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.
On Thursday night, crowds escaped the damp, rainy Ottawa streets and piled into a dimly lit Bronson Centre to witness an evening of ambient, atmospheric music. Headliner Timber Timbre visited Ottawa for the fourth time in 6 years along with support from Ottawa’s own Boyhood Scattered Clouds.
Scattered Clouds took to the stage first, rising out of an ascending red fog. Performing as a 2-piece band with Jamie Kronick on drums and Philippe Charbonneau on guitar, keyboard, and vocals, this band was the most surprising act of the night. In terms of style, Scattered Clouds describe themselves as “dark, experimental, and post apocalyptic.” These characteristics could not be more fitting. Beginning their set with a heavy presence of baritone guitar and an emphasis on drums driving the synths, the band achieved a sound that could easily be equated to a modern day embodiment of a Joy Division b-side album, with an “Ian Curtis- esque” vocal tone. The second half of the set however, transitioned into an emphasis on synth and a precision in instrumentation. Creating an atmospheric 80’s dance vibe, the band achieved a type of lo-kfi sound that left the audience in a state of euphoria. Waking from this set with the harsh Bronson Centre lighting was like waking out of a heavy, romantic dream.
When the lights dimmed again, our good pals Boyhood took to the stage. Clad in flared pants and turtlenecks, Boyhood did not fail to deliver their staple moody, noisy sound. As always Caylie Runciman delivered raw and airy vocals that harmonized beautifully with her band, and provided an emotional and unpolished set completed with songs that morphed and melted into one another. Giving us a taste of what is to be expected from the upcoming album Bad Mantras, which will be the bands first album since 2012, the set featured the bands catchy “Drivin’” and “He Don’t.” Beginning with keyboard, Caylie swapped over to guitar midway through the set where she went to town in an emotional and raw guitar solo. It’s easy to get lost in a Boyhood set, and this was no exception.
Last but not least, Timber Timbre finished the night in almost total darkness, with only subtle lighting sweeping the stage. A glass of liquor sat idled on an amp to the right, Taylor Kirk began playing what seemed like it would be the entirety of his most recent work, Sincerely Future Pollution. However four songs in, the set took a detour towards an intermingling of a huge sample of his work, ranging from his self titled back in 2009 to his most recent. Detouring the set with Hot Dreams, the band’s instrumentation, and deep, sultry vocals, the song was delivered with a raw, sensual and emotional demeanour.
This specific Timber Timbre performance was unlike many others. His previous shows in Ottawa, which included a performance in Ottawa’s first Baptist Church in 2011, a set at Folk Fest in 2012, where he performed alone with a kick drum, and even his set at Jazz Fest in 2015, stuck pretty tightly to the delivery of the songs on the album. However, this set tended to use the style in the albums as backdrops for experimentation and improvisation with melody and pace during the performance, providing unequivocal authenticity. Most notable in this performance was the “Curtains?!” jam session that lengthened the song by about two extra minutes with intense instrumentation. The night ended with a 3-part encore beginning with “Grand Canyon,” that delivered an expressive and theatrical but emotive and raw finale.
This show captured a unique energy that seems to have been strengthened by the uniqueness of all the bands but also the ways in which they played off of one another. They each brought an atmospheric sound and seamless instrumentation, as well as a hard punch in the heartstrings with their raw vocals, lyrical movements, and honest and authentic delivery. The perfect ambiance to fit the creepy environment that is the Bronson Centre on a rainy evening, this show was not one to miss.
Japandroids made their triumphant return to Ottawa this past Sunday after nearly a decade away. They brought with them Cloud Nothings, a gritty garage rock band from Cleveland, Ohio, who made their Ottawa debut at the Bronson Centre.
I fell into Cloud Nothings as they were dropping their third album, Attack on Memory, back in 2012 and never looked back. Their 2014 followup Here and Nowhere Else and their 2015 split with WAVVES called No Life For Me were equally impactful—each had their own character and feel that I thoroughly enjoyed. This is one band I had somehow missed at all the festivals and shows I’d been to over the years, and their perceived avoidance of Ottawa was truly a bummer.
But that all changed Sunday night, as this stacked bill had no problems packing the Bronson Centre’s main floor. Cloud Nothing have seemed to always tow a line of self-defeatism, the “down-and-out” rockers on Attack on Memory finally pulled through and found a semblance of purpose on the gritty followup Here and Nowhere Else. So when Life Without Sound emerged earlier this year, it was exciting, yet I was skeptical and unsure of what to expect. However, when the needled dropped for the first time, it was like a breath of fresh air. The band’s new songs translated incredibly well live, and band members fed off each others stage energy. The album itself comes off as more refined, more direct, and less chaotic than their previous efforts. Songs like “Up to the Surface” and “Enter Entirely” are more restrained than much of their catalogue, and the John Goodmanson’s production gives Life Without Sound a more cohesive and refined feel.
On the stage, Cloud Nothings were tight as hell and nailed every moment of their performance. With this kind of music, it’s easy to get lost in the fuzzy riffs and percussive thunderclaps, but the band strung their set together with ease and precision. Dylan Baldi let loose on a number of occasions and didn’t hesitate to crank up the rasp and scream into his mic. One feature of the set that stood out was drummer Jayson Gerycz’s total domination of the kit. On multiple occasions, he took the spotlight and commanded the drum set with reckless abandon. His tirades were a welcome fixture in their performance, particularly at the end, as he seemed to lock eyes with the all audience members at the same time while pounding our senses with his kick. If Ottawa didn’t know Cloud Nothings before, they sure do now.
