Toronto’s Casper Skulls are currently wrapping up with touring their first full length album Mercy Works, released on Buzz Records November 3rd. The band is one of the newest editions to the label’s boundary-pushing roster, and their latest effort follows the dense and complex lo-fi sound played through early 90’s tape decks. Mercy Works is an ambitious attempt to explore the unknown, examine self-growth, religion, grief, and real lived experiences, and was co-produced/engineered by Josh Korody (Fucked Up, Dilly Dally). The post-punk, garage, and art-rock influences are sprinkled throughout, as the album bleeds with thick guitar riffs and intricate instrumental arrangements.
We sat down with singer and guitarist Neil Bednis before their show this Friday to discuss the band’s sound, their new album, best sounding venues and touring as a couple. Check out the interview below.
Interview with Neil Bednis
In just a couple of years as a band you have already garnered comparisons to some of my all-time favourite bands such as Television and Pavement. How did that feel after only a 7-inch and an EP? And do these comparisons come into play when you are writing new music, such as your latest release Mercy Works?
NB: It’s flattering that people would associate our music with those bands. We were really influenced by that kind of music growing up and those bands are part of the reason we wanted to start playing music in the first place. Obviously with our early releases our influences are on our sleeves but I think that was necessary for us to discover our own sound. I think Mercy Works still has elements of those early sounds but we definitely moved into a more melodic direction. “You Can Call Me Allocator” was the first song written for the record and it set the tone of the writing of the record. I think that song in particular is a perfect example of what we are as a band. The verses are talky and the chorus is more melodic and lush. On the record I think we explore the extremes of both those sounds.
Speaking of Mercy Works, how was it to work with Josh Korody and Alex Newport, who have worked on releases by Fucked Up, Dilly Dally, At The Drive-In, Death Cab For Cutie, just to name a few?
NB: We had previously worked with Josh on our Lips and Skull EP, so we already felt comfortable recording with him. After seeing our live show, Josh thought it’d be best to do a lot of the record live off the floor which had never done previously. I think recording that way created a really positive start to the record. We wanted to explore a couple different musical ideas on the record (i.e. strings, acoustic guitars, 12-string, baritone) and Josh kind of let us take the reigns on that stuff. It’s always a really fun time whenever we get to see Josh and I’m really glad he was part of the record.
We heard of Alex from his work he did on the first Weaves record and the Pissed Jeans stuff. Ian from Buzz Records had Alex’s information from working with him on the Weaves record and he was able to put us in touch. Alex lives in Los Angeles so we had to make most of the mixing notes over e-mail but we really love what Alex did to the songs.
Your sound seems like it would lend itself great both in a small club and in the big acoustics of a church. What are some of the favourite venues you have ever played and explored in live?
NB: Just off the top of my head, Lee’s Palace and the Garrison in Toronto are two of my favorite sounding venues. The vibe is always really nice at those venues and I haven’t really played a show where we’ve have had any trouble getting the sound we want. The Townehouse in Sudbury has a lot of sentimental value to us. Mel and I discovered a lot of great music going to shows there and we played our first show ever at the Townehouse as well. I also really enjoy playing this place in Washington D.C. called Comet Ping Pong. Our friend Lisa does a lot of the booking there and she creates a really homey vibe to the shows she puts on. It has more of a DIY vibe to it and you can eat pizza and play ping pong as well as watch awesome music!
For those who have never seen you play, what should they expect live compared to the recording on the album?
NB: I think the live show brings a more lively energy to the songs. I don’t mean to say the record isn’t lively but I think the show has a rawness to it that is different from the record. For songs like “Chicane, OH” and “You Can Call Me Allocator,” we’ll play the songs a little faster just to give the songs a bit more of a bounce. We tried to make the record have more lush moments with the strings and acoustic guitars which aren’t present in the live performance. Overall, I think if you like the record you’ll like the live show.
How has touring the new album been going so far?
NB: The tour has been going well! We’re happy to be playing these songs for people and seeing how they translate live. We’re really excited for the few dates we have with Land of Talk. They’re one of our favorite bands and we’ve been obsessed with their new record. We’ve been playing these songs in small clubs and have been kind of tailoring our set lists toward that. For these shows we’re hoping to play some of the more slow burners off the record that’ll translate better in bigger halls.
I have always been curious what it would be like being in a band as a couple?
NB: It’s really nice not to have to leave each other when we tour. I think sometimes we struggle separating band stuff from our personal lives. For example sometimes at dinner we just end up talking about band stuff so we need to check ourselves every now and then and just talk about other things that have nothing to do with music. Most importantly, we need to be a couple first and band mates second. It’s a really special thing to get to make art and share failures and successes with someone you’re with.
Fredericton, NB, may not be the biggest music hub in Canada, but it’s home to the noisy, mind-melting art rock group Motherhood. They’re gearing up for a string of fall shows, and the Ottawa date features a stacked lineup on November 8th at Pressed along with Winnipeg’s Tunic and locals Warp Lines (members of The Yips, Big Dick, Tropical Dripps, Million Dollar Marxists, Van Johnson).
While the distances between stops are long, Motherhood is no stranger to the road.
“The last 14 months have seen us across the country twice, and to Ontario and Quebec like 6 times (plus a heapload of NB shows),” explains multi-instrumentalist Penelope Stevens. “We recorded a full-length album, did a couple cool collaborations, and purchased a new tour vehicle. Needless to say, we’re pretty excited to take a couple months to relax (relax = finish our album, write a new album, and play locally…). We don’t like to risk touring in the winter months, but as soon as the snow melts we’ll be back at it.”
This is not Motherhood’s first time in Ottawa, as they’ve had the chance to play at Ottawa Explosion Weekend this past year and a handfull other venues in the past. They have warmed up to the city somewhat—minus a couple bumps along the way.
“Ottawa, interestingly enough, is the only city where we’ve ever had our van vandalized—twice actually!” Stevens admits. “But that hasn’t stopped us from really loving the Ottawa scene. One of our first shows was at Mugshots (RIP), and even though we didn’t really know anyone in town, a nice crew of people came out and supported us.”
