The Famines are a Montreal-based noise garage music duo made up of Raymond Biesinger (who also happens to be an incredible illustrator) and Drew Demers. But they are not just a band, the duo is also a “DIY-minded experimental record label thing” called Pentagon Black.
In early 2016 Pentagon Black released it’s first compilation containing 23 unreleased songs from bands from across the country as a 20×30″ double-sided newsprint art poster with download code. They had 17 compilation release shows including 30 bands at various locations across the country for it. In April 2017, they did it again with compilation number 2, once again on 20×30″ double-sided newsprint art poster with a download code.
Pentagon Black are back with another compilation, and while they stayed true to their other compilations, they changed it up a little. Pentagon Black Compilation No. 3 is a “phone comp.” It is named as such as 16 diverse bands between Edmonton and Saint John recorded original unreleased tracks live via phone (no multi tracking allowed). This time they went with a smaller format of a 6X6″ postcard with download code.
Eric took some time to discuss with drummer Drew Demers about being a band and being a record label, as well as the story behind the compilation and the inclusion of bands from Ottawa.
Interview with Drew Demers of The Famines/Pentagon Black
What inspired/motivated the two of you to not only be a band but be a label?
Drew Demers: After releasing music on vinyl for the better part of a decade, we realized that it was becoming increasingly difficult to manage/produce. Turn-around times don’t work in anyone’s favor. We were sitting on a recorded full length and didn’t want to have to wait an additional 4 or 5 months just to get a test pressing back. On top of that, the cost was just too great for us to be enthused about it anymore, so we decided that we would just produce things as cheaply and quickly as we could on our own.
[…] we weren’t really trying to establish anything specific. We are a punk band, and so we typically play with like-sounding artists.
Subsequently what pushed you to put out these trans-Canadian compilations?
Drew Demers: We had already released a single and a record on the newsprint poster format, the latter as Pentagon Black and the former in partnership with Psychic Handshake in Montreal. We were discussing what to do next, and the idea started as a split record with The Famines on one side, and then another band on the other. The problem was, we were at odds over whether it was going to be Century Palm or Kappa Chow. We played a show with a ton of pals at this crazy fest called Strangewaves outside of Hamilton.
The lineup included a ton of bands that ended up on the first compilation, and it was beautiful because there was hardly anybody at the show outside of band members. We all just got up and played for each other and there was this sense of communal spirit behind everything. It took us maybe one day to realize that we needed to make something bigger and connect more scenes together, and the first compilation was born out of that notion. BTW, the lineup for that show: Strange Attractor, The Famines, TV Freaks, Mick Futures, Century Palm, Kappa Chow, Lizzie Boredom, and Flesh Rag.
How did you select the bands and decide how you wanted the first two to sound?
Drew Demers: The first compilation was an amalgamation of friends we’d made on tour. There really weren’t that many artists we didn’t personally know on the thing. The second time around, we wanted to focus on hitting specific zones we hadn’t traveled to in a while, and so we enlisted some close friends to give us suggestions on who we should talk to that might be interested in a project such as ours. There are a small handful of people involved in the second compilation we’ve actually never met.
In terms of the sound that we were going for, we weren’t really trying to establish anything specific. We are a punk band, and so we typically play with like-sounding artists. There is an obvious tonal undercurrent that runs through all three of the compilations, but there are significant departures happening on each of them as well.
What makes this third compilation special?
Drew Demers: This third compilation is all about spirit. The songs are rough, in many cases unfinished, and in all cases under-produced. It’s exciting to think that sonically it’s an even playing-ground for each of the tracks. For the most part, it sounds like all the bands recorded in basically the same room with the same gear. It’s also special because it’s the first time we’ve outsourced the art side of things. Historically Raymond has taken care of the art side of Pentagon Black/The Famines, but this time we placed the project in the esteemed hands of Lisa Czech. We explained the project to her and she absolutely nailed the chaos with her cover art.
This has been our most inexpensive and rapid turnover for a compilation. The postcards cost basically nothing to print, and all of the bands recorded their tracks in a three week time frame. Also of note – this one was released not too long after our second compilation, and it came out as a surprise. We were originally planning on dropping it the day of our showcase at Ottawa Explosion, but instead we just decided to jump the gun because we felt like it this week, and a project like this allows us the freedom to do that.
I am excited to see Ottawa bands on all three comps, what drew you to the Ottawa bands you selected ?
Drew Demers: We have a ton of respect and admiration for The Yips, and knew that we couldn’t release our first comp without them involved. Bonnie Doon are officially Pentagon Black royalty. They were on the first two comps, and played both the compilation releases with us in Montreal. Deathsticks are actually fairly new acquaintances of ours, but we feel connected by the sisterhood of two piece bands. They were suggested to us via our pal Karol aka garbageface in Peterborough. We can’t wait to play with them and hang out with them in Ottawa next weekend!
If you track Raymond or myself down in person, we can become pen pals and send you a postcard.
If you’re a little more adventurous, you can head to a show in your town featuring any of the 48 bands we’ve worked with and ask them very kindly to dig one out for you.
What do The Famines and Pentagon Black have planned next?
Drew Demers: Famines have a couple things up our sleeves, including but not limited to writing material for a full length album to come out under Pentagon Black sometime in the next decade. Ottawa Explosion is actually the only show we have booked right now, and it’s exciting facing a blank canvas. As for Pentagon Black, we intend to keep things fast and easy. After releasing the PRIORS record, we realized that we’re open to the idea of putting out music for other bands and want to move forward with that in the future, however that will work.