Japandroids rocked the Bronson Centre on Sunday Night.
Next up was Vancouver’s Japandroids, pleasing the audience with their much anticipated return to the capital. Lean vocalist and guitarist Brian King noted the long absence, and shared a funny story with the crowd about their last Ottawa gig. The duo formed in 2006 and slugged it out in the Vancouver scene for years, often taking a DIY approach to music and putting together their own shows and do short tours in the area. They put out a couple of EPs in 2007 and 2008, but started to turn heads with their debut LP Post-Nothing. With irresistible jams like “Heart Sweats,” “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” and “Wet Hair,” this is about the time that I fell in love with the band.
Their second LP Celebration Rock was released in 2012, and was almost universally acclaimed by major music publications. It is also pretty much my favourite album of all time, but I digress. Japandroids dug deep into their catalogue and played songs spanning their 3 LPs and gave fans old and new everything they wanted. The tone was set right away as they opened with the title track of their latest record Near to the Wild Heart of Life, an all-out rock and roll anthem that immediately unleashed the energy of the crowd. The crowd indulged in the vocal refrains (“oh oh oh’s”) which has become such a staple in Japandroids tracks, and a truly unifying force. Given the current state of things in the world, picture hundreds of young folks yelling the chorus:
“And it got me all fired up / To go far away / And make some ears ring from the sound of my singing, baby”
The group played older tracks such as “Heart Sweats” and “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” as well as many off of Celebration Rock like “The Nights of Wine and Roses,” “Fire’s Highway, and my personal favourite “Younger Us” (which I would like to be played loudly at my funeral, but I digress).
Japandroids delivered a full dose of raw and unhinged emotion in every song they play. David Prowse’s drumming was as great as ever, but his vocals were noticeably improved since the first time I saw the band back in 2013. His back up presence boosted the overall impact of each song, and it was clear that the two of them had each song down to near perfection. King kept the audience engaged at all times, and didn’t let up throughout the set even though the heat and lack of ventilation in the Bronson Centre was getting noticeably worse as they played.
Even new songs with a different instrumental approach such as “Arc of Bar” and “North East South West” were performed immaculately, and if anyone in the crowd was not on the board with the new record, they were hidden by bodies flying and silenced by the screams of many.
King took a quick pause to share an anecdote about their last time in Ottawa:
“It was at Ottawa Bluesfest in 2009, I think. And it was pissing rain. We were having the best time, but the stage crew was rushing to cover all of our gear with tarps to get the hell out of there. They just wanted us to stop so they could go see Kiss play on the other stage.”
All in all, the group did what they do best—giving the audience the best possible performance. Coming off a raucous night in Montreal (which my friends and I also attended), the Ottawa show was just as impactful—if not more so, only because anticipation had been building for almost a decade. They closed out with one of their biggest songs, the triumphant anthem “The House That Heaven Built.” With fists pumping in the air, shirts soaked with sweat, and vocal cords bursting at the seams, we all sang our god damn hearts out and yelled like hell to the heavens.
My only advice is this: if you haven’t listened to or seen Japandroids before, do it. They are what rock and roll infused with punk rock look like in 2017, and their music will pick you back up on your feet when the world knocks you down.
Some things never change. Walking down Bronson Avenue among the early fall aromas of Pizza Pizza dough and gasoline, I felt unstuck in time. It felt like a scene from a movie about my life circa 2007: a young man makes his way to a New Pornographers show at the Bronson Centre. Oh, and Born Ruffians are playing.
Okay, so maybe some things change. Ten years makes an impact, and the city, the music scene, and everyone involved have changed quite a bit. In theory, the New Pornographers have roughly same lineup they did when “Use It” was pretty much everywhere, but Dan Bejar and Neko Case were notably absent Thursday night. Dan is busy with Destroyer and Neko is occupied with her solo career. Todd Fancey and Kathryn Calder were their backups, and while they were fantastic replacements, there is something slightly off about the band when two of its most prominent members are absent.
Yet Carl Newman’s presence was enough to make all absences irrelevant. Two decades in a touring band will hone one’s talents, and Newman has become one with the stage. He clearly knows the material, and he still brings a tonne of energy to older songs, of which the lengthy set list contained many.
The band played a tight, breathless set comprising most of their well known songs, with the exception of any sung by Bejar (some things cannot be replaced). Their triumphant closer was The Bleeding Heart Show off 2005’s Twin Cinema, a masterpiece of Canadian indie rock that starts slow and builds to a soaringly high energy finale. Doubtless, they know their audience, and the room went absolutely crazy for it. That is, they went crazy for the parts they could make out over the refractive wall of sound issuing from the stage.
Because, here’s the thing: the Bronson Centre is nice and all, but the acoustics are pretty awful. It’s a square room with nothing on the ceiling and bare, reflective walls. The sound bounces around in there like Flubber, and with a band like The New Pornographers that can really be a problem. There were seven people on stage, with violins, keyboards, guitars and drums all clattering together. Now try adding vocals to that mud, and you’ll see why a melodically-focused band might be better off in a different venue.
However, since Bronson Centre is about the only venue in the city with the right size for the band, we may be stuck with it.
Luckily for Born Ruffians, they had only three members on stage. The band was a good fit as an opener because, besides having risen to fame at roughly the same time, their music is written in service of its vocals. Both Carl Newman and Luke Lalonde put on excellent performances, even if their vocals were largely indiscernible. Born Ruffians even debuted a couple of new songs from their upcoming record, which seemed like a step in a distinctly more dancy-punk direction.