“We’ve always found there to be a lot of sick bands to play with (Mushy Gushy, The Yips, Pippa, and more) and the venues are cool. House of Targ was always #1 on my bucket list of venues to play in Canada, and last year my dreams came true! It was as cool as I wanted it to be. The folks in Ottawa Explosion, Debaser, and booking Pressed are good folks, and we really admire the work people put into their scene. Ottawa seems a lot like Fredericton, close knit and supportive, and decidedly “other.”
2017 has shaped up to be a big year for Motherhood, with the band getting into festivals such as Sled Island, CMW, Ottawa Explosion, and Lawnya Vawnya. Even more, they’ve been exporting their irresistibly fuzzy, dissonant sound to small stages across the country. The band members are enjoying their road-heavy schedule.
“A lot of New Brunswickers move on to larger cities, so we get to catch up with some of our closest friends on the road. We bring gifts from folks at home and get to bring news about how everyone’s doing. We’re glorified carrier pigeons. Plus, we usually bring a road pal with us, and they keep things fresh. This time we have our bud Noah, who’s never been on tour before. His excitement will keep the posi vibes alive on the long drives!”
Their tracks “Guano” and “Yarn-Barred” were featured on the Greville Tapes Music Club, vol. 1, and their cover of Construction & Destruction’s song “The Oracle” appeared on volume 2 of the Pentagon Black compilation. With two LPs, an EP, and a split under their belts, Motherhood is on the verge of entering the studio once again to record another full-length for release in winter 2017-18.
“We write collaboratively in our studio, so the music comes from pretty much anywhere,” says Stevens. “Sometimes Brydon will bring in some lyrics or one of us will have a riff, but a lot of it is just hammered out through long jams, then we chop it up and forget 95% of it. The stuff that sticks is the stuff worth keeping. We’re composers, yes, but I think our talents actually lie in our editing. We don’t have any particular goals when writing, we just set a timeline—we’ll write for 3-6 months, then record when the time runs out. I guess it’s pretty weird, but it works for us!”
Be sure to catch Motherhood along with Winnipeg’s Tunic and Ottawa’s Warp Lines at Pressed on Wednesday, November 8th. $10 at the door, 8 pm. All ages, licensed 19+ show.
It’s been a little over a year since Toronto’s Weaves released their debut LP on Buzz Records, rapidly becoming a household name in the Canadian independent music landscape. They have been quick to garner international praise for their brand of unconventional guitar pop with not-so-subtle hints of improvisation. The self-titled effort was largely, considered a great success by music publications far and wide. Their album also scored them a short list nomination for the Polaris Music Prize this year, which they performed at a few weeks back after a year of relentless touring. Let’s just say that this is one band you can’t miss seeing live.
Weaves isn’t kicking back just yet. They have just released their second LP called Wide Open, and are out to prove that there is no obstacle too big for them to scale. Their answer to the challenge of following up a hugely successful debut is to keep creating, and continue to push boundaries wherever possible.Wide Open bounces from calm to chaotic, and pulls listeners in every direction. Early listens from publications like Stereogum indicate that Wide Open will surpass expectations, and even critically out-do their debut. I chatted with founding member of Weaves, Morgan Waters, about their success, their approach to following up their first album, and new steps they’ve taken as a band.
Weaves seems to tread a line between people’s comfort zones. Is keeping listeners on their toes something that comes naturally to the band?
I think with any art you don’t want to be boring. And with us it’s always a mix, we don’t really plan anything out. It’s about showing all the influences crashing up against each other. We want to surprise the listeners, and surprise ourselves. The mix of the artistic and the pop gets thrown into the blender where there’s no genres or anything like that. It’s all fodder for something new.
In what ways did the road and your experiences after the debut release influence songwriting on the new LP Wide Open?
Jasmyn starts everything and it all seems to come from her initial spark. She doesn’t really write anything down, she kind of ruminates about things for a while without telling any of us. It seems to come out of her when she goes to the rehearsal space by herself, recording, looping, figuring things out, and from there it all comes out pretty fast. When she’s in that mode, it’s a quick and fertile ‘brain’ thing going on with her. Then we hear the demos she comes up with and we work on it from there, but within 20 minutes of writing a song the lyrics are all usually there and never change.
You and Jasmyn have an obvious chemistry together in the band. In what ways do you compliment each other as artists?
I think Jasmyn is more impulsive and emotional, and I’m more of an editor. I help present her initial ideas in a way that elevates them. That mix of impulsiveness and my revising or editorial skills kind of complete each other. She loses interest quickly and I never stop obsessing, so we temper each other in that way.
A lot of the time I’m sort of translating her ideas, where I’ll sit there and say what I think will work for whichever project we’re focusing on. I’m very happy to work that way and cycling through the ideas, I have an endless amount of patience. I’ll work hard to try to find the “thing” that clicks for both of us.
Many of us were really excited to see that a collaboration with Tanya Tagaq was included on Wide Open, and the Polaris gala performance of Scream was incredible. How did the partnership come to fruition?
We met Tanya at Iceland Airwaves, on the airplane ride over there. Spencer and Zack kind of knew a few of her band members, and we sort of hit it off the whole weekend. We went to her show, and ever since then we always sort of thought that it would be really great to work with her on something since she takes a very improvisational approach to her music as well, which we’re into. It’s all about capturing a moment, and “Scream” seemed like the perfect song to collaborate with her on.
There is a distinct visual element to Weaves, in things like music videos and album art. What role does visual art and aesthetic play for the band?
It’s a major consideration, but it’s also something that just happens. Similar to our music, we like to leave our videos kind of open so that we can improvise on the day-of. On “Scream” we had a white room studio and a good DP (Director of Photography), so Jasmyn and Tanya were able to move around the space freely. It’s personal expression first, and then concept or theoretical parts are secondary. It’s really about freedom of expression, and that factors into our videos. We shoot stuff and see what happens.
Weaves was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize this past year, and there were a lot of incredible artists in the running. What do you think Lido Pimienta’s recent win means for Canadian music?
