Toronto’s Casper Skulls are currently wrapping up with touring their first full length album Mercy Works, released on Buzz Records November 3rd. The band is one of the newest editions to the label’s boundary-pushing roster, and their latest effort follows the dense and complex lo-fi sound played through early 90’s tape decks. Mercy Works is an ambitious attempt to explore the unknown, examine self-growth, religion, grief, and real lived experiences, and was co-produced/engineered by Josh Korody (Fucked Up, Dilly Dally). The post-punk, garage, and art-rock influences are sprinkled throughout, as the album bleeds with thick guitar riffs and intricate instrumental arrangements.
We sat down with singer and guitarist Neil Bednis before their show this Friday to discuss the band’s sound, their new album, best sounding venues and touring as a couple. Check out the interview below.
Interview with Neil Bednis
In just a couple of years as a band you have already garnered comparisons to some of my all-time favourite bands such as Television and Pavement. How did that feel after only a 7-inch and an EP? And do these comparisons come into play when you are writing new music, such as your latest release Mercy Works?
NB: It’s flattering that people would associate our music with those bands. We were really influenced by that kind of music growing up and those bands are part of the reason we wanted to start playing music in the first place. Obviously with our early releases our influences are on our sleeves but I think that was necessary for us to discover our own sound. I think Mercy Works still has elements of those early sounds but we definitely moved into a more melodic direction. “You Can Call Me Allocator” was the first song written for the record and it set the tone of the writing of the record. I think that song in particular is a perfect example of what we are as a band. The verses are talky and the chorus is more melodic and lush. On the record I think we explore the extremes of both those sounds.
Speaking of Mercy Works, how was it to work with Josh Korody and Alex Newport, who have worked on releases by Fucked Up, Dilly Dally, At The Drive-In, Death Cab For Cutie, just to name a few?
NB: We had previously worked with Josh on our Lips and Skull EP, so we already felt comfortable recording with him. After seeing our live show, Josh thought it’d be best to do a lot of the record live off the floor which had never done previously. I think recording that way created a really positive start to the record. We wanted to explore a couple different musical ideas on the record (i.e. strings, acoustic guitars, 12-string, baritone) and Josh kind of let us take the reigns on that stuff. It’s always a really fun time whenever we get to see Josh and I’m really glad he was part of the record.
We heard of Alex from his work he did on the first Weaves record and the Pissed Jeans stuff. Ian from Buzz Records had Alex’s information from working with him on the Weaves record and he was able to put us in touch. Alex lives in Los Angeles so we had to make most of the mixing notes over e-mail but we really love what Alex did to the songs.
Your sound seems like it would lend itself great both in a small club and in the big acoustics of a church. What are some of the favourite venues you have ever played and explored in live?
NB: Just off the top of my head, Lee’s Palace and the Garrison in Toronto are two of my favorite sounding venues. The vibe is always really nice at those venues and I haven’t really played a show where we’ve have had any trouble getting the sound we want. The Townehouse in Sudbury has a lot of sentimental value to us. Mel and I discovered a lot of great music going to shows there and we played our first show ever at the Townehouse as well. I also really enjoy playing this place in Washington D.C. called Comet Ping Pong. Our friend Lisa does a lot of the booking there and she creates a really homey vibe to the shows she puts on. It has more of a DIY vibe to it and you can eat pizza and play ping pong as well as watch awesome music!
For those who have never seen you play, what should they expect live compared to the recording on the album?
NB: I think the live show brings a more lively energy to the songs. I don’t mean to say the record isn’t lively but I think the show has a rawness to it that is different from the record. For songs like “Chicane, OH” and “You Can Call Me Allocator,” we’ll play the songs a little faster just to give the songs a bit more of a bounce. We tried to make the record have more lush moments with the strings and acoustic guitars which aren’t present in the live performance. Overall, I think if you like the record you’ll like the live show.
How has touring the new album been going so far?
NB: The tour has been going well! We’re happy to be playing these songs for people and seeing how they translate live. We’re really excited for the few dates we have with Land of Talk. They’re one of our favorite bands and we’ve been obsessed with their new record. We’ve been playing these songs in small clubs and have been kind of tailoring our set lists toward that. For these shows we’re hoping to play some of the more slow burners off the record that’ll translate better in bigger halls.