While both of these bands have been around for some time, the fans were going just as crazy for their new stuff as their old stuff. The future is as bright as the past for them.
The Flatliners are a band that have never shied away from trying new things. While they’ve left behind the frenetic ska punk that helped them explode onto the Canadian music landscape in the mid-2000’s, the band has stayed true to themselves through sincere songwriting and exploration of new sounds. Moving on from Fat Wreck Chords and signing to Dine Alone and Rise Records in 2017 for their new LP Inviting Light, The Flatliners have embraced change. Inviting Light istheir fifth studio album, released April 7th, and is an unhindered effort to explore new musical territory. The band explores new melodies, down tempo rhythms, cleaner guitar tones, and subdued vocals by lead singer Chris Cresswell. But don’t let this assessment deter the fans of The Flatliners of old.
There are peaks in valleys with respect to the energy in Inviting Light, and plenty of dirty growls and riffs to go around. The album itself is an embodiment of what it feels like to near your 30’s, particularly after spending half your life (15 years) in a band and touring tirelessly around the world. It’s wiser, weathered, and perhaps a little worn. But the songs on Inviting Light are closer to the heart than anything we’ve heard before. The lyricism and songwriting are arguably better than ever, and lay bare exactly who this band is at this point in their career. For many of us who grew up with this band, Inviting Light feels like home.
I had a great chat with lead singer Chris Cresswell leading up to their Ottawa tour date with The Dirty Nil and Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs, which has to be one of the best lineups of the year. Have a read below.
The Flatliners play Ottawa on Wednesday, June 14th, at Babylon Nightclub with guests The Dirty Nil and Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs. Presented by Spectrasonic. Tickets information and purchase link here.
Interview with Chris Cresswell of The Flatliners
What’s your favourite part about being on the road with great bands like Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs and The Dirty Nil?
Chris Cresswell: It’s pretty akin to the current state of the Canadian music scene. It’s incredible right now, and we’ve always had a strong music history spanning back decades with Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, not to mention 90’s alternative and the the birth of punk with bands like D.O.A. . I think we’re experiencing a fervour in the air right now, and something really great is happening. There are so many great bands out there, look at the Dirty Nil – they just won a well-deserved Juno! Then there’s PUP, a band which is known around the world now. There’s bands like Greys, Secret Satanists, Weaves, Dilly Dally. They’re all so talented, and all so different. I think we’re witnessing a pretty positive time in the Canadian music scene, and if we can bring bands like The Dirty Nil and Sam Coffey with us on tour, that is great because those two bands rip.
Sometimes it’s just a coincidence that so many great bands come out of one place, it’s kind of like the Philly scene right now, too. You’ve got bands of all shapes and sizes coming out of that market, bands like Menzingers, Hop Along, Modern Baseball, The Restorations, and so many more. They’re all incredible and most of them friends, I don’t know what makes that ecosystem of creativity.
I think part of it up here is being Canadian, we’re able to get a lot of funding for music. I know FACTOR has been under fire a lot, but it’s still pretty incredible that our government funds the arts the way it does. I think maybe that frees up more time for artists to focus on their craft. And I think there’s some magic happening too!
Just having so many exciting Canadian bands doing their own thing, you’ll see a few bands like the ones I mentioned before doing something different and that inspires others to create, too.
What are some of the ways you’ve learned to live with each other on the road, and still enjoy making music together over the years?
Chris Cresswell: It helps that we’ve all known each other for a long time – this year the band turns 15-years old. Scott and I have known each other since kindergarten, and Scott and I met Jon in grade two or something. Then we met Paul when we were 11 or 12-years old, and started the band a few years after we met him. So we’ve known each other most of our lives, and knowing each other so well as people definitely helps. I think you never really know someone until you travel with them, and luckily I think we’re pretty good at that.
That being said, we tour so goddamn much that the close quarters definitely has its effects and it’s important to let people have their alone time. The same thing applies to any kind of relationship, whether it’s romantic or not, people need their own time. There’s late nights on the road, there’s early mornings, there’s drinking, there’s often terrible food involved, but then there’s a really fun show at the end of the night.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, that the show itself is only such a minute part of your day that takes up almost no time compared to everything else. There are so many determining factors the can affect how you feel walking on stage. As long as you’re doing what you love, that’s the important part. Not every day on tour is going to be the best day of your life – you’re going to have rough days, bad days, and great days. But you just gotta try your best to take the good with the bad. If someone’s having a bad time, then if they want to talk about – talk. If not, then don’t. Let people go for walks, sometimes that helps so much. Going for that short walk in a city you don’t really know that well while on tour kind of lets the whole situation sink in – that you’r part of a band and that’s really important.
That’s one of the biggest touring lessons we’ve learned. You just have to roll with the punches, especially on the bad days because they’re going to happen once in a while.
The evolution in sound since the early 2000’s has been significant, and obviously music changes as people change. Is this progression in the band’s sound a conscious choice? Or is it more or a natural move that reflects where you are all at now?
Chris Cresswell: It’s been an extremely natural thing, for sure. Even if we’re not making an explicitly “conceptual” record, each one is still conceptual in its own way. It’s a snap shot of time from your life, experiences, encounters, friends’ stories, and stuff like that. I’m not really one to write songs from a fictional standpoint with characters that are made up.
That being said, my life changes all the time. The easiest way I can explain it is this: think of a friend that you’ve had for a long time but haven’t seen for a few years. When you see them again for the first time in a few years, they’re a different person. Now attach any kind of artistic outlet to someone and you realize that their art and craft changes with them, too. Just like in any job, the longer you spend at it, the hope is that you’ll become better as time goes on. For us as musicians, it’s been a natural thing because not only do we love making music together but we also tour together – a lot. So I feel like it would be strange if the new record sounded like the last one, because we played that last one 500 times and people have already heard that. Something just changes in you I think.