T. Thomason is zipping through Ottawa tonight, and we thought we’d kick off a new interview series called Quick Fix. Yes, it is exactly as it sounds. We shoot a few quick questions at an artist touring through Ottawa and get a sense of what they’re up to. No strings attached. Get your quick fix with T. Thomason below.
Be sure to catch T. Thomason at House of TARG tonight along with Cameron, Alanna Sterling, and Mosely. Doors are at 8 pm and cover is $10. More information here.
Quick Fix with T. Thomason
Lyrically, what does your music speak about? What drives the themes of your songs?
My music is greatly inspired by the personal relationships in my life. Issues of human connection and trying to understand/empathize with others drives a lot of my writing. More and more these days I’ve found bits of the state of the world and political issues creeping into my every day thoughts (as I’m sure a lot of people are finding) and that has rubbed off on my writing. I’m also inspired by the artists I listen to regularly: Lana Del Rey, the Killers, Bob Dylan, Cherry Glazerr, Drake.
All those folks have inspired my lyrically or sonically and I’m always looking for new bands to obsess over.
What is one (or a few) live performance that stick out in your mind? Do you have specific memories that made you want to hit the stage yourself?
I remember knowing I wanted to do music forever when I was about 13. My dad was running a theatre company and put on a fundraiser that was a Bob Dylan tribute. I remember going on for the encore with everyone who had played, seeing the audience standing and clapping, everyone singing along to “You Ain’t Goin Nowhere”. It was awe inspiring and I remember going home and writing in my live journal (lol – remember that?) that I knew what I wanted to do.
What’s next for you in your musical endeavours?
I currently working on 2 follow up EPs with Dave Henriques who produced sweet baby, to complete the trio. I have some big dreams for the live show to tour those projects which I’m really excited about. Thankful for my theatre kid upbringing and planning to bring some of that to the stage soon 😉
If you were to delve into Graven’s most recent record Jaybird, you might find yourself feeling a sense of nostalgia. Graven is the ongoing alt-country/folk project of Matt McKechnie, a long-time musician, journalist, videographer… and whatever else it is he is really good at. He is supported by his band, The Dirty Hustle, who added some gritty layers and rounded out a lot of the songs on Jaybird. We walk the finely woven web of McKechnie’s memories and musings, reflections that translated into a concept for an album. Jaybird is the culmination of those efforts, and it’s a finely composed collection of folk songs that range from the delicate and solitary to the hopeful and anthemic. There is a search for meaning that lingers throughout, which is hinged to the impetus of this album – the transient nature of moments, the inescapable reality that all things in life are impermanent. The bird flies through one’s field of view long enough to create a snapshot in time, if only in the mind, and then it’s gone.
McKechnie’s stories are true Canadiana – those of longing, connection to the wild, solitude, and the ties that bind. The first track, “All Roads,” is a shackle-breaking start to the record which would be most suitable on a cross-country drive soundtrack. This energy and spirit continues through tracks such as “Edmonton Eyes”, “Big Lake, Sky Summer,” and “In The Woods of Me” which offer irresistible guitar twangs and steady, driving percussion as the heartbeat of the album.
The last half of the album’s energy takes a turn, toning things down and bringing the listener in close. “O Little Plum” is a brief yet heart-warming ode to a newborn child, taking pause to appreciate the beauty of bringing a life into the world in spite of all its cruelties and hardships. As McKechnie takes us to the end with “Lone,” we’re left to reflect on his words and compositions. That’s how this album hooks you – it is pensive and raw, untethered from the harnesses emotional apprehension. That is the power of a good song, or in this case, a good album. It draws the listener in and takes them on a journey through it all.
I spoke with McKechnie around the time of Jaybird’s release in April. Be sure listen to the album stream below and catch Graven at The Black Sheep Inn on June 15 supporting Slow Leaves and Colleen Brown. Tickets and information here.
Interview with Matt McKechnie of Graven
How did you get into music? What drove you to start making your own music and performing?
I started making music in my teens and played in various basement grunge and alt-rock bands with a rotating chorus of friends like Jeff Dixon, Brian Macdonald, Mark Richardson, and many more. But I was always a background player and never wrote much original stuff – and I wasn’t really that good at bass or guitar in my teens. I could slide my fingers around and hit good notes (most of the time).
I stuck with guitar, though, and eventually, after playing somewhat seriously with a band in the Kitchener/Waterloo area (after going to school at Guelph), I was getting into my early twenties and coming up with song ideas of my own. I was always fascinated with words and poetry at a young age, and I went to university for English, so I kept using words like weapons. They could help me describe what I was feeling or thinking at the time, but mostly, I wanted to be Billy Corgan. He was one of my songwriting/musical idols for many years.
Tell me a bit about your life growing up
My background is pretty normal, really. Born in Nepean. I grew up in a white, Christian family in Trend Arlington. I spent a lot of time playing Atari, and biking around my neighbourhood with baseball cards in my spokes while taking trips to Macs Milk on Greenbank, and to the Leslie Park pavilion for lik-a-maid and big league chew. My next door neighbour and best friend Bri had a swimming pool. I pretty much had it made.
How has your music and approach to making music changed over the years?
I think my approach to music has basically stayed the same. I really just like working on the songs and getting better and almost having no agenda. I have a lot of music that I like and love and there are many songs that have wowed or moved me. At some point, in my late teens or twenties, I remember thinking that I wanted to get songs out into the world, too – just to see what would happen if people beyond my family and friends could hear them. But I’ve never been on any carved or shaped road, in terms of a success plan with music. I just really want to keep getting better at writing songs. How did you get together with your band The Dirty Hustle? The Dirty Hustle were all mutual friends from the Kemptville area who played in another friend’s band called Brad Sucks. Brad is mostly a successful solo artist with a huge online following, but when he plays live, they are the backbone of the sound. Ben Mullin (the guitarist) and I became friends, and he started playing guitar with me in a duo setting at some fun shows. Eventually we started jamming with Steve Gaw (bass) and Justin Purvis (drums) in Steve’s rock n’roll lair of a basement, and it all seemed to work.
