I came across Defend the Rhino thanks to a follow by Cups N Cakes. Cups N Cakes (IG: @cupsncakesnet) is a volunteer run promoter of Canadian indie music. I’m huge on Canadian music and nature, so when I saw the drone footage of a beautiful landscape with incredible ambient music on Cups’ post, I took a listen to the song and was instantly hooked. I write this a lot, but I get so excited when there are many songs that I like from the same artist. It’s very satisfying to be able to dig deep and delve into their entire discography.
Make Do (2022) – Album A+ (2021) – Album Wing It (2020) – Album Glisten (2019) – Album Fabricated (2018) – Album Static Breeze (2017) – Album There’s No Place Like Home (2016) – Album
Nathaniel is composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer based in Edmonton, Alberta. He produces music under his own name, but created Defend the Rhino for his ambient and cinematic music. Nathaniel is passionate about scoring music for films and videos and embraces opportunities for the creative process.
Me: Hey Nathaniel! It’s always an honour to interview musicians whose work I’m a huge fan of. You record music under your own name – which based on my listen is alternative with lyrics. My favourite songs produced under your name are Perfect Time and Wing Tech 3000. What motivated you to produce music as Defend the Rhino?
Nathaniel: Hi Monica! I appreciate the love! I originally began writing music under my own name, using a portable digital recording studio (a MRS 1608 16-Track Digital Recording Studio to be exact) and it produced very lo-fi recordings onto CD, but helped me create my first recordings as a musician. I started writing music based on indie-rock influences such as Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie. As time progressed, I discovered more artists and my list of influences grew. I started to really get into instrumental post-rock artists, one of those being a band in the UK called, Mogwai. Once I discovered Mogwai, I bought their whole discography. I knew that I’d love to attempt to make music like that someday.
Defend The Rhino was born this way, I pieced together instrumental melodies and riffs that I just loved, and built onto those sounds using drums, bass and even synth. Using this method, There’s No Place Like Home became my first release and Mint 400 Records helped me release it, which was a wonderful experience.
Me: It’s great to hear how your project started. I checked out Mogwai and can definitely hear their influence on a few of your songs. I recently sent off my interview questions to Shierro – a super-talented beatmaker/music producer from the Netherlands. I told you that you guys should do a collaboration piece. That would be wicked! Have you done or plan to do any collaborations?
Nathaniel: Actually, yes! So, after releasing my second album Static Breeze with Mint 400 Records, the label asked if I’d be interested in having some of their artists provide vocals for some songs that I produce. At that time, I had four unreleased songs that I wrote but they didn’t make it onto any albums. I thought this would be a great way to collaborate with artists on the roster. And so Fabricated became a collaboration, featuring Fairmont, Tiegan, Young Legs and aBIRD. It was such a fun experience and I would absolutely do more collaborations down the road. I follow Shierro now, he’s on my radar for sure!
Me: I’ll have to take another listen to Fabricated now that you mention the collabs and looking forward to collab work between you and Shierro.
I’ve danced alone in the forest so many times to Bucket List. There’s something so invigorating, happy and hopeful about that tune. You said that it’s your favourite song as well. I love that so many moods are expressed through your music, but I’m especially fascinated by the organic feel. I’ve used so many of your tracks in my IG reels and stories and I haven’t run out of songs yet. What inspires your music?
Nathaniel: Haha, yes! I thank you for using my music on your reels and stories. Bucket List is definitely one I’m proud of, just the way it builds up and explodes at the end. I love those kinds of songs. Actually, Mogwai is a lot like that, they’re a huge inspiration to me (have you noticed!? Haha). Other inspirations include a great soundtrack to a film. It’s my opinion that a great soundtrack can make even a mediocre film look amazing. One of my favourite movies of all time is Big Fish, the movie itself is just a nice and wholesome flick but the soundtrack makes it so much better. Danny Elfman and Nick Ingman worked together on that one. I love it.
Me: I do sense that Mogwai is a source of your inspiration lol. The first thing that I thought of when I saw your name were the poor rhinos being poached for their horns. Then I saw one of your posts about Sedan, a rhino who had died. How did you decide on Defend the Rhino as the name for your project and how does it tie in with your music?
Nathaniel: Yes, it’s so tragic. At the time when I was deciding on a name for this project, they had guards protecting the last male Northern White Rhino, Sedan, it broke my heart.
When I began this project, it was nameless. I decided to solely work on the music and the name would just come naturally. After I had finished There’s No Place Like Home, I started listening to the completed tracks on a consistent basis. I attempted to picture myself in different scenarios along with the music, I would close my eyes and see where the music took me. It wasn’t until I heard about the last Northern White Rhino being protected by an armed guard 24/7 in Kenya that my mind started to become visual with the music. I would envision myself as a soldier, defeating poachers and saving the rhinos. It was like a movie in my head along with the music. That is how the name Defend The Rhino stuck with me.
Me: That’s a pretty intense and dark visual of you as a soldier and I get the chills when you mention the 24/7 armed guard. It’s depressing that they had to resort to full time protection for an animal’s survival. That speaks volumes about the destructive nature of the human race. When will the destruction end?
You posted that your music starts with an idea, but it boggles my mind that these beautifully layered and rich songs can be created from a few plucks on your guitar or bass or by pressing down a few keys on the piano. I can’t play instruments so it fascinates me how this can happen. As a multi-instrumentalist, what instruments do you play, what goes through your mind as you put together a piece and what is the creative process involved?
Nathaniel: My main instrument is guitar but I dabble in many instruments, such as bass, piano, drums. I just know what I like and the music that I want to make, so these are my tools to do so. It’s hard to explain the creative process but it really does usually just start with an idea. Maybe it’s just a simple melody that loops throughout a song or maybe it’s drum pattern that a bass riff would be perfect for. It really all depends and the outcome can be amazing, or go nowhere – there is no in-between, haha.
Me: I love how musicians can put melodies together in their heads. I guess it’s similar to when I write – a word or thought will enter my mind and it has potential to spin quickly into a story.
It’s amazing that your score music for films and videos. BTW – anyone looking for music for your projects or films, Nathaniel is your guy.
Nathaniel, I challenge you to a new piece about the pandemic. While you’re working on it, tell us…if you had to score a song about the pandemic state of the world, in words, what sounds/feel would you imagine?
Nathaniel: Oh gosh, yeah it would be a somber song for sure, with a slow tempo, lots of reverb and probably some gentle orchestral strings in there. I can almost hear it.
Me: I’m looking forward to listening to the piece. I have such a strong connection to Canadian music. Most of what I listen to is Canadian. What does the music scene like in Edmonton and what challenges do you face getting your music out there?
Nathaniel: I’ve been heavily involved with the Edmonton music scene for a long time in various ways and I can say that it is very welcoming to almost any genre of music. Got a punk band? There’s a place for it. Got a blues band? There’s a place for it. Got an experimental noise band? Yeah, there’s a place for that too.
I think the main challenge to be faced here (which is not really any different than anywhere else) is just getting your music heard. Especially with so much competition out there, it can be difficult to stand out, but I think that’s a challenge worth accepting and figuring out how you can make yourself known.
Me: For sure challenges can be seen as a good thing if you can accept it. Your pages are very interesting. I love the Fisher Price tape player video clip on your IG page @nathanielsuttonmusic. It’s amazing that the tape recorder can still play. Quality is definitely a thing of the past! Because the tune on that post caught my interest, I asked you for the song title and you said that it doesn’t have one yet. What are your plans for releasing gems like these?
Nathaniel: I’ve been really getting into tape recording lately, there’s something nostalgic about hearing that hiss that comes with recording and playback of cassette tapes, much like the subtle crackles you hear on vinyl. So, I found an old Tascam MF-P01 tape recorder on Kijiji and have been messing around with tape loops and recordings. I have more in the works. I’m not sure what my official plan is yet for these recordings but I enjoy making them and will hopefully release them all as a collective down the road, just for you Monica! Haha.
Me: That is too absolutely sweet! I will definitely buy the collection if you release it. And if you don’t, I am open to you sharing your music file with me. I love your mini mic singing post on @nathanielsuttonmusic too, and you have a tiny music piano cranking out creepy tunes. Where do you find all the interesting props shown on your page?!