That being said, wanting to explore the new avenues is a conscious choice. I think you’re betraying yourself as an artist if you don’t pursue new ways to express yourself, and no one wants to hear the same thing over and over again. It already exists, so move forward.
With Inviting Light, there was an awareness that we were exploring new territory and we got curious as to how people would react. But it just felt good, and if it feels good you just keep on with it. Especially when you’ve been doing this as long as we have, you just keep going for it – especially if it feels right!
It’s not a slight on the records we’ve made in the past, of course we love those songs. But it’s incredible to see your fan base grow with you, too. There are a lot of fans who are our age, which is really cool. We made records at pretty formative years in our lives, the first one was when we were 16-years old. If we keep on making records when we’re 40, there will be a lot of 40-year olds listening to those records. It’s been cool to have so many people come on this ride with us.
And one last thing – what is really neat to think about is how awesome it will be to mix in these new songs with the old ones when on stage, because it’s all about touring and playing those songs live. That’s why we recorded our entire last album, Dead Language, live – we wanted it to sound like it does when we hit the stage, and I think we did a good job of that. If you over-do it in the writing process, then you’re thinking, “shit, I still need to play this live,” you know? It’s been so exciting to think about how all these different songs can be put together on stage as a setlist.
I saw an interview with a musician recently who said something interesting. They said instead of making your next record, make your first record. That’s kind of a cool thing, to burn the whole thing down and start over each time. It takes away some of that pressure, and then you can just enjoy the music as it comes. I really like that mentality, just make the best first impression you can make. With this new record, this is mentality we’ve taken. Once we realized the direction the record was taking, we kind of just let everything fall into place. And that being said, the record was done before Dine Alone and Rise became involved.
Inviting Light is the first record album released through Rise Records and Dine Alone. Was the transition from Fat Wreck Chords difficult? Or was it something that you were all ready for moving forward?
Chris Cresswell: We always record in secret. Nowadays, everyone loves to post their daily lives on social media and share everything instantly. But for us, that’s a distraction when it comes to making a new album. We came here to work, not post shit on the internet, you know? That’s way we did Dead Language and the same way we did Cavalcade, and that is in two chunks with a lot of time between. That’s such a great way to record because you fall in love with the material again. The reason you make the songs you do and play with your friends is because you are a fan of your own band. Of course we like our own band, we better! Because we have to play these songs so many times, you gotta like it. So we’ll go to the studio, come up with a bunch of ideas, and then just sit on them. That’s why there’s always so much time between our albums. If we like an idea when we come back to it later on, then we’ll stick with it. And in the meantime, we’ll have written more songs and work those in. Then we’ll put it all together and see what happens. That’s when Dine Alone and Rise came on board, basically. I guess they just wanted to hear it.
We had an amazing ten years with Fat Wreck Chords, and it was hard to have the conversation to try something else. But in the end, that’s all it was, just curiosity. They took such a huge chance on us as 19-year old Canadian kids. Mike took us on tour with NOFX to so many places around the world, and we’ve met so many great people and made friends with some of our fucking heroes. In the end it kind of inspired us to think about where else we want to go with it.
It was difficult, but everyone at Fat is so lovely. Whenever a band leaves a legendary, staple record label, people always think there’s bad blood or something. So often that just isn’t the case. The record label is often just like, “look, you guys gotta do what you gotta do. It’s your band.” That was the case with Fat, everyone there was just super pumped for us. We will always be part of that family. It just inspired us to see what else we can do with this band, and we never dreamed we’d be where we are. Being an almost 30-year old young man (and I use that term very loosely), it kind of makes you think “shit, ok, it’s time to do something else!” And that’s really exciting.
The folks at Rise and Dine Alone have been so great, it’s exciting to have new people listening to your music and basically everything has been awesome. We’ve been able to play these new songs live now a few times and it feels really good. You know, you spend a few years of your life on these tracks and when the album finally comes out and start playing these songs, sometimes it’s like… this is better than sex! Not to get weird or anything, but it’s a very, very strong feeling.
You started the band at a very young age, and know what it’s like to be a young music fan. Do you see young folks at your shows connecting with your music?
Chris Cresswell: It’s super cool to see. That Weezer run we did was really cool, because they have such a huge and diverse fan base. I mean, playing with Weezer to begin with us crazy awesome. But in some cases it was a kid’s first show going to see Weezer, and we were the opening band. So we were the first band they ever see! That’s so cool! And then you’ll see a 60-year old woman and she’ll dig it. I mean, most of our shows are 19+ just because our fans tend to be a drinking crowd. Not that we don’t want to do all-ages shows because we know how important they are. They were important to us when we were kids, that’s how it started. Imagine if we couldn’t see NOFX, Rancid, Suicide Machines because they were playing 19+ shows, that would have sucked. When those all ages shows happen, it’s a really cool thing.
One of the Ottawa region’s pride and joy is Beau’s Brewery, the purveyors of all kinds of delicious beer. You guys have worked with them before in the past, do you have a favourite beer of theirs?