The best part was that we were given the opportunity to perform live, since playing on stage is where I think we can really stand out. So performing on stage with people like Feist and Lido was a way for us to really show what we’re all about. To us, that was much more important that any sort of competition or win in our books. The concept of “winning” in art is weird. So just the fact that we got to play, and play a new song “Scream” with Tanya was the biggest part for us, really exciting.
I think with Lido’s win, I don’t know if it shows what direction Canadian music is going… I’m not really sure how the voting works and all that. It’s so great that a DIY artist like her can win something like that, and I think that will become the norm as labels keep shutting down and people keep doing things themselves. There are no major label budgets and funding isn’t always there, so artists need to be able to do it themselves. Lido winning shows that you don’t need all that other crap, it’s about the music. It’s about what you have to say. You don’t really need teams if you have the work ethic.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—one of the most rewarding parts of this job is discovering new artists making music in town. That is certainly the case with the young and aspiring singer-songwriter named Christine Jakel, who I crossed paths with at Bar Robo last year when she played with her other project, Grace Note. Her talents are immediately impactful, and draw listeners in like a tractor beam through the headphones or on stage. As someone with a degree in classical voice from the University of Ottawa and lifelong piano training at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Christine’s kind and modest demeanour struck me as endearing given the sheer level of skill and experience contained within her. Thus, I took a mental note and made sure to keep an eye on her music-related ventures.
Fast forward a year or so, and Jakel announces that she’s releasing a solo EP called Satellite Moons, once again at Bar Robo, on September 30. It came as no surprise, and it seemed to only be a matter of time before she explored her solo songwriting in a formal studio setting. While I’ve only heard a couple songs off of the upcoming EP, my initial impression is that she has a musical “sense” about her that is well beyond her years. The songs weave between genres and influences, as certain polarizing elements of jazz and folk are somehow drawn together and melded with one another in her songs.
Her vocal prowess is put on full display, as Jakel seamlessly reaches the highs and lows of her octave—and everything in between—with laser-sharp precision. The rest of Satellite Moons is sure to contain more treats for us to hear. In the years to come, Ottawa should prepare itself for Jakel’s inclusion into a group of local women such as Kathleen Edwards, Catriona Sturton, and Lynne Hanson, just to name a few, who have consistently shown that they are a force to be reckoned with in the Ottawa valley and beyond.
I caught up with Jakel this week in advance of the Satellite Moons EP Release, which takes place at Bar Robo on Saturday, September 30th at 8 pm. She will be joined by Mike Giamberardino (drums), Szymon Szańczuk (bass), Dean Watson (electric guitar), and Charlotte Esme Frank (harmonies) on stage, along with opening acts Grace Marr and David daCosta. Tickets are $13, and include a download code for the album. Find more information here.
Interview with Christine Jakel
Can you talk a bit about how has music been a part of your life growing up?
Both my parents took it upon themselves to expose me to music growing up. My dad has been obsessed with jazz ever since I can remember and used to play jazz guitar in his spare time. There are some artists whose CD’s are deeply ingrained into my system from having listened to them so often: George Benson, Chet Baker, Diana Krall, Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson, to name a few. I’ve probably heard Autumn leaves thousands of times because my dad used to practice it relentlessly. He was also the one who introduced me to Joni Mitchell, now my main source of inspiration for songwriting. Her song Big Yellow Taxi was the reason I started playing guitar. Wondering Where the Lions are by Bruce Cockburn was the next song I learned. He was another artist that I heard a lot of growing up because of my dad. My mom was the one who made sure I was taking classical piano lessons starting at a young age and shortly after we moved to Ottawa, she enrolled me in an arts high school (De La Salle) where I chose the voice program and subsequently became actively involved in its various vocal ensembles, while being trained as both chorist and a soloist.
You explore many sounds and themes in your music. What is most important aspect you focus on when composing a song?
For me songwriting always begins with lyrics and melody. The song craft and the overall message of the song are as important to me as the music itself. This is also what I listen for in other artists’ music. I find that I am most drawn to songs that are cleverly thought out but also genuine and direct. This is what I aim for when composing my songs. Overall atmosphere, chords and instrumental riffs come are there to enhance those elements.
What was the Shot in the Dark experience like for you? Can you describe it for those who may not know?
It felt great to be a part of something that I knew was contributing to the local music scene in a positive way. Not only did I get one of my own songs recorded and filmed for the first time, but I had the chance to hear and meet so many talented local artists that I never would have discovered otherwise. In a way it acted as a spring board for me as a newly emerging musician because it led to more opportunities for shows and collaborations.
The performance itself was unlike anything I have ever done before and I don’t think it’s one I’ll be forgetting anytime soon. When I came on, Dean made the call to remove all amplification and to bring the audience close in around me, so there was zero background noise and I could feel everyone watching and listening to me intently. It was terrifying in the best way (I don’t think I’ve ever felt so exposed), and I couldn’t be happier with the result! (video available below)
What reaction or emotion do you hope to evoke from those listening to the new EP, Satellite Moons, for the first time?
I hope that anyone listening finds something they can relate to in my songs and feel moved or inspired by even if it’s just in a small way. I also hope to send an empowering message to other women out there who may feel intimidated or out of place taking up space or making themselves heard in the music scene. From what I’ve seen, the industry could really use more female representation. Knowing this reality is partly what fuels my work. Furthermore, I would love for people to perceive the depth in my songs and to hear beyond something that’s “cute” or “pretty.” Those are two words that I’ve been called my whole life, that bother me when they are used in a belittling way (whether intentionally or not), and that I’d like to break free from at least in the context of my music. This is why I’ve made sure to include some angry songs on the record.
Do you have a memorable concert experience that you can recount that perhaps influenced your music?
This past March I had the opportunity of seeing The Staves play live at the Bronson Centre. I was floored by how polished their performance was and by the wide range of soundscapes they managed to create using their voices and various instrumental skills. What I particularly like about them is that they stray from the traditional lead-singer vs. band setup. Each member plays an equal part in the singing and the balance between their voices shifts from one song from the next in fascinating ways. Their sound is very much contingent upon them gelling as a team. For me, the experience of hearing them opened doors to new realms of possibility when arranging music, which made me want to go home and write songs immediately.