Nathaniel: Thrift shops! I find a lot of cool things going to the thrift shop. That’s where I found that creepy toy piano, I’ve also found old shoebox recorders that you’ll soon see on my @nathanielsuttonmusic page. I’m always working on something behind the scenes.
Me: I can picture a mini band with all of your tiny instruments lol. Looks like you have a lot of nature-related tattoos on your wrists. I love tattoos. What are they symbolic of?
Nathaniel: Yes, I’d like to get a sleeve eventually but tattoos are so expensive! My right wrist is trees and mountains which represents land and my left wrist is ocean waves which represents water. So, behold! Land and water, I just thought it was “cool” Haha.
Me: I agree that tattoos can get expensive – especially having a detailed sleeve. Ok, now my mandatory get-to-know-you question – who are top three favourite musicians or greatest musical influences?
Nathaniel: Well, one artist that I’ve been mentioning throughout this interview is Mogwai, so they’re definitely on the top three list. Another long-time favourite band of mine is Pinback, they’re packed-full of melodies and inspired a lot of my earlier music. Kurt Vile would make this list too, I’ve been listening to his latest album “(watch my moves)” on repeat. I really dig his style and find his unconventional vocal style – so soothing, weirdly enough.
Me: I’m listening to (watch my moves) as I’m writing – wonder why Kurt put “watch my moves” in parentheses. Upon a quick listen of this album – I agree that he has unconventional vocals and style.
In my opinion, there’s nothing like live music. Not sure how it would work with your instrumental music, but as yourself (haha, that sounds weird and I can’t figure out how to word it properly, but you know what I mean!) – do you have any plans to play live?
Nathaniel: If you look at the cover photo of my album Wing It, that’s actually a photo of me performing my first time live as Defend The Rhino. I performed instrumental music while Nisha Patel read her poetry and it was a really neat experience. When I played live, it wasn’t music from any albums, it was improvisational-based guitar riffs and loops. That’s the way I’d have to do it live unless I ever got a band together to play music from my albums live, but I don’t foresee this happening as I have been putting more effort into composing music for visual media these days.
I do agree though, live music is a much different experience than just listening to a recorded album. It’s something I look forward to getting to do again, going to see live shows after two years of being deprived, due to the pandemic.
Me: I’ll let you know in advance when I visit Edmonton so you have time to arrange a show for me. I will be there. I’m so happy to have discovered your music and thrilled to have a chance to chat with you. Thank you so much for your time and enthusiasm. Everyone, you know the drill – stream and buy music, buy merch, follow on socials…and MOST important, be generous and share music with everyone! I’m a musical sponge too, so keep sharing music with me.
Nathaniel, is there anything else that you would like to share?
Nathaniel: To be honest, my latest release Make Do will be my last release as Defend The Rhino (for now, or perhaps indefinitely). I’ve been really focused on building a brand, under my own name, composing music for film/visual media, and I want that to be my main focus for the foreseeable future. I’ll still be releasing albums/music but it will be under my own name, rather than an alias. I’m so thankful for people like you, Monica, @cupsncakesnet and for the labels that helped me get my music out there. Most recently Shady Ridge Records, who have been such a huge help in reaching a new audience. A few cassettes/CD’s are still available through www.defendtherhino.bandcamp.com
In the meantime, you can follow me on my social media pages:
Me: While wrapping up this interview, I bought one of your last Make Do CDs. It will be a collectors album now that you mentioned it may be the last from Defend the Rhino. I’m sad to hear this, but I wish you the best in your future endeavours!
Here are a few videos to enjoy from Defend the Rhino and Nathaniel Sutton:
Fire and the Dark – single (2022) Toss and Turn – single (2022) Reach for the Sky – single (2021) Sunrise – single (2021) Far from Home – single (2021)
Born during pandemic times, this three-piece “drummerless” band is made up of Paul Do Carmo (Singer/Bass), Geno Satino (Guitar) and Andrew Pelvin (Guitar). Based in Toronto, Screaming Riots is on a roll, pumping out non-stop rocking tunes.
Me: Hey guys! Let me just say that Toronto is absolutely rockin’ with incredible musical talent. I’m a bit picky with my music, so when I listened to Toss and Turn for the first time and it hit me – I was all excited. Honestly, I know within a few seconds if I like a song or not.
You guys were part of a band named Forces before starting up this one. Geno, during a live stream session you said that you really missed Forces because you put your everything into it. How did you guys decide to start all over again as a new band? And do you plan to add a drummer?
Geno: After Forces, there were times when we wanted to try to get back together and write again, but life happened and it kinda never worked out. When the pandemic happened, the world went on pause, and we were able to get together because everybody had the free time. It worked out in our favour in a way, where we were able to start collaborating again and started to find out ways to collaborate from home.
Andrew: But how did that start though lol?
Paul: I think I called Andrew or Andrew called me.
Andrew: Yeah, I think I called Paul because I had some ideas for some songs.
Paul: Initially Andrew and I got together to work on releasing some covers or whatever and we thought Geno would be interested in. But seriously though, look at Monica being all thorough lol. Forces was a great band that we loved and enjoyed immensely and I guess at the time it felt like it was like a “final stand” at attempting a lasting career in music. The industry was/is hard on musicians, and rightfully so. It’s an industry that demands time, patience and extremely thick skin. When Forces was at its prime, the band members breathed nothing but music and at its end, it felt more like a job. A job that we weren’t getting paid to do… which made it even worse lol.
Andrew: Yeah, it wasn’t fun anymore.
Paul: It was scarring lol… to the point that I sold everything I owned after that band and anything that remotely resembled music. I just didn’t think I was destined to pursue music after that attempt but ultimately, music never leaves you.
Andrew: With Screaming Riots, one of our number one goals was that we wanted it to be in our free time – no pressure. When we had some free time, we could go onto the computer and add a part to a project or write a new project altogether if we wanted to. It didn’t have to be an every day thing. It obviously evolved from there. It’s a bit more serious now, but definitely has the same vibe.
Geno: It definitely has the same vibe. Do we plan on adding a drummer?
Andrew: It’s easier not to lol.
Paul: It really depends on what the future holds for the band. There are many bands out there that function through hired session musicians for tours and live shows.
Andrew: The writing process may be more beneficial with the addition of a definitive drummer, but it’s been easier as a trio so far.
Geno: It’s not a no from us, but the drummer would have to be equipped with a home studio and be as easy going, open-minded and as passionate as we are about the music we release.
Paul: That person would have to be ready to be family lol.
Me: You guys are obviously in tune with each other. I can feel the camaraderie – love it! I was lucky to catch one of your live streams. You guys are so personable and great! You were chatting about how band members, in general, often come and go – making it hard to have a lasting band. What makes you believe that Screaming Riots will be any different?
Paul: We all grew up together and this is actually the third time we’ve tried this. The difference as of right now, is that it’s just us three this time and in just a short period of time, we feel we’ve accomplished more than past projects. That’s not a statement or testament of the quality of our other bandmates in the past, because we have worked with brilliant and talented musicians. Sometimes, it’s just simply a chemistry or timing in life thing.
Andrew: It’s always been easy with us three. We’re on an even playing field where we feel that no one is better than the other.
Geno: Because we have a lot of history and a good foundation of writing together. In past projects we’ve always felt like the three of us were the core and it has always been easy to make decisions regarding music or moving forward with publicity. We work really well together and always have.
Me: It’s great that you guys work so well together. That will make a big difference. I know how hard it must be to pick a unique yet catchy band name. In my interview with Ben VanBuskirk of Blackout Orchestra, he openly admitted that they picked their name from a site that generates names. What’s the story behind choosing your band name and the meaning behind it?
Geno: With Screaming Riots, I thought it came out pretty organically, because it was part of a lyric that Paul wrote in our first single called Reach for the Sky, and I thought it would be a pretty cool band name.
Paul: I remember us discussing the idea of trying to come up with something that related to the pandemic. I believe we had a few other candidates like “The Essentials” or “Social Distance”. We wanted something relatable to the times we were living in and “Screaming Riots” was different but still completely relevant. The world lost itself during this pandemic and we would love to perhaps propose the idea of allowing music to center yourself.