Chris Cresswell: Oh, buddy. Beau’s Beer. Those guys are all incredible. I’ve known a lot of them for over ten years, and I’ve known Steve Beauchesne since before they started Beau’s and was still in the band called Constable Brennan. Lug Tread is incredible, and one of my favourite beers in the world. It’s like that first impression we were talking about earlier, like, make the best beer you can possibly make. I’ve been drinking it for ten years and every time I have it I’m like, “damn, that’s a good beer”. They have so many good ones, another one I really love is St. Luke’s Verse, which is a lavender gruit ale. They’ve been buddies for a long time and have been so good to us. They’ve just been killing it and we couldn’t be happier. It’s cool to see hard work pay off, the reason they’re doing great things is because they respect the process and treat their employees really, really well.
Their support of bands stems from a place of their love for music. Before they were a brewery, those guys were huge fans of music. So supporting music is something that comes naturally for them, and it encompasses the lives of many people around them. It’s a really cool thing to see what they’ve done.
Any secrets that singers like you and Luke from Dirty Nil use to keep your vocal cords from exploding night to night?
Chris Cresswell: It’s insane. A few years ago I blew my vocal cords out and couldn’t talk or sing for a few months. This was before we went to Europe for the first time and I was afraid I did permanent damage. So I called up an Ear, Nose & Throat specialist, and they put a camera up my throat and I saw the damage I had done. When you sing the way I do, you can’t avoid singing like that. You can do all these things to avoid it, sooth it, maintain it, but you can’t really get around the fact that singing this way causes damage. Luke from Dirty Nil has an incredible voice, and Stephan from PUP, too. He had some pretty terrible things happen to his voice in the past few years. His damage was a lot worse than mine, but he’s a lot better now and learned a lot from that experience. It’s truly a story of human perseverance.
The biggest thing I’ve changed is that I can’t go to a loud bar after a show anymore. That used to be a huge thing, you finish your show and go to the bar for some drinks. Trying to talk to each other over loud music in a packed bar, they say that is more harmful to your voice than actually singing. It makes no sense, but it’s true. I also do more vocal warm ups, and test out how my voice is doing before shows. I try to be healthy, too. Try to avoid eating too much dairy. I avoid smoking too, I used to smoke a lot of weed on the road a lot and I don’t do that at home. I’ll do that at home. Apparently drinking is bad, too. Basically anything fun is bad for your voice.
But yeah, just little things to maintain the vocal cords, drinking more tea, getting more rest (which is hard on tour). One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t hit every note every time. Sometimes you just have to admit defeat. You gotta realize you’re just a human being, and people don’t care. They’re there to have fun, so stressing out about it will just make it worse. Just like I said before, take the bad with the good. ✺
The Flatliners – Tour Dates (North America)
JUN 14 – Ottawa, ON at Babylon
with The Dirty Nil, Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs
JUN 15 – Waterloo, ON at Maxwell’s
with The Dirty Nil, Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs
JUN 16 – Toronto, ON at Lee’s Palace
with The Dirty Nil, Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs
JUN 17 – Toronto, ON at Lee’s Palace
with The Dirty Nil, Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs
JUL 07 – Buffalo, NY at Studio at Waiting Room
with Pkew Pkew Pkew, Garrett Dale (of Red City Radio)
JUL 08 – Cleveland, OH at The Grog Shop
with Pkew Pkew Pkew, Garrett Dale (of Red City Radio)
JUL 09 – Pittsburgh, PA at The Funhouse
with Pkew Pkew Pkew, Garrett Dale (of Red City Radio)
JUL 11 – Washington, DC at Black Cat
with Pkew Pkew Pkew, Garrett Dale (of Red City Radio)
JUL 13 – Asbury Park, NJ at Wonder Bar
with Pkew Pkew Pkew, Garrett Dale (of Red City Radio)
JUL 14 – Brooklyn, NY at Knitting Factory
with Pkew Pkew Pkew, Garrett Dale (of Red City Radio)
JUL 15 – Pawtucket, RI at The Met
with Pkew Pkew Pkew, Garrett Dale (of Red City Radio)
JUL 16 – Boston, MA at The Middle East
with Pkew Pkew Pkew, Garrett Dale (of Red City Radio)
JUL 17 – Philadelphia, PA at Boot & Saddle
with Pkew Pkew Pkew, Garrett Dale (of Red City Radio)
JUL 20 – Belleville, ON at Empire Rockfest
JUL 21 – Rimouski, QC at Les Grandes Fetes Telus
JUL 22 – Saguenay, QC at Festival des Bieres du Monde
JUL 23 – Quebec City, QC at Bar L’Anti
with Downstater, Mental Fix, As One Man
AUG 26 – San Bernardino, CA at It’s Not Dead Festival
A lot of us are cracking our knuckles and getting ready for the busy summer concert season. We’re going to be starting a new series of photo galleries that give readers an intimate look into some of the shows we go to. Our photographers like getting up close and personal with the artists on stage, so we’d like you to join us front and centre.
Today’s gallery is from a show last month, one that internationally renowned singer-songwriter Leif Vollebekk enchanted a packed First Baptist Church with his mystifying lyrical prowess and graceful instrumentation along with support from Ludovic Alarie. Fresh off releasing his acclaimed new album Twin Solitude, Vollebekk appeased the audience with a number of remarkable new songs in his repertoire. Photographer Els Durnford captured the essence of the night in black and white, offering moody shots for a night that was full of smiles. Have a look below.
Leif Vollebekk and Ludovic Alarie at First Baptist Church – April 14, 2017
Not only was the 12th of May an insane night due to how amazing the show at the Bronson Centre Theatre was, but it was insane for many reasons. As a short preview, I’ll give a list – dead batteries, between-act adventures, and battery compartment latches malfunctioning. Does that sound eventful yet? Most likely.
