The Pack AD don’t mess around. They have been one of the hardest working, hardest touring bands on the cross-Canada circuit for over a decade, and the grimy garage-rock duo is at it again.
The band is currently in the midst of their “Catch Them While You Can Tour”, which has them traversing across Canada and the US, possibly for the last time on such a large stretch. Their pulverizing and explosive sound has been a constant, both on their albums and live on stage.
They’re supporting their most recent release DollHouse (Cadence Recordings) which was released late last year, along with the re-release of their acclaimed debut album TinType on vinyl, which comes out September 28th via Mint Records. Since its early 2008 original release, the band has played close to a thousand shows and released seven albums.
I caught up with guitarist and vocalist Becky Black in advance of their Ottawa show, which takes place tonight (September 21) at The 27 Club along with support from Basement Revolver and Land Line. More info on the show can be found here. Read the interview and check out the new video for “Woke Up Weird” below.
Interview with Becky Black of The Pack a.d.
The world seems a little darker these days, particularly given the state of things south of the border. At this stage in your career, how do you approach making music in this unstable climate? What is your mentality putting the pen to paper?
That’s a great question! I think there’s a lot of inspiration to be drawn from it, as an artist. You have to find the silver lining, it seems to inspire creativity. Things are pretty terrible, but it’s easy to get down about it. We’re in America right now actually at a travel centre and getting set to come back and play in Canada. Definitely looking to getting back there!
Do you notice more tension when playing shows south of the border these days?
Yeah, normally the people we’re hanging with have similar opinions and are just weathering the horrible situation they’re in. People in music communities are usually on the opposite side of spectrum as those currently in power, so yeah, I don’t know. It is definitely different here, though. It’s strange.
What do you hope people take away from listening to DollHouse?
I think the whole album itself is pretty short, it’s definitely worth a listen. We’re releasing a new video for “Woke Up Weird,” which is about climate change and being a human on this planet. There’s a lot to take away from it.
Is there a sense of hope on the record? Or is it more of a “let’s all get pissed” kind of listen?
It’s sort of in between, I think. Our lyrics always tend to lean towards being dystopian, I guess, to put it mildly. It’s more of a conversation, an acknowledgement. We think that’s a start.
The Pack AD are a band known for being extremely hard working musicians. What do you do to unwind? Any hobbies that not many people know about?
Yeah, we both read a lot. It’s a great way to stay sane on the road. Whether you’re at a hotel, on the bus, or whatever, there’s always a lot of time to read. I’m always trying to learn more about the world around me. But when I’m not reading, I’d say video games and Netflix, too. You know, the usual.
Are there any readings that you’d recommend?
I just read a magazine—Scientific American—that just revealed some groundbreaking new discoveries that could change the course of science. I found that fascinating, it was like the ten greatest discoveries this year.
You two have been playing music with each other for a really long time. If you had one piece of advice to younger bands about how to keep friendships together over the years, what would it be?
Well, you just have to find the right group of people. Sometimes with band personalities it’s like oil and water, and that can be difficult. But we’ve always been able to get along, and I think you always have to maintain respect for each other no matter what. We have different opinions and disagreements all the time, it’s not always happy and fun times but we always figure it out. That’s why we’ve been able to last so long I think.
Do you ever resolve disagreements with rock-paper-scissors?
Ahh, yeah. We have done that. Maya always does rock so she’s easy to beat.
Last but not least—Do you have a go-to place in Ottawa you visit every time you’re here? Burgers? Beer? Beavertails?
I really love the Byward Market, and the last time we played Ottawa we played House of TARG and that was awesome. So those are always great spots to hang for us.