I have always been curious what it would be like being in a band as a couple?
NB: It’s really nice not to have to leave each other when we tour. I think sometimes we struggle separating band stuff from our personal lives. For example sometimes at dinner we just end up talking about band stuff so we need to check ourselves every now and then and just talk about other things that have nothing to do with music. Most importantly, we need to be a couple first and band mates second. It’s a really special thing to get to make art and share failures and successes with someone you’re with.
It’s been a little over a year since Toronto’s Weaves released their debut LP on Buzz Records, rapidly becoming a household name in the Canadian independent music landscape. They have been quick to garner international praise for their brand of unconventional guitar pop with not-so-subtle hints of improvisation. The self-titled effort was largely, considered a great success by music publications far and wide. Their album also scored them a short list nomination for the Polaris Music Prize this year, which they performed at a few weeks back after a year of relentless touring. Let’s just say that this is one band you can’t miss seeing live.
Weaves isn’t kicking back just yet. They have just released their second LP called Wide Open, and are out to prove that there is no obstacle too big for them to scale. Their answer to the challenge of following up a hugely successful debut is to keep creating, and continue to push boundaries wherever possible.Wide Open bounces from calm to chaotic, and pulls listeners in every direction. Early listens from publications like Stereogum indicate that Wide Open will surpass expectations, and even critically out-do their debut. I chatted with founding member of Weaves, Morgan Waters, about their success, their approach to following up their first album, and new steps they’ve taken as a band.
Weaves seems to tread a line between people’s comfort zones. Is keeping listeners on their toes something that comes naturally to the band?
I think with any art you don’t want to be boring. And with us it’s always a mix, we don’t really plan anything out. It’s about showing all the influences crashing up against each other. We want to surprise the listeners, and surprise ourselves. The mix of the artistic and the pop gets thrown into the blender where there’s no genres or anything like that. It’s all fodder for something new.
In what ways did the road and your experiences after the debut release influence songwriting on the new LP Wide Open?
Jasmyn starts everything and it all seems to come from her initial spark. She doesn’t really write anything down, she kind of ruminates about things for a while without telling any of us. It seems to come out of her when she goes to the rehearsal space by herself, recording, looping, figuring things out, and from there it all comes out pretty fast. When she’s in that mode, it’s a quick and fertile ‘brain’ thing going on with her. Then we hear the demos she comes up with and we work on it from there, but within 20 minutes of writing a song the lyrics are all usually there and never change.
You and Jasmyn have an obvious chemistry together in the band. In what ways do you compliment each other as artists?
I think Jasmyn is more impulsive and emotional, and I’m more of an editor. I help present her initial ideas in a way that elevates them. That mix of impulsiveness and my revising or editorial skills kind of complete each other. She loses interest quickly and I never stop obsessing, so we temper each other in that way.
A lot of the time I’m sort of translating her ideas, where I’ll sit there and say what I think will work for whichever project we’re focusing on. I’m very happy to work that way and cycling through the ideas, I have an endless amount of patience. I’ll work hard to try to find the “thing” that clicks for both of us.
Many of us were really excited to see that a collaboration with Tanya Tagaq was included on Wide Open, and the Polaris gala performance of Scream was incredible. How did the partnership come to fruition?
We met Tanya at Iceland Airwaves, on the airplane ride over there. Spencer and Zack kind of knew a few of her band members, and we sort of hit it off the whole weekend. We went to her show, and ever since then we always sort of thought that it would be really great to work with her on something since she takes a very improvisational approach to her music as well, which we’re into. It’s all about capturing a moment, and “Scream” seemed like the perfect song to collaborate with her on.
There is a distinct visual element to Weaves, in things like music videos and album art. What role does visual art and aesthetic play for the band?