Have you toured extensively?
I have toured across Canada on a few occasions. I toured once as a solo songwriter with two old camp friends (JD Edwards and Trish Jamieson), and two other times as Ali McCormick’s side-guitarist and vocalist. The road is the real-life epic journey of being a songwriter and a performer. If there’s any way to push you out of you comfort zone, touring is the real test of your mettle. You meet some weird and amazing and beautiful people on the road, and you learn to appreciate your home a lot more. You also learn to enjoy playing to a room of three people who are really listening to your songs, or a room of 200 loud, brawling drinking Calgarians. It’s all part of the story.
I don’t plan on touring anywhere until my three and a bit month old daughter is a wee bit more grown up. I’m currently looking more into building into my Ottawa community, and supporting other songwriters and creators in the area.
What’s the story behind Jaybird?
The album that loomed weightily in my mind, consciousness, soul and in the dusty sound-hole of my Sigma for almost two and a half years is finally ready for public consumption. These songs are about a very specific period in my life, and for nearly a year, I struggled with my desire to even make this album happen. Many of the songs were based on a concept that was linked to real life.
In the spring of 2013, I traveled alongside Matt Mays and his band for a few shows to film some social media videos. After 3 shows in southern Ontario, I headed back to work for my dad’s accounting company in Ottawa, and the band headed west to Alberta. 4 days after I left the band, Jay Smith (a guitarist and epicentre of the group) was found dead in his hotel room in Edmonton, Alberta. It was hard to know what to think or feel, and many of musical friends from Halifax and the greater music community were shredded. But I sort of went through that process as an outsider – as I only knew Jay for a couple of days, and we only had one real conversation about a mutual east coast friend.
In that short time, though, I saw that he affected many people in a heavy sense. It was shortly after this happened that I also separated from my ex-wife, and knew that my life needed some massive changes. And so, in the upheaval of such a mass-traumatic event, I was enduring personal traumas of my own. People seemed to be dying all around me. A great friend of my brother’s passed away that summer from cancer, along with my friend Dan’s father, and a kind man and accountant from my dad’s company. The songs of Jaybird aren’t really about Jay or any specific person – although that event is a flashpoint for the theme of the album.
In 2015, my friend Paul Myers (a longtime journalist and musician) posted a photo that he took with an iPhone app in Singapore. The photo is of a bird flying away from him, as he views it from behind – and I realized that Jaybird was about that very momentary idea. People can bring such colour and beauty and brilliance and power and creativity and inspiration and laughter and love to our lives – and in another instant, they can be gone. I started to see this truth also become evident in the seasonal nature of friendships, and how the good ones will last through storms – but the ones that weren’t very rooted or worth much weight can dissipate in the smallest spring shower. But despite the deluge, Jaybird is ready to be let out of doors from its dark, cabin basement dwelling to see the unrelenting and hopeful light of day.
15 songs were first tracked by Tom Brown and Steve Gaw in August on 2015 in Steve Gaw’s basement. Tom captured a great overall sound for the beginning of the record, and Steve recorded one of the most sonorous tracks of the record with two microphones on one take. And after this pivotal point of making the first dent, I began to see another bird – one that was flying to me. After many years of searching and waiting, I found Jillian in the fall of 2015 (October), and we clicked instantaneously and started a beautiful love relationship. And in the spring of 2016 (May), our daughter Sloan started winging her way into the world and joined us on December 24, 2016.
The song “O Little Plum” is the spark of new things amidst the sorrow, and a breaking point in a long night. My super-talented band (The Dirty Hustle) definitely added master strokes to this record. Steve Gaw (bass, keys) and Justin Purvis (drums) played on nearly half the tunes, and Ben Mullin (guitar) was able to get on one, but in the end, I ended up rounding out the majority of this work on my own. My old camp friend Jason Germain (of Jason Germain Mastering in Nashville, TN) added some incredibly skillful fine-tune brush strokes to the main meat and edges of the sound, and he really put forth a powerhouse effort to get these songs finished. I hope you find some solace in Jaybird, or at least a tiny awakening. It did that for me. May it find you well – wherever you are.
When you put on the first song on Jenn Grant’s latest album, Paradise, you immediately know it’s different from her past work. The listener is greeted by trance-inducing percussion that stimulates sensory inputs – a feeling that continues the whole way through the album.
Jenn Grant was born in Charlottetown, P.E.I., but currently resides in Lake Echo, NS. She has become renowned internationally as a successful folk-singer. Recognized for her highly acclaimed album, Compostela, she has created a name for herself as a Juno-nominated Canadian artist, and this album follows suit.*
The unique sound of Paradise started with the chosen core instrument. This is the first album on which Jenn chose to play the piano. With the help of her husband, she then paired that base with synths, bits of soul, and electronics to build the majority of the sounds. This combination was also paired with a heavier percussion than in previous albums, which, with her vocals, created a powerful fusion of sound that fully immerses the listener. When asked about these fundamental differences between her albums, she put it very simply:
“The colours of this album are different.”
The majority of inspiration didn’t come from something, but rather the lack of something – the empty spaces found in music over the last year or so. Major loses include the likes of David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen, just to name a few. They were all powerful forces in their own right within the industry, and have all had an impact on Jenn and her music over the years. Coming through lucid dreams, Jenn looked through her connections in the music community to form the vivid new colours that can be found on the album.
