Bands on the Run
An interview series with the artists performing at this year's of the 2016 Winterfest Battle of the Bands at Lee's Palace on January 14th. .
In the film School of Rock, the climactic, culminating performance at Battle of the Bands confirms what their slacker substitute teacher has asserted all along; “one great rock show can change the world.” While we’ll have to wait to see how Winterfest’s annual Battle of the Bands will go down, the line-up this year features an eclectic mix that reflects Toronto’s thriving music scene. Throughout the night four bands, Spaceship Thoughts, Northern Riot, The Fallers and The Implications will compete for a gig at Fireball and a $500 cash prize. The newspaper sat down to chat with them about their major influences, the success they’ve experienced so far and plans for the upcoming year.
Photo by Jon Liang
Vocals: Spoon Jonson
Guitar: Sky Casket
Battle of the Bands will mark the second live performance for newly formed Spaceship Thoughts, following their audition for the show. Hence, we’re giving them an exciting introduction to Toronto’s music scene, although they may retort that the experience is for our benefit. Inspired by the musical experimentation of The Roots, their self-described genre of acoustic-rap is sure to impress with its originality and spunk. Everyone’s got to start somewhere, and we’re lucky it’s here.
You have a cool name, where did it come from?
Our band name comes from a line in the first song we wrote. We almost cut that line from the song, but instead we kept it and named the band after it.
What was the line?
The line is "We're getting so high like a spaceship's thoughts" and the song is the first one we ever wrote called "Keep The Jay Running".
How would you describe your genre?
It's tough for me (Sky) to describe the genre of our music. The most accurate label would be acoustic-rap, which I made up myself. As musicians we each draw on our own influences when writing music. The most important aspect of our sound is experimenting in order to create something new. Some people might say it sounds like alternative hip-hop, but I'm cool with people calling it whatever they want to.
What made you want to start a band?
I decided to form this band after I saw The Roots play live. I was inspired to do a project where we'd have a vocalist rapping, and do live instrumentation with it. The goal was always to make music that we could perform live. The acoustic guitar playing which forms the melodic component to our music is something that I have been developing for a couple years now. It was very strange to combine these elements together, without even having a bass player, but by doing it we've created a sound that I'm really excited about. We take risks like that with this band and they (hopefully) pay off. Like they say, you need to break some eggs if you're going to make eggs.
What are your musical influences?
The major inspiration for the band was The Roots, but our sound comes from a lot of experimentation, so we aren't trying to sound like any existing genres or artists. It's important to us to have that originality in the our music.
Do you have any stories/interesting experiences as a fairly new band?
Our drummer, Lump, was bitten by a “were-potato” and now every so often he turns into a human. This has caused some confusion in promoting the band.
What are your goals for the future?
To record a live rendition of our songs in a single take and put it on the Internet.
Photo from the band's Facebook page
Vocal: Thomas Thurley
Guitar: Christian Beattie
Drums: Connor Santer
Bass Guitar: Cole Hauer
Even the title Northern Riot suggests having a good time and this band certainly lives up to its name. Their fun, energetic sound accentuates their passion for the genre and having performed in various venues across Toronto, Northern Riot have proven to possess an enormous amount of talent with the experience to back it up. The band recently dropped their atmospheric single, “Expired”, off their new self-titled EP, which they’ll be giving out for half off at Lee’s Palace this Thursday.
You are currently in the midst of recording your debut album. What can we expect from it?
A dynamic, balls to the wall, hit it & quit it Rock & Roll album.
Do you find that there is a lot of pressure regarding the album? What do you want it to tell everyone in terms of who you are?
Yeah, there is a lot of pressure, but we put it on ourselves. We recognize the need to make a bold and authentic musical statement, and are striving to do so.
You did a cover of Cage the Elephant recently. Would you call them an influence on your music? What are some other influences on your sound?
Cage the Elephant is OK. Our main influences are Pearl Jam, The Black Crowes, and Queens of The Stone Age.
What’s the best part about performing in front of a live audience?
I would have to say the people.
How did your single Hungry for Love come about?
It's definitely a party song. We go out a lot, so it's fun being able to write songs about sick nights. We enjoy partaking in Rock & Roll cliches from time to time.
What else can we expect from you this year?
Our debut full-length album, at least a dozen live shows, a few new music videos. And one hell of an adventure.
Photo from the band's Facebook Page.
Guitar/Vocals: Garrett Olson
Drums: Mackenzie Read
Bass: Alex Lakusta
The Fallers are certainly a band on the run. Since their formation in May 2015 the Alberta-based group’s determination and work ethic have given them spectacular opportunities, such as a coastal 22-date tour following the release of their three-track EP. The Fallers are set for more music and gigs this year, proving that they’re one to watch.
You formed around May last year. How did the decision to start a band come about?
We started playing together for my [Garrett’s] solo project and after a western Canada tour we started writing together so it started to make sense that we take it in that direction. We were writing a lot during the fall/winter last year and once we had enough material and felt good about the sound, we decided to form the group officially. From there we got in the studio and started working on our EP.
You also went on tour shortly afterwards. How would you describe the experience?
It was a lot of fun and a rather large undertaking for where we were as a group at that time. We went coast to coast for 22 dates so it was a bit of a grind for the 3 of us, especially living out of a vw golf for 5 weeks. We got to see parts of the country we'd never been before and it was great for breaking in all the new material. At the end of things it turned out to be a really successful tour and we learned what works and what doesn't for booking something like that.
Toronto is known for hailing the likes of The Weeknd, Drake, and Alessia Cara- all modern pop/hip hop stars. Is the Toronto indie rock scene thriving?
