Last week, noisy London punk rockers Single Mothers returned to the captial. They’re continuing to ride the wave of their latest record, 2017’s Our Pleasure, and they pulled no punches at House of TARG alongside locals Mushy Gushy and Curl. Our photographer Aidan Thatcher was there to catch the action through his lens.
John K. Samson—known best as the lead-singer and guitarist of The Weakerthans, and also considered by many as an unofficial Canadian poet laureate—played a very small and intimate show in Ottawa at Maker Space North.
The BYOC (bring your own cushion) show was held in one of the buildings’ hallways and sold out with less than 50 lucky attendees mostly seated on the floor. Samson didn’t even need to use his microphone as the small crowd sat in silent awe as he made us all melt in one of the most special shows I have ever attended.
One thing that makes Samson so special is how real, honest, and down to earth he is. He thanked us all for being there, thanked his partner for watching their dog and yellow bird Pickle as he toured across the country. He thanked Side Door for helping organize and manage his cross Canada house show tour, while ensuring most of the revenue found its way to him, the musician. “I’ll be making about $1100 tonight,” he said. “So thank you all so much for helping with my mortgage payment this month.” He thanked Shawn Scallen from Spectrasonic who has been involved in essentially every show he has ever played in town and then thanked the real heroes. “I’d also like to thank the two anti-depressants I’m currently taking who are the real reason I’m able to be here with you today.”
Equipped with his guitar and some notes on a stand, Samson played about 40 minutes of songs he had planned out, which started with “One Great City” and included many new tracks off of his latest album Winter Wheat. The set also featured the Virtute the Cat trilogy of songs back-to-back-to-back making the whole room quite emotional. Afterwards he took a short break to chat with us and take requests to build his next set.
Samson returned from the break telling us “Thank you for writing my set list… just so you know, some of them I won’t play very well but I’ll endeavour to do my best.” And his best is what he gave us, playing 11 more songs, some of which were smoother than others, but I’m 100% confident not a single person there was bothered by this. On top of taking requests from us in person, he had also invited people to send him postcards with request, which delivered one of the cutest moments of the night on a night filled with them. The parents’ of someone in attendance sent in a postcard, requesting “The Reasons” for their son who missed Samson in Winnipeg as he is now in Ottawa studying.
The crowd did pipe up breaking its silence during “Sun in an Empty Room” singing the chorus and backing vocals, which made Samson’s face light up in glee. He closed his set with my little brother’s request “My Favourite Chords” which beautifully capped off the wonderful night. Do yourself a favour and follow Samson’s web site closely as he doesn’t really have social media presence and I would hate for you to miss out on such an experience again. I feel so very lucky to have witnessed this performance.
AkoufèN are a Franco-Ontarian alternative metal band with a melodic flare based in the Ottawa/Gatineau region.
The four-piece formed in northern Ontario in 2008 and has made quite a name for itself in the francophone rock world. Their first album Le sixième sens (The Sixth Sense) debuted at #3 in the francophone charts on iTunes. The album features a lot of heavy guitar and drums, several possibilities for sing-alongs and no shortage of opportunities to headbang.
The band’s name AkoufèN comes from the French word acouphène which translates as tinnitus, “the medical term for ‘hearing’ noises in your ears when there is no outside source of the sounds. The noises you hear can be soft or loud. They may sound like ringing, blowing, roaring, buzzing, hissing, humming, whistling, or sizzling.” Rather fitting for a band delivering rocking French music coming out of Ontario and often pushing the boundaries of what so many think of francophone music.
Since 2012 the band has played 47 shows at francophone high schools in an effort to showcase French-Canadian music and show students that French music can be cool. Demonstrating that you can be proud of music played in your first language is important to the band’s members. Akoufèn has also played some pretty important festivals and competitions, including le Festival international de la chanson de Granby, L’Omnium du Rock en Outaouais (semi-finalists) and Landmark Events Battle of the Band (3rd place).
You can check out AkoufèN during MEGAPHONO tonight at House of TARG when they share the stage with one of the strangest and most original bands I have ever witnessed, Fet.Nat and Ottawa’s ghostly ouija rockers The Yips. For more information, check here.
Propagandhi plays Ritual on August 12th with RVIVR and War on Women. In the lead-up to the show, longtime fan Matthew Stella will reflect on how the band has impacted his life by reviewing a different Propagandhi song every day until August 12th.
Song: “…And We Thought Nation States Were a Bad Idea”
Album: Less Talk, More Rock
First Listen: 1997
“Publicly subsidized, privately profitable, the anthem of the upper tier puppeteer untouchables.
Focus a moment, nod in approval, bury your heads in the barcodes of these neocolonials.”
If you’ve ever seen someone who doesn’t speak English singing a song in English, you can’t help but notice that there is something a little too perfect about the way they pronounce the words. In the absence of knowing the meaning of what they’re singing, they put all of their effort into the flawless phonetic construction of each word. The same could be said about me as a 13-year-old in Thunder Bay, Ontario singing the opening lines to “Nation States” by Propagandhi.