Sept 21- 27 Club – Ottawa, ON Sept 22 Turbo Haus – Montreal, QC Sept 30 Neptoon Records – Vancouver, B.C. – Instore playing of songs from Tintype Oct 11 9th Ward – Buffalo, NY
Oct 12 Pauly’s Hotel – Albany, NY
Oct 13 ONCE Somerville – Boston, MA
Oct 14 Portland House of Music – Portland, ME
Oct 15 Mercury Lounge – New York, NY
Oct 17 Kung Fu Necktie – Philadelphia, PA
Oct 18 Smiling Moose – Pittsburgh, PA Oct 20 The Pinch – Washington, DC
Oct 21 Pour House – Raleigh, NC
Oct 22 Smiths Olde Town – Atlanta, GA Oct 24 Gasa Gasa – New Orleans, LA
Oct 26 The Sundown – Dallas, TX Oct 27 Maxine’s – Hot Springs, AK
Oct 29 Magnolia Bar – Louisville, KY
Oct 30 Ready Room – St. Louis, MO Oct 31 Vaudeville Mews – Des Moines, IA
Ottawa’s Fools of Love have been hard at work on their first full-length album scheduled for release this summer.
The rocking three-piece have changed their names, changed their line-up, powered through having their lead-singer and guitarist living in Toronto while the other two members live in Ottawa and followed up one of my favourite releases from 2015 with a solid new track “Heavy Head.”
We spoke with lead-singer and guitarist Adam Feibel about all that and are premiering “Heavy Head” below. So sink your teeth into their rocking new song in anticipation of the upcoming full-length album while you read our discussion with Adam.
Let us start with the new name, what drove the switch to Fools of Love?
Trademark law, really. There’s another currently active band that has the rights to our former name, so it was safer to change it to avoid running into problems.
You moved to Toronto but the band is still Ottawa-based. How do you manage this? And are there any advantages you see to having the band in two cities?
It’s not easy. I’ve spent a lot of time on the train and the 401. We get together as much as possible and make the most of that time. But we each have a lot going on in our lives individually, so we try not to put too much pressure on ourselves. Now that we’ve finished this record, the hardest part is out of the way–now it’s really just about playing wherever and whenever we have the opportunity. And it’s a nice perk that whenever we play a show in the GTA, we have a place to stay.
Tell me about the switch from a four-piece to a three-piece.
We actually started as a trio. Only three of us recorded the EP. We’ve gone through a few member changes, so we were four for a while, but by the time we headed into the studio again we were back to three. But we’re planning to play live as a foursome.
What do you think is the biggest musical difference between that first release and your upcoming album The Howl and the Whisper?
I think it has a wider range of influences, but also a wider range of feeling. That first one big, loud, and fairly dark. We let a lot of light in for this one. It’s got a lot of heart. There’s more instrumentation–we added piano, organ, harmonica, cello, along with the usual stuff–and I wanted every song to have a big, memorable hook. You should definitely still play it loud.
What led you to this new sound?
That’s hard to say. When I start coming up with new material, it just comes out–any change is usually subconscious, or at least starts out that way. Personally, one thing I knew that I wanted was for it to have more depth. We left some stuff on the cutting-room floor that just didn’t have a place, usually because it was too one-dimensional or it didn’t match the feel. I looked at songs and artists that have stood the test of time and thought about why. What makes them timeless? I think a lot of it comes down to whether your song sounds good regardless of the arrangement–if you strip it to the bone, does it still sound great? That’s what I had in mind. We’d start with something simple and build it into something intricate and huge.
How was it to once again work with Cory Bergeron at Pebble Studios?
I can’t say enough about how much I’ve loved working with him. We would be doing marathon sessions and it didn’t seem to phase him. He’d just keep working his magic, suggesting great ideas, coaching us into our best performances. Working with a person for the second time, you’ve built a rapport and a chemistry. I felt understood. And he’s hungry to learn and try new things, which is crucial if you’re hoping to make something layered and unique. It was long, hard work but it was a lot of fun.
What’s the story behind your first single “Heavy Head” and why did you choose it?
This song started out of protest, since I’ve been pretty angry and despondent about a lot of things that have been going on around the world in the last few years and all the terrible people with black hearts that you have to hear about every day. But I learned pretty quickly that I’m not hardwired to write out of purely anger, so it turned into something else. I ended up writing it about good people who don’t know their own strength because they feel beaten down, or like they barely have a voice. It’s about showing that you believe in them. We need good people to lead the way. And so the song has some bite to it, some apprehension, but ultimately it’s got this big, uplifting chorus that really anchors the whole thing.