The first act to come on was Everett Bird. The dynamic that the band possessed was very unique in comparison to other bands that I’ve seen, and although I had completely blown my hearing, I could tell there was something this band possessed that few do. The band takes scales and plays with them with precision. Everett brought his scales from the highest notes he could use down to middle tones, all while being in harmony with what the others were playing. It was such a strange dynamic but it melded together very smoothly. He even produced noises from the guitar that don’t sound like they would come out of such an instrument.
They took these delicate and high notes and combined them into a gritty song filled with power chords, but they also take an approach to their music that sounds a bit like psychedelic and progressive rock. It’s very easy to get lost in and just let the music sway you. The lyrics take you into a different world completely. They produce vivid imagery through each song and through their lyrics, telling a story through each song. This was not limited to just vocals but it was through every note played. Though they didn’t move around very much, they seemed to take a different approach to getting the crowd lost in their music.
Unfortunately, this was the band I did not manage to get any photographs of. This is the first reason my night got thrown into absolute chaos. The batteries for my camera where dead, or so it appeared. It wouldn’t turn on, and I was unable to do anything with it. So as soon as Everett Bird got off stage, I had asked my friend to google the nearest corner store, which was on Albert Street, and while we booked it for the Quickie, one of my very close and dear friends held our spot in case we didn’t make it back in time. The walk was a six minute walk and I had determination that nobody could get in the way of. As soon as we got to the Quickie, we paced around, trying to scope out any batteries, and we noticed them behind the counter. The man charged me a good $10.16 for four AA batteries, and as soon as everything was paid for, we bolted out of the store. We had a brisk walk back, and it was as if everything was in our favour. All the lights turned to the little walking pedestrian as we approached them and we got back just as PS. I Love You had started.
PS I Love You is a group from Kingston that initially started out as a one-man-band, however Paul Saulnier realized that he needed more than just himself to partake in the band, and so Benjamin Nelson joined. The two really lose themselves in the music they create, and the sense of the sound wrapping around you slowly takes over. They really set the mood and atmosphere around them and they know how to control every aspect of it. Not only this, but the two are incredibly talented. Paul had at one point taken his guitar behind his head and shred the most amazing solo which only indicates how much raw talent these individuals possess.
Because it’s just the two of them, they have a very harmonious way of working together. It seems like the harmony goes deeper than just the music, which only helps them in their live performances. Their light and airy sound is drenched in reverb, and soaked in the sound produced by the organ pedal used for the guitar. The sound produced was very heavy yet interesting. I’d never heard anything like it before. It was entirely new to me and if I’m honest, it’s the first I’ve heard of such a pedal existing. The vocals were unconventional in the sense that they’re not perfect or smooth. They’re their own and fit into the very strange assortment of harmonies and melodies that were put together.
Unfortunately, halfway through their set, my camera stopped working once again. For the life of me I could not figure out what was going on until I took a closer look at the battery compartment. For my camera, it was located at the bottom, which meant a lot of force had to go into closing it. I had flipped it over and opened the compartment and as I had done so, I realized the small sliver of black plastic that held it shut had broken off and the little compartment could no longer be closed properly. At this point, I had had enough. I had come to the show to have a good time, and to get some amazing photographs and I was determined not to leave without them.
“But your camera is half broken,” you may say. Technically yes, but literally nothing was going to stop me from shooting this show. Anyone who knows me, knows that I’ve been looking forward to this for far too long. In the moment, I looked over at what tools I had (which wasn’t much) and decided on my solution. I quickly wrapped the camera strap around the camera itself, making sure to pull it tight across the bottom. I looped it twice and then looped what remained around my right hand then placed my pinkie right where the battery compartment was and ensured it stayed shut. This wasn’t only difficult to do, but it was painful as well. This is how I managed to shoot the rest of the show.
Ottawa natives Hollerado came on after a quick little sound check from their crew and jumped right into what they do best. The stage went dark right before they emerged and the UV lights lit up the stage and displayed all the graphics that were painted on either large sheets, guitar cases, boxes, or the likes. Dean’s bass resonated clearly throughout the theatre and it could have been because I was very close by, but Hollerado has always been a band that has shown appreciation for a good bass line time and time again. Even the drumming that Jake presents to us is unlike anyone else’s drumming. In its own ways it’s simple enough to learn if you worked on it, however he plays with such energy and passion that I don’t think many could match even if they put their hearts into it. Although I have said that the drumming is simple enough to learn if you really sat down and tried, it’s also not as simple as it looks or sounds. It’s very precise when it comes down when each beat is hit, and it relies on rudiments. The way he even controls how loud or soft the sound gets takes practice and it’s something that most people don’t take into account.
Menno’s vocals are very rock and punk-based, especially with the new album. Of course, there is the backing vocals of Dean, Nixon, and Jake that add that slightly more indie-rock feel, which go back to the roots of the band. I particularly admired Nixon’s playing, especially how quickly he got back on his feet from his injury. The thing about the way he plays, he almost becomes one with his instrument. He knows it as if it’s the back of his hand and that only adds to how talented he is when it gets down to it. He loses himself in the music and he’s so in harmony with the songs, the instrument, and the setting that his performance falls nothing short of amazing. Although Menno isn’t one to rip out these intricate solos he really puts a spotlight on his guitar work, tearing away at power chords like in “Juliette” and “Eloise.” He’ll even create harmonies with Nixon’s playing to give a new depth to the songs that Hollerado plays.