Me: I’m certain the world wants to scream “Make the pandemic go away!” about now. We are fed up and exhausted. I basically started doing interviews at the start of the pandemic, so there is a common theme of struggle for musicians throughout many of them. Describe one guiding life philosophy that is helping you through these crazy times.
Paul: Oh wow, we’re going deep are we? Uhm…the only thing we can say is that there is nothing out there that gives you permission to give up on life. Music helps us breathe, wake up and push. Music is not our only reason, but we do feel strongly about what we do. We hope we can help you move past a moment that disagrees with you. If music doesn’t work for you, find the thing that does… if you can’t please seek help from your friends and loved ones… they ARE there!
Me: Yup, me digging deep as usual lol. It’s always interesting to have a feel for what others are thinking. I love the lyrics ofSunrise: “Can’t stop the sun from the rise and the fall, couldn’t change anyway/one rise away from us facing the truth and we can’t break fee” – such a great way to express how certain things are beyond our control. What is the process behind your writing and where do you get your inspiration from?
Paul: Writing is hard sometimes, however, the process is almost always the same. The Chorus or “The Hook” essentially determines the remainder of the parts. Words are not necessarily present all at the time. I almost always start off with gibberish at first to catch all the syllables of the melody in my head. I’ve even sent it at times, just like that, to the other gentlemen for review. Imagine their excitement lol. Then sometimes a song title is sent jokingly or purposely and it sparks a line of words. From there, the song evolves into what it becomes. When it comes to inspiration, it really comes from everything around us. Movies, life experiences, conversation or emotions. It could be based on how my mental state was throughout that week. With Sunrise, I’m glad that you caught that lyric perfectly. Sometimes I like to write lyrics that are blatantly obvious while others are complex and may have an underlying meaning. There are no rules to having a right or wrong way… that’s the beauty of being an artist.
Me: Great insight into your writing process. Keep up the good work. You guys are so interactive on Instagram. I had the pleasure of chatting with you and getting to know you. Insta-instant friends? LOL. We live in a new world and with so much expectation from people to get an instant response or feedback through DMs and messages, how do you manage to keep up with socials?
Geno: It’s honestly hard to keep up with on some days because we still have 9-5 jobs, but we feel like we’re doing a great job considering. We understand the importance of maintaining “friendships” online. With the sheer amount of material that is being released nowadays, everyone’s attention span is down to seconds so the “like” or quick response to show people that you appreciate the mention or the reaction to a new release is ever more important. It’s difficult to regularly upload new material to post since we live far from each other, but when we do, we try to document the day when we do and we post important music related news that may have felt important to us that day. It’s probably the most tedious part of being in a band whose main source of advertising is through social media. However, we feel like we underestimated its importance with past projects.
Me: Well, you guys are doing great with your time and distance constraints. And socials are definitely good for free promo, reaching a bigger audience. I’ve discovered tons of new music through socials – including you guys! The three of you are by far the most ambitious I’ve seen with respect to releasing new music. You mentioned that your goal was to release one new song every month. Tell us more about your plans.
Andrew: We actually discussed this for a long time before we started releasing music.
Paul: Yeah, I remember that lol.
Andrew: In the end, monthly releases were realistic. There are times we smash through two songs in a month. Other times we hit a dry spell and get artistically stumped, but the material we have can support that timeframe. We also wanted a timeframe that would push us to actively write.
Paul: We also have a short attention span lol. Any song that takes longer than a month to complete is possibly not worth completing. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to work into a potential future song so all ideas are saved.
Geno: In terms of future plans, we hope to release a full album on vinyl towards the end of the year. We don’t feel like a physical CD release is a requirement at this point. There is an increasing itch to scratch with playing a few shows.
Andrew: Our main goal though, is to try and get some radio play. We feel that’s a big deal if that gets accomplished. We need to take this opportunity to seriously thank Sam Cook and our friends from Hamilton’s INDI 101.5fm for helping us realize some of that goal. Mohawk College is doing some great things within the radio broadcasting community. You can catch the station online as well by visiting INDI1015.ca. Currently they are playing Sunrise, Reach for the Sky and Toss and Turn in regular rotation on their station.
Me: That’s fantastic that you are getting some airtime. I’m rooting for you guys and a show! Nothing beats live music. Ok, now my favourite get-to-know-you question – who are your top 3 favourite musicians?
Paul: Ian Thornley, Jared Letto, John Mayer and Dave Matthews (oops you asked for 3…. sorry lol).
Geno: John Sykes, Adam Jones and Slash.
Andrew: Eddie Van Halen, John Mayer, Dave Grohl and… Paul Do Carmo lol.
Me: Sorry, I know it’s hard to limit your selection to three. And Andrew, you’re so supportive of your own band member! It’s not music related, but hiking is something else that I’m really passionate about. I was thinking about people always telling me that it’s unsafe to hike alone or commenting that they could never go out alone. I always say, that if I got a stone every time someone said this to me, I’d have a beach full of them. Of course, I take some precautions, but I don’t think that these types of comments are conducive to living life to the fullest. Often they are excuses from people not to do things. On this note, let’s have some fun…fill in the blank: If I had a dollar for every time someone said “____” to me, I’d be rich.
Paul: Lol, “You should be a singer.”
Geno: “You guys should be on the radio.”
Andrew: “Has anyone ever told you that you look like Chris O’Donnell?”
Paul: “Who?!… OH WAIT, YOU ARE TOTALLY ROBIN FROM BATMAN!!! I will never unsee that now lol.
Me: Chris O’Donnell? And Batman? Totally…lol. Thanks so much for your time and enthusiasm. The world needs more people like you. Guys, look out for me in the crowd – I’ll definitely be rocking at a show real soon. Everyone, you know the drill: Show your support by clicking like and leaving positive comments on their posts and giving them a follow on socials. And don’t forget to buy/stream/share their music, buy tickets to shows, etc.
Guys, before we wrap things up – is there anything else you want to share?
Paul: We’re not the only band trying to make something happen. There are a ton of bands working hard and that deserve to be heard and there are many that we support. We want to send our kudos to Sun Satellite (disbanded but available on Spotify), TRUCE (From Moncton, New Brunswick, available on Spotify), Haley Stark (from Brampton, Ontario) and Maybe May (From Toronto, Ontario… big tunes!!!). We would like to also extend our thank you’s to Greg Dawson of “BWC Studios” for the recording of the Forces albums and Dean Hadjichristou of “All Buttons In” for our current mixes and masters. Dean, you are a MACHINE!!!
Spotify is great at shuffling mystery songs into my playlist whenever I’m listening to music. The same thing happened when I got hooked on Canadian musician Kane Miller’s music. I was listening passively at work when The Grace by Neverending White Lights (“NWL”) caught my attention. I had to immediately maximize my Spotify page to find out what song it was. And after hours of listening to NWL’s music and sharing it on my socials… here we are!
The Grace – single (2015) Falling Apart – single (2011) Always – single (2007) Act I: Goodbye Friends of the Heavenly Bodies – album (2005) Act II: The Blood and the Life Eternal – album (2007) Act III: Love Will Ruin – album (2011)
From Windsor, Ontario, Daniel Victor is the genius behind Neverending White Lights. Daniel is a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer who continues to push boundaries with his music, while helping to breakdown the stigma associated with mental health issues – especially for musicians who are struggling with them.
Me: Daniel! I absolutely love your music and what you are about. You’re a true gem. Honestly, I get so excited when a song touches my soul. Whenever I’m hit with such a song, I immediately look up the artist on socials and Spotify and buy my favourite songs on iTunes. Because I have such high standards for my music, I secretly hope that the musician has more than one song that I like. You did not disappoint me. I’ve added so many of your songs to my collection and have been listening to your music every day since I discovered you. What inspires your music?
Daniel: Thanks Monica! That means a lot.
What inspires my music? My journey in discovering life’s meaning and purpose, and the emotions behind what it means to be human and feeling things at your core. While I am often inspired by bands, albums, films, books, and other art, I am led to create music from a deep internal guidance. I guess you could say it’s about soul searching.