Is there one venue or city that is on your bucket list to play? Why?
I am open to the possibilities of where my music might take me. Playing music is what makes me happy. Whether it’s in a noisy bar or the NAC or at an intimate gathering, I am grateful for any opportunity to share my work, the more unexpected the better! Short term, however, I do currently have my sights set on Megaphono. I have so many good memories from attending the festival as an audience member and it seems like something I’d like to experience and be a part of, hopefully as a performer this year.
What’s the next step for you musically?
In the next year I am hoping to gain regular instruction at guitar and to lock in a few more hours of practice per week than I usually do. Everything I know so far, I taught myself, besides the odd trick I picked up from my dad and my uncle, and there is so much I have yet to learn about the instrument. This would give me a whole lot more to work with when writing songs, which I intend to continue doing as much as possible. My goal is to have enough songs written by next summer to be able to start on an album. I already have a few on the go.
Over the past few years, Partner has taken the Canadian music scene by storm. Their sound is bold and unwavering, meeting at the unsuspecting intersection of classic rock riffs and 90’s grunge. Consisting of BFF’s Lucy Niles and Josée Caron, Partner is breaking down barriers and paving their own path. One show after the other, they satisfy exuberant and voracious crowds with power moves, electrifying riffs, and unimaginably catchy hooks that reel you in forever. Coming off the release of their brand new record In Search of Lost Time (You’ve Changed Records), I had a great chat with Lucy and Josée which you can read below.
Partner is playing Beau’s Oktoberfest in Van Kleek Hill this Saturday, be sure to catch their high-energy set at 4:30 pm on the Main Stage. More info here.
Interview with Partner
You’re playing Beau’s Oktoberfest this weekend? Have you ever been to an Oktoberfest before?
Lucy: We’ve never been to one before, but apparently it’s a really fun time with lots of schnitzel. Yeah, I mean hopefully we’re around there long enough to check some cool stuff out. I’d love to catch the Planet Smashers for nostalgia purposes. Also, our friends Julie and the Wrong Guys. Them for sure, and we’ll get stoked the day-of and hopefully catch more.
Your new album In Search of Lost Time was recently featured on Pitchfork. Do you take album reviews to heart?
Lucy: We usually only take them seriously if they’re favourable. Because if they’re not, then we’re like “Welp, some people have a bad sense of humour.” Sometimes we’re sad when people don’t get it, but then we get over it.
Josée: Most people have been super, super nice.
Lucy: Some people say the skits aren’t funny, but that’s the most negative thing they say. They just don’t get it!
You’re live show is full of energy, and people seem to go nuts when they see you play. How much do you feed off of that?
Lucy: It feels great. We love attention. It’s feels so good when that many people are paying attention. We feel very powerful. It’s just so fun, everyone’s partying together. We get into crowd and intermingle with everyone.
Do you have any go-to moves on stage?
Lucy: Josée has a little step that she gets on. Sometimes I’ll do the splits by accident. I have a new one where I just spin around in circles a bunch. They usually come naturally and then we just keep using them, and keep them in our toolbox.
I saw you had some family come to the SappyFest show. Do your folks like coming to see you play?
Lucy: I think Josée’s parents have seen us like six times this year. My parents live in Labrador so they don’t see us as much, but they all go to every show whenever they can. They’re pretty much super-stoked, always.
You’re based in Windsor at the moment. How much time have you spent there?
Lucy: We’ve been here for about a year. There’s a few cool things here, like the guy that rides backwards on his bike. There are a lot of sights to see for sure. There’s a gay bar that I recently went to with a secret patio.
Josée: Detroit. It’s right there.
Lucy: Oh yeah, that too. And there’s a billion antique stores. There are a lot of Neverending Story-type antique stores that probably have some magic talismans inside them, you know?
Josée: When we’re rich we’re going to move to the bigger city.
Lucy: Yeah, like even a closet costs $800 in Toronto, it’s crazy! I mean, we probably would live in a closet if we had that much money, but you know.
You have a connection to Sackville, NB, and SappyFest. Do you have any specific memories of the festival?
Lucy: There’s always like 100 things going on at once. You’re never going to get to experience everything, you just have to go with the flow. Multiple cool shows, and multiple cool groups of people doing different things. Just go where the wind takes you, that’s the best advice. As for specific memories, I don’t know, we have so many.
Josée: There was that year you broke your glasses…
Lucy: Oh yeah, that was a horrible memory of Sappy. I went crowdsurfing and broke my glasses. I couldn’t see, but it was a miracle because people helped me out and guided me around because I couldn’t see. We’ve been to every Sappy since Sappy 5, and it’s just consistently awesome. But yeah, it’s a such a neat vibe being there and that’s why people keep coming back. Those who have been there know what I’m talking about.
What does it feel like to get the new songs out into the world? They must have been brewing for a long time.
Josée: It’s great to have them all out now, and it’s kind of a weight off and on our shoulders. Now we can move on, a lot of these songs are so old.
Lucy: For us, it feels like we’ve beaten these songs to death in our minds!
Josée: It really does kind of feel like we’re presenting something that was written three years in the past, so it’s exciting to move forward. We didn’t want to sit on the songs that long, but it really was just how long it took to make the thing. Once The Ellen Page and Hot Knives came out as singles, we had those for a while but they weren’t exactly what we wanted for the whole album so we had to gather our resources, apply for grants, figure out a label, recording, all that. And since we didn’t have a whole lot of time for pre-production, lots of work happened after the studio, which when mixed with touring, was a lot of logistical stuff to consider.
What’s your next step as a band?
Josée: Just keep writing!
Lucy: Yeah, just gotta keep writing. We have a couple new tunes for our next album already. Lot’s of touring too, we have some good shit lined up for the fall and new year. We’ve playing quite a few shows in the States, too, because the mid-west is pretty close to where we are. And New England, too.
Do you find touring in the US different? Particularly given the political climate?
Lucy: I mean, it does feel different, but people are always super cool punks just trying to have a good time. They just have a shittier go because they don’t have stuff like health care available, and it’s a more precarious existence. But yeah, everywhere you go it’s the same thing, people helping other people put on shows and have fun with it. We’ve stayed with awesome people everywhere we’ve been, so I guess we’re not so different after all.
