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.
Hervana, an all-female Nirvana cover band based in Toronto, is touring Ontario playing Nirvana’s classic “MTV Unplugged in New York.”
I have loved Nirvana since the very first time my dad put some on for me when I was a wee child. I remember countless hours spent listening to, reading about, and watching anything and everything about Nirvana. There is still something special every time I hear Kurt’s voice through my speakers or headphones. So when I heard of an all-female Nirvana cover band coming to town, some questions came to mind. You can read below my interview with Skirt Cobain (her real name is Carly Beath), and check out them out Friday April 15 at House of Targ.
How and why did four women in Toronto form a Nirvana cover band?
The name started it all! A tweet showed up in my feed that said “Toronto needs an all-girl Nirvana cover band called Hervana.” Being a big Nirvana fan, I decided to make it happen and pulled various friends into my ridiculous scheme. It snowballed from there.
Beyond the music, did the band’s respect for women and support for equality influence your decision?
It makes us proud to sing these songs. A lot of all-female cover bands are often reclaiming misogynist works – which is also awesome! – but for us it’s more of a celebration of the fact that Nirvana made amazing music and used their very visible position in music to advocate.
You are touring the unplugged album right now, do you often tour/focus on one album at a time?
This is the first time we’ve done a single album show! We thought it would be fun to do something different this spring. With anniversaries coming up (Nevermind turns 25 this fall, holy smokes) it’s something we may do again.
Can the band agree on ordering your favourite Nirvana studio albums?
Nope! Haha. We love them all for different reasons and we all have different favourites.
What are some of your favourite songs to play live? During this unplugged tour and normally.
I’d say in our regular show, Aneurysm is at the top of the list right now. It’s so much fun to play and even though it was a b-side people get really hyped for it. On the Unplugged album, The Man Who Sold The World is a lot of fun and lets us pay tribute to both David Bowie and Kurt.
If you weren’t a Nirvana cover band what band would you cover full time?
Maybe a Queens of the Stone Age cover band called Kings of the Stone Age. We do a ‘6 Degrees of Nirvana’ set at our annual December bash and QOTSA songs are always fun to play. Alas, I don’t have time – so I’d be really happy if someone else took that idea and ran with it.
What do the members do when they aren’t covering Nirvana? Any other bands or projects our readers should know about?
Erin plays in a really awesome psych-pop/rock band called Blue Cougars – check them out when they come to Ottawa (hopefully some time this year).
I sat down with Frank for an interview before his show at the Bronson Centre supported by Mo Kenney and Northcote. This was a big deal for me as I have been a big Frank Turner fan for years and have listened to his music to pick me up at some of my lowest points, but also to dance to when I am at my happiest.
The show was packed and people sang along at the top of their lungs throughout. Frank and his band of merry men, the Sleeping Souls, certainly know how to entertain. The show was one of the best I have seen him play, he plays Ottawa a lot, and it may also finish as one of the best shows of 2016. It may be risky to say that in March, but they played for more than two hours and never had a moment of respite.
Check out my interview with Frank below.
What was it like touring Canada as a solo act playing in smaller bars and club, considering you have sold out much large venues as a band? And how important is it to you to still be able to do that?
We were actually having a discussion about this as a band last night. The reason we’ve been doing the solo dates on this run has been financial more than anything else. I wanted to play more than just the big cities and it’s difficult to afford to afford to pay a full band when for example in Moncton we only had 180 people at the show. Can’t pay four musicians and a crew of people with that kind of money.
So it’s kind of been a sort of advantage I have that I can do these solo shows and then pull the band in. It’s funny though, it affects my playing quite a lot. When you’re playing with other people you lock in, but when you’re playing solo not only am I in sole control of the music that is being played, but also it’s not quite the same thing you’re essentially countering all of the musicality out of one instrument. And essentially my timing goes awry when I play a lot of solo shows. At the beginning of this tour Nigel, the drummer, was just kind of going dude what the fuck? You’re speeding up and slowing down all over the show. And I was like I know, it’s because I’ve been playing a bunch of solo shows and it makes sense to do that at a solo show. So there are some differences.
But it’s also kind of fun going back to the solo thing here and there, because it’s nostalgic for me in a way. But it’s kind of nostalgic for me in a slightly sort of triumphant way, because when I was only doing solo shows at the beginning before the Sleeping Souls got together as a thing, there weren’t many people there. So it’s nice to do a solo show with a shit ton of people there and you’re kind of like ‘Yes, I’m achieved.’”
How was it to make the transition from recording and touring Tape Deck Heart, a self-proclaimed break up album, to recording and touring Positive Songs for Negative People, an album with a different feel and message?