Do you have any shows or tours planned to celebrate the release?
We’re working on all that at the moment. We’ll have a couple album-release shows, for sure. And hopefully we’ll get out a lot more. I’m really excited for the record to come out, and to play these songs for as many people as we can.
Catriona Sturton is a household name in Canadian music and beyond—her masterful blues guitar and harmonica stylings combined with her angelic sweetness are the trappings of a true musical powerhouse, a fact undeniably demonstrative in her live performances. Her songwriting, in juxtaposition to her inundated playing, is deliberate and subdued, yet both offer a sort of honest intimacy that rattles and soothes, an experience similar to getting socked in the gut while someone tenderly strokes your hair. It’s often too much for audiences’ hearts to handle and I’ve had the pleasure of bearing witness to that collective heartbreak on two separate occasions, with a third opportunity coming this Friday, April 13th at NAC Fourth Stage on a double bill with Alberta singer/songwriter, Liz Stevens.
This show will be markedly different than any previous iteration of her solo work in two signifanct ways; for the first time she will be backed by a band and, perhaps more startling, Sturton will be playing violin publicly, something she hasn’t done since she was a child. I spoke with her about what inspired these changes as well as what else she has planned for Friday evening.
Interview with Catriona Sturton
Can you tell me a little bit about your history with the violin and how you came to pick it up?
I played the violin for years as a kid. My grandfather was the local fiddler in the Irish village that my mum was from (he was also the seventh son of a seventh son!). I liked the idea of learning fiddle music as a kid but ended up taking classical violin lessons. I wasn’t a great student (ok, I was kind of terrible; I once showed up to a lesson with an empty violin case) but am now thankful that it gave me a good musical base. I used to think that I never fell in love with playing music ’til I discovered the harmonica, but I’m realizing now that I have really deep feelings for the violin.
What sparked the resurrgence?
I went on tour with The Noisy Locomotive and played with Trevor Pool and Ben Nesrallah, who accompanied me on violin on several songs. Since then, I knew there was something magical about the combination of violin and harmonica. I kept thinking I should find a violin player to tour with in the future, then one day I decided that I should try to play it myself.
What was the most challenging part?
My experience was that it wasn’t like riding a bike at all…. it felt like a very new instrument even though I had played it for a long time when I was younger it felt very new to pick it up again. Part of that was I had to hold it in a different way to be able to play harmonica at the same time. The fun part was that I kind of used the harmonica as a teacher to show me what I wanted to do on the violin. I do like a challenge though, so there is something grounding in being humbled.
Did you experience an awakening of sorts?
Last year I went to learn Irish music from my uncle and it made me really wonder why I hadn’t tried to learn some sooner. At that time I was playing songs on the diatonic harmonica and he also gave me an accordion. But starting violin made me feel really strongly and deeply that I should be connecting more with this side of my family’s musical heritage.
Do you feel vulnerable without your guitar?
Very much so!!!!
You’re working with drummer Ben Deinstadt and bassist Kristy Nease now, a departure from your usual solo performances. What brought you all together and how did you manage to find cohesion as artists?
I have been working as a one person band for 5 years. While working on arranging my songs, it became apparent that some of them have pretty idiosyncratic structures, which kind of explains why it was sometimes hard for me to explain what I wanted from other musicians in the past. I met Ben Deinstadt through GINNY’s Lesley Marshall and had heard he was interested in touring. When we started to get together to play music it was just for fun and we became good friends in the process. I was really impressed with how much attention he would put into learning little details and arrangements for the songs and I also loved how some of the parts he came up with weren’t what you’d expect at first but fit the songs in a way that it now feels weird for me to not hear them. And he helped me fix a bunch of my gear! He’s great! I think he’s a bit of a secret weapon, he said some people he knows don’t even know he plays the drums, but I can’t imagine that will be for long.