I'd say so. There are a lot of bands doing really well for themselves here right now and that's really great to see. It's a challenging city to play in, especially when you're trying to establish yourself due to the diversity of the music happening here. You have such an influx of touring bands coming through on a weekly basis so it can be difficult to compete with that, but you're also able to see so many artists at such a wide variety of venues here.
Tell us a bit about your new EP.
It's a 3 song EP that we recorded back in May in this little studio called Verge Music Lab. We tracked all of it over the span of 4 nights with our producer, Josh Bowman. We wanted to keep the raw and gritty vibe to the tracks so we didn't really add anything that we couldn't replicate with the 3 of us live - that's kind of a rule we use with our writing. The studio is an old historic house on Jarvis and it was a cool space to create in.
Each song is noticeably different from each other. Did you find it important to do this, seeing as this is your first EP?
Yeah, definitely. We all listen to so many different things and I think when you start writing you pull from a lot of different influences, especially at the beginning when you're trying to find your sound. I think we wanted to show our range in terms of the types of songs we can write. We are a very energetic group on stage and we owe a lot of that to our dynamics with the writing. The songs all have energy but also build as they go, which is something we feel ties them all together.
What are your musical influences?
We listen to a lot of garage rock so bands like The Strokes are a pretty big staple for us. As well as large sounding trios like Band of Skulls. Again, we all listen to a lot of different genres. Alex and Mackenzie are jazz students so it's a pretty diverse lineup. We do have a pretty large punk influence as well. It's not as apparent in our EP per say, but those songs live and some of our newer material are definitely rooted in it. A lot of the music we really enjoy listening to is very raw and energy driven so we try and write that way - when people come see us we don't want to give them a reason to stop moving.
What can we expect from you this year?
We have a pretty big year planned. There will be some new music this year, likely sooner than later. We are trying to keep that under wraps a little, but it's for sure in the works. We’ll also be touring pretty heavily this year - details of that will be on the way as well.
Photo from the band's Facebook page
Lead vocals/ Rhythm guitar: Julian Muia
Lead guitar/Vocals: Daniel Konikoff
Drums: Mitchel Stuart
Bass guitar/Vocals: Ryan Levine
Under their website’s fundamental Who Are We subheading, The Implications jokingly respond, “If you want to get philosophical, though, who are any of us?” This serves as a good introduction to this indie pop band, whose humor and talent clearly shine through their music. Previously under the title of The Turks, they headlined Canadian Music Week and were finalists for Hard Rock Rising and CBC Searchlight. In addition, the past two years found them as recurring Indie Week finalists. Their EP, Songs About Last Night (2015), can be directly downloaded from their website.
Songs like “Fair Warning” and “I Need a Job” are reflective of some typical twenty-something anxieties. Would you say that your music aims to speak more to this demographic?
Oh, most definitely. At the end of the day, our music is like our diary. We’re a bunch of anxious twenty-something guys, and I suppose we can’t help but write about what we’re going through. “I Need a Job” is probably the least poetic/most blunt song about unemployment, but it’s something we all struggle with. By channeling that into our music, we’re just being honest about what we’re (and everyone else our age) is going through - no more, no less.
You’ve said that you take pride in “striking a balance between catchy and quirky.” How do you interpret this through your music?
We try to write strong pop melodies, but we also like to add in some weird chords here and there, and maybe sing about something that most people don’t write songs about. We approach common song topics with a different perspective; for example, our song “Time Machine” is pretty much just a love song, but we approach the topic of heartbreak from a science fiction angle. It’s silly, but it’s fun (or so we hope!)
You seem to separate yourselves from the typical image of contemporary indie pop. What role does image really play in this industry?
Image still plays a significant role, but ultimately it comes down to having music that is commercially viable yet fresh. Image is important because you need to create a sort of “brand” that differentiates you from other acts. We try to not fall into the trap of sounding or looking like most of the popular acts you see nowadays. And of course, it seems that most of the time, a band’s image comes after they’ve developed their sound. Our sound is, as mentioned above, “catchy yet quirky,” so we try to embody that with how we look, too.
What are your musical influences, if any?
We tend to get compared to Squeeze, which is great. Listen to more Squeeze. We’re very much a fan of vintage 60s pop, but we also take cues from Elvis Costello, Weezer, Barenaked Ladies, and modern pop acts (we worship at the altar of Max Martin, aka “The Human Hit Machine.”)
You were originally called The Turks. Why did you make the change, and why The Implications?
The Turks was a name we picked a long time ago, when we were kids, before ¾’s of the present lineup were in the band. We kind of grew out of the name, both in terms of our sound and our lineup, and last summer we decided that it time for a change. We struggled quite a bit to come up with a new name, but we settled on The Implications because of bands like Elvis Costello and the Attractions, The Temptations, and so on.
Would you say your music and image have changed since?
Our music has changed to an extent. Certain songs from our Turks days have been retired, while others press forth (with some major tinkering). We still have the same pop core, but we’ve strayed away from the folk influence we had under the Turks banner. Now, we’ve come to embrace a bit more disco, funk, and R&B. We’ve also tried to create a more cohesive image; we’ve always struggled with matching our clothes at live shows! We’re trying to match more. Coordinated plaids and the like.
What can we expect from you this year?
Our first Broadway musical, Lights of Yesteryear: Music from the Implications Songbook, is coming this April. We’ve also been tapped to star as a Wiggles-like band in a new children’s show, The Pollywogs. 2016 is our year.
In all seriousness, we’ll be hitting the studio soon to pump out a few singles, and hopefully we’ll get a music video done by the summer. And of course, we’ll be taking whatever gigs we can get. So if you want us to play at your niece’s first communion, hit us up.