Curious about her ability to have full memories of these dreams, I inquired about how this was possible. She explained the dream she had inspiring the song Rocket, sharing that the night after David Bowie died she found herself flying through space with him.
Straighten your tie at the end of a golden road, thank you for coming by. Looking sharp, I saw your face and thought, my god, is this good bye?
…let us not pretend now, that we’ve got all the answers.
It was on this journey that he told her she should embrace her gifts. Though she only recently started to keep a notebook by her bed again, Jenn explained that vivid dreams like this one leave a lasting impact. They are hard to forget, although she decided to start documenting the special ones from here on.
Growing up on the East Coast impacted Jenn as a person, which subsequently impacted her music. Finding a tight-knit group of local artists created a “special bond” for all of them. All having a unique perspective on music and touring, they support each other through the process. To her, it’s a group of likeminded artists sharing a life.
As for Jenn’s plans for Ottawa, she says the show will be more fun, highlighting her new material. She has always liked playing in the city, which became evident last week when she surprised Black Squirrel Books with a pop-in show alongside CBC’s All in a Day host Alan Neal. Each show Jenn plays is different.
Her show on March 25th at the NAC will be different for a lot of reasons, including performing in a larger room and having a bigger sound than previous shows. She promises that it will be dynamic. There will be new stuff, bits of old stuff, and of course lots of love. Pricing and ticket information for the NAC show can be found here.
Jenn’s Song I Wish I Wrote But Didn’t – I Think We’re Alone Now by Tiffany.
Century Palm will take you on a time warp and are happen to be swinging into town this week.
Century Palm was initially formed by vocalist/guitarist Andrew Payne in 2014 following the dissolution of garage-rock cult favourites, Ketamines. Ketamines featured 3/4ths of the eventual members of Century Palm (Paul Lawton, Penny Clark, Jesse Locke and Payne). Members also play(ed) in Tough Age, Zebrassieres and Dirty Beaches. Needless to say this talented group has a pretty impressive resume.
The band has certainly moved well beyond the garage sound of their past bands. Century Palm will take you back 20 or 30 years with new wave and post-punk musical styling that many like me have missed dearly.
Ahead of their show at House of Targ Saturday night, we chatted with the band about their evolution from Ketamines to Century Palm and their retro sound. Have a read below and travel back in time Saturday night (info here).
Beyond the different sound, what is the major difference between Ketamines and Century Palm?
Paul Lawton: Ketamines was a studio project with a rotating cast of players, Century Palm has always felt more like a hard-slogging band. Ketamines as a collab between myself and James Leroy, who I had been making music with since the 90s. Century Palm is (more or less) more of a collaboration between an entire band, it is a great deal more collaborative than Ketamines ever was.
Andrew Payne: Although I played in Ketamines for a year I didn’t write any music for the band. For me, Century Palm is a continuation of my last songwriting project, Zebrassieres, which was based in Ottawa when I lived there from 2009 to 2012. The main goal of Zebrassieres was to make people question the need to be serious, logical and mature. With Century Palm, I’m taking a stab at being serious, logical and mature. Both paths are valid ways to approach life.
Often when bands breakup, they get back together for high paying reunion gigs, not form another band with many of the same members. What brought you together to make music again?
Paul: I think that Ketamines might come back around at some point. It’s confusing – the version of Ketamines with myself, Andrew, Jesse and Alex dissolved after a stupid and highly charged cross Canada tour where we were doing Ketamines AND Zebrassieres with the same lineup. Andrew basically quit on a 30 hour drive home from Chicago to Toronto, I think that tour kind of broke us. Ketamines went on with Jesse on drums, and then Andrew formed Century Palm, and we basically all got back together again, without me as the ruthless uncaring leader, and it was instantly kind of better.
Andrew: The people are all great, I just wanted to make my own music and do something different than before.
Getting back to the sound, Century Palm sounds like something from the last century, more of a late 70s and 80s vibe to it. How did that come to be?
Andrew: I like the sweet spot in there when punk-influenced-bands were getting more creative, and right before a lot of those same bands started losing their edge. It was a time when everything was more bold, dark and stylish than the present. The fashion was distinctive and daring. The movies were full of slime, and actors would say, “Shut up, pukoid.”
Paul: I think we are victims of “overdocumentation” as Simon Reynolds says in Retromania. When I started playing in hardcore bands, we were basically influenced by whichever 7”s we could get in distros, or from the back of MRR or whatever HeartattaCk was into, but then filesharing just made musical eras and genre distinctions obsolete. In our van we are as likely to listen to WIRE as we are anything modern.
I heard recording this album was a lengthy process? Can you speak about the road from your last EP to your debut LP Meet You?
Paul: We recorded our first two EPs at Royal Mountain Studios with Nyles Miszczyk, roughly about a year apart – 2014 and then 2015. I was personally super happy with how it turned out. Then we moved into a real studio on the East End that we were sharing with U.S. Girls and Slim Twig, and I still had all my recording gear from when I ran Mammoth Cave Recording Co., so we just decided to take our time. Mixing was making me crazy, so we offloaded our mixing to Mint Records superstar Jay Arner, and so that allowed me to focus on crafting vibes.
We re-recorded most of the songs a few times until we were happy with it. I probably spent 1000 hours in there making sonic layers with everyone. It was fun, but we already have a second LP worth of songs and we moved out of that studio, so that will force us to go back to a real studio. I personally loved working with Nyles so we might try and make that happen again.
I like both singles, “King of John St” and “Then You’re Gone” for very different reasons, but “Then You’re Gone” really jumps out at me and shines on the album. Could you tell me a little bit about the song please?