It’s a major consideration, but it’s also something that just happens. Similar to our music, we like to leave our videos kind of open so that we can improvise on the day-of. On “Scream” we had a white room studio and a good DP (Director of Photography), so Jasmyn and Tanya were able to move around the space freely. It’s personal expression first, and then concept or theoretical parts are secondary. It’s really about freedom of expression, and that factors into our videos. We shoot stuff and see what happens.
Weaves was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize this past year, and there were a lot of incredible artists in the running. What do you think Lido Pimienta’s recent win means for Canadian music?
The best part was that we were given the opportunity to perform live, since playing on stage is where I think we can really stand out. So performing on stage with people like Feist and Lido was a way for us to really show what we’re all about. To us, that was much more important that any sort of competition or win in our books. The concept of “winning” in art is weird. So just the fact that we got to play, and play a new song “Scream” with Tanya was the biggest part for us, really exciting.
I think with Lido’s win, I don’t know if it shows what direction Canadian music is going… I’m not really sure how the voting works and all that. It’s so great that a DIY artist like her can win something like that, and I think that will become the norm as labels keep shutting down and people keep doing things themselves. There are no major label budgets and funding isn’t always there, so artists need to be able to do it themselves. Lido winning shows that you don’t need all that other crap, it’s about the music. It’s about what you have to say. You don’t really need teams if you have the work ethic.
Ottawa’s pop-punkers The Superlative recently put out a new song “Where We Left Off,” their first release in a year.
Fans of The Superlative’s past music will quickly find themselves rocking out again with the new track. You can certainly tell of some musical growth, but the biggest progress seems to be lyrically with the new music being a little more serious in nature.
We caught Kiel Burwell (Guitars/Vocals) to chat about what the band has been up to, their new song and whats next.
Interview with The Superlative
So it has been a little over a year since we got new music from you guys. What have you been up to?
We have been working hard on new music, stage performance (lights show, etc…), and playing as many shows as we can this past spring and summer. A few notable ones were opening for Hedley to over 20,000 people at an international fireworks festival. And also getting nods from Sublime With Rome and their management. We have been trying to build the band up and up as we do every year. And like every year, there were ups and downs.
What is the story/inspiration behind the new track “Where We Left Off”?
Where we left off is a lyrical collaboration between our singer Charles and myself (as is usually the case). The song is centered around the idea of how everything in modern society makes us so in a rush that we forget where we’re at sometimes and it in turn affects everything around us in so many negative ways. The song is basically about taking your time and working at things, and how slow and steady can win the race.
The whole collection of songs for this series will (for the most part) be about how modern upgrades in in our society being a blessing, but also how lazy, dumb and selfish it’s making a huge portion of society. How everyone’s attention span seems to be shrinking more and more each day.
In the past you have generally released an album at a time not just a single like this. What is your plan with Harmful Distractions?
We make music for ourselves first and foremost. That’s not to say we don’t want to adapt to modern ways that people listen to, purchase and share music. We see a lot of bands just putting out single songs that have no plan of being a full album at the end, and that’s cool, but also kind of sucks… We aren’t the first band to try something like this, but we definitely feel we have some unique aspects to what we are trying to do.
Majority of the time the guys and I listen to full albums, but sometimes we like a mix for while we are working, hanging out with friends and more… So we can see where music lovers are adapting to playlists and the convenience (but not artist payout) of streaming services. So we figure over the course of the year, if we release songs here and there for people to pick up on and see if they like each of them, it will give them more time to grow fond of each song… Hopefully enough to buy a physical record we will release at the end of the HARMFUL DISTRACTIONS series.
We also want to make a statement to people to love your smartphones, laptops, tablets, VR systems and more, but step the hell outside sometimes and leave them behind. Go do something that disconnects you from society for a few days or a week. Revert back to the way it was in the days when you couldn’t just shoot your friends a text to see where they were. Go out and explore your neighbourhood and see if you can find their bikes in a friends yard to know where they are at… you might realize what it’s like to be an independent thinking, attentive, human being…
You guys have developed a reputation of making some pretty hilarious music videos. Should we expect videos for these tracks?