I think I saw Lucy walk by and cheer at Sappy Karaoke while my girlfriend was belting out Shania Twain. Are you big fans?
Lucy: I don’t remember the karaoke that well, but we love Shania. I think she was the first non-gay person that we were obsessed with, as children and then also later as adults together. She’s #1.
Ottawa’s pop-punkers The Superlative recently put out a new song “Where We Left Off,” their first release in a year.
Fans of The Superlative’s past music will quickly find themselves rocking out again with the new track. You can certainly tell of some musical growth, but the biggest progress seems to be lyrically with the new music being a little more serious in nature.
We caught Kiel Burwell (Guitars/Vocals) to chat about what the band has been up to, their new song and whats next.
Interview with The Superlative
So it has been a little over a year since we got new music from you guys. What have you been up to?
We have been working hard on new music, stage performance (lights show, etc…), and playing as many shows as we can this past spring and summer. A few notable ones were opening for Hedley to over 20,000 people at an international fireworks festival. And also getting nods from Sublime With Rome and their management. We have been trying to build the band up and up as we do every year. And like every year, there were ups and downs.
What is the story/inspiration behind the new track “Where We Left Off”?
Where we left off is a lyrical collaboration between our singer Charles and myself (as is usually the case). The song is centered around the idea of how everything in modern society makes us so in a rush that we forget where we’re at sometimes and it in turn affects everything around us in so many negative ways. The song is basically about taking your time and working at things, and how slow and steady can win the race.
The whole collection of songs for this series will (for the most part) be about how modern upgrades in in our society being a blessing, but also how lazy, dumb and selfish it’s making a huge portion of society. How everyone’s attention span seems to be shrinking more and more each day.
In the past you have generally released an album at a time not just a single like this. What is your plan with Harmful Distractions?
We make music for ourselves first and foremost. That’s not to say we don’t want to adapt to modern ways that people listen to, purchase and share music. We see a lot of bands just putting out single songs that have no plan of being a full album at the end, and that’s cool, but also kind of sucks… We aren’t the first band to try something like this, but we definitely feel we have some unique aspects to what we are trying to do.
Majority of the time the guys and I listen to full albums, but sometimes we like a mix for while we are working, hanging out with friends and more… So we can see where music lovers are adapting to playlists and the convenience (but not artist payout) of streaming services. So we figure over the course of the year, if we release songs here and there for people to pick up on and see if they like each of them, it will give them more time to grow fond of each song… Hopefully enough to buy a physical record we will release at the end of the HARMFUL DISTRACTIONS series.
We also want to make a statement to people to love your smartphones, laptops, tablets, VR systems and more, but step the hell outside sometimes and leave them behind. Go do something that disconnects you from society for a few days or a week. Revert back to the way it was in the days when you couldn’t just shoot your friends a text to see where they were. Go out and explore your neighbourhood and see if you can find their bikes in a friends yard to know where they are at… you might realize what it’s like to be an independent thinking, attentive, human being…
You guys have developed a reputation of making some pretty hilarious music videos. Should we expect videos for these tracks?
Hahaha. We just shot a video for the song that will follow this one in about three weeks time. We invested in audio/video gear and are doing all that by ourselves now too. We love making goofy videos and being dorks for sure… However after the success of our last video (getting onto Exclaim, Blank TV and Alternative Press), it was a serious theme about suicide prevention, we kind of realized that maybe constantly making funny videos isn’t the best idea if we are trying to be taken seriously. I will hint that the next video will show how close we are as friends (no we aren’t naked…get that out of your head), and the brotherhood we have built with each other through the power of music and art. We want to make a video for “Where We Left Off,” but the idea we have is something we have to do some research on and maybe we can pull it off. We love our friends that do work for us, but we are very DIY if no one has noticed.
What is next for the band and when can locals get a chance to hear some of this new music live?
We have a few shows coming up in the fall and winter around Ontario and Quebec. Otherwise we will continue to work with our good pal Mike Poisson at Mike Poisson Recordings on the rest of the material for this song series. More new merchandise design, spring and fall show booking/festival applications, the usual band building necessities. We are really starting to see a lot of activity from fans all over the place and it’s pretty surreal, so we are talking to management and booking agent options and seeing what’s right for us.
We currently have 2 songs fully ready to release and are in the studio throughout October to do more. One of those songs is “Where We Left Off,” so there’s one left in the chamber. The entire record is written, we are just perfectionists and choose to take our time writing and recording everything, so we can have what we feel is the best product in the end.
For years we’ve been unwavering supporters of all that is Ottawa music. We’ve dug deep into the rich soil which serves as a basis for Ottawa’s strong cultural roots to grow. For those of us who have lived here and experienced much of what this city has to offer, it’s well known that the underground music scene is bursting at the seams with activity and talent (albeit, documentation of this scene is still lagging—but we’re still trying to change that).
What we’ve witnessed over the last several years is a local DIY culture emerging as a pervasive mindset, with people not only imagining what is possible, but actually making shit happen. Even more, over the last decade there has been a rise in more community-oriented DJ nights which offer patrons a truly authentic experience that leaves the old big box dance club in the dust. Some of these include TimeKode, Open Air Social Club, FEELS, Ceremony, and most recently—Hottawa.
Max Halparin (DJ Halpo) is one of the original founders of the night, and he happened to cut his teeth by spinning after our Showbox monthly concerts at Mugshots (RIP) a few years back. Since then, Hottawa became a regular occurrence, usually in smaller spaces and with the goal of getting people together to dance and bucking any sort of perception that Ottawa is a boring, soulless place.
As Hottawa bounced around to different venues over the last couple of years, the crew who make the mixes and pump the jams has grown substantially. These collaborators include VJ Paradisse, Mikayla (DJ Seiiizmikk), Sara (DJ Mani Pedi), Jordan David (DJ JFUN), among others. However, the this summer the DJs found a home at Babylon Nightclub, where they’re able to use a bigger space to bring in larger crowds and crank up the party.