Neverending White Lights is a journal of my personal inquires around life itself, what existence is and isn’t, and peering into other realms of the spirit. I was always fascinated with the truth behind existence. In my youth it felt lonely to look up at the night sky and wonder how things could be so vast, yet so few of us are paying any mind to it. It seemed like people were distracted from uncovering their true nature.
I’ve always experienced this constant longing. For what, I’m not sure. But it drives me to write music. Maybe for a home somewhere, or for some place in the universe. To find something deeper behind why we do anything. I’ve tried to cope with these feelings the best way I could over the years and recording music helps to ease the agitation.
I am also inspired by melancholy and emotion itself. Beautiful tragedy, sad endings, loss, heartbreak, and grief. I like tapping into the essence of yearning, sadness, and hope. I love when things make your spine tingle, or when the goosebumps happen. I try to use that as a measure when I write.
Me: You’re so articulate. I often wonder the same thing – how there’s so much out there, but it seems like no one is noticing it. For example, I can go on and on about the colours of the sky at sunrise and sunset, the beauty of how light touches the earth, etc., but people usually just stare at me blankly and change the topic lol. There’s a sense of harmony and peace when you can connect with nature as well as the vibrations and energy all around.
Your single and album covers remind me of dark and sultry vampire movies. Also, the way you named your albums as Act I, II, and III, is like a playwright – something theatrical with a dramatic flair. In my opinion, your song Theme from Love Will Ruin is the perfect example of an intense theatrical piece. I was reading your comments that your albums can be read like a story. Can you briefly describe the concept that you had in mind when creating your albums and what you are trying to achieve with your music?
Daniel: NWL is based a series of concept albums. Every album is focused on a theme and story. Act I was about losing faith in life and our cosmic connection to beings and angels. Act II played around with musings about eternal life and love on the other side of the veil. Act III was more down to Earth both in sound and lyrics. It was conceived as a tragic love album focusing around heartbreak, loss, divorce, and how pain is often inevitable with love. The idea that we have to trade potentially devastating heartbreak to understand and receive love makes us venerable, which is why the album cover has a woman’s neck exposed – a fragile offering.
My goal with each album is to create a mood. The atmosphere and instrumentation help translate the lyrical content, in a similar way the cinematography of a movie creates its vibe. How can I make a snare sound sadder, or a choir dreamier? Guest singers bring unique characteristics to the music much in the way actors do for a script.
Each album will unravel as sequence of acts, eventually amassing to one giant work with overarching themes between them. Act I, II, and III have begun the initial trilogy. The journey will continue with Acts IV and V.
Me: So true, like the saying goes “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” I’m looking forward to the next Acts. What does pandemic life look like for you with respect to the music scene and how is the music scene generally?
Daniel: My city has been on lockdown for two years now, and still is as of this interview.
I have personally spent much of that time focusing on my own self-healing. I’ve taken a few online classes as well, including mixology, Earth ascension (consciousness expansion), and learning the Tarot. I wrote a series of books and created two blogs. I also directed two music videos for an up-and-coming artist named MELØ – my first venture into that realm. I’ve also been working weekly with a spiritual coach, Georgia Jean, who is an extra-dimensional channel. The insights I have received through our work together has been life changing.
As for the music scene as a whole, this time on lockdown has given people a chance to regroup and recalibrate. Artists and bands have lost their ability to tour and perform consistently and several venues have closed. The live-streaming platform has helped though. It’s thrilling to watch your favourite band perform from the comfort of your living room, and selling virtual seats means a larger audience for the performer. I caught some cozy shows from Matthew Good, Sara Slean, and Rufus Wainwright. The interaction with the artists is a fantastic way to connect. I got to chat with Rufus and asked him if he felt he had accomplished everything he set out to at his age. He loved the question and replied that he had indeed, but that he still wants to write musical theatre. That man is a genius. It seems the lockdown has given artists new energy and inspiration to get out there and create.
Recently, the pandemic in general has shifted my attention towards the mental health side of things. The fear of dying and spreading illness is a huge weight for people to carry. The separation of sides on the issues has created rifts between families and friends. I see a lot of people arguing instead of finding solutions to work together. I’ve lost several close friends just over differences of opinions on the virus, the vaccine, the masks, etc. It seemed to create this great divide for humanity.
In such a panic, we can lose our centeredness, intuition, and discernment for what’s best for ourselves and those around us. People have become afraid to interact with or be around others. I have seen many people make fun of and tear down those who have chosen to follow their inner guidance. Some are angry with the government. Some are angry at those who won’t follow the mandates. And some are just angry with the confusion. Regardless of what “side” you are on, the question becomes…what long-term effect will all this have on our mental health?
It is not healthy to obsess over fear…every day…all day…for years. While we can recognize that stress, disease, war, conflict, illness, viruses, and death all do exist, it doesn’t help any of us to worry about them 24/7. Stress chemicals in our bodies deplete the immune system and slow down our cellular function. We need to be more careful with what we feed our minds and bodies. Has the CNN or the news ever made you feel at peace? A constant barrage of fear isn’t healthy for anyone.
It is important that we stay positive and use our inner guidance to do what’s right for each of us. This means there is no one solution or truth for everything. And this means we have to accept everyone’s truth as just as valid as our own.
We all want the same things – health, happiness, and well-being for all. This won’t come until we let go of separation mentality and work together instead of righteously blaming and attacking one another. Yes, the pandemic was hard, and yes there was loss, and hardship, and many uncomfortable experiences. We need to use more love and less fear. We are all here as divine souls and we are much more than just the bodies. Compassion on all fronts.
Me: Sigh, I agree with you on all points. I’m fortunate that I haven’t been affected that much by the pandemic, but I know how much life has changed for others.
I told you that you have fantastic taste in music. When I first heard The Grace, I mentioned to you that I could hear influences of Matthew Good (one of my favourite musicians) – which could be a reason that I was instantly hooked on your music. You said that you are a big fan of his music. When I reached out to you for an interview, I sent you a link to my interview with Moist as a sample. You said you are also a huge fan of Moistand even opened for them once. Wish I was there for that show. It must have been wicked! What goes through your mind when you are performing on stage and from what age did you know that were meant to perform?
Daniel: Yes, Canadian Rock is incredible. Matthew Good is one of my favourite artists of all time. His lyrics are stunning and his songs kind of stab you in a way. They’re very potent. His catalogue is a treasure. I opened for Moist a long time ago. I still listen to their albums. Gasoline and Breathe are my favourite tracks.
I love performing. Being on stage is a much different experience than being in the studio. I love producing songs and watching them come to life, but there is another side of me that lives for the stage. It’s more raw and real. I always wanted to be a performer. I used to sing acoustic cover songs to small drunken audiences, but it wasn’t until after I released my first album that I got the true taste of how special it was to perform original songs to people who were actually listening.
The energy in an audience can become electric. It is a mass expulsion of frequency and connectedness. Everyone in the room feels the vibe no matter how big or small the show is. I love that. Most of the time I’m way too inside my head when I am on stage to fully enjoy the experience. I do love the bond between a band and the audience, it’s like extended family. Performing live allows me to dive into the core feelings in the songs, like reliving a powerful memory or experience. All old songs become new again in the moment and I get taken to the initial emotional spark.
Me: I listen to Moist all the time. I can feel a chill when you talk about the energy while performing live. How amazing! If I can properly articulate, your songs are rich and beautifully layered with elements of darkness and sensuality. My favourites are The Grace, I Hope Your Heart Runs Empty, Dove Coloured Sky, Theme from the Blood and the Life Eternal, The Warning, Distance, From What I Once Was and Falling Apart, Last of the Great Lovers, A Littlepiece…but actually, I love ALL of your songs. You mentioned that The Grace was a “big part of your life”. What was the inspiration for that song and what is its significance to you?
Daniel: Thank you so much. I love the idea of darkness and sensuality. The Grace was a big part of my life, and it launched my career. It connected with a lot of people, and I realized that I wasn’t alone in my own little world anymore. And that melancholy had a new place on the radio, which was a big deal for me then for some reason. I had this issue to prove when I was 26 about mainstream radio and video playing cookie-cutter and commercial songs that lacked depth. Everything seemed so schlocky and corporate. I thought, where did all the music with meaning go?