I had only just gotten into punk through mid-90s skate punk giants NOFX, Pennywise and Epitaph’s Punk-o-Rama compilations. But when I was introduced to a new label – Fat Wreck Chords – and their Survival of the Fattest compilation, my entire idea of punk changed. I shouldn’t say “changed,” rather it became more complete. Until then I hadn’t even realized that anything was missing in my punk education (how young and naive I was).
“Nation States” was the fourth song on the album, and as Chris Hannah tore through those opening lyrics, I remember thinking, “This is it! This is what I thought punk was going to be.” I didn’t have a clue what he was singing about, or what I was saying when I sung along. For the longest time I thought a “neocolonial” was some kind of caveman. But the anger and emotion in the song was palpable. I could tell that Hannah was angry, and that he was vaguely political, but as to the source of his anger I hadn’t a clue. By the time the chorus arrived, the lyrics became less compact and Hannah shouted “What a stupid world!” That was enough to bring this 13-year-old kid on board. I borrowed a tape of Propagandhi’s Less Talk, More Rock – released one year earlier – and proceeded to listen to it every day – on my walks to and from Sir Winston Churchill High School – for the entirety of Grade 9. Eventually I knew the lyrics to every song on the album by heart, but did I really know the words?
My experience with Propagandhi is not unique. This band holds a special place in a lot of peoples’ hearts (and minds). They were the band that changed the way we think, even though we initially only had a vague idea of what they were saying. More than songs, the band sings essays with proof points laid out in the verses to back up the thesis statements shouted during the chorus. As an angsty pre-teen I was won over by the choruses, but it was uncovering the meaning behind their slogans that has kept me, and many others, still listening almost 20 years later.
So why was it a stupid world? What was Hannah singing about in “Nation States”? I didn’t really need proof of the stupidity of the world when I was 13, but I wouldn’t still be singing along now if this song was simply a clichéd slogan. Instead it is a compact, yet well detailed, analysis of neoliberalism.
Our governments subsidize big businesses in a number of ways (tax breaks, relaxed labour laws, bailouts, negligible interest rates, etc.), but what happens when these businesses make a profit? Does the public that subsidizes a business share in its profits? Of course they don’t. So when it comes to influencing government what does the upper tier (puppeteer untouchables) do? They lobby to continue this cycle of profiting from the government while assuming little risk in the operation of their businesses. This is the dominant ideology of our day, government becomes a tool of transferring the collective wealth of the lower classes to the few hands of the upper. Is this class war? Yes, this is class war. And this system has only become more clearly visible in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. So what do we do as citizens to confront this system of public risk and private profit? Well we’re too busy consuming the products made by these businesses to notice.
That is the best I can do to extrapolate what Hannah is able to say in two lines.
The actual full name of the song is “…And We Thought Nation States Were A Bad Idea*” referring to the fact that anarchists traditionally fought against the state, but by the 90s were seeing states ceding control of the global economy to multinational corporations. The song is essentially Chris thinking out loud, trying to decide which is worse. “And I’m just a kid. I can’t believe I gotta worry about this kind of shit,” he yells just before the chorus, reminding all the kids who are listening listening that worrying about the global economy isn’t something anyone necessarily wants to do.
It took me until about my third year of a political science degree to be able to explain this song. This is what I believe to be the beauty of Propagandhi’s message and why I still consider them the best band on the planet. They are a band whose message grows with you. Each subsequent listen provokes a reevaluation of the song based on new information and new experiences.
As for the ongoing role of corporations determining the structure of the global economy, and thus all of our lives… I’m 31, I can’t believe I (still) have to worry about this kind of shit.
* The song was listed as “Nation States” on Survival of the Fattest compilation and “…And We Thought Nation States Were a Bad Idea” on Less Talk, More Rock.
The Balconies have kicked things into full gear as of late – touring, writing new material, traveling internationally, involving themselves in festivals all over… You know, all those things that hard-working bands do. The band, which began in 2007 here in the nation’s capital, is one of those ongoing success stories that I love to keep tabs on. From their humble beginnings here in Ottawa, their journey through school at Ottawa U, and then their breakout being the runner up in Live 88.5’s Big Money Shot in 2010, it’s a story that anyone would find titillating.
But when I say ongoing, I mean that the journey is never done with this group. They are constantly positioning themselves to move forward, higher, and not look back. The three of them, Jacquie Neville, brother Stephen Neville, and Liam Jaeger, recently made the big move to Toronto to immerse themselves in the music culture there. It’s also given them the chance to take their game to the next level with respect to industry, festivals and exposure to bigger markets. Their loyal fanbase only seems to be getting bigger, with Jacque and Co. letting it all out on stage every time they play. It’s a story that will surely have an exciting 2013 chapter, with big plans to release a full-length album and do a whole lot more touring – inside and outside Canada. Having worked with producers Jon Drew (Tokyo Police Club, Fucked Up) and Arnold Lanni (Our Lady Peace, Finger Eleven) on their first release Kill Count EP, they’ve achieved their own sound and created a lot of hype for a full-length release in the near future.
Also an important note: The Balconies are offering up some exclusives for some fan support with the recording process. They’ve already reached about half the funds needed to back the release of the full-length, so instead of buying lunch today you should go and pledge some money in support of super awesome music! They will love you for it, and their new album surely won’t disappoint.