I chatted with Max about Hottawa about its growth, and some crucial steps that its organizers have taken to ensure a truly inclusive and safe atmosphere for patrons. Have a read and listen to DJ Seiiizmikk’s latest streaming mix below.
This month’s edition of Hottawa happens on Friday, September 15 at Babylon Nightclub, featuring DJ Woerks (The Deep End), DJ Choozey (MTL), and deejay ohjay (FEELS), as well as VJ Conor Byron providing visuals. $5 before midnight / $7 after, doors at 10 pm.
Interview with DJ Halpo
What’s your background with music and how did you get into DJing?
Of all things, I got into DJing through playing guitar in a sludge metal band. The drummer in that band was also a disco and funk DJ, so I started going to support my friend’s nights. Before that, I never went out dancing, but that summer I started to see how positive and cathartic of an experience it can be.
The day before I moved to Ottawa, I bought a few records at a flea market in Toronto, then that Thanksgiving my same drummer/DJ friend had me open for him. After that I was hooked.
Growing up, I played guitar in bands and went to shows all the time. After finishing my undergrad in Montreal, I would sort of joke iPod-DJ after shows under the name DJ SMILES because I was pretty dour and misanthropic at the time. Quarter-life crisis vibes for sure. But I always loved 90s and 2000s hip hop, RnB and dancehall, and started to learn the tracks they sampled, and grew my understanding of dance music from there.
Fast forward three years… that same drummer-DJ is playing Friday night at Babylon! DJ Choozey now spins paying techno, drum n bass, and electro.
How did the idea for Hottawa come about?
It wasn’t my idea! In fall 2014 I’d been DJ’ing after the monthly Showbox shows at our beloved Mugshots, and Kyle Woods, who was managing it at the time, said he wanted to put me on my own night. I protested, clearly not very well.
My friend Guy thought of the name, and also came up with the original Miami Vice-looking imagery overlaying palm trees onto Parliament. We had the first one in January 2015, so it was supposed to be a play on this cold, wintery town that gets so much flak for not being any fun. But anyone involved in the music community or party scene knows that’s not true.
To me the name serves as a way to celebrate the exciting aspects of the city and the talent that exists in Ottawa and Hull. And since we were all new to DJ’ing when the event started, Hottawa has always focused on booking people who were still new to it too, learning to DJ, with some veterans mixed in too.
What’s cool to see is how quickly beginners mainstays. For example, deejay ohjay, who is now one half of FEELS and a regular in the local scene, played her first set with us two years ago, and will be closing the night at Babylon this Friday. DJs Sportif and Mani Pedi also played their first gigs with us in 2016, and became integral to Hottawa this summer.
Hottawa at Babylon Nightclub. Photo by Nicolai Gregory. (insta: @wiselywalking)
How has the night grown since it started?
After Mugshots closed, the event moved around a lot—six different venues in two years! That wasn’t planned, but in retrospect, moving around a lot meant we didn’t get complacent.
Musically, we’ve changed from a night doing discofunk and hip hop throwbacks to being more focused on house and techno, with RnB and dancehall thrown in too. The triple threat MC-producer DJ Seiiizmikk’s mix (posted below) is a great example of what we’re trying to do!
For the first two years, we were getting a solid hundred or so people out every night, but when it started to grow beyond that this past winter we were a bit stuck until a night opened up at Babylon. Finding space is always hard in this city—especially one that is physically accessible.
Since moving into the bigger space, we’ve grown in a few more ways: posting mixes on Soundcloud, getting on instagram, enlisting a legitimate graphic artist to make the posters, adding new visual artists to the nights, making Hottawa T shirts, and teaming up with PACE magazine for a photo shoot, exclusive mix, and video for the last July edition.
We are also really lucky to have Little Jo Berrys, the amazing vegan café in Wellington West, providing vegan treats for the nights. And the most important change is that we have volunteers from Hollaback! Ottawa come out to make it clear that we don’t tolerate harassment on the dancefloor (which we’ll talk about later).
Can you talk about the visual art component?
The goal is that the art compliments the music and adds to the immersive potential of a night out. We met our most frequent collaborator, VJ Paradisse, one night at Mugshots doing these massive projections in the courtyard for a precursor to the Fire Queen project featuring Jordan David (JFUN) and Aymara Alvarado Lang. This spring we also had Andrew Parks (Cityscape Sessions) bring a interactive dance screen that responded to dancers’s movements, and on Friday Conor Byron takes the reigns after doing amazing job recently at the Telecomo album release show and the Space dance party at Shanghai Restaurant.
Hottawa at Babylon Nightclub. Photo by Nicolai Gregory. (insta: @wiselywalking)
In terms of the nightlife experience, what kind of experience are the organizers trying to deliver? How do you want people to feel at the club, and at home afterwards?
We want people to dance their hearts out to amazing underground music and feel safe doing it.
At best we can facilitate the moments that led me to dance music from doom metal: being blown away by a transition, trusting the DJ to take you somewhere new, and enjoying the mental and physical benefits that come from dance. This sounds incredibly corny, but whatever, it’s true!
Hottawa is collaborating with Hollaback! Ottawa, an organization dedicated to eradicating street harassment and gender-based violence. Can you discuss this partnership and why it’s important?
It’s hugely important because some men still feel entitled to touch women and non-binary people without their consent, and that needs to stop. Having volunteers from Hollaback present offering their time is one way to signal to people that this kind of predatory behaviour is unacceptable at our events—and in life more generally.
Hollaback also provides a very practical purpose at the events. They’re an extra set of eyes on the dancefloor, a liaison between patrons and security, and they offer support to anyone who needs it.
Although we’re talking about consent in the context of one DJ night in Ottawa, this relates to much bigger issues, as you mentioned. It’s a sad but unsurprising reality that dudes who grow up under systems of sexism and patriarchy think it’s okay to grab a girl’s ass at the club. But with Babylon’s support, Hollaback’s presence, and everyone we work with, we’re trying to address it.
Hottawa at Babylon Nightclub. Photo by Nicolai Gregory. (insta: @wiselywalking)
What are some crucial steps that club owners or promoters can take to ensure the safety of patrons in the club atmosphere? Are bouncers enough?
