When you interview musicians every day you hear a lot of funny stories
I’ve been writing freelance articles about rock bands for probably almost a decade now. And when you interview with various musicians of all stripes and colours on a regular basis you hear a few things.
Sometimes it can be boring.
Musicians love to talk about their new albums – they want people to be as interested in what they are doing as they themselves are. That’s not news to anyone. But, of course, it is pretty much a given in every article. It’s rock journalist suicide to not talk about the new album.
But every now and then you get a nugget of pure oratory gold. And those are the moments that make music journalism so fascinating; musicians being human is generally what comprises the best rock writing.
Several years back I devised a plan to illustrate portraits of some of the musicians I had interviewed. The idea was to make postcards and then put a memorable quote on the back and then sell them at the art shows I was haunting in Montreal at the time. Then I got worried that one of the musicians would sue me when they saw my crude illustrations, and the idea got scuttled.
But not before I put in hours and hours of work into the project.
“There are definitely times where I thought I was making a bad decision. But I realize I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t made some of those decisions. I want to have my mind blown and I want to feel like I am in the middle of the most intense time of my life all the time. Maybe when I get older and have a kid or something like that, it might change but I want every day to be as exciting as it can be.” – Andrew W.K.
Andrew W.K. told me over the phone that he was going to put me on the guest list to his show. I could hear him shuffling around for a paper and pen. And I remember thinking that he was putting in a lot of effort for something that probably wasn’t going to happen. Amazingly, when I got to the show my name was totally on the list. He is a human dynamo.
I remember we went to a party one night and I was so out of my mind on giggly pops that I had no idea what was going on. But we recorded this song and the next morning, instead of waking up next to some guy or girl you don’t know thinking what the hell did I do, I had this CD beside me. – Spencer Burton, Attack in Black
Spencer Burton is a master of telling stories. If you haven’t seen him play live – he currently tours under the name Grey Kingdom – you would be doing yourself a big favour to check him out. Concurrently, I have never seen him play for more than 20 people. This needs to change.
“I really don’t mean to sound pretentious but I am suspicious of [electro project Black Mold’s] quasi-popularity. If it wasn’t attached to my name I wonder if it even would have gotten reviewed at all. But the Black Mold stuff for me is the ultimate freedom to do whatever I want. I don’t listen to a lot of electronica music and there is a lot of stuff on there that’s pretty passé and then a lot of stuff that’s annoying. Plus if you consider that there is over four hours of stuff that is bonus material it is completely retarded to expect anyone to listen to it all.” – Chad Van Gaalen
According to Mr. Van Gaalen, he conceived his child in Saskatoon after watching beach volleyball on the TV.
“I hope you have your shit together because there was a fucking douchebag, and I am a douchebag too, who called me up and he didn’t have any questions to ask me. And I hope this is not you.” – Chi Pig, SNFU
Getting a hold of Chi Pig for an interview, at least over the phone, isn’t exactly the easiest thing to accomplish. “Chi is tough to get a hold of but here is what you do: He hangs out at PUB 340 in Vancouver every day from like 2 to 6 pm, so call there and ask for him,” said SNFU’s agent. After several calls yielding awkward and empty-handed results, Mr. Pig was finally persuaded to answer a few questions on the bar’s phone, at least for a few minutes. In the end, it’s still comforting to know that age hasn’t tempered Chi Pig’s punk attitude or his incendiary, larger-than-life persona – despite the rather unnerving conversation.
“Ever since I can remember I’ve had positive and negative fan reviews. And whether it was positive or negative it wasn’t always based in reality or what my perception of the music was. But judging from playing these new songs live and my feelings on the record [Scream] – and it’s a great record – there is definitely an audience for it. Also, I don’t really go to clubs so I don’t know what sounds are made there.” – Chris Cornell, Soundgarden
Every amazing album that Soundgarden ever put out has been completely ruined by Cornell’s electro dance album Scream. The live show was pretty hilarious though – dudes in metal shirts looked completely baffled as they watched Cornell strut around in a belly shirt while singing lines like “that bitch ain’t a part of me.” I wonder if he still believes that Scream is a great record.
“If it looks hideous doing what I am doing on stage now I can only imagine what it will look like when I’m 50.” – Damian Abraham, Fucked Up
One of my favourite memories of a Fucked Up show was watching Damian shit-haul some kid out of the pit and personally eject him outside mid-song and then returning to the stage to finish the set. They finished the evening with a cover of “No Feelings” by the Sex Pistols.
“I think its something that J and I share, as well as Murph, where we like outwardly perverse things. The idea of coming back to this band, which was really formative for me in a lot of aspects, sounded like a challenge that I really wanted to take. Plus the factor of making some money was there as well. And it was certainly at a point in my life where I was quite happy to be making money considering how broke I was.” – Lou Barlow, Dinosaur Jr.
When Dinosaur Jr. first reformed and played at The Odeon at Amigos it may have been one of the most dysfunctional live shows I had ever seen. All three members noodled mindlessly on their instruments in-between songs. There was no energy whatsoever. It was mildly heartbreaking.
“We wrote the song ‘Late Great USA’ about our disdain for America when we were returning from our tour in Europe. You get on a plane there and they serve Stella Artois and about halfway over the ocean they switch to Bud Light and you think ‘ah fuck, I’m going back to America dammit.’ You aren’t allowed to get away with shit there. There’s no more hash, no more hookers and no one has any fun.” – Ruyter Suys, Nashville Pussy
Ruyter Suys went to the University of Saskatchewan and graduated in ’92. She had met her husband when his band Nine Pound Hammer played at Amigos. “It was supposed to be a one-night stand but it lasted 17 years,” said Ruyter. Mondo rock romance.
“The last time we were at [the Senator Hotel in Saskatoon, SK] I was sitting in the hallway. And there was no one around so it was a little eerie, especially since it was so late at night. And up from the stairwell comes this really old guy. Like 80 years old. He was dressed in the most dapper, gleaming tuxedo I have ever seen, and he had the most beautifully combed white hair. It was like he came straight from the ball from 1941 or something. And he was just shuffling along and he walked by me without a word. He goes down the hall and he turns to a door and opens it and a huge pool of light beams out. And he walks into the light. I was trying to see what was in this room and all I could see was plants and trees. Also, I should probably preface this by saying that I don’t do drugs and I wasn’t drunk.” – Andrew Penner, Sunparlour Players
Sunparlour Players always deliver an amazing live performance. Unfortunately, nearly every time I’ve seen them in Saskatoon there was barely anyone there to see it. This literally infuriates me.
“‘Granny’ is a song about my granny of course. This song came from me to in a dream, exactly how it is, fully formed. I was singing that song in my dream. I was looking up at my granny in the kitchen from the perspective of a little kid. And I was crying in my dream and singing this song to her. And I woke up and my pillow was soaking wet. So I reached over and wrote the lyrics just as they were and then I got my guitar and figured out the chords. And there it was, just like that.” – Vic Chesnutt
Vic Chesnutt is an outspoken, Southern-born songwriter who is partially paralyzed from a car accident when he was 18. His live performances are moody and dramatic, and on his 2009 tour Chesnutt was joined onstage by members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor as well as Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto. Chesnutt described the shows he played during this time as “blowing people’s faces off.” While his live shows were often heightened by his own personal demons, tellingly, speaking to Mr. Chesnutt on the phone evoked a similar response – by the end of the conversation his growly drawl had reduced me to a quivering, sweaty mess. He questioned everything I asked. Unfortunately, the tour would turn out to be his last: On Christmas Day, 2009, Vic Chesnutt died from an overdose of muscle relaxants. He was 45.