I eventually learned that ALL music has its place that it doesn’t have to just be about emotional longing or dramatic ballads. I learned to like Nickelback. Well, almost. But the point is it’s all about not resisting what’s out there and just letting things be. What’s meant to find its path, will. There’s room for everyone.
I wrote The Grace in a quick burst. I was on a phone call with a friend, and I had this inkling that something was coming on, an inspiration. I hung up the phone, picked up my guitar and it came out. When these songs appear, it’s never about trying to force something, but instead more allowing the idea to come through without getting in the way.
The lyrics were inspired by feeling displaced and having suicidal thoughts, but not in the desperation of pain, more in the uncomfortableness of having to live a life without understanding why. It was about it being all right to not be all right with it. And maybe not even belonging here. And that it was perfectly acceptable to think these things. The chorus is a long-distance call for home, wholeness, and completeness, in whatever realm that is. It’s a conversation between a man and his angels looking for his peace on either side of the veil.
I knew Dallas Green would be the perfect fit for that song because his voice has passion, and his style is brilliant. We had already recorded together, and I called him back to “try one more idea”. And that was it. I’m grateful it was able to reach so many people. In the end, it’s not really my song. It’s a collaboration with the angels and the higher realms. Like, where does anything we create really come from? I believe we are channels. I’m just trying to get it down on paper.
Me: I feel the same about commercial radio play. I don’t necessarily do it on purpose, but most of the music I listen to is Canadian. I’m so proud to be Canadian with such musical talent and totally support them. I dream of having my own trendy vegan café where I only play Canadian music. We need to hear more indie Canadian music on Canadian airwaves.
I sent you a DM about how your music has touched my soul. I’ve always been a spiritual person, but I was in the midst of what I felt like a massive spiritual awakening when I came across your music. Your music has supported the array of emotions that I’ve been experiencing, including happiness, joy, feeling alive, longing, emptiness and sadness. I told you that I felt like I was floating because I was so happy, and you said that you could feel my energy (through my social media posts).
When I think of “neverending white lights”, images of fantasy, afterlife and eternity conjure up in my mind. How did you decide on the name?
Daniel: The name Neverending White Lights is a metaphor for the soul.
We are all made of light. When we die that light moves on into new form, while we leave our bodies behind. The name came about as I was writing Act I. I had a vision of these dark endless tunnels or pathways with bright white lights on each side that kept going through a heavenly plane. Almost like a portal or vortex. The words “Neverending White Lights” started to appear.
I believe the name was placed there by my higher self for me to remember who I am, beyond the skin and bones and programming. That I have a history off-planet, cosmically. That I came here from the stars to remember. And to help others remember their own light. To be a light. To help people uncover their own light and discover that we are all infinite.
Me: I love it, Daniel. I like the notion of light. I believe that we all have a flame inside ourselves – be it weak or strong. Sometimes we just need a spark to set it off and there is no turning back after the fire has started. There is so much to discover about ourselves and the Earth we live on. Concepts of lost souls, soulmates/twin flames, reincarnation, afterlife are everywhere.
On your Spotify write-up, you mention the collaboration work that you do with other musicians. From what I gather, you play all the instruments and have another musician sing. It’s funny because I got two comments from friends that they didn’t like the voice (I like it) in I Hope Your Heart Runs Empty. How do you decide which artist should sing a particular song and what made you decide to personally sing Always? Also, tell us more about the creative endeavour of collaborations and why you like it?
Daniel: Scott Anderson’s (Finger Eleven) voice in I Hope Your Heart Runs Empty is transcendently stark and gripping. Of course, not everyone will like everything. I’ve had plenty of comments over the years of voices that “work” or don’t. But I have to use my own intuition to decide what’s best for a song.
Finding the right voice for a track is like casting for a movie – every performer will give it a different feeling. I do sing a few on my own when I feel more connected to the song. Always was the first single from Act II and it felt like it needed to be my voice. It’s just a feeling of what the song is asking for. It’s not about vocal ability with anyone I work with, myself included, it’s just what the song wants to be. The lyrics to Always were very personal to me and it was a story I wanted to tell through my own voice.
Collaborating with other artists is stimulating, especially working with my favourites. I am a huge fan of all of them and it was a dream come true to write and produce songs with bands I grew up listening to. It gave me the ability to see inside my record collection and break the fourth wall. And it also provided a massive challenge to make this seed of an idea happen in real life – from my notebook to the world. It was a personal feat I was driven to achieve.
Part of the concept was to take singers out of their comfort zone and place them in something foreign. It made the artists vulnerable and pushed me to help make them feel confident in stretching their wings.
I really wanted Scott from Finger Eleven to tap into his more sensitive side away from the aggressiveness of his group. Writing music that would give artists room to feel around for new ways of performing was part of the beauty. When 311’s Nick Hexum decided to work on Age of Consent, it opened him up to his softer, more buttery vocal style. I encouraged him to tap into the contemplative melancholy he rarely used in the rock-reggae of his band. He told me it inspired him to record another 80’s cover called Lovesong by The Cure which became a huge radio hit for them shortly after.
Funny thing, as Lovesong was featured in the movie 50 First Dates. Adam Sandler originally wanted Hexum singing Age of Consent, but the music supervisor thought it was too mellow. Lovesong was the replacement.
Me:Lovesong is one of my favourite songs. It super old, but I just listened to it recently when I suddenly found myself signing it in my head. It’s amazing that you can hand pick artists for each song and find energy in collaboration. I’m not musically talented, so I am thoroughly impressed that you can play many instruments. What instruments DO you play and when did you pick up your first one?
Daniel: I play guitar, drums, piano, bass, percussion, and vocals. I started out on drums when I was 7. My father had a vintage Ludwig set I would bang on for hours. I still love drums the best – they’re hands down the most fun to record. I was the drummer in several bands for many years before starting NWL.
I studied classical piano for a few years, but it never stuck, so I learned on my own. I couldn’t handle all the strict rules and scales, it took the enjoyment out of getting lost in the music. I studied with nuns at the local conservatory, and it was the most un-fun thing I can remember musically as a kid. They would be grading every subtle technique and punish any mistakes. It made me dread playing. Thankfully, I was able to do it my own way, which is more by ear. I can’t read much but I can feel my way through.
My father taught me how to play guitar when I was 13. I had the fuzzed-out noise of the Grunge/Alternative rock scene of the early 90s to jam along to. Smashing Pumpkins was a considerable influence on my guitar playing and tone. Billy Corgan’s clean sound on Siamese Dream was so gorgeous. I would listen to the song Soma on repeat for hours. That album is definitely still on my top five of all time.
Me: That’s awesome that you can play so many instruments. I feel you about piano lessons. I was forced to learn piano as a kid. I hated every second of it probably because I had to play classical music. I am proud to say that I learned one song that I love – Dust in the Wind by Kansas. I can still play it today. In your interview with Margaret Konopacki of Birdsong: David Martin New Music Foundation, you said “I think many people forget how rare it is to be here, and that it won’t last forever…once we are gone, we are gone.” Your thoughts resonate with me a lot and it’s something that I think about every day. With this in mind, what focus does this philosophy give you in life?
Daniel: I believe when we’re gone from this life, the specifics of that life experience have come and gone. What we’ve learned we carry with us in our soul’s records, imprinted in the universe.
We’re only this version of ourselves once, even though we’ve incarnated hundreds of times. Everything we learn in every moment changes and shapes us. We only have this one life to be the person we are under these exact circumstances. In the next life, that will change, though it will still be us on a soul level, just a new avatar. All that was learned is gained for the soul’s journey and the greatest good of all. Every incarnation we get to have a new experience. In one life we’re rich, then in another we get to learn what it’s like to be poor. In one we are a dictator, in another a slave.
My views on these topics are always in flux as I’m always learning, so none of this might be true for me tomorrow. But it is currently the stage of my awareness.