Andrew: Then You’re Gone is about that moment you find out a friend, or anyone close, has passed away. It captures that helpless, spacey feeling where all you can do is question life while the reality of the news sinks in. When Penny’s synth solo kicks in, it takes me away to another dimension, which is a perfect response to the song.
You have played Ottawa a few times before, what is one or some of your favourite memories of playing the nation’s capital?
Penny Clark: My favourite time was at Ottawa Explosion where we got to play that super hot cave bar and it ruled.
Paul: We just like playing to a city of people that actually care about supporting bands and dancing and going off.
For people who have never seen you live before, what should they expect at House of TARG?
Andrew: They can expect to see new songs newer than our new album.
Jesse Locke: TARG has an amazing collection of pinball machines and my personal favourite game, Ice Cold Beer. Try the dessert pierogies too!
We caught up with Jordan Craig, the lead singer and guitarist ONFIILM ahead of their show this week. We had a great chat about the band, their sound, their live show and much more. Check it out:
I know you don’t like using a genre to describe ONFILM’s sound, I also hate genres but sort of get stuck with them as a writer. Can you please describe your band’s sound without defaulting to genres?
J: The band’s sound to me is a mix of all the madness, sadness, vulnerability and other exotic feelings that I feel when I’ m at home. All of our music is written and recorded right here. My best friends, and the most talented people I know are in the band, and we share a common love for sound and light. We are all in love with beautiful delicate tones, juxtaposed against pulverizing beats and mad, mad guitars. Colin Wolfson’s lead guitar is genius level, really bringing the sparkling intergalactic feel. Ryan Farrell holds down the bass without over complicating, and is always mesmerizing. I like to give the rhythm and chords (The fewer the better!) a chance to breathe, and enchant the listener just before we close the hatch and blast off. We take them to space, then bring them back home again.
How would you best describe how that sound translates live?
J: Every piece of the live show is designed to take the audience into our world. Maybe more specifically my world. It ’s pretty much a recreation of my life and what’s going on in my head. An expression of personal freedom. I want to show everyone through our video, music and dancing that whatever or whoever they are can be pushed to the limit. Our dancers interpret the music, while our glitch videos play over us and our instruments. The superimposed glitches break us apart, scramble us. It’s crazy.
Love the sound of the video/visual addition. Where did the idea come from?
J: It was a pretty natural thing for me to add visuals to our stage show. I’ve been a pro photographer for 15 years, and I’m from a family of visual artists. I first became enamoured with glitch video when I saw a movie called “Until the end of the world” by Wim Wenders. In this movie they record peoples dreams, and the result was beautiful. Wim Wenders is also an accomplished photographer, and I’ve always been interested in his methods. The other inspiration was the cover art for Renegade Soundwave’s album “Sound Clash.” A sexy figure with a whip, probably shot on a tv screen. That image is never far from my mind.
Who are the dancers? Are they at every show? What do you think they add?
J: The dancers are currently Tess Giberson and Zoë Menne. We are super lucky to have them at pretty much every show, although sometimes we have other dancers when we are on the road, or if one of them can’t make it. For instance, Tess was arrested for working at a marijuana dispensary and pointlessly thrown in jail on the night of our gig a few months ago. They are a wonderful and kind person, and it was shocking and horrible that they were treated this way. Zoë is an unbelievably talented visual artist in their own right, and I’m actually a big fan. Back when the band first started, I didn’t even have a drummer or bass player, so I felt that I needed more movement onstage. They worked out so well that I’ve kept that aspect of the show going even now that ONFIILM is a full band.
In your band’s bio you are listed as “a doctor of divinity,” care to explain?
J: Yes, I have an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the Universal Life Church in Medesto, California. I am an Atheist, and I believe that everyone’s beliefs are just as valid as anyone else’s, as long as they don’t impose on others. I use this bit of paper to illustrate the absurdity of the whole idea of organized religion. Dr. Hunter S. Thompson had a Doctorate from the same place, so I’m in good company. ONFIILM and our fans are the Congregation, and our live show is the service. We are also federal tax exempt in the United States.
Very interesting. I also see you list two drummers, do you ever have two live?
J: Yes, ONFIILM is fortunate to have two ridiculously talented drummers, but not both on stage at the same time. Wes Leigh is our main drummer, but when he is not available Matt Sobb kindly fills in for him. They both have very different playing styles and bring more to the table than I could have imagined. Matt also plays in the Juno award winning band MonkeyJunk. I’m very proud to be working with both of these drummers, as they are both very accomplished dedicated musicians.
If so, how does that play out and what do the sound techs think? If not, why not?
J: It has certainly crossed my mind. I’m a big fan of the Allman Brothers, so two drummers is something that is not out of the question for me in the future. RIP Butch Trucks. Actually, the live sound engineer from the Allman Brothers Band came to the studio for a visit a few months ago. Got some really good live sound tips!
What do you know about the venue you are playing, The Dominion Tavern?
J: When you first walk into the Dominion Tavern, look up towards the ceiling, you’ll notice the bashed up mangled side of an old stock car. I was actually at the speedway that day long ago, and watched the damn thing race. A guy named Stu, who used to work there was driving. It was like a rolling version of the Dominion Tavern. A bit louder, and bit rougher than the other cars. Didn’t win the race, but had the best crowd.
Anything else you would like to add?
J: We are super excited that ONFIILM’s music is being used in an upcoming documentary series by VICE called “FUNNY: HOW?” . It’s a series about different comedy scenes around the world. Not much more I can say about it yet, as I don’t want to give anything else away. VICE has been great to work with, and they really understand ONFIILM’s feel, and leave us to our own devices to come up with music. We will make the songs for this series available for fans to download after it has aired.