I have played with Kristy since I first started to seriously consider playing guitar and harmonica at the same time. She’s a real inspiration to me as a musician. One of the very first tours I did was with her, years ago, in Nova Scotia. She’s solid as a person and a bass player, and I feel very lucky that she can join us for this show. I think she’s in 5 bands at the moment, I’m not sure if this makes 6! I was standing next to her at a show and saw how intently she was watching the bands play and I didn’t even know if she played music, I just had a feeling based on how tuned in she was that she’d be great to play with. Years later she’s a great friend and I feel so comfortable playing with her.
I’ll also have Birdie Whyte and Sal Valley as special guests. They are two gems of songwriting in Ottawa and we’ve just started to play together, the three of us.
That sounds so incredibly special! I mean, though you live in Ottawa, we are rarely gifted with a chance to see you perform and it sounds like this Friday is going to be particularly incredible!
I try not to play in Ottawa too often, so that I have time to prepare and pull out all the stops when I do! This time I’ll have a Wheel of Fortune, made by Montreal artist Emily Comeau and props made of my art by Ottawa’s Kate Greenland (who performs as Mabel Beggs, solo and in Aiken and Beggs).
Not to mention the addition of Liz Stevens on the bill!
I can’t wait to hear Liz live. Her voice blows me away but I’ve only gotten to experience it on video and recorded. She has such a great ability to capture nuance and feeling. There is a video of her singing Wicked Game by Chris Isaak that is devestatingly moving.
You are also a visual artist, creating the most sunshiney of illustrations. Your smiling heart is almost a signature of sorts. You create artwork for others upon request seemingly just to brighten others days. What drives you to spread such positivity? Is it something you consciously curate or is it something you feel comes to you naturally?
It’s funny, when I first made a website my friend, Jason Cobill, who designed it, suggested I have my drawings on it. At the time I wasn’t sure how they fit with the music I was making. I write a lot of quiet and very moody songs. But the drawings I make definitely have a light and funny quality to them. I started making drawings online for people when I got a scholarship to an online group where my role was to be a cheerleader in exchange for doing the course for free. I really enjoyed tuning in to where someone was at and trying to see if I could draw something that would encourage them in that moment. I discovered an app I could colour in the drawings with and it all clicked for me. I started drawing more this year because after I got a concussion sound really bothered me and after months of laying pretty low I think I needed a creative outlet.
My favourite drawings to do by far have been for people by request, or when they ask for one for someone they care about so I’ve kept making more and more. It makes me happy to be able to do them and I feel lucky when I get to tune into people caring about each other. For example, parents might ask for one for their kids, or people will ask for their friends or partner. In the moment when I’m drawing I get to feel that love and it is really beautiful. I haven’t really considered myself to be an artist but I have started to get a number of commissions, which I really appreciate because it has really encouraged me. And I’m starting to make merch with my art. The first ones will be at this show, I have some pins.
You mentioned you had suffered a concussion that impacted your ability to play music. What was it like coming out of that? What have you learned from the adaption process?
I got rear ended this summer and hit my head on the steering wheel. It threw me for a big loop because one of the most difficult parts of it was that I became hypersensitive to sound, to the point that it made me nauseous. I had trouble if more than one conversation was happening at a time. And bright lights were too much. Basically everything that you have at a show I couldn’t handle. It was kind of heartbreaking because I had worked really hard for 5 years and was feeling like I was starting to build some momentum with my music career and then had to face not knowing what the process of recovery would look like. I had to lie in the dark with sunglasses on and my windows covered up.
The part that turned out to be the hardest for me was that my ability to read and respond to people was really affected. So, little things like talking to someone after a show was a huge challenge, let alone trying to talk to lots of people, which is actually a really big part of playing shows. The other thing that crept in later was that being rear ended made me feel cautious about driving, which is a huge part of touring. After moving through all kinds of challenges in the past few years and working really hard to keep unafraid and a positive attitude, I got kind of swamped.
One thing I realized throughout it all was that it is very scary to be vulnerable, and I think being kind of reduced in this way made me take more risks in writing songs that were more open about challenging times. And it made me want to move away from having a wall of sound that I had aspired to with a big amplifier, harmonica tone, and one-man-band posturing I used as a bit of a defense mechanism while touring solo. I mean, I still like to play loud at times! But it made me appreciate more how brave it can be to really open yourself up. In some ways I think I have started to connect with people on a deeper level after going through a few things and kind of having no choice but to reflect them in where I was at.