The further away I get from Positive Songs [for Negative People] in time, the more its clear to me that it’s a companion piece to Tape Deck Heart in a way. I mean Tape Deck Heart was such a huge event in my life. It was the most time I ever spent in studio, it was talking about this calamitous event in my life but also the tour we did for Tape Deck was insane. We are in the middle of a hard tour right now but we have learned to kind of have a week off here and there. We toured hard before, but there was something about the Tape Deck Heart tour that was really off the deep end hard. And almost the process of the catharsis became complete on that tour and all of the material for Positive Songs was written and rehearsed on that tour. I also had the idea, having effectively made a studio album with Tape Deck I wanted to make more of a live record with this one, so that’s what I mean that they are linked and sort of the inverse of each other.
We built a monitoring rig with my crew which basically means we don’t have to spend any time sound checking and doing the boring bit of kick drum up kick bass down or whatever it might be. We get up on stage put our ears in and have the exact same sound we had yesterday every day. And that meant that we had an hour and a half every day to play new material in sound check and that’s what we did for two years. So everything on Positive Songs has been played to pieces, you know what I mean we had played them to fuck before we got anywhere near a studio, which was the idea. And then we made the record in nine days which is so radically different from what we did on Tape Deck Heart. So yeah they are companion pieces.
How is it to play songs from both Tape Deck Heart and Positive Songs for Negative People in the same set?
The way I kind of think about structuring set lists is more about energy levels than about specific lyrical content. Although I have to say, last night we dug out the song “Tell Tale Signs” which we haven’t actually played as a full band for a very long time and we worked the arrangement out again. We played it as like the third last song of the set and it sounded great, but I realized that only thinking about the sound of it while playing it because it wasn’t the most kind of rousingly triumphant end to the evening. You play this really introspective song about self-harm and go ‘Thanks very much for coming out good night.’ So yeah, that was an interesting set list moment.
What are some of the older song you wish people stopped requesting or that they request so much that you are tired of it?
I don’t know. I mean I don’t think there are that many that I feel that way about. Really just because first of all everyone singing along to songs is a wonderful thing. And probably the song we have played most other than “Recovery” which we have played a hundred billion times is “Photosynthesis” which I wrote a very long time ago. The way we play it and my feelings about the song and the way I interpret it has changed dramatically but it still kind of makes everyone lose their shit when I play it, so to complain about that seems childish.
One of the interesting things that has happened in the last year or two is I’ve realized that when you’re starting out you view the process of gaining fans as purely cumulative, like you play to ten people and then the next time you come through you play to 20 people which was that first ten people and ten other people, and you kind of assume that once you’ve got someone that you’ve got them. In the last kind of year or two I started realizing that’s actually more of a turnover process. I met someone the other day who told me ‘I’m a massive fan, but haven’t really listened to your first three records though.’ And I was like, what how does that even compute as a sentence. But then I remember about nights where we drop a song like “Reasons Not To Be An Idiot” off my second record which has forever been a sure fire bam this is going to get them going everyone fucking loves this song and then like dropping it at a Canadian or American show and people being like ‘what the fuck is this?’ and I’m like ‘how can you not, everyone knows this song, don’t they, don’t they…and they’re like nope.’ It’s kind of an interesting thing on that level as well, seeing what songs stick around and which ones don’t. And seeing as people are getting into me now, and then they go backwards, if they do, and which songs stand out to them.
Frank Turner dedicating “Wanderlust,” the bonus track from England Keep My Bones, to Ottawa singer-songwriter Jim Bryson live in Ottawa.
What are some of the old songs you wish you played more or would like to dig back up?
The problem I have is I’m an unashamed populist and nothing makes me happier than seeing a room full of people go off. So there are songs we don’t really play anymore, certainly not at full band shows because then five people have to lay around and just watch, that I kind of think that we should play that, but the problem is if it’s a choice between “Reasons Not To Be An Idiot” or “A Love Worth Keeping,” I really love the song “A Love Worth Keeping,” but not many other people do. And if we use up that set list spot with that song, then the overall gig is less good. Sometime I think we should do a B-sides tour or album tracks tour and say we are not going to play the following song on the tour, but then those shows wouldn’t be as good if you know what I mean.
The thing I’ve learned over several years is that the people who shout loudest about certain things, in fact this applies to way more than just song requesting, it’s a life lesson everyone should learn. The people who shout loudest are not often representative. The example I like to use is I have this song “Redemption” that is probably the most requested song that I have, and every time we play it the crowd just goes like ‘sigh, cool this one, what the fuck is this,’ and there are like two people losing their fucking mind down at the front and most people don’t care. And that’s the thing, I have my email on my website and everything, and I’d say 10-15% of the people who come to my shows email me and then not necessarily represents the whole room. But like I said that’s a life lesson that we can apply more broadly to politics as well.