We also working on our full length LP coming out later this year. I’d like to thank everyone involved in ONFIILM, and it’s a thrill to experiment every day.
Catch ONFIILM this Wednesday night at the Dominion Tavern as they open for the most excellent Heat from Montreal, info here.
I had the chance to speak with Mo Kenney about her upcoming show at the Gladstone Theatre on January 9. Sharing common ground with the Nova Scotian musician, we were able to talk about favorite aspects of Downtown Dartmouth and what it was like growing up in the Nova Scotian music industry.
Kenney’s most recent album In My Dreams has a different feel then her previous album. Her first album was more acoustic, and Mo did most of her touring solo. With this second album, she began touring with the full band, giving the whole album a full sound when performing live. Meeting local musician and producer, Joel Plaskett in her late teens has allowed her to produce her music and new album locally within Downtown Dartmouth. Writing everything in Dartmouth along with living up the street from the recording studio made it easy to keep her sound locally inspired. “I live like right up the street and Joel lives like a couple blocks away, and it makes it super convenient…” It also gave her the chance to support her favorite local shops while recording, like The Canteen on Ochterloney Street.
East Coast music is often assumed to have a Celtic feel, often supported with Scottish undertones. Mo Kenney does not hold a traditional east coast sound. Though she maintains her east coast roots in her music, Kenney’s latest sound has a much bigger rock-inspired sound. Her last pass through Ottawa was supporting Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, and Northcote who played the Bronson Centre last spring.
Currently, Mo Kenney is working on her third album with the local label, New Scotland Yard. Her show on January 9th put on by Ottawa Music Bus is being held at Gladstone Theatre. Mo Kenney will be playing with her full band so we can expect a night of full sound alongside special guest Shadowhand. Tickets are $25 and doors will open at 7pm. You can find additional information about the show here.
Bonus: When asked what song she didn’t write but wish she had, Mo said Five Years by David Bowie, which she has covered at shows in the past.
Imagine a world in which technological advances have overtaken our humanity, leaving us plugged into another reality and disconnected to the world as we know it. Narcissism controls our actions, driven by the need to project a better, more perfect image of ourselves in this dark new digital reality.
This may sound like a science fiction story to you, but Toronto’s Odonis Odonis‘ insist that this future is very real and very imminent on their new album Post Plague (Telephone Explosion). Our new advanced “digital age” was meant to bring us closer together, as tools such as social media, immersive gaming, and virtual reality offer new ways for us to connect to one another and experience new frontiers. However, the opposite may actually be true, as this age is increasingly pulling us into our screens and imposing pixilated blinders on us that separates our consciousness from that of the physical world. Pretty scary stuff, eh?
Odonis Odonis isn’t one of those bands that settles. Their continuous shift in style and sound may seem incongruent with the music industry, which as we know is full of stagnant and formulaic pop bands that pretty much all sound the same. However, Dean Tzenos and his band have different ideas about their music, their performances, and their overall approach to creativity and art altogether. Back in 2010, you might have pigeon-holed them as a surf-rock band, but Odonis Odonis has since fused together rock, industrial, punk, electronic, and more and consistently push themselves sonically, breaking new ground. If there’s a few things that we love about Odonis Odonis that haven’t changed, it’s their dark, aggressive, and unbounded approach to music.
I spoke with Dean recently about the theme behind Post Plague and what that might mean for us humans moving forward. Be sure to check out the brand new video for “Needs” below, directed by Scott Cudmore. Odonis Odonis plays House of Targ on Thursday, August 25. $10 / 9pm / 19+.
Interview with Dean Tzenos of Odonis Odonis
Post Plague has an urgency to it that to me reminded me of hearing Trent Reznor for the first time. It kind of hits you in the face. Did you have an idea of how you wanted the record to sound initially? Or did you let the theme guide how the music was produced?
It kind of took a while for it to make sense and there was a lot of trial and error. We knew we wanted to go in a different direction, but we weren’t 100% sure what that was. I grew up listening to a lot of industrial music and I wanted to incorporate some of that onto this record. No one has really done it the way I’d like to hear it in a long time, going back to industrial’s earlier roots and updating the sound. We even tried to let some dark electronic and techno seep in, and electronic production as well. It took a while to fully form what we were trying to create. We were also trying to be minimal, but I’m not sure it came off that way in the end [laughs].
This album sounds different that your previous releases. As musicians, how important is it for you to continuously push the envelope and evolve your sound or approach?
I feel like that’s the only reason for us to be around at this point. The thing I find really exciting is when you find new ground and do something different. The way the music industry is now, I mean we’re not trying to be some kind of pop band, so we can keep doing new things and finding new territory to explore. Personal growth is what we get off on. We’ve already finished the next record, too, and are already working on the one after that. It really is our band’s goal to keep moving forward. I think when we stop pushing ourselves is when we’ll quit.
How have fans reacted to your change in direction?
For the most part it’s really positive. I think we’ve probably alienated some of our older fans for sure, but most people come to our shows and really love the experience. A lot of bands play it safe and I’m not sure why you’d need to that any more. Music should be liberating, not some cookie-cutter mould. At our shows people are really accepting and love what we’re playing, and sure some might be disappointed that we’re not playing as much of our older stuff, but we did for four or five years. We might play those songs once in a while for nostalgia’s sake but we’re just excited to be expanding our fan base.
Science fiction is often concerned with technology going overboard and one day coming back bite humanity in the ass. But Post Plague is based in reality. Can you discuss how that is?