While difficult to comprehend how someone’s artistic well could possibly be mined deeper, the fact that someone so accomplished as Catriona continues to take artistic risks that bring us closer to her is a rare gift afforded to an audience: a gift you can receive this Friday evening if you believe in love and magic. Tickets are available a the NAC box office, or can be found online here.
There is a new band in town, partners, and they are full of alt-country, twang, and heartache.
GINNY is the latest band formed in the nation’s capital with members of a bunch of other great bands. Fronted by vocalist Lesley Marshall (Bonnie Doon), guitarist Catriona Sturton (ex-Plumbtree), and bassist Kristy Nease (Area Resident), GINNY’s haunting country styling arrives just in time as we flirt with the return of spring but keep being reminded of the harshness of winter.
GINNY’s first single, “Choose the Wrong Man,” is a slow-building little alt-country number about having bad luck in love. Have a listen below as Marshall’s ghostly vocals of country singers past shines over the band’s blues-tinged and rock-influenced country sound.
The band is poised to release their debut EP on Friday March 16th at The Concorde Motel in Ottawa, supported by The Railway Hotel and Ommie Jane (details here). We interviewed Marshall ahead of the show to get a better sense of how the band came to be and what to expect of this little known venue.
Ginny is quite a shift from your other project, Bonnie Doon. What attracted you to making country music?
I drifted towards country music in the last five years. I’ve always been a big fan of folk rock and folk music but I got really into classic country when I heard Loretta Lynn, Townes Van Zandt, and Patsy Cline. They were all singing from the heart in a way that really resonated with me.
We used a Patsy Cline song “Crazy” as a temp track in one of my first films and I began to sing it a karaoke, then I started to singing Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five” and started to really see myself in that music. I had been writing a lot of sadder and melodramatic songs since high school on a tiny air organ and they didn’t fit into the party vibe of Bonnie Doon. I fell in love with some of the romanticism of country music and wanted to learn more.
Learning the history of racism and blues and the industry’s separation of the genres that exists today—interesting stuff, but yeah, it was the emotion that was coming out of my voice that led the way. I couldn’t describe it and, well, it was friends that said it was country. I was with DJ Lamb Rabbit one day too showing her my tracks and she showed me Mary Margaret O’Hara “Miss America” and was like— “did you know that this is what you’re doing?”
The band is somewhat of a local super-group, made up of Catriona Sturton and Kristy Nease (Area Resident). How did it come to be?
Oh my gosh. Yeah, well I am a lucky duck here. I had been spending time with Catriona and Kristy as they are buds and Kristy at the time was doing a lot of Gamelan Orchestra and Catriona was starting to tour on her own. I had told Catriona about some of my songs and she mentioned she wanted to tour in the southern states the following winter and visit her friends at Dollywood with another drummer friend from a Philadelphia band The Pretty Greens and asked if some of my songs would fit as an opening act. I am a person of the variety who says yes even if I am unsure—so I said yes! Being on tour is kind of my dream state, even though it is very hard.
All this to say, I had wanted to explore working on these songs and so I brought them to Kristy to help nail down the musical framework. Kristy is a a genius with the bass and percussion so she took the demos I made and we jammed them out to the songs they are today with Catriona coming on with those heavy blues guitar riffs. The first incarnation of the band was a drum machine, an air organ, Kristy on the bass and me singing through a 16mm projector. We later added a drummer to get that classic country feel. I had always intended the project to be a newer eerie kind of country, so this show at the Concorde will feature DJ Jas Nasty on the theremin.
A glimpse at the mysterious, seldom-used venue called The Concorde Motel. Photo taken from Facebook.
And how is it working with them on this project?
Working with Catriona and Kristy is a dream come true. Kristy has supreme work ethic and execution and Catriona is a wizard. She just kind of comes in and brings her ideas and flare with the her classic guitar sound. They both have such great taste and understanding of music it’s like breathing in and out. I feel like coming in with my voice, I have to bring a lot and do!