What does it mean to you to announce the number of the show during your performance?
It’s a mixture of OCD and bravado. With my old band A Million Dead we kept a list of all the shows we did and after the band broke up I was really happy we did that because it means that even now, it is still on my website and you can go back and look into all the shows that we did. And that’s really exciting to me to be able to do that. So I started keeping a list and then there was definitely a period of time, and this again goes back to the Tape Deck Heart thing, where there was a sense of confidence and I want to say machismo around my touring schedule. I was very much like ‘I can fucking tour harder than any other fucker in the world.’ And then my back went out and we didn’t stop touring for like eight months and then the schedule from Tape Deck Heart. I remember getting home from about 18 months of touring and no one even said bye to each other at the airport, we all just walked off and were like ‘fuck you’ and not because anyone had fallen out with anyone, we had just had enough. Particularly in the states where we were doing two or three shows a day on that run and I sort of realized I was in a competition that no one else was taking part in, you know. And I thought I’m about to kill myself for the sake of my own ego and that’s idiotic.
I guess I’m trying to be a little less insane with my tour schedule these days, although not much less insane it has to be said. We’ve gotten into the habit of taking a week off in between one and another and I’ve got a house in London now and I’ve got a girlfriend who I want to remind that I exist every now and again. I want to live a normal life, but I always wanted to be a lifer on the road and I still do, but I also don’t want to be a boring person. And I suddenly realized that if all you ever do is the same thing day in and day out, that’s kind of boring. So for example this touring schedule for this album we agreed that we will do 24 months straight for this record from release ‘till next year, but once we’ve done that I’m going to take six months to a year off and close down my email account, stop calling my manager every day and I’m going to go fucking work in a bar in Costa Rica or something. Just do something else for a bit, if nothing else it will help with my song writing. I always think that ever band you can tell which is the album after they got successful because all of the songs are about being on tour. You’re allowed one album about touring but then you have to write about something else.
Anyways, sorry, huge answer to a short question. The show number thing, other people are really on board with it now. I know there are fans getting show numbers tattooed and this kind of thing. And I am still pretty proud of the accumulated body of effort that it represents, but it’s hopefully a little more tongue-in-cheek now more than it perhaps was at one point.
Whose your favourite Canadian act not called John K. Samson or The Weakerthans?
Joel Plaskett, definitely. There is a lot of Canadian music that I have been fortunate enough to get into, there is sort of an insular scene here. Joel introduced me to Mo Kenney who’s on this tour who is amazing, Northcote has be a revelation to me on this tour as well. We have played together before me and Matt, but I had never seen him with his band before and fucking hell. You know sometimes you see a songwriter with a band and it’s not as good or whatever, but his band takes him I think to a new level. Which is really satisfying thing to see. But yeah, I think Scrappy Happiness by Joel Plaskett and the Emergency is one of the best rock albums ever made and I will stand up in public and defend that statement. I think he is a phenomenal writer. We toured together four years ago and he is a super nice dude. We correspond quite a lot, and I hadn’t realized that I hadn’t seen him since that tour. I only really realized that when we met up earlier in the tour. It was lovely to catch up with him for a night or two.
I think one of the first times you came to Ottawa was Folkfest 2010-2011. My buddy told me there was only about a dozen people who cared and paid attention. What brought you back to Ottawa after that?
From memory there was only a dozen people paying attention at the beginning, but maybe there was two dozen by the end, and that’s my job at the end of the day. The way that I have been successful in the music industry has been very old-fashioned, which is by getting in front of people and shouting at them until they pay attention. We came back through, and this has happened all over the world for me, you come once and there is 50 people, then come through twice and there is 100. It’s a hard slug but its rewarding. I think it means I have a better shot at longevity than maybe some of the bands who just sort of go ‘blugh’ onto the world stage with a huge marketing and media push behind them or hype. And I should add that I am not cussing out those bands at all, it happens. I always think of the Arctic Monkeys, they arrived in this gigantic wave of hype and got super famous really quickly, but that’s not their fault, and it’s not a fault. They just wrote a really good record and good for them. So yeah it gives me a really good shot at longevity and I feel like I can hold my head high. You know I’ve earned what I have however small or great that may be, I did this. I mean I did this with the help of an incredible band and crew and team and all the rest of it, but it wasn’t like somebody at the top of a major record label went ‘this one will be famous now.’ So I am kind of proud of that.
What are some of the fun things you like to do with your “free time” while touring?
I took a new year’s resolution a few years ago to try to get out of the venue a bit more than I habitually did. I mean Ben, who plays guitar in the Souls, is really good at that. He is always zipping off around town and making plans every evening for what he is going to see the next day. I don’t have as much time because I have press to do and all that kind of stuff.