Hahaha. We just shot a video for the song that will follow this one in about three weeks time. We invested in audio/video gear and are doing all that by ourselves now too. We love making goofy videos and being dorks for sure… However after the success of our last video (getting onto Exclaim, Blank TV and Alternative Press), it was a serious theme about suicide prevention, we kind of realized that maybe constantly making funny videos isn’t the best idea if we are trying to be taken seriously. I will hint that the next video will show how close we are as friends (no we aren’t naked…get that out of your head), and the brotherhood we have built with each other through the power of music and art. We want to make a video for “Where We Left Off,” but the idea we have is something we have to do some research on and maybe we can pull it off. We love our friends that do work for us, but we are very DIY if no one has noticed.
What is next for the band and when can locals get a chance to hear some of this new music live?
We have a few shows coming up in the fall and winter around Ontario and Quebec. Otherwise we will continue to work with our good pal Mike Poisson at Mike Poisson Recordings on the rest of the material for this song series. More new merchandise design, spring and fall show booking/festival applications, the usual band building necessities. We are really starting to see a lot of activity from fans all over the place and it’s pretty surreal, so we are talking to management and booking agent options and seeing what’s right for us.
We currently have 2 songs fully ready to release and are in the studio throughout October to do more. One of those songs is “Where We Left Off,” so there’s one left in the chamber. The entire record is written, we are just perfectionists and choose to take our time writing and recording everything, so we can have what we feel is the best product in the end.
When Montreal’s HOAN formed in 2015, there was an intention to deviate from the path of jangle-pop and explore new horizons. Cutting their teeth in the DIY scene, HOAN’s music is simultaneously pensive and audacious. Their new EP, Modern Phase, is a 7-track effort that fuses dark and reverb-laden instrumental layers in a post-punk foundation. Alex Nicol’s vocals and lyricism whisp us away, but we’re constantly grounded again by noir moments of frenetic energy. Three of HOAN’s members were in the now-defunct band Kurvi Tasch, and have taken this window of opportunity to write music outside of a box and experiment with electronic elements, as well as explore more issues in the social and political realms in their lyrics.
I spoke with singer/guitarist Alex Nichol as HOAN get set for their show at Bar Robo on Thursday, August 31, with Organ Eyes. Be sure to catch them live, they’ll be playing most of the tracks on Modern Phase live. Doors are at 8 pm, and tickets are $10 at the door.
Interview with HOAN
Some Ottawa folks might remember Kurvi Tasch, a group that contained most of HOAN’s members. Has the change in name signified a larger shift for the band’s approach to music?
Kurvi Tasch was a guitar-based band with a pretty limited sonic palette. We made a bunch of releases under the name and felt like we wanted something new. Alex traveled to India with his computer and began making electronic music. This kind of propelled the idea for HOAN, and it became clear that the music we wanted to make did not make sense under the Kurvi Tasch name. ‘Modern Phase’ was recorded in this transitional period. The next release will have more synths, programmed drums, and so on, as we continue to expand our approach to music.
Modern Phase is not only sonically intriguing, but it also touches on many themes and ideas that we deal with as individuals and a society as a whole. Can you expand on some of these ideas, and what caused you to go that direction?
Yea, sure. The first theme that strikes through is the notion of technological advancement at all costs, without the ability to manage or deal with the impact it has. ‘Technocracts’ is the best example of this. I feel like it’s rampant all over the world since industrialization in the West, and will have similar impacts in places that have yet to fully industrialize. Take fracking, for example. You would think that people realized in the beginning that it is harmful on the environment. But the science was there to extract the oil, and there was such a demand for it, that alternative approaches to fueling cars never really had a chance. I feel there is a lot being ignored in discussions around innovation, namely how to sustain communities, give proper job training, the white-washing cultural impact it can have, and so much more. The title, ‘Modern Phase,’ is kind of poking fun at the idea of a “Modern era” in the hopes that people look at the human and environmental costs a bit more closely.
Is there an artist that you’re listening to – either locally or not – that you think people should hear?
Lido Pimienta is great. So is Perfume Genius. Locally there is tonnes of great stuff: Un Blonde, Maggy France, Loon, Blue Odoeur, ANEMONE, Slight, Blanka, the list goes on.