They opened with a song from their new album, Born Yesterday. This really brought a kick to the show, and although most bands do open with tracks from their most recent release, you could tell each member was fully invested in this. In the moment, they were all there mentally, and physically. This album seemed to take a much more serious tone that the previous two, however due to the incredibly upbeat nature of the songs, you could get down to them very easily. Each riff holds a very intricate sound to it, different from the rest. Even when they slowed it down, the songs still had a very powerful sound to them, heavy on the bass and guitars. They even seemed to explore a little bit with their sound, extending to some more bluesy sounds.
During their performances, as unconventional as they are, Menno brought out cookies at one point, treating the crowd to a little snack. Not only does he get personal with the crowd, but with his friends with whom he shares the stage. He shares his microphone with Nixon from time to time, and they each invade each other’s personal space. Nixon would get up on Jake’s kick drum and jump off, Dean would get right beside Menno, and Menno and Nixon would take turns in each other’s space. Their performances are incredibly intimate no matter how big a show they play. They take this lack of personal space and apply it to the crowd as well. At one point Menno had shoved the microphone in my face and got me to sing along (I was later informed that I sang on key which rarely happens).
They did not disappoint when it came to the performance they put on, and even allowed a member of the crowd to play part of a song with them, asking who could play the guitar. They invited a man up and you could clearly tell he was so happy about the moment and you could tell the band really wanted him to feel like he belonged. Even in the moment where a drunk woman ran up on stage and slapped Menno’s ass, they weren’t angry, they just went with it and laughed it off. They even got an older gentleman (perhaps a family member?) to play a few songs with them.
There was one point where they began to play my favourite song off the new record, Eloise (which they weren’t even sure about adding to the record a year ago until my friend’s sister told them that they need to add it), and a man ran up on stage and told them to stop the show. He needed 9-1-1 called due to a woman passing out, and every member of Hollerado dropped their instruments and ran over to help in any way that they could. When they got back, they informed us that everything was okay, and she woke up and told them she passed out and that she was okay. They picked back up only after making sure that everyone was okay.
This album really brought a depth to the band that had come through before but never with such intensity. With songs about politics, love, and family, they really secured their legitimacy with this record, although they could probably write a song about a sock and everyone would love it just the same. They find a way to take small things and make them fun, or serious. They even have a song about a turtle (go listen to “Lonesome George”).
Hollerado, as a band, is very good at taking unconventional approached to rock, punk, and indie music, including staccato guitar intros, and tremolo picking solos. Much like bands they’re friends with, or have been associated with, they bring such a unique energy that only they would be able to bring to a room. It’s indescribable. It’s terrible to be one to say “man, you’ve just had to be there,” but it’s true! This is the only show I’ve been to where they haven’t fired off glitter and confetti and completely wrecked the venue with those small pieces of paper. Had they actually done that, you probably would have been finding it in weird places for days (this happens, trust me).
They guys themselves are incredibly kind people and all it takes is a conversation to get them talking. They actually even remembered my two friends and I from previous shows that we’ve frequented and asked about how we were doing and how our lives were going. Each member pays attention to you when you’re in conversation and really value your word. And lemons.
This band is one you need to see live before you die and even if you have to call in sick to work, or jump several fences to get there, please do because you will not regret it at all. You’ll probably just have too much fun and never want to go back to your regular life ever again. Also, please bring them Sharpies (or don’t it’s up to you) because they seem to be lacking some. And if you borrow their Sharpie, return it to Dean. It’s probably his.
Ottawa’s droney post-punk outfit Expanda Fuzz has released a new video for their single “Sonic Halo.” The track appears on bandcamp along with a cover of Earth, Wind, & Fire’s “September” in the wake of founding member Maurice White’s death last year.
The track is a minimalist psychedelic trip, with rolling percussion, a fuzzy lead guitar part, and mesmerizing vocals by Niki. The video’s aesthetic is dark and ominous, taking place in a remote field at dusk and featuring characters with strange masks and costumes. The video is not as dark and creepy as their video for “Flavour: Zombie” released last year, and it also contains beautiful colours of the sunset. However, the smoke-breathing Grim Reaper-type character also leaves the viewer with chills down the spine, and it’s not the kind of figure you’d want to run into on a dark, empty farm.
Although the song is just over two minutes long, it’s great to see a video being made that perfectly suits the sound of Expanda Fuzz. This song could have easily been incorporated into season one of True Detective, or even Apocalypse Now. The video accurately reflects that kind of imaginary trip into the darkness.
Expanda Fuzz is playing JUNOfest March 31st with Dilly Dally, No Fuss, and The Dirty Nil at House of TARG. Ticket and wristband information can be found here.
Ottawa’s soulful, enduring wordsmith and frontman of The Acorn, Rolf Klausener, doesn’t play as many shows as he used to in town. But once in a while a gem pops up out of nowhere and takes us by surprise. This Thursday’s show at Babylon presented by Spectrasonic is no exception, and it features talented guests Taylor Knox and Trails.
Last year’s release of Vieux Loup illustrated that Klausener is as in touch with his music as ever, bringing together the new and the old to craft an album that was on our Top Ten releases of 2015. Those of us who have lived in Ottawa for a long time know how intimate and electric The Acorn are live, and newbies still have a chance to find out.
We’re giving away a bunch of tickets to this show (in pairs), and if you aren’t doing anything on Thursday night, Babylon is the place to be.
How To Enter
Answer the question below.
Q: Klausener’s other project Silkken Laumann is the adapted name of a Canadian Olympian. Which sport did Silken Laumann win Silver Medal in at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games?
Choose the correct answer and you’ll be entered to win a pair of tickets to the show on Thursday. The draw will happen at noon on Thursday, Nov. 10. Good luck!