One of the things I did this year was I went to this war memorial in Liepzig [Germany] that was one of the most insane things, like a fucking prop from the Lord of the Rings. A gigantic pile of stone and statues of warriors asleep holding swords and shit. I am just trying to get around and see some stuff. I had a lovely walk around the lake in Kelowna on this tour. Not really much to see in Red Deer, but my girlfriend has family in Red Deer actually so we hung out with them.
Also just reading more. Again another New Year’s resolution to read more. I try to get 50 to 100 pages in day. That makes me feel like I am doing something with my brain.
What do you do with time off back home in London?
My hobby is history walking, I do walks around London. I am obsessed with London history now. I have always been interested in it, but the last couple of years it has ballooned into like a problem. There are all these books about the secrete walkways and old pathways and all this kind of thing around London, and I’ve been trying to learn more about my city.
For the past 12 years, Westfest has been one of Ottawa’s most memorable local festivals. The weekend celebration is not only a showcase of Canadian musicians, but also visual and spoken word artists. It’s also a rare opportunity to bring people of any age together, outside, to celebrate arts and culture in Ottawa.
Westfest Founder Elaina Martin is a producer of Canadian art content and has sat on a number of councils including the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council. She has also juried the Juno Awards and East Coast Music Awards.
A few days after Westfest’s first fundraiser, “Westfest All-Star”, Elaina took some time out of her planning to chat about Westfest and her love for the Ottawa music scene.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your role in Westfest.
Sure. I’ve been producing Canadian talent for over 20 years. After moving to Ottawa, I felt intimidated by all the national art institutes… things one couldn’t afford to go to, even big festivals with big ticket prices. So I felt this deep need to be able to offer multi-discipline art in an accessible way- it’s the ‘free’ mandate I’m talking about. So that’s how Westfest came to be, it was about offsetting all the big ticket artistic endeavours in this city, and it was my way to bring art to the people. It started out very small, and grew over the years, but the mandate has always remained its completely accessible, inclusive. At Westfest everyone is equal.
You had a fundraiser March 6, Westfest All-Star. How did that go?
It was amazingly successful. We lost some funding last year- about $150, 000. So I’ve been working hard over the past eight months to make up for some of the financial shortfall. I sent an email out to about 20 Westfest alumni artists and within an hour they all responded with a resounding ‘Yes! We’d love to.’ It started with that- an idea, an email, a positive response. Sunday we had what was a really outstanding and intimate party. We sold out. It was five straight hours of live music.
What can people expect for Westfest 2016?
Westfest is the first weekend in June- the 3rd to the 5th. We’ve moved into the beautiful green Laroche Park. It’s a bit of an unknown space, but that’s part of the reason we partnered there. It’s Mechanicsville, which is just north of Hintonburg. It’s still got its colourful roots… it’s an amazing space for the festival. We’ve been on pavement for 12 years. I’m really happy to get away from the pavement and into this giant green space where we can now tell our attendees, ‘Bring a blanket! Bring your dog! Bring your kids! Stay all day.’
We’re also building a giant Indigenous Pavilion for part of our festival this year, which is to pay homage to our Algonquin people and the unceded territory we do everything on here. It will have Indigenous art, food and business, and just be a place for Indigenous people to gather and feel comfortable at Westfest. And as always, they’ll be Indigenous programming on the main stage.
We’ll also have a really elaborate kids area, with extended artistic programming for all ages of children. All kinds of workshops that will run all weekend long. We brought Westfest spoken word back this year, which will be on the main stage Friday night.
Our media and festival launch is March 24 at 10am at the Orange Art Gallery. That morning I’ll be releasing our official lineup which I just finished- over 150 artists for three days and nights at Westfest this year.
Sounds amazing. Why should people attend?
Westfest remains the people’s festival. It’s loved and adored by the Ottawa community. It’s always been so open and welcoming and inviting. You can bring your children and dog. It’s an intimate, inclusive, loving space. I’m biased, but I think if you ask anyone they’ll agree. Artists are treated with an element of respect and professionalism that they often tell me they don’t find anywhere else. I’ve put a lot of emphasis on treating artists properly and giving our attendees as much as we possibly can- for nothing. It’s about bridging that gap between people who can afford art in this city and people who can’t, and we seem to attract both audiences. There’s not a lot of events where you see both audiences there, and I think that’s what Westfest does- it bring people together.
Everyone is welcome, and everyone is equal at Westfest.
Westfest runs from June 3rd-5th, 2016 at Laroche Park. The festival will include over 150 artists, ranging from locals to Juno award winners. Attendance is free.