Casual Hex presented a show at Pressed that brought forth good tunes and good times last week. With a line up like Steve’s Job, So Sensitive, Tough Age, and Jay Arner, there was always dancing, singing, some banter, and the very few strange mishaps here and there throughout the night.
Opening with a calmer vibe, but not closing off the same way, was Steve’s Job. Despite the few shows they’ve played, this one being Steve’s 4th job, they really harnessed an energy from what they’re doing and hold a very specific stage presence that’s hard to ignore. Subtle and loud, indie but with kick of a new flavour, the band makes the show fun and positive. Guitars light and airy with a good strong baseline and vocal harmonies that range from monotone to expressive. The band is a sight to see and one to listen to. Banter is always included!
Not only that but the band recently began using a chorus pedal and they have it down. It creates an emphasis on verses and lyrics, forming the effect of the band surrounding you completely. You get lost in the soundscape that these incredibly talented individuals create, and it draws you in differently every single time. They’re silly, fun, and they’re the perfect mix of something melancholy and their own upbeat summer sound. I’ve mentioned it before but if you’re going on a road trip, roll down your windows, turn up their tunes, and just listen to the music these people make. It swept the crowd away with its elegance, sweet talked it with its grace and air, and of course got them swaying to the sweet melodies produced. There is absolutely nothing this band can’t get the crowd to do. They’re loud, light, airy, and overall provide great tunes and sweet times for all friends and spectators alike.
The Pixies effect is used by many bands but keeps coming back as a unique and outstanding trait in music. So Sensitive captured this vibe, fusing indie and rock together in a progression of loud, to quiet, to louder. Despite it being their first show, the group is composed of former members of BB Cream and members of Deathsticks. The band brought an air confidence with them, mouthing words to their own songs when only one person would sing and they would dance around while performing. It is grit, but polished grit, and quite frankly the solos played over simple chord progressions seemed so much more complicated than they actually were. Bands that manage to turn simplicity into a beautiful and complex soundscape never fail to blow me away because they’re taking so little and creating so much.
So Sensitivehas a stage presence that seems to push others to let loose and get lost in all the intricate tonality of each and every composition the group has come up with. Each is unique but tied together in a similar sense, often with the shift in mood or pace. They have a solid sound with the power and volume that screams rock. Soft vocals add to that smooth sound that recalls The Pixies’s Kim Deal, and really set a mood for the show.
My best advice is that you look out for the next show they play and head on down to hear some very sweet and joyous tunes that will be sure to get you moving and smiling.
Tough Age, a Toronto based indie rock band, took the stage not too long after and from the very first note had the crowd hooked. The crowd moved in waves, pumped their fists in the air, danced, and sang along to this high energy band. The vocals were in no way clean or polished. That set the tone completely and added a sense of looseness and comfort to the atmosphere.
The bassline is quick and prominent, and the guitar follows up right behind, the two instruments creating harmonies that get you hooked and dancing. The raw passion that is used to play the bass and guitar are absolutely insane. Tough Age play with such fire that within the first few minutes of the set one of the strings of Jes’s guitar snapped and he ended up playing through a song with five strings.
The drums are quick and prominent. I didn’t see a moment where Jesse wasn’t smiling. Despite the rhythmic pattern being continuous through certain songs, it didn’t stop him from playing with his whole heart or from breaking a drumstick. There’s much use of the cymbals and this creates a new layer to the songs that wouldn’t normally be found. The fills are perfectly placed and there’s just enough to keep each song interesting but not overly complex. There’s depth and thought placed into it but it’s loud and proud.
Tough Age fall nothing short of a must-see band. If you haven’t seen them, you’ve probably heard of them… and if you haven’t even heard of them, well, now you have.
They’re a high energy band with lots of passion for what they do.
Jay Arner, a psychedelic new wave sounding band from Vancouver was the one to headlined the show. The harmonies the member created where smooth and layered with precision. Close to what the Arctic Monkeys have done and continue to do but with more of a Joy Division meets The Smiths vibe. They grab at your attention the moment they step on stage. From the instruments to the way they dress, there isn’t anything that doesn’t get you itching to hear their tunes.
The vocals are soft and beyond their generally flat sound, there’s an evident play of tones. Jay creates an almost soft spoken effect while singing and harmonizing with the rest of the band. This adds unspoken feeling and power to the songs despite keeping a mellow resonance.
Synths are used for effects that pull you in and make you feel like you’re floating through space, the drums keep you in the loop and provide you with a beat to move to. Fast, slow, with intricate fills or without, the drumming falls nothing short of fast paced and muddled together. This is done in such a way where it sounds clean despite the fact that the cymbals were being hit with a fair amount of power.