Consider yourself warned – you’ve never heard a band like Downtown Boys before. Who knew so much noise and raw emotion could come out of Providence, Rhode Island? The band is set to play in town on Friday night at Zaphod’s, and the Byward Market should be battening down the hatches for this one.
When Rolling Stone deems you “America’s Most Exciting Punk Band,” people start to turn their heads. Earlier this month, Downtown Boys was featured in Rolling Stone again, this time in a list of “10 Great Modern Punk Bands.” They represent a generation of young, unapathetic people who have seen the injustices seemingly inherent within political institutions, experienced overt and systemic racism in day-to-day life, and unfair treatment of entire demographics of people in the US. Of particular concern are undocumented Latino Americans who are not only bearing the brunt of discriminatory immigration policies, but face further crackdowns and deportations with the surge of far-right immigration platforms from certain presidential candidates.
This band’s music is informed by their politics, and as we’ll hear later in this interview, the aforementioned issues hit close to home for some of the band members. Our friends Sofia (co-host of CHUO’s PRISM) and Anthony (host of CHUO’s Radio Active) had the opportunity to explore these topics and more with Victoria Ruiz and Mary Regalado of Downtown Boys ahead of their Friday show.
VR: I think it was a mix of me, Joey, and our former sax player Emmett, and I may have proposed ‘Born to Run’ but everyone else thought ‘Dancing in the Dark’ was a better fit for our band. I’m in another band with our guitar player Joey, and we cover a Springsteen song, and Joey has a solo band that covers a Springsteen song too. We’re just really big fans, and we have been very affected and influenced by him.
I actually just watched a video where Prince is interviewed on The View – a soccer mom daytime television show – and he mentioned Bruce Springsteen as this great musician. In winter we’ll cover his version of ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ because we love that song.
What are your thoughts on Bruce’s boycott of North Carolina?
VR: I think him boycotting North Carolina is a powerful message to fans of his, but he also has the resources to boycott states. That’s not really an option that my band has. What’s interesting is that a day after he boycotted that show, we played a show there at Duke. I talked to the band about it and asked if it’s OK that we’re playing this show, and Joey said pointed out that ultimately, a formal boycott hasn’t been called in NC like it has been in Arizona. It was used as a tactic there to protest the racist anti-immigrant laws that were passed there. Right now there’s no formal boycott called, and Springsteen was flexing his economic power. That show could make hundreds of thousands of dollars, but most of Bruce’s fan base is mostly white and people that can afford tickets like that.
A band like Downtown Boys, we’re not making Springsteen bucks. Plus, at Duke there are probably people there that want us to be playing there in a time like this. So, that was interesting to think what a rock show means with respect to race, class, and power. So I really admire him and applaud him, but I also want to contextualize his decision based on the money his show would make and his audience.
What issues are you most concerned about right now?
VR: I think deportation is a really devastating and tragic thing right now. It’s really hard because the narrative of migration in the US is so connected to economics. It’s very difficult to build a movement and a movement and strong narrative about the power of undocumented people and families.
I’ve done a lot of organizing against police brutality and also with undocumented people in latino communities, and it’s like night and day. There is not the same populous line in the movement against the police right now that there is in the deportation movement and that’s really hard. What’s getting attention these days is this clean, “respectable” undocumented people who are in college and communicate in English perfectly, and live in nice communities. It feels like those are the stories we need in order to try and talk about undocumented people, but that’s not the real world.
“Respectability” in politics is really weighing down freedom and justice. When you have presidential candidates building walls or comprehensive immigration reform, and that’s not going to get us there. I’m nervous right now, friends and families are facing deportation. It’s pretty terrifying.
MR: Yeah, it really hits home. Maybe there isn’t momentum like with police brutality because undocumented people need to be subterranean and pushed underground. They have to try to be invisible to survive and avoid deportation.
VR: And that’s in all realms of life – not only in the workplace, but also reproductive health. If you want an abortion and you’re undocumented, you don’t even have the option of traveling to an abortion clinic. I’m third generation latina-American, and many people that have a similar history to me are very neoliberal. They want money and don’t realize that we’re in the same struggle as black people in the US against police brutality. There’s a lot of schism amongst the latino community is the community due to capitalism and patriarchy. That’s hard because we need to be building more like black and brown people, but a lot of Latinos feel the pressure to assimilate to whiteness. That schism is harming a lot of people right now.
MR: My mom is undocumented right now and it’s been a huge pain in the ass to get her papers in order. Her baptism certificate has a different name than she’s been using in the US so she had to go to court and get her name changed, pay lawyer fees, and she just doesn’t have the fucking resources for all that. When you’re undocumented, you’re getting paid way under minimum wage. White racists don’t understand the impact that these people have on the economy.
What is your favourite worst vice?
What is your favourite TV Show
VR: Grand Hotel
MR: Star Trek TNG and Masters of None
What is your favourite fruit?
Both: Pineapple across the board!
Your favourite band on Don Giovanni Records?
What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
VR: Smoke weed
MR: Go back to sleep
Your favourite article of clothing?
MR: Big Sweater
What is the best swear word?
What impact do you hope to have as a band on an audience?
VR: I want people to think about systematic oppression and institutions, and leave with a feeling of energy and motivation, and an energy to resist.
Spectrasonic presents Downtown Boys at Zaphod’s this Friday, April 29, along with C.H.U.D.s and Doxx. Tickets are $12, available at Vertigo Records, or online here. Doors at 8pm, all ages & licensed 19+.