I sat down with Stephen, Liam, and Jacquie in February to discuss their life as a band, touring, and what 2013 might have in store.
Interview with the Balconies (Feb. 2013)
By Matias Muñoz
Kill Count opened you guys up to a lot of new audiences. What is success to you as a band, and how do you hold on to that mentality as your audience grows?
Stephen: For us right now I think it is headlining some more shows and attracting a modest crowd. But we kind of view success as opening for bands that we idolize, too. There’s always a lot of room for growth.
Jacquie: I also think it’s like a staircase, you set one goal for yourself like “let’s get a record out first”. When you reach that step, then you move to the next one which might be like “let’s start touring the US and Europe.” Every time you reach that next step, your dreams and goals keep getting higher and higher. So, for me, success is never being satisfied with where you are and always trying to improve and evolving.
Being from Ottawa, what’s one of your favourite memories of the city?
Jacquie: One of my favourite musical memories was at Club SAW, Shawn Scallen was doing the sound at these all ages shows I played at with my first band back then. He started something and I always wanted to be part of that, this community of musicians and fans. That’s what I really strive for – for me, music is about the community of artists that grow together. It’s not about competition or who’s better than whom. It’s about progressing the Canadian music scene and the Ottawa music scene. In Ottawa with such a small community, we’ve always felt very supported and we’re proud to have our roots from here. People here are music lovers, people are all paying attention to others because there is so much to learn.
You made the big move to Toronto, what’s the adjustment been like? Homesick yet?
J: I know for me, my roots will always be here in Ottawa, it will always be home. Moving to Toronto was a career move, I didn’t leave Ottawa because I hated it or anything. That’s why we moved, bigger city and market, it’s kind of the centre of the Canadian music universe with so much going on.
S: And to be honest, we haven’t really been home in Toronto much either. It almost seems like we’ve been in Ottawa almost as much as Toronto these days.
J: Yeah, we’ve been so busy especially recording the record and stuff, that it hasn’t quite felt like we’ve been home in Toronto anymore. The van is home. I guess home is where all my friends are, whether that is Toronto or Ottawa or wherever. Canada is home.
You guys have toured outside Canada and played festivals such as Canadian Music Week, NXNE, POP Montreal, and SXSW. What has the reception been like going to these different markets and playing to crowds who might not be as familiar with your music?
S: It’s been amazing, it’s such a good avenue for bands to start with the festival setting. You build a following, and people are all amped up because it’s a music festival.
J: They go there ready to hear new music, they’ve bought the wristband and they are ready to see your show. With touring a new country and new cities, it’s hard to break in new markets when no one knows who you are. We’ve been really lucky playing festivals and being a part of that. We recently went to LA in the fall to play a really awesome festival called Culture Collide, and there was a sold out show right in front of us and we’d never played there before. So you really feel stoked to be part of festivals like that. You also get to meet bands from that city or elsewhere in the world. People have been pretty receptive.
S: The most recent festival we played was in Cannes, France, called Midem. That was just like two weeks ago and it was amazing. You meet people form all over the world, huge crowds, it’s always fun.
Was that a little bit scary at first?
S: Oh, yeah totally.
J: But then you realize you are in this different country that speaks French, which is awesome.
A lot of people are looking forward to a full-length release from The Balconies. How has the writing for that been going?
J: The writing is done, however we’ve been working with a great producer Arnold Lanni (who worked with us on the single “Do it in the Dark”), and he’s also acting as the co-songwriter, producer, and arranger on the album. So, it’s all done and we have about twenty songs to choose from, which is kind of overwhelming because we can’t put them all on the album. But I think that’s a good problem to have, having too many. Now we’re just picking the strongest ones that will be easier to present in a package, because we obviously want to appeal to an international market.
Are you exciting to start playing the new songs?
S: For sure. There are a few that we’ve incorporated into our set but we want to make sure we play the proper version of them. When we unleash the songs, it will be after we finish recording on March 13th. Then we’ll know what the final product is and we can start phasing in the “new Balconies”.
J: We’re really hoping to have it out by summer of this year. So yeah, summer 2013 is our goal!
Any big plans for 2013, personally or musically? It looks like it will be a good year.
S: It does look like it will be a big year, heading to SXSW is always a lot of fun.
J: We’re also heading to China to play a big festival there, which we’re all really excited about. Once the record is out we’ll just be living in our van again. We really want to get down to the states a lot more this year too, we haven’t hit all the places we want to yet. We’ve done a lot with Canada, and we’ll probably do one more cross-Canada tour to promote the new record and then head down to the states and tell them what’s what. We’re really looking forward to this year, it’s going to be a good one.
The Canada-wide search for our nation’s favourite new artist is in full force, with almost 3,000 artists involved from just about every genre you can think of. Regional voting has begun, and that means you can go to CBC All in a Day’s website to see the list of Ottawa artists and cast your vote (a streaming sample of their music will also be available). My understanding is that you can vote once per region, so choose wisely! The winner will get $20,000 in gear from Yamaha, not to mention some notoriety across the country.