Being on Earth at this time is challenging because we are born into the experience of separation from our Source, and from each other. The veil of amnesia we pass through at birth leaves us with little memory of our past lives, let alone our multidimensional star ancestry. We have to stumble in the dark to find our way and come up with meanings that are convincing enough for us to keep going. That can be religion, science, drugs, alcohol, sex, love, family, work, music, money, or even just survival. Most of us don’t sit in caves and mediate for answers all day and we have plenty of distractions out there. Why were we born into a place and time where we know nothing about our origin or truth? Why do we keep doing the same things every day without taking the time to find the answers?
I believe we all have a purpose for coming into this world. It’s a path of remembering who we are. Humans are more than just a physical vessel, made to wake up, go to work, retire, and die. The universe is not random and chaotic, and there are clues in our reality about how synchronistic and connected the world is. I believe we all have special powers that were kept from us – that we are all magical and psychic.
We are not victims to life, but co-creators generating our reality. Yes, life is hard, but what we focus on with intent, what we believe in, we get to experience. Everything is malleable. It’s not easy to change our thinking patterns and habits, but it is possible to awaken to our truth and break out of limiting beliefs. This is the great awakening happening right this minute on Earth. We are seeing humans start to shift towards the importance of being authentic and doing what makes them happy. We are seeing people breaking free from fear, oppression, rules, and order, and tapping more into their hearts. The best way to harness our cosmic divinity on Earth right now is to explore our creativity. When we create things, we are expressing alignment with our soul.
Me: That’s incredibly deep…and you mirror my own less articulate words! My sense of awakening is so intense at times. To really be able to see and feel, is so incredible and a gift.
In the same article, you openly admitted your battle with mental health issues including depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety. In my opinion, musicians are geniuses and may have their brains wired a certain way which allows for that type of creativity. For myself personally, when I’m experiencing feelings of depression or extreme happiness, my written work is more inspired and creative.
It’s so inspirational that you are trying to help other musicians (and others) struggling with mental health issues to understand that what they are going through is normal and not shameful. In my interview with musicians, Ben VanBuskirk of Blackout Orchestra, Andrew Ford of Inner Pieces and AARYS, they talk openly about their personal struggles with mental health issues and advocate for the importance of understanding and dealing with the impact of mental health as a collective society. It’s very inspirational when musicians channel their inner battles through music that heals their souls and well as those of others.
I read that you were struggling the most with your mental health issues during the recording of Act III: Love Will Ruin. Can you elaborate on this as well as your thoughts about the stigma of mental illnesses/conditions and how are you managing your own struggles day-to-day?
Daniel: Yes, it has been said many times that artistic ability is usually linked with mental illness, but we all struggle with it. We all are suffering in some way. It’s just part of the wiring of the brain.
Feeling depressed and unhappy can sometimes seem like normal life, but it’s not supposed to be. We often have a subconscious feeling of detachment and abandonment. It’s like a background noise. We label it “depression” or “anxiety” because we need to medically define it, but it’s all just misalignment with our higher self, waiting to be corrected. You’d be anxious too if you were dropped off on Earth with no map. Plot twist – the map as it turns out is inside us and the key to the treasures are within our hearts.
It’s important we openly discuss our mental health and be willing to share our true feelings and experiences. Most unwellness and disease is linked to emotional trauma, which is linked to what we think about, speak of, and focus on. This is often attached to unwanted experiences we’ve had as children. But there is a way through. To live happy and healthy lives we must start opening ourselves up to a new paradigm of healing.
Once we come to recognize our symptoms (anxiety, nervousness, restlessness, chronic fatigue, etc.) taking prescription drugs and living with it, will only mask the true inner cause. We need to learn how manage our thoughts and face the shadow parts of us that we might be neglecting. We need to love and accept every aspect of who we are.
When we are in worry or fear about anything, we create anxiety. We worry about the future, but the future doesn’t exist, as is just a sea of potential outcomes based on decisions and actions we take in the present. The NOW moment is all there is. This is where our focus needs to be. Not the past or future, as that is where anxiety creeps in.
I’ve been working hard for years to get better with my symptoms. I’m doing well now, though it has been difficult. I am grateful I have found new methods and I am eager to share them with those who are looking for new ways to feel better. I believe we all suffer in different ways. If I can be of assistance to anyone for inspiration, guidance or music, that is what I am on Earth to do.
Me: Well put. I like the plot twist…the key to the treasure is within us. Breaking the stigma and opening the dialogue is so important as a first step. So many people are suffering on their own, thinking that they are alone – when they aren’t. It’s just that no one else is talking.
I’m really looking forward to new music from you. What are your current/future plans with your music?
Daniel: It’s been over a decade since I have last released new music. I’ve taken a slight detour. I just fell off the track, I guess. I think my soul was trying to guide me away from my career so I could fix what needed to be fixed inside.
But I’ve written nearly 100 songs that are in varying stages of completion. Most of them will never see the light of day, but there are a few gems that I am very excited to share. There is a dreamy sentiment to the new music, kind of like a lost memory. The themes so far have to do with the awakening on Earth and our moving out of darkness, though I don’t have a title yet.
I am hoping something surfaces this year, maybe a new song. I know I will finish Act IV at some point. I’ve recently started sitting with the material again. Listening. Thinking. Feeling for that knowingness to sink in. I’m waiting for the spark of inspiration to tell me its time. Until then…
Me: Daniel, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and your time. I appreciate your insight into the spiritual world. There is so much in this interview for us to think about and digest about us being more than vessels moving through this lifetime. I’m so thankful to Spotify for giving me the gift of your music and to you for creating your transcending masterpieces. Before we wrap up this interview, is there anything else that you would like to share?
Everyone, check out NWL and don’t forget to follow Daniel’s page. Now. And remember to show your support by buying/streaming music, attending his shows, buying merch, etc.
Daniel: My pleasure. Thank you for thinking of me and taking the time to reach out. Much love. xx
Forever the curious person I am, I clicked on Basqi’s profile when I saw it on my Instagram story. I saw that he’s a Toronto musician and we follow a bunch of mutual people. I love that Basqi has music clips on his page. I point this out because it’s feedback that I give to musicians who don’t have any video clips or music samples on their page – I encourage them to add some. In the few seconds that you have someone’s attention, it could be a chance at getting a new fan. Anyways, Basqi has another huge fan (me) because of this.
Lost Souls – single (2021) Myself – single (2021) Pick Up the Pieces – single (2021) Tell Me – single (2021) Not Sorry – single (2020) Control – single with Tommy O (2020) Lies – single with Purple Mind (2020)
Basqi is a Toronto-based singer, songwriter, producer, photographer and videographer who enjoys collaboration work with other musicians and chillin’ outdoors with his dog.
Me: On one of your posts, you wrote that Myself was inspired by how you felt during this COVID-19 pandemic. Although my life wasn’t affected too much, I can totally relate to this song. I like the lyrics “lately feels like I’m just going through the motions to feel right. I’m just trying to find a moment to feel like myself.” I spend a lot of time not feeling like myself and being inside my head wondering where my life is going. Pandemic-wise, lots of people have been deeply affected by the isolation and changes brought about by it, so it’s amazing how you took a life experience and spun it into a beautiful song. What are other sources of inspiration for your music?
Basqi: Thanks, I’m glad the song really resonated with you! Honestly, most of my music comes from my struggles with my mental health issues like depression and anxiety. I also tend to write a lot about personal relationships – romantic and non-romantic. I’ve been trying to find inspiration in other places, but right now during the current state of the world, it’s been hard.
Me: No kidding about the state of our world. When I reached out to you for an interview, I sent you a link to Stuck on Planet Earth’s interview as a sample. You said that you knew Al (singer/bass player) and that he is your cousin…our six degrees of separation! I came so close to meeting you at Stuck’s concert in Brampton back in November 2021, because you told me that you were their videographer for the evening. You are truly multi-talented. When I suggested that you share a stage with Stuck, you mentioned that you have never performed live before. What are your upcoming plans musically?
Basqi: I do plan to perform live as soon as I possibly can. But right now, it’s proved to be hard due to lockdowns. In the meantime, I’m just working on new music and trying to build a bigger catalogue of songs. I also stream music production and performance on Twitch occasionally, but I’ve been terrible at promoting that fact lol and I should do it more often.