In a word, no. Security staff are hugely important but I don’t think it’s fair to put the burden squarely on them. I think it’s everyone’s responsibility—promoters, DJs, bartenders, artists, and attendees—to look out for each other and to keep each other safe. In Ottawa we have some really amazing work happening on this topic, namely with Project Soundcheck, who also helped out at our last party.
To answer this question, I’m referring to some notes I took at a workshop on bystander intervention put on by Kira-Lynn Ferderber’s this past May.
Kira-Lynn offered these tips for venues: provide free water, post signage that harassment won’t be tolerated, believe women who approach staff with complaints, don’t book sexist acts, hire female staff, monitor bathrooms, watch people when they’re leaving (especially at the end of the night). And the final and maybe most important point was to suggest that venues develop a sexual violence prevention strategy, part of which would include training for staff.
The bystander intervention workshop was about how to respond at music festivals and bars when you see something that’s not safe. What Kira-Lynn suggested was to use non-violent strategies to de-escalate the situation, to keep everyone’s safety in mind as you intervene, and to use tactics that increase the choices for the person in the vulnerable position.
For instance, if you see someone who doesn’t appear comfortable with their date, you can yell over to them, “Hey Sally, are you getting poutine with us right now!?” because even if you don’t know the person or if Sally’s their real name, it still gives them an out if they need it. Even going up to talk to people to introduce yourself communicates the message that people are around and looking out for each other.
If everyone does that, then maybe we can all get back to enjoying the music.
In 5 words, what can readers expect when clicking ‘play’ on DJ Seiiizmikk’s mix below?
Gladys Lazer is the solo project of Tel Aviv-born musician and drummer Gal Lazer, former drummer with NYC-based guitar virtuoso Yonatan Gat. His debut EP, (released in July on Boiled Records), distills a time when he had no home and traveled the world on music. Recorded in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and in the countryside of Southwest Georgia, the debut EP, Candy World/Bye Past, features eight instrumental pathways: sonic vignettes that combust breakbeat, post-jazz, krautrock, and trip-hop.
Debaser presents Gladys Lazer on Thursday, September 14 at Pressed with Philadelphia’s Pulgas, and local band Soft Life. Lazer will be joined by a full band, including two woodwind players. The show is all ages, and the entrance of Pressed is physically accessible. Entry is $8.
Interview with Gladys Lazer
The music on Candy World/Bye Past is described as ‘nomadic’ – can you describe where, when, and how the songs were developed and recorded?
The album was recorded in a time when I was mostly on the road, playing 200 shows a year with my former band, so it was only between tours when I was able to get recordings done for myself. The music on the album was recorded in these different places – a lake house in rural SW Georgia, a recording studio in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and in small rooms in Brooklyn and New Orleans. Each session was different than the other, and deserved finding a different working method. The music was never pre-written, all of it was born and developed in the recording process.
What do you listen to while you’re travelling?
This obviously changes a lot, but traveling or not my heart usually pounds hard to Aphex Twin. I used to tour for a long time in this van that had only a CD player. These were my 3 favorite CD’s from the van’s CD selection. 1. Gavin Bryars – Sinking of the Titanic, 2. Joao Donato – Quem E Quem, and 3. an Alice Coltrane/Kraftwerk mixed CD.
Some will know you for your virtuoso drumming with Yonatan Gat. How does the process of writing music on your own compare to working with other musicians?
What I enjoy about making music on my own is that every element gets to meet my standards or else it doesn’t fly. I enjoy making music on my own more right now, because I enjoy the total independence.
It’s different making music with other people based on what’s your roll and influence in the music making, the people you’re working with and their components. I think that it’s important to have a clear vision walking into a recording project or any project, in case you work with other people that vision better be mutual and clear. Generally, I found that having fun while working is a good sign, especially when the fun is shared.
What is one tip you would offer to artists on the road?
One tip would be to be present and in the moment the more you can, that’s a good way to ride the wave of massive changing information coming at you and not get overwhelmed by it.
When Montreal’s HOAN formed in 2015, there was an intention to deviate from the path of jangle-pop and explore new horizons. Cutting their teeth in the DIY scene, HOAN’s music is simultaneously pensive and audacious. Their new EP, Modern Phase, is a 7-track effort that fuses dark and reverb-laden instrumental layers in a post-punk foundation. Alex Nicol’s vocals and lyricism whisp us away, but we’re constantly grounded again by noir moments of frenetic energy. Three of HOAN’s members were in the now-defunct band Kurvi Tasch, and have taken this window of opportunity to write music outside of a box and experiment with electronic elements, as well as explore more issues in the social and political realms in their lyrics.
I spoke with singer/guitarist Alex Nichol as HOAN get set for their show at Bar Robo on Thursday, August 31, with Organ Eyes. Be sure to catch them live, they’ll be playing most of the tracks on Modern Phase live. Doors are at 8 pm, and tickets are $10 at the door.
Interview with HOAN
Some Ottawa folks might remember Kurvi Tasch, a group that contained most of HOAN’s members. Has the change in name signified a larger shift for the band’s approach to music?
Kurvi Tasch was a guitar-based band with a pretty limited sonic palette. We made a bunch of releases under the name and felt like we wanted something new. Alex traveled to India with his computer and began making electronic music. This kind of propelled the idea for HOAN, and it became clear that the music we wanted to make did not make sense under the Kurvi Tasch name. ‘Modern Phase’ was recorded in this transitional period. The next release will have more synths, programmed drums, and so on, as we continue to expand our approach to music.
Modern Phase is not only sonically intriguing, but it also touches on many themes and ideas that we deal with as individuals and a society as a whole. Can you expand on some of these ideas, and what caused you to go that direction?
Yea, sure. The first theme that strikes through is the notion of technological advancement at all costs, without the ability to manage or deal with the impact it has. ‘Technocracts’ is the best example of this. I feel like it’s rampant all over the world since industrialization in the West, and will have similar impacts in places that have yet to fully industrialize. Take fracking, for example. You would think that people realized in the beginning that it is harmful on the environment. But the science was there to extract the oil, and there was such a demand for it, that alternative approaches to fueling cars never really had a chance. I feel there is a lot being ignored in discussions around innovation, namely how to sustain communities, give proper job training, the white-washing cultural impact it can have, and so much more. The title, ‘Modern Phase,’ is kind of poking fun at the idea of a “Modern era” in the hopes that people look at the human and environmental costs a bit more closely.