The release show is taking place at The Concorde Motel, quite an unusual and unknown venue to most. Can you tell us a little about it and why you chose it?
The Concorde Motel is just down the street from my partner’s house in Vanier so we started going for drinks there. The first time I walked in I was blown away by the absolute size and decor of the bar. It truly is a relic. Back in the 1970s and 80s it was one of the ‘go-to’ spots for country music as there were 6 active country clubs with live bands playing 7 days a week. Times sure have changed and they stayed open as a bar but stopped operating as a venue. Since the bid to change the whole block including the Motel into the controversial super shelter came around last year, we thought it would be a rare chance to have a show like this there.
What should people expect from the live performance on March 16?
March 16th is gonna be a full night of hanging out in the Concorde, people can play pool, and listen to the jukebox between bands and expect a whole night of great music from Ottawa Alt-Coutry Folk and Blues with Ommie Jane and The Railway Hotel opening up the night. GINNY has a full set and will be playing songs from our self-titled debut EP, but also songs on the air organ that couldn’t fit on the EP and guest performer and singer Matt Miwa will be adding his lounge singer-songwriter air.
Once in a while a concept album comes along that moves us, emanating stories and experiences that we can somehow connect with. In the case of Winnipeg’s Heavy Bell, Matt Peters (member of Royal Canoe) and Tom Keenan (actor and singer-songwriter) dig deep into the past with their audacious debut, By Grand Central Station.
Both Peters and Keenan bring different artistic perspectives to the table, having each composed music in the more traditional sense, but also for stage productions of A Winter’s Tale and Richard II. The avant-chamber-pop album contains songs that were inspired by Canadian writer and poet Elizabeth Smart’s 1945 novel By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, a work that has been touted as “one of the half-dozen masterpieces of poetic prose in the world.” In doing so, the duo creates a bridge by which we can take a stroll back in time and experience the story told by Smart in a new way. By Grand Central Station is beautifully crafted, and its orchestral overtones flood the album. In some respects, Heavy Bell took a similar storytelling approach as Neutral Milk Hotel did on 1998’s In The Aeroplane Over the Sea.
Smart’s novel is considered to be a pseudo-fictional autobiography in which she recounts her turbulent love affair with writer George Barker. In their music, Peters and Keenan draw from the book’s highs and lows, the ecstasies and calamities associated with complicated love stories.
“The novel is a poem written in prose form,” Peters explains. “Rather than describing action, she describes her internal response to action; it is a journey through the emotional extremes of a love affair: anticipation, exhilaration, guilt, joy, jealousy, grief, pity, righteousness… But though she is tossed around on the sea of her emotions, her dazzling intellect remains intact: in fact she is constantly examining her emotions even as she experiences them.”
“She weighs her experience against the whole of poetic history: the book is full of reflections on the Bible, Shakespeare, Greek mythology, and more recent writers. It is a very rich read: every time I come back to it, each chapter strikes me in new ways,” said Peters.
“There is no specific structure to the songs, or the album for that matter. The passages that are included create an impressionistic composite that layers and weaves with the music, guiding the direction of By Grand Central Station as a whole. The emotion embedded in Smart’s story is what guided her book, and is the connective tissue that guides the direction of the album. In fact, Elizabeth Smart’s own voice appears in the songs “The Pain Was Unbearable” and “I Am Not The Ease,” which was retrieved from a 1982 archival recording from CBC’s Morningside,” added Peters.
“We are certainly not trying to summarize the plot, or adapt the novel to music,” Peters clarifies. “The album is a collection of responses to moments in the book. There are several themes that struck us and made it into the record. Fate is a big one: she is constantly aware that her deed is going to (and does) wreak havoc on herself and everyone around her, spilling “poisonous tides of blood,” but she is helpless to stop it.”
“It is greater than she, greater than pity, greater than remorse: her ultimate moral duty is to this Fact of love; ‘Jupiter has been with Leda… and now nothing can avert the Trojan Wars.’ This theme resounds through all the emotional extremes of the book and the album. Love is “claiming its birth at last” and changing her entire world forever.”
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.
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.
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.
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.