Spacey, lost, colourful—this is what the sound makes me think of. You’re floating in zero gravity, dancing as if nobody is watching, just completely in time and tune with the music. It takes you in and captures your attention because it’s not something that is often found in music in this day and age. The band kicks it old school in terms of sound and brings a nostalgia forward that you weren’t even aware of.
All the individuals are incredibly talented, and each band brings its own unique styling to the shows they play. It’s never a repetition of the same sounds or progressions and the banter is always different. It ranges from untraceable, unlikable websites to self-depreciating jokes and general thanks for supporting the bands. So make sure to get yourself down to Pressed for some wicked shows by some wicked cool and talented individuals.
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.
During Ottawa Explosion’s fourth day, the outdoor stage at Club SAW was rocked by the Mint Records Showcase featuring The Smugglers, NEEDLES//PINS, Tough Age and Expanda Fuzz.
The iconic Canadian garage rock band The Smugglers headlined the wonderful evening. The band from Vancouver, BC existed from 1988 – 2004, and just recently reunited for select shows in 2017. Lead singer Grant Lawrence, who many know as a host on CBC Radio 3, is wildly energetic and engaging as a frontman. He kicked off the show by saying: “Ottawa, it is so good to be back in the city that birthed The White Wires, Stand GT, Resin Scrapers, The Creeps, Million Dollar Marxists, Tokyo Sex Whale and so many more!” That was quite the tribute to the locals here, and many of the aforementioned bands had members in the audience. He continued “Since the last time you saw us in Ottawa we have had nine children and one heart attack.
They call themselves a rock n’ roll band, which they most certainly are, with hints of surf and very danceable garage (maybe those terms weren’t cool back when they were). Their sound is amazing and infectious and had people dancing and singing along non-stop. I try to make a point to not comment on a band’s attire, but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the full suit and rubber boots look sported by many of the members.
The band played a high energy 12-song set featuring “Vancouver BC,” which Lawrence mentioned “was almost a hit on Much Music,” the International Smuggler Dance Competition judged by the drummer of NEEDLES//PINS and “Booze” which was dedicated to the drummer of The Gruesomes, a band from Montreal that changed Lawrence’s life, who happened to be from Ottawa. They closed with “Rock n’ Roll Was Never This Fun” and thanked us all for attending what could be one of the last Smugglers shows ever. It is bittersweet that my first Smugglers show may be my last, but I’m ecstatic that I got to see them play my favourite festival.
NEEDLES//PINS took to the stage before The Smugglers and were full of apologies from the get go. After playing their opening song “Drop It” they said “Feels so good to be back, I can’t believe we missed an Explosion I’m sorry. We will never miss another.” I sure hope the Explosion team holds them to that as I love knowing I will see this band every year. Before launching into “Best Friend” they urged us all to high-five our best friend which was a really fun moment to watch happen all around them in the packed Club SAW courtyard.
They also played a bunch of music off their new record, Good Night, Tomorrow, which hadn’t been released yet but is now available. The new tracks sounded great and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the album. Their set featured one of the cutest and most heart-warming moments of the festival. Not everyone knows that even though the band is from BC, one of their members is from the Ottawa Valley. Emmanuel Sayer (OXW organizer) noticed some of the family members, mostly older, sitting by the stage during the set and ran them over some earplugs. What a gentleman. It is always awesome to see NEEDLES//PINS perform, they are incredibly talented but also just such nice and positive people.
Tough Age, formally from Vancouver and now based in Toronto, played Ottawa Explosion again and are becoming a festival mainstay. The new-ish, stripped down three-piece (formally a bigger band) have really embraced some post-punk influences and sound with their new music, such as the song “Not That Bad.” I, and a couple of people I was chatting with, really dig it. One of the things that blows me away about this band is how the guitarist and bass player just switch instruments back and forth throughout the set. I have massive respect and am in awe of bands that can do that, it’s just wild. Member Jarrett Samson said in closing, “I’m excited to see NEEDLES//PINS and if they don’t play “Drop It” I’m going to burn this tent to the ground.” Lucky for him and all of us, NEEDLES//PINS opened with “Drop It” as mentioned and we all avoided a catastrophe.
Opening the Mint Records Showcase was local duo Expanda Fuzz. I was unfortunately running late and missed some of their set, but as always what I did hear was most excellent. Their fuzzy and drone garage style sound has this perfect slow crawling build that leaves me wanting more. In a short time as a band, they have already released a bunch of great music, but I am constantly going back to the first song I heard them play “Flavour: Zombie.” Every time I see them perform that song I get a big smile on my face and have to bob my head. I’m glad that even arriving late, I managed to catch it.