Is there an artist that you’re listening to – either locally or not – that you think people should hear?
Lido Pimienta is great. So is Perfume Genius. Locally there is tonnes of great stuff: Un Blonde, Maggy France, Loon, Blue Odoeur, ANEMONE, Slight, Blanka, the list goes on.
What was the most exciting part about making Modern Phase? Did you try new things? Mess around with new instruments at all?
The best part was trying out a whole bunch of keyboards we never knew existed. A lot of them made it on the record!
Ottawa has a small, yet strong DIY scene, and that ethic translates into a lot of pretty cool music here. Can you talk a bit about the Montreal scene? What are some of the challenges the scene there is facing these days?
Gentrification is gonna hit pretty soon, as the area around Parc and Beaubien is bracing for a new University of Montreal campus next door. There will be a few new spots opening up in Park-Ex and over on St-Hubert, but for the time being it’s pretty solid with the Plante, Drones, Poisson Noir, the Bog, and a couple others.
You’ve played a lot of dates in the US over the last several months. What is the atmosphere like down there? Was general social discontent pervasive in music clubs? Or was it business as usual?
We had some apologetic Americans in NYC in March, and in general a lot of discussion about the socio-political climate at the moment, that’s for sure. A lot of musicians are quite engaged in fighting the good fight – like our friend Richie in Hamtramck who runs a record store on a shoe-string budget in an area that is gentrifying fast. I think the Trump presidency will bring more people into the political process, which is actually a good thing. I look forward to seeing where people are at when we head out for 10 shows at the end of September.
On a sunny day in June during Ottawa Explosion Weekend, I caught up with Vancouver self-proclaimed powertrash band Needles//Pins. Their new album Good Night, Tomorrow was released in July of this year, and signaled a shift in the band’s sound and production. It’s more polished, and more grandiose than anything they’ve done in the past. But the grittiness quality of songwriting is still there, and fans old and new will fall right into this record.
They’re set to play House of TARG on Friday, August 25th along with Steve Adamyk Band, Audio Visceral, and NECK. Check out this candid interview with the trio, where they talk about the new album, Ottawa roots, and throw themselves under the bus.
Interview with Needles//Pins
You guys have played Ottawa Explosion Weekend before and stopped in Ottawa many times on tour. What’s your relationship to the city?
Adam Ess: Tony and I grew up in the Ottawa Valley, so we grew up about 45 minutes outside of Ottawa. So we started coming to the city in our teens to see shows, and I was in bands since I was fifteen years old playing places like Club SAW. I’ve known OXW organizers Emmanuel (Sayer) and Luke (Martin) for fifteen years or so as a result. I know Emmanuel from when he used to live in Windsor, we played with his old band called Searching for Chin. Then he moved to Ottawa and joined Buried Inside and others.
I guess the first time we played here as a band was the first ever Ottawa Explosion, it was our first cross-Canada tour. We’ve played every year since except last year, that was the only one so far that we haven’t played.
Do you get to spend much time in Ottawa when you’re here?
Tony X: It’s pretty much in and out. Usually it’s between Toronto and Montreal so we don’t have much time to take the extra night in Ottawa, we can’t lose that prime night of playing in other cities. I kind of wish we could just be here all weekend to be honest.
Needles//Pins played with The Smugglers at OXW for the Mint Records Showcase. How did that come about?
Adam: I think one of the impetuses for doing the Smuggs thing is because of Grant Lawrence’s book. It’s all part of the presentation of the book, and with the Mint Records connection we played the Vancouver show and it kind of took off from there.
Tony: Mint probably leaned on them a bit for us to play the show, I don’t think The Smugglers were begging us to play with them haha.
Your new record Good Night, Tomorrow is a bit of a different direction for the band. What is it that you are most excited for the bands to hear?
Adam: The general sound of the record, I think. It’s just such a huge sound, and that’s what we wanted out of it.
Tony: Just like you said, people are noticing it’s different and in a positive way and that’s really great.
Adam: And for us there’s no worry about that, I mean if you liked the band before then you’re going to like the band now. It’s hands-down way better, there’s no doubt about that. They’re the best songs we’ve ever written, the production is so much better, just everything. We took almost a year and a half to write and record the album, we took our time on it and wrote it in chunks, and recording as we went.
Tony: At some point we were recording and thinking, “oh good, it’s only been a year,” and then our producer Jesse told us we started in June… we were like, “oh, fuck…”
If I remember correctly, the last time you guys played Ottawa Explosion before this year there was something that literally exploded on stage.
Macey Bee: Oh shit, I forgot about that.
Tony: Yeah an amp! That was two years ago!
Macey: I think I was also on fire.
Tony: I just remember Adam was out of tune and he blamed me for it, but it actually was him. I just want to clear that up. He blamed me, but it was him. IT WAS NOT TONY, for the record. I don’t know about the amp though.
Adam: Ok then, since we’re going on the record, I am the one that coined the nickname “12 Grain” for Macey.
Tony: Oh I guess we’re recording everything now, airing the grievances. What is this, Festivus?
Have you had any other disasters happen while on tour?
Macey: I think touring with these two is a fucking disaster in general (laughs). I mean I’ve been doing it for a while now and I guess I’ll just have to keep doing it until I die.
Adam: Or until one of us dies, at least. There haven’t been any major disasters though, really. Knock on wood!
Tony: We’ve played shitty so many times, though. The worst show we ever played was in LA, and I’ll go on the record by saying it was all my fault.
Matias: You’re really throwing yourself under the bus here.
Macey: I was going to say that I played really well that night. You fucking blew it man.
Adam: That was a doozy.
Tony: I just didn’t play the right notes. There might have been some technical issues, I don’t know.
Macey: Yeah, technically your fingers didn’t hit the right notes on the bass.