I think we lose our personal connection between each other with modern technology, and it’s under the guise of bringing each other closer together. Don’t get me wrong, I love this stuff and I use it, but we’re giving something up to gain something else. Learning more about VR and advances in technology like that, it’s really like a lot of us are living in a fake world. We just dropped a video that uses VR, and it’s so strange to think that so many people growing up now have their video games, porn, everything they want right in front of their faces in their basement. We’re not going to know this affects everyone for a while. Look how quickly social media has taken over, too. In just five years I have seen a major shift in how people interact on personal levels and I think we can agree that social media and our devices has something to do with that.
One idea that struck me was this concept of “Flawed Flesh” – which looks at humanity’s narcissistic tendencies and how technology exacerbates this to the extreme. Can you elaborate on this, and how it fits into the album’s theme as a whole?
Yeah, totally. Songs like “Nervous” talk about that completely. You’ll see a selfie with 100 likes and so many comments of “approval” – I mean, is that real? Fishing for compliments and presenting themselves on these social media platforms, these people aren’t really showing who they are. This is just the tip of the iceberg, too. If you start thinking about VR, creating avatars, or artificial intelligence once the technology gets there, I just see our society getting more narcissistic moving forward.
I see that reflected in music too, in DJ culture. I’m not trying to shit on it altogether, and I don’t have any serious beef or anything, either. But DJ culture is all about the crowd, providing them with whatever they want. It’s kind of what we’re talking about on our album.
You’ve toyed with virtual reality (VR) and offered something different for people to experience your music. Do you have an idea of how you’d like listeners to consume this album?
I think it’s such a new medium, it’s hard to say. They tried to do this in the 80’s and 90’s, but never to the degree they’re doing VR today. I think it’s here to stay. It’s really creepy, actually, tricking your senses completely into thinking you’re immersed in this different world. This is only 1st generation VR technology too, the graphics are going to be even better and fully immersive. You could spend hours and hours in that world and feel like you’re living it. Going from one perspective in VR to another is really jarring for our brain, and I’m totally blown away by the potential of it.
From an artistic standpoint, the possibilities are pretty cool. For something like VR, no one really knows how it will be used yet. I make music, but I’m also involved in film and it’s exciting because it’s a whole new platform that no one has really figured out yet. We’re fusing the VR technology with the music, it’s exciting as much as it is terrifying [laughs].
Do you have any tricks up your sleeve for the live performance? What can people expect if they’ve never seen Odonis Odonis before?
It’s a pretty intense and visceral experience. As much as we change from record to record, we change our live shows too. We really get bored quick, so depending on when you’ve seen us, you’re usually guaranteed to be in for something different the next time around. If you’re expecting a regular rock band, we’re not into that. Sometimes we’ll throw back and play parts of sets like we used to, but normally we just keep trying to give people something new to experience.
After months of anticipation the show of the summer finally arrived! On July 30th, Casual Hex organized a spectacular show, featuring some big headliners. On the bill was Ottawa band Herons Wake, Canadian singer-songwriter Nicole Dollanganger, and American indie superstar Alex G. Knowing that the show could easily sell out, I bought my tickets in advance to assure I got a spot to see these bands perform. I wasn’t wrong! One third of the tickets had been sold before the date of the actual event. Gabba Hey!, the location of the show, hit capacity by the second set. Here’s how the night played out.
Local dream pop band Herons Wake was first up on the bill. The crowd swayed and bopped their heads as the band created an intricate framework of guitar notes and sung melodies. Throughout the set I saw people’s smiles widening as the set begun to pick up the pace more and more after each song. At one point, around the second last song, the lead singer announced that he’ll be playing the next track solo. He sang a heartfelt melody that set up an intimate atmosphere. The crowd hushed in silence to appreciate every word sung by the man. Afterwards, the Herons Wake ended with one of their most energetic songs, that grew louder and louder until it flew into an orchestra of guitar reverb, vocals, and loud drumming. They played a great set, and if you don’t believe me, check out their recorded music on bandcamp.
Straying from her soft angelic sound, Nicole Dollanganger stole the show with her music. The crowd grew in numbers, and the show was completely sold out at this point. The first I had heard of Nicole was her 2013 album Ode to Dawn Wiener: Embarrassing Love Songs, and I got quite the surprise at her set! Nicole sang heavenly songs back by heavy music from her bassist, guitar player, and drummer – much different from a shy doll-like sounding girl singing about falling in love at the True Love Cafe. Regardless of how different she sounded to me onstage, I truly appreciated her set. It was a unique show and I was sad to hear that this would be the last show they’d play with Alex G.
Finally, the much anticipated Alex G took the stage. Alex Giannascoli, online known as SANDY Alex G, is a singer songwriter from Havertown, Pennsylvania. From a young age Alex had developed an interest in music which continued to grow until he hit college. After releasing songs on his bandcamp and playing house shows here and there, Alex had decided to pursue a career in music.
Beginning with a song off Beach Music, the headliner began. Alex G was accompanied with his bassist, drummer and guitar players. Throughout the set you could hear the crowd chime in with lyrics to their songs. At one point, Nicole Dollanganger’s partner was taking videos of the show. Once the band took notice, they started having a bit more fun and danced like goofs for the camera. Then at another point Alex G began smashing his head against a keyboard and screaming for about two minutes. I joked with my friends asking what song that was. We later found out that Alex got upset for breaking a string off his guitar and in turn that merited the keyboard to receive a brutal beating. Later on in the set, the band took requests from the crowd on what to play next. They agreed to do their songs “Animals” and “People” off of 2015’s Trick, which I saw people dancing to and singing along. Much of the crowd, along with myself, had big smiles plastered on their faces.