Me: I’m happy to hear that you plan to perform live. There’s nothing like experiencing a live show. I’ll definitely be there! How old were you when you discovered your talent for music and what’s the first instrument you picked up? Also, other than guitar, do you play any other instruments?
Basqi: My first instrument was actually the guitar. When I was in Grade 3, we had a guitar club and I was somehow able to convince my parents to buy me an acoustic guitar and let me join. Even though all the small acoustic guitars back then were still way too big for my tiny body, I still tried to play. I then moved on to drums when I was around 13. The way I remember it, my dad and I would often go to Long & McQuade because I loved to look at and play all the instruments. And he’s a great dad. So, we were there one day and I decided to play on the drum-kit and one of the salespeople walked up to my dad and said something along the lines of “he’s pretty good” (which I think they probably say to every parent there with their kid) and next thing I knew we were taking home a kit that day lol. I also played alto sax from Grades 6-12, and I say played because I haven’t touched it since graduating. Besides those, I dabble a bit with the piano for production purposes. To answer the part about when I discovered my “talent” – I don’t really know. I still don’t consider myself to be talented really. I do consider myself to be a hard worker though, and I’ve come a long way from where I started.
Me: So modest about your obvious talent and sweet that you speak highly of your dad. It’s rare that people openly say nice things about their parents! All of your tunes are catchy and relatable. I love your song Not Sorry about a toxic relationship. Lyrics go “toxic behaviour, and I ignored the warnings to deal with later, and now they’re back to haunt me… why are so toxic…I’m feeling like a target…pushing my buttons like you can control me…play games with my mind…” It sure sounds like you had a relationship gone bad. What advice do you have for others to be able walk away from those types of relationships?
Basqi: Thanks, I appreciate that! My advice would be to just know your worth, know that you are good enough and that another person can’t define you or make you feel any less than you are. Seek advice and listen to the people around you who truly love and care for you – like close friends and family. Seeing things from another perspective (especially from a perspective of somebody that deeply cares for you) can change everything.
Me: I completely agree about knowing and realizing your self-worth. I wrote a story on Instagram before with the line “No one is worth pretending for” and it’s true that you should be authentic and kind to yourself first. I see from your posts that you skateboard and spend time outdoors with your dog. As Myself was inspired by how you felt during the pandemic, what else have you been doing to destress?
Basqi: Honestly, it’s been hard recently, but I pretty much do the same things. I’ve just been making music, hanging out with friends and hitting up open mics (when that was possible, not long ago).
Me: That sounds pretty chill. Based on your posts, you’ve done some collaboration work with Purple Mind on Lies, and Control with Tommy O. BTW – I added Lies to my music collection – great song. How would you compare the collaboration process versus producing music individually?
Basqi: I enjoy the collaborative process a lot. Tommy is a long-time friend who I’ve been collaborating with as a producer and audio engineer since before I started releasing my own music. And Purple Mind I actually met through a discord server that’s for producers and musicians. They’re actually based in Germany, so collaborating with them was an interesting process. It was all done remotely via discord and sending of recordings via email, and that was a first for me. To compare it to my solo process, I actually find that I’m more motivated when working with others and really enjoy the different energies that different minds provide to the writing and production process.
Me: I can imagine that collaboration work would be interesting with musicians coming from different backgrounds with their own ideas. It seems that you manage your own socials like many other musicians. Seeing the way I discovered your handle – do you have any advice for musicians with respect to building a social media presence?
Basqi: Honestly, lately I’ve been slacking off. I don’t think I’ve been active on any socials in over a month. But if I had advice to give it would be, post often and be your authentic self. Nothing creates a more genuine connection with your audience than just being the real you.
Me: Agreed. Your authenticity definitely shines through on your page. I can’t avoid this “get-to-know-you-better” question because I find that knowing what type of music someone listens to says a lot about them. Who are your top 3 musical influences or favourite musicians? And don’t feel obligated to say Stuck on Planet Earth lol!
Basqi: I always find this kind of question to be so difficult because my musical taste ranges so much. But right now, I guess I’d say Blink-182, Blackbear, and The Wonder Years. It’s a bit of a random list and probably not my all-time top 3, but these are some artists I’ve been listening to for a very long time and connect with, as well as draw inspiration from.
Me: Nice. And so many musicians I’ve never heard of. I’ll have to take a listen. I’m looking forward to new music and your first show. Thanks again for your time! Everyone, check out Basqi’s music. Show him some love by giving him a follow on socials, stream/buy his music and attend a live show when the city is alive again.
Basqi, is there anything else you would like to share?
Basqi: Nothing I can think of, besides check out my music and follow me on social media lol.
“End of the Ocean” – anticipated album release date: January 2022! Pre-save your album now on most music platforms.
OMG, the view from Cloud 10 is pretty darn sweet! I’ve been a Moist fan for more than 25 years, so after I started doing musician interviews on my website, I reached out to them for an interview. Seeing them rock the stage right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, reminded me why I love them so much. These guys are only getting better and hotter with age. Recently, Moist started to follow me on Instagram. Ok, you got me…just a little bit of bragging! Anyway, that was my cue to keep sharing the music that has kept me going all of these years.
Dying for a Light in the Dark – single (2021) Put the Devil on It – single (2021) Tarantino – single (2021) End of the Ocean – single (2021) Glory under Dangerous Skies – album (2014) Mercedes Five and Dime – album (1999) Creature – album (1996) Silver – album (1994) Self-titled 9 song indie cassette (1993)
With their albums Silver, Creature and Mercedes 5 and Dime going multi-Platinum, this Canadian band rocks on a whole different level. Formed in 1992 in British Columbia, Moist is currently made up of David Usher (vocals), Mark Makoway (lead guitar), Jonathan Gallivan (guitar), Kevin Young (keyboard), Jeff Pearce (bass) and Francis Fillion (drums). With over 1.3 million albums sold worldwide and a couple of Juno Awards under their belt, Moist pushes full steam ahead with their upcoming album, End of the Ocean.
Me: Hey guys! Thank you so much for sending me to Cloud 10. Never in a million years would I have imagined that I’d be interviewing you. In a message to Kevin, I told him I’d be on Cloud 9 if he agreed to an interview. I had just climbed to the top of a hill on a hike when I saw his reply that it was a go. My hikers were floating the rest of that trail…
Here’s the quick story of how I travelled from Cloud 9 to Cloud 10. I was chatting with Jon about his journey of self-healing and asked if he’d be interested in participating in the interview as well. His yes bumped me to Cloud 10. Then when Jon got busy with his work, Kevin suggested that Jeff could join instead. Jeff was amazing to quickly step in. But when Jon managed to send me his responses too, I made it to Cloud 10. All this cloud talk may sound silly, but bottom line – I’m ecstatic and just love these guys. Truly, they rock my world!
I foolishly thought it would be easier to prepare my interview questions because I’m such a huge fan, but it actually took me much longer to formulate them.
So many bands have come and gone over the years. What made you guys decide to take a break after David went on his own?
Kevin: We decided to take a break mainly because ever since we’d started Moist it was all-encompassing. The attitude was very much ‘there is no try, do, you must’. So, after all the time we’d spent together I think we all just needed to stretch out a bit. Now, Jeff and I went out on the road with David’s solo gig pretty soon, relatively speaking, after Moist decided to close up shop for a while. We had no idea it would be 13 years, or less, or more, or if that was it for Moist. But when we started the band – and I often say this to musicians starting out – one of the most important things for us, individually and collectively, was that we were all equally committed to the band, to making music for a living. A problem that often crops up with bands early on is that one or two people like the idea of it, but it’s not life or death – if you get my drift. So, one or two band members decide they want out when things get tough, or are afraid they’ll miss an opportunity to do something else they either love as much (or more) than music, or life gets in the way, or discover they can’t stand the other people in the band, or whatever. We’ve had disagreements. We’ve fought, and bitched and complained and fought some more, but at the core we were, and remain, really close friends.
Jeff: Exactly what Kevin said. We had been living in the Moist bubble for what seemed like a very long time, so by 2000 it was time for us all to swim out of it for a bit. One cool thing that happened with that is that David wanted to keep recording and he asked us all to contribute as co-producers, so that gave us all room for some professional growth.
