culture, not just Hip-Hop music. Coming from inner city areas was a battle proving yourself. I came up from battles and open mics and those different platforms where you have to showcase yourself.”
Solo career versus the Rap group, Budden admittedly enjoys both for different reasons, but wouldn’t do anything he has done in his career differently. “Naturally, I love the group and what we do,” says Budden. “As a whole, we have become much greater than our individual arts. The take on solo is totally different. It’s not the same at all but it’s cool to have both.” Budden adds, “I think everything that has happened to me in my career, especially Def Jam and Slaughterhouse, helped me not only be the rapper, but the person I am today. It’s all a learning experience of sorts and I’d do it over the same exact way. Everything I’ve gone through, all my mistakes and mishaps, they all led me to be the man I am today. I learned from everything, So I wouldn't do anything differently. My biggest challenge is being the best person I can be on a day-to-day basis no matter what, that’s always a challenge.”
Word about an upcoming Canadian Tour is premature, but something exciting is in store for us. “I know it’s something we’re working on as far as scheduling and venues, it’ll be something very exciting.”
Budden leaves future artists with advice: “Practice. Be patient. And pray.”
– Jaii Bhamra (Twitter @jaiikbhamra)
The Spill recently had the pleasure interviewing one of Canada’s top crooners, Matt Dusk. The singer’s upcoming album, My Funny Valentine: The Chet Baker Songbook, being released February 12. The album is a collection of Jazz and Pop standards associated with noted Jazz icon Chet Baker, filled with special guests such as Arturo Sandoval and Emilie-Claire Barlow. Dusk talks about the upcoming album, his influences in singing, and his busy touring schedule.
Spill: Last year, you did a concert in Las Vegas with a 17-piece band. What was it like filling in the shoes of legends such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and all the other greats?
Matt Dusk: I’ve been performing in Vegas on and off for the last eight years, but haven’t had the opportunity to perform with a big band. Las Vegas music is big band music. It’s obvious; Casinos are always blasting it in the lobby. For me, Live From Las Vegas was an opportunity to perform some of my favorite big band tunes.
Spill: This album is a return to the roots of Jazz singing for you. Do you find it easier to sing Jazz standards vs. Pop material or is it all just the same in your opinion?
MD: Jazz music is much easier for me to sing because I have a real love for standards. I’ve been singing this music for almost 16 years. The more you do it, the better you become. However, I’ve discovered there is no “finish line” in music. You‘re always learning.
Spill: What is it about Chet Baker and his music that intrigued you so much to do this recording?
MD: I first discovered Chet Baker when I was a teenager. His instrumental music was played a lot on the local Jazz radio station. I was amazed at the way he played so softly and beautifully and I wanted to try and capture those moments in my voice on the new album. I’ve noticed the younger generation doesn’t know anything about Chet Baker, so by doing this album, I hope it will bring greater attention to the great 40-year career that Chet Baker had.
Spill: You began your training by singing Classical music at St. Michael’s Choir School. What was the catalyst of transitioning from Classical to Jazz?
MD: When I was in my teen years I discovered “crooning”. To be honest I found the music fun loving, almost cheesy. Soon after I discovered a little thing called Karaoke, and I quickly realized I could have my own big band behind me… well, almost! I took my karaoke tapes to a few talent nights, and realized it was a great way to meet girls! I said to myself, “I don’t care what kinda music this is… I’m gonna do this for the rest of my life!”
Spill: When I first heard you, I have to admit that you seemed like a copy of Frank Sinatra. Was it a struggle for you over the years to find your own voice? Has singing your own material helped create your own voice?
MD: Everybody has a mentor, and the best way to learn is to copy someone. You use them as a point of reference, and over time you begin to develop your own style. I was fortunate enough to be taught by Bob Fenton, a piano player at York University. Sadly, Bob is no longer with us; however he taught me how to sing lyrically, just like the crooners had learned long ago.
Spill: You have special guests on this album ranging from Emilie Claire Barlow, Guido Basso, Ryan Ahlwardt and Arturo Sandoval. Describe to me what it was like working with these people and how each one of them contributed to the flavour of the project.
MD: Most musicians know who Chet Baker is, and know how amazing he was. The reason I chose Arturo Sandoval as the main soloist was because although he is known for playing high and loud, Arturo can play very quietly and tenderly. This can be heard on his album A Time for Love. I’ve known Emilie Claire Barlow for a long time, and thought her voice would be perfect as a duet on “Embraceable You.” It’s one the highlights of the album. I’ve played with Guido Basso throughout the years, and his tone on the flugelhorn is legendary. When doing a tribute to a great trumpet and flugel player, you have to include him, as he is legend in his own right. Ryan Ahlwardt did vocal arrangement on “I Fall In Love To Easily” which was a throwback to the Pied Piper’s vocal ensemble work. Both him and I have a love for that old crooning vocal style.
Spill: So is there a tour in the works?
MD: I’ll be touring across Europe, Asia and North America throughout 2013, with a full Canadian Tour in the Fall of 2013.
Spill: Who is your all-time favourite singer, and why?
MD: Frank Sinatra. I’ve always been enamored by his voice. Lucky for me, I sing in the same range as he does, so it was always easy to figure out how I sound on his tunes. Sinatra also had a way of singing loud, then tenderly, and had amazing breath control… man could that guy sing! He was a great inspiration for a young singer in their teens. (me!)
Spill: And your all-time favourite album?
MD: My favourite album is Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning. When I was going through my first breakup, my Jazz ensemble teacher, Mark Eisenman, told me to listen to it. I was hooked. I still love the album today, can play it anytime and never get bored of it. Chet Baker sang a song called “Deep In A Dream,” which is also on Wee small. I love Chet’s version even more and had to include it on my latest album.
Spill: Do you think that classic Jazz music has a thriving future ahead?
MD: Good music never dies. The music business will change, but not the love and passion for good music. I believe it will be nearly impossible to have number one worldwide hit in the Jazz/Classical genre, but it’s not needed. Both genres have lasted for decades and have become truly unforgettable. Most genres have difficulty lasting a decade! I truly believe that Jazz and Classical music will always be available to the discerning ear.
– Conrad Gayle