What was the most exciting part about making Modern Phase? Did you try new things? Mess around with new instruments at all?
The best part was trying out a whole bunch of keyboards we never knew existed. A lot of them made it on the record!
Ottawa has a small, yet strong DIY scene, and that ethic translates into a lot of pretty cool music here. Can you talk a bit about the Montreal scene? What are some of the challenges the scene there is facing these days?
Gentrification is gonna hit pretty soon, as the area around Parc and Beaubien is bracing for a new University of Montreal campus next door. There will be a few new spots opening up in Park-Ex and over on St-Hubert, but for the time being it’s pretty solid with the Plante, Drones, Poisson Noir, the Bog, and a couple others.
You’ve played a lot of dates in the US over the last several months. What is the atmosphere like down there? Was general social discontent pervasive in music clubs? Or was it business as usual?
We had some apologetic Americans in NYC in March, and in general a lot of discussion about the socio-political climate at the moment, that’s for sure. A lot of musicians are quite engaged in fighting the good fight – like our friend Richie in Hamtramck who runs a record store on a shoe-string budget in an area that is gentrifying fast. I think the Trump presidency will bring more people into the political process, which is actually a good thing. I look forward to seeing where people are at when we head out for 10 shows at the end of September.
On a sunny day in June during Ottawa Explosion Weekend, I caught up with Vancouver self-proclaimed powertrash band Needles//Pins. Their new album Good Night, Tomorrow was released in July of this year, and signaled a shift in the band’s sound and production. It’s more polished, and more grandiose than anything they’ve done in the past. But the grittiness quality of songwriting is still there, and fans old and new will fall right into this record.
They’re set to play House of TARG on Friday, August 25th along with Steve Adamyk Band, Audio Visceral, and NECK. Check out this candid interview with the trio, where they talk about the new album, Ottawa roots, and throw themselves under the bus.
Interview with Needles//Pins
You guys have played Ottawa Explosion Weekend before and stopped in Ottawa many times on tour. What’s your relationship to the city?
Adam Ess: Tony and I grew up in the Ottawa Valley, so we grew up about 45 minutes outside of Ottawa. So we started coming to the city in our teens to see shows, and I was in bands since I was fifteen years old playing places like Club SAW. I’ve known OXW organizers Emmanuel (Sayer) and Luke (Martin) for fifteen years or so as a result. I know Emmanuel from when he used to live in Windsor, we played with his old band called Searching for Chin. Then he moved to Ottawa and joined Buried Inside and others.
I guess the first time we played here as a band was the first ever Ottawa Explosion, it was our first cross-Canada tour. We’ve played every year since except last year, that was the only one so far that we haven’t played.
Do you get to spend much time in Ottawa when you’re here?
Tony X: It’s pretty much in and out. Usually it’s between Toronto and Montreal so we don’t have much time to take the extra night in Ottawa, we can’t lose that prime night of playing in other cities. I kind of wish we could just be here all weekend to be honest.
Needles//Pins played with The Smugglers at OXW for the Mint Records Showcase. How did that come about?
Adam: I think one of the impetuses for doing the Smuggs thing is because of Grant Lawrence’s book. It’s all part of the presentation of the book, and with the Mint Records connection we played the Vancouver show and it kind of took off from there.
Tony: Mint probably leaned on them a bit for us to play the show, I don’t think The Smugglers were begging us to play with them haha.
Your new record Good Night, Tomorrow is a bit of a different direction for the band. What is it that you are most excited for the bands to hear?
Adam: The general sound of the record, I think. It’s just such a huge sound, and that’s what we wanted out of it.
Tony: Just like you said, people are noticing it’s different and in a positive way and that’s really great.
Adam: And for us there’s no worry about that, I mean if you liked the band before then you’re going to like the band now. It’s hands-down way better, there’s no doubt about that. They’re the best songs we’ve ever written, the production is so much better, just everything. We took almost a year and a half to write and record the album, we took our time on it and wrote it in chunks, and recording as we went.
Tony: At some point we were recording and thinking, “oh good, it’s only been a year,” and then our producer Jesse told us we started in June… we were like, “oh, fuck…”
If I remember correctly, the last time you guys played Ottawa Explosion before this year there was something that literally exploded on stage.