After the show, I asked Alex G for a few questions to see what he thought about being a young musician and seeing if he had any advice for young musicians in Ottawa. A transcript of the interview will follow. But for now, I give Casual Hex a 10/10 show. The organizers work tirelessly to put a sold out show together and it went off without a hitch (at least from my perspective at least). If you missed this one, definitely check out the next Casual Hex Show coming up this month at Pressed!
Interview with Alex G
You guy started off in Philadelphia, how was the music scene over there? You guys started at a young age.
A: Yeah so me and Sam were doing Skin Cells [Alex G’s previous band] in high school and then beginning of college but then up for some reason we couldn’t play a show. So I asked if I could play my stuff and Sam played the drums and John played the bass.
And that’s how you guys evolved?
A: That was the default but then we started getting more bookings for that.
J: House shows for at least the first two years yeah
There’s lots of young musicians in Ottawa, how would you recommend them getting their music out there?
A: Try really fucking hard!
J: Play a lotta shows!
A: Only make what you think is like, the shit. Don’t be like “alright ! this is fine” Make something that’s actually good.
Lastly, I get the sense from a lot of your music that you’re more of an observer, with the way you write narratives. Do you feel like that changes onstage?
A: I guess that I feel like people are paying to see something. You gotta show em something.
The Dears are something of a simmering phenomenon in Canadian music. While they never really “exploded” during the early 2000’s Canadian indie music renaissance like other bands such as Metric or Broken Social Scene, The Dears have harnessed the capability to survive more than two decades making music without fail. Their music is often described as orchestral, dark, and romantique. But at the core they are a rock and roll band that are out to make music that people can connect with, and carry out dynamic, dramatic performances live.
Since forming in 1995, The Dears have released six studio albums, played showcases at festivals like SXSW, been nominated for multiple awards including two for the Polaris Prize and once for a Juno, and launched an international career that has seen them tour extensively across Canada, USA, UK, Europe, Japan and Australia. Moreover, the bands has shared the stage with high-profile acts such as Sloan, The Tragically Hip, Keane, The Secret Machines and Morrissey.
On the heels of releasing last year’s Times Infinity Volume One last year, The Dears are making their return to the nation’s capital and re-connect with their Ottawa fans at the National Arts Centre on May 27. I caught up with band members Natalia Yanchak and Murray Lightburn in advance of the show, which you can read below.
Interview with The Dears
Given all the highs and lows of making music for so long, what mentality did the band approach the writing and recording of Times Infinity Parts One and Two?
NY: I wouldn’t say there is any particular “mentality” — it’s more of a vibe. Songs, ideas, riffs, words, they all occur somewhat at random. When we started getting serious about hitting the studio for Times Infinity Vol. I & II, it meant there was a sizeable pile of these song scraps. The scraps are magnetically drawn together, into songs: parts becoming movements, pieces interlocking, others not making the grade. There’s no process that is set in stone. We just go with the flow, and if a song — or album, for that matter — is meant to be, then it will exist!
In what ways did Murray Lightburn’s solo album influence The Dears’ music?
ML: My solo work was approached possibly by taking it to the extreme; it was a near absolute solitary affair – almost to the point of madness. Without question, to be in a room full of people making music is most welcome after 2 years of that process.
‘Times Infinity Part One’ seems to have some dark themes woven into its tracks, yet there is a sense of light-heartedness that is apparent as well. Can you talk a bit about this?
NY: Our greatest influence is *life* — as pretentious as that sounds. And life, at times, can get pretty dark. And on a philosophical level, your life is dictated by how you interpret the darkness. Do you take it on? Do you deflect it? Suppress it? Engage it? Handle it? In this way, we’re not singing about anything new, we’re just suggesting that, from time to time, the listener take a look into the brutal mirror we are holding, and to not let what they see take them down. Because, to counter the darkness, life is full of love….
Many fans are waiting in anticipation for ‘Times Infinity Part Two’ to drop. In what ways is it related to Part One? Can we expect it to build off of the first part, or is there something different planned?
NY: We’ve hinted at the “greater darkness” of Volume Two with the album closer for Volume One, “Onward and Downward.” We state that we all die alone, because — until we are able to merge our consciousness’ via some advanced neural network — all we have is ourselves. Have you made the effort to know yourself? Was it worth it? It doesn’t have to be dark, but as human beings we tend to lean negative.
What is your favourite kind of show to play live? Is there a favourite venue the band loves playing?
NY: The venue is secondary, in a way. The best part of a show is connecting with the audience. The room could be full of people who aren’t interested, and if I look out and see a single person singing along, or losing their mind to our music, then it’s a success! That said, walking into a club that smells of stale beer and with unreliable electricity on stage does get old. As a professional musician, I just want to be working in a professional environment. And rock’n’roll is still entrenched in a 90’s grittiness that is barely cool anymore.
Having been involved in the national music scene for so long, what is your take on the state of Canadian music today? Which Canadian artists are you really into these days?
NY: I think if more bands and artists today asked themselves “What would Godspeed do?” we’d be in better shape. Instead, we spend more time obsessing over the “socials”: followers, likes, tweets and retweets, etcetera. Sadly, this stuff is the new currency in the entertainment biz, and has no bearing on the quality of a band or artist. It’s like a popularity contest, like high school elections for class president. This bandwagoning creates disparity: it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We believe the “people are talking,” but really we are being told what to do by gatekeepers, marketeers, bought-out tastemakers and other purse-string holders. It’s ugly, and rarely merit-based. I mean, when you have Justin Bieber dissing music awards (like he recently did at the BBMA’s), then something is wrong with the industry! Forcing an intersection of capital “a” Art and business is going to inevitably get ugly. And Canada is no exception.
Catch The Dears at the NAC Studio on May 27 at 8:00 pm. Tickets are $33, available online here or at the NAC box office.