Art by: Sylvain Lebrun
Ottawa’s The Superlative had a very busy 2013. They released their debut album Chester in March, played a lot of shows and got some big time international exposure. I had the opportunity in early December to sit in one of their practices (see the two-song video below) and interview the band. So here is my interview with the guys, Kiel Burwell (guitar/vocals), Charles Lapointe (vocals), Pat Lebrun (guitar/vocals), Alex Tait (bass) and Zach Lachance (drums).
Hey guys, thanks for inviting me over and sitting down with me. What is the story behind the band name, The Superlative?
Kiel: We were putting our heads together for weeks on end trying to come up with a name and I heard the word Superlative used in a sentence so I looked it up. The definition used an example of Greek mythology, which is something I always found pretty cool. It spoke of all the different Greek gods and goddesses being superlative beings. It wasn’t an ego trip thing about how we are superior beings or anything like that, but it is a pretty cool word. Overall we needed a name and it felt solid.
Alex: It just kind of worked with how we were jamming back then also, everyone taking the lead and shredding. We were kind of this jam band before.
Nice. So you have a name based in mythology, what is the band’s story?
Kiel: I moved to Ottawa and bought recording equipment in 2009 and made some demos. I posted them on Punk Ottawa saying I’m looking for musicians and I’m very open to all sorts of music, and to get in touch. Pat’s brother Sylvain (the former drummer) got in touch with me. Soon after, we met up and jammed for hours and hours. After that he just kept coming over more. One day he said I know Alex who I went to school with and he plays bass. Alex then came over and it was instant chemistry.
Pat: I came to the band when Sylvain was jamming with Kiel and Alex. My old band didn’t know what they wanted and my brother invited me to come jam with them. I then left my other band and joined them. After that, the rest is history.
Kiel: We went through six singers before we met Charles.
Charles: I knew Pat from back home. I went to Embrun High and he went to Casselman High. I knew he was a wicked guitarist and always wanted to jam with him, but never had the chance. After my old pop-punk band that lasted for 2 years was done, I started looking for something else to do and was talking with Pat. He mentioned how the current singer wasn’t working out. I became friends with Kiel on Facebook and sent him some demos and then they invited me to practice. I have been here for 3 years.
Zach: When Sylvain left the band they needed someone and I was in Charles’s previous band, and had also previously played with Kiel and Charles in another punk-hardcore band. They liked me and now I have been with the band for one year.
In a world that wants to categorize everything and put everyone into one genre each, you refuse to pick just one. How do you define your sound?
Kiel: We don’t really want to define it. Simply because we feel that is too cliche, that isn’t saying anything against bands who want to follow a specific genre or format, but we love too many styles of music to simply focus on one. We just want people to be able to hear our songs and know it is The Superlative, whether we are rocking or playing reggae.
Zach: Whenever someone asks and we have to answer we say rock or rock-alternative. Its a pretty umbrella term but sometimes you have to.
Are you guys signed to a label?
Kiel: No, completely independent.
Why no label though?
Kiel: In this day and age there are still labels for a reason, but if you are smart and look at it from all different angles then you can see there are plenty of opportunities for independent bands without a label’s help. It is just a question of presenting yourself professionally and having a good product musically. The music has to speak for itself — people who approach us say they like our sound. They like that we have an album, we have music in almost every digital format and a social media presence.
Charles: They also often mention that we have cool merch and look organized.
A little bird told me certain American sport franchise will soon be using your music. Care to elaborate?
Kiel: We were working with an agency in the US who did a campaign for us, distributing our record to college and commercial radio stations in Canada and United States. Then they moved us to licencing and the guy who owns it does exclusive licensing for NASCAR Speed Network and Discovery and some MTV. He then asked if we wanted to put our music on these channels. We said why not? This is a huge opportunity for us. We went through all the details and then we had to consent for the use of our music. We just hoped for the best and then bam bam bam. Our music will be on MTV Nitro Circus, Rob Dyrdek Fantasy Factory, BarHunters on Discovery and then we get a call with the big news about NASCAR. They said NASCAR really likes your music and they want to use one of your songs as an official song for NASCAR 2014. I don’t really know anything about NASCAR, but this was really surreal. Yeah our song ”Beast Within” will play in the background on highlight videos of races.
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It doesn’t stop there though, I heard your music might be used in an upcoming Bruce Willis movie?
Kiel: Yeah through an agency out of California called the Recording Artists Guild that we started to work with. Actually we haven’t really told anyone that yet, so let this be the official announcement. They offered us film licensing opportunities and one of their A&R guys called and said they want our music on a Bruce Wills film. The movie is coming out in 2014 and is called Expiration. It is a pretty good opportunity and very exciting. What I want to say to people in bands reading this is that it wasn’t easy.
What is your favourite Bruce Willis film?
Zach: Die Hard.
Charles: I’ll go with both of those…actually, Whole 9 Yard.
Pat: Die Hard.
Alex: Whole 9 Yards.
Okay joking aside, you have had some pretty impressive success this year with getting your music out there. What are some tricks of the trade? No offence, but you aren’t rocket scientists. Give us an idea of how you went about doing this.
Zach: Excuse me, we are rocket surgeons… (laughs)
Kiel: All I can say is you have to be open minded about what you do as far as music goes, because if you go into this thinking that you’re going to be huge because a promotions company liked your music, you might get let down. You have to get off that high horse and realize that they might like the music and see the potential, but tons of good bands are in the same situation and don’t get anywhere. You need to have a realistic attitude about it — it could be huge but it could be nothing. Do your research on the agency before jumping in on it. Read what people are writing, but also dig around. So yeah, go in with an open mind and no expectations. If you have really high expectations it’s only going to hurt so much more if it doesn’t turn out.
Charles: Also, stop thinking about this whole sell out thing. It isn’t selling out, it’s exposure. Sure we will get royalties, but why not make money with your music? Why not making a living from it? If you want to make music for the rest of your life, you have to have an income.
Kiel: Another thing, prepare for countless sleepless nights and be ready to answer emails all the time. Have proper records made and be ready to make a big investment of time and money for this to work. Because if you don’t have the CDs, for example, how will you send them the initial 300-something CDs to get distributed? Also appearance matters on the product. This is your job interview — you don’t walk in with yesterday’s clothes on all hungover, because if you do that then you’re not going to get the job.
I saw that you guys posted that the money made from sales of your album Chester in November and December are being donated. Can you elaborate please?
Kiel: All proceeds from sales of Chester on Bandcamp are being donated to charity. We know everyone is asking for donations right now, but we just want to help out a few kids. All the money will go towards getting gifts for Toys for Tots.
That is an excellent initiative. What is next? New record? New tour?
Zach: Yes, yes to both.
Charles: We decided to take a hiatus from playing Ottawa until the record is done.
Kiel: Nothing against Ottawa, but we need to take a break and make these new songs as tight as possible, and get to recording.
Charles: The new stuff will be a little more edgy, that is the feeling I am getting. We didn’t plan it this way, just worked out that way. But don’t worry the reggae will still be there.
So I guess I was privy to the final ”live” performance for awhile. Anything else to add?
Kiel: We are working on our next album title. We are thinking of taking the titles that we think are the strongest and post them on social network as a vote and see what people think.
Thanks guys and good luck on all your projects.