Macey Bee: Oh shit, I forgot about that.
Tony: Yeah an amp! That was two years ago!
Macey: I think I was also on fire.
Tony: I just remember Adam was out of tune and he blamed me for it, but it actually was him. I just want to clear that up. He blamed me, but it was him. IT WAS NOT TONY, for the record. I don’t know about the amp though.
Adam: Ok then, since we’re going on the record, I am the one that coined the nickname “12 Grain” for Macey.
Tony: Oh I guess we’re recording everything now, airing the grievances. What is this, Festivus?
Have you had any other disasters happen while on tour?
Macey: I think touring with these two is a fucking disaster in general (laughs). I mean I’ve been doing it for a while now and I guess I’ll just have to keep doing it until I die.
Adam: Or until one of us dies, at least. There haven’t been any major disasters though, really. Knock on wood!
Tony: We’ve played shitty so many times, though. The worst show we ever played was in LA, and I’ll go on the record by saying it was all my fault.
Matias: You’re really throwing yourself under the bus here.
Macey: I was going to say that I played really well that night. You fucking blew it man.
Adam: That was a doozy.
Tony: I just didn’t play the right notes. There might have been some technical issues, I don’t know.
Macey: Yeah, technically your fingers didn’t hit the right notes on the bass.
Chicago’s The Blisters are rolling through Ottawa on their way to the River & Sky Music/Camping Festival which is taking place about 4 1/2 hours north-west of Ottawa passed North Bay.
The Blisters play River & Sky Saturday at 4 pm, a couple hours after Ottawa’s very own New Swears, and the same day as PUP, Heat and The Lonely Parade. Before that we are lucky enough to have The Blisters in Ottawa at Pressed this Friday, July 21 along with Toronto’s Giant Hand (info here).
In anticipation of the show we had a chat with The Blisters’ drummer Spencer Tweedy (yes, he is the son of Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy) about the band, touring, and the new album.
What are the main inspirations for The Blisters as a band, musically or otherwise?
We started in 2002 when we were all seven years old. The main inspiration for the band was just that we all wanted to be in a band… We played and we thought it would be cool. I (Spencer) actually started with another friend of ours, who’s not in the band anymore, but Hayden and Henry joined shortly afterward. Tory joined during high school, and we’ve had that same line-up ever since. It feels pretty cool to have been a band together for so long.
For people who haven’t seen you live before, what is a Blisters show like?
We play some loud songs and we play some quieter songs. We don’t typically have moshing or anything like that, but it’s fun when it happens. Typically we see a lot of gentle head bobbing.
You guys are playing River and Sky Festival this weekend. Was this something you guys applied for or did they come looking for you?
Our friend Brett approached us with the offer. I told him that we’d love to play, but that we’d probably need to set some other shows up in Canada to make it feasible. He very kindly helped us do that, too.
How does it feel to be touring in Canada right now? Any highlights so far?
We’re only just arriving in Canada, but I’ve been here before and I love it. We’re all from Chicago and we love that city but Toronto feels like the closest thing to it outside of it. I think we all have the feeling that Canada is a kinder, cleaner America.
You are touring a new album, are there any cool stories or anecdotes from the recording or about the songs you can share?
We made Cured at our friends Liam and Sima Cunningham’s studio, with Dorian Gehring. We made it in about a week and it’s a pretty straightforward record. Henry wrote some of his most badass, roots rock material for it. We always experiment when we’re recording but this one ended up pretty straightforward.
Many people could guess what lead you to music, but what lead you to the drums in particular?
I don’t know what led me to drums. The first time I played was when I was two years old and someone plopped me on a kit in the basement of my mom’s bar, Lounge Ax. After that my parents bought me some sets over the years, and I kept on learning. I’ve played guitar for roughly as long, too, but at some point drums became my main thing. I like the James Brown story/myth about him telling his band that they’re all drummers—guitarists, bassists, etc., all drummers. I’m not a “drums supremacist” but I think that’s a helpful way for everyone to look at music.
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.