Me: It’s great that you guys had a chance to try out other things, but I’m really happy that you’re back together and making Moist music magic. What have you guys been doing since the release of your last album Glory Under Dangerous Skies in 2014? And what made you decide to get things going again?
Kevin: We did a fair bit of gigging after Glory came out. We knew we’d end up back in writing sessions and eventually in the studio, but with the 25th anniversary of Silver looming we ended up focusing on that. Putting together the 25th anniversary edition of Silver took up time and inevitably led to getting Jeff back in the fold to go out and play the album live in 2019. Which, inevitably, led to the bunch of us gathering up our bits and pieces of what we’d written individually over time and firing up the mighty Moist meatgrinder we call a songwriting process. And, lickety-split, out popped End of the Ocean.
Jeff: As for what we have been doing, we all find ways to pass the time when we aren’t doing Moist stuff. We are all fortunate to have many different ways to stretch our musical muscles. But coming back into the band always feels so comforting after not doing it for a bit. The songs are so imprinted into our personal styles of performing.
Jonathan: I don’t think there was any doubt, after recording and touring Glory Under Dangerous Skies, that there wouldn’t be a follow up offering. Beyond the Silver tour, I was still playing guitar for David’s solo shows – acoustic and electric – as I had since 2007. David was doing – and is still doing – regular speaking engagements on creativity and artificial intelligence, and I’ve always joined him with an acoustic guitar for those.
Me: Kevin, I like your meatgrinder reference. I can appreciate the amount of creativity and work that goes into a song. I’m always interested to know how musicians got their first taste of music. How and when did you guys first get started and what’s the first instrument that you picked up?
Kevin: Piano. Age 6? I think. My mother plays. She was my first teacher. Even then I wanted to write music. The first time I performed though, was on Euphonium. My folks were Salvation Army officers, so playing in the SA band was my first long-time gig. I also recall a very dubious sixth-grade talent show where I played a ‘selections from Star Wars’ bit, alone – and very poorly – on Euphonium. Piano seemed a better bet.
Jeff: Ukulele I believe, and probably in grade 5… Still love the uke and managed to sneak a bit of it into one of the songs on the new record. Then I graduated to other stringed instruments. I also played trumpet in high school, but I was pretty terrible. My mom told me, years later, that she was sitting with a friend at one of my school band’s recitals, and her friend at some point turned to her and said ‘Jeff really holds that trumpet well”. Our band teacher was pretty happy when I moved from trumpet to bass.
Jonathan: My parents had a stereo with dual tape decks. At about eight years of age, I would experiment with anything that could make a sound and record it. Then I’d play it back on one tape deck and record another sound on the other. I’d do that over and over until the initial sounds were almost totally imperceptible, but I’d built these “multi-track” songs that I wouldn’t share with anyone.
It wasn’t until I was about 10 that my Mum signed me up for electric guitar lessons. I had this amazing guitar teacher with a hippie-vibe and hair to match. He taught me it wasn’t so much about the notes that I was playing as it was the space between the notes that created the magic. This has always stuck with me as my sort of musical mantra.
Me: Jeff, I’m looking forward to hearing the bits of ukulele. Jon, I love the visual of your early experimentation with recording. You guys are so talented. There are not many six member bands and even less who have a keyboardist. I love how your instruments sound together and how your music is perfectly layered. Your professionalism on stage and everything you guys do is, bar none. How do you manage to work together/manage conflict and can you describe your creative and songwriting process?
Kevin: First, are you sure you’re talking about Moist? I mean, it’s been almost two years since we’ve gigged regularly – you know what they say, ‘absence makes cold, hard analysis utterly impossible’ (or something like that). Kidding. That’s very kind of you to say.
Live, we’re lucky to have an excellent FOH engineer in Canadian legend, Matt Lamarche, whose skills in mixing the sounds of the night are very finely honed. On record, well, getting from conception to completion can be a bit of a shit fight.
As I said, our songwriting process is a bit of a meat grinder. Everyone comes in with ideas, bits, full songs, and then the lot gets cut up, put back together, fussed over, and argued about until we’ve got something that, collectively, we’re good with. Then – in the time between writing and recording – some bits fall out of favour and, generally, we take what’s left and record it. Then, we decide there’s at least one song we’re not good with and try to ditch it. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes it isn’t. Honestly, there are songs, Black Roses from Glory being one of them, that we very nearly didn’t keep that ended up being tracks that really hit the spot live.
Going through all that requires having thick skin. But conflict, in part, helps make the result better, I think. We’re often blunt and brutal with each other when we don’t dig what is going on – the downside is there’s weeping and wailing – the upside is as a unit, we’re stronger and so, I think, are the songs/records we put out.
Over to you, Gallivan, you sexy beast…
Jonathan: After working on David’s solo work for many years, the boys invited me into the songwriting process for Glory Under Dangerous Skies. One thing is for certain with this band… there’s never a lack of ideas. Kevin’s right about the blunt and brutal bit. But, when someone presents an idea, everyone has their say. And we either move ahead working on it, or let it go. I find it to be a quick and painless process, with minimal weeping and wailing. Kevin always has a flair for the dramatic.
Occasionally, one of us might be extremely passionate about a rejected idea and re-enter it at a later point in the sessions. And, sometimes, the band can be persuaded to give it a shot. But, if it’s not accepted, nobody takes personal offence. The idea finally just gets filed away for personal use, or tossed away, and we get back to the business of what’s best for the band. It’s very democratic.
Me: I love the comradery – it’s refreshing. Thanks for sharing what goes on behind-the-scenes. You guys were like untouchable rock stars in the old days. I remember standing in line at HMV back in Montreal for your autographs with nothing to say. Now I see that rock stars are people too…haha.
Your 25th year Silver album anniversary tour was totally rocking! You guys were so much fun on stage and I remember David saying that after so many years you don’t give a F**k about anything anymore. Kevin, you did a keyboard solo with improv banter between you and David, and Francis did a never before seen (at least when I’ve seen you guys on stage) wild drum solo. That was so amazing and memorable.
Things are quite different now with social media. It’s so much easier to share and communicate with others. I have to credit social media for this interview because I couldn’t have reached out to you guys if not for it. It’s interesting to see your posts and what you guys are up to. Kevin, you are so silly! I love your candid selfies in your posts – especially the one with the fancy goggles. I see that you have a couple dogs and a boxing bag in your backyard. Other than boxing and walking your dogs, what else do you do to stay in shape physically and mentally?
Kevin: What can I say? After spending 30-plus years with the guys, getting a bit goofy helps take the edge off. As does having two adorably obstinate Labs. Most of the time.
I’ve always needed an outlet for excess energy – it goes in phases. On tour, I used to bring a bike with me, or a skateboard or I’d just run. Not just to stay in shape, but to see more of wherever we happened to be. That’s key to maintaining mental stability on tour for me. That, and hiking, swimming, and of course, taking the piss out of the other guys whenever possible.
The boxing is for training only – if I ever actually got in the ring, someone would end up unconscious and bloody and that someone would be me – I started that about three years ago. Everyone was telling me I need to relax, that I should do yoga, but I figured hitting stuff would relax me more than yoga ever could. Seems to work. The heavy bag in the yard has been a blessing during the pandemic.
All that said, one of the keys to mental health for me during the pandemic was doubling down on playing and practicing. Whether I’m learning music, writing, or just messing around and improvising – I can just get lost in it and shut anything out that might be driving me crazy.
Me: How about you Jeff, you what’s keeping you mentally sane during this pandemic?
Jeff: I am lucky to have a family that keeps me sane. We’ve done lots of projects around the house, like building a computer for my son, a shed for me and a pool for my wife. We also live in an area that has been pretty mild in terms of cases, so we have kept socializing with friends and family, although at a safe distance.
Me: And Jonathan, you’ve been posting lately about spiritual and natural healing. You mentioned during one of our chats that you feel there is a disconnect between nature and our souls. Why do you say that and describe the journey that you are on?
Jonathan: I reached a mental low point in April, and my sister ended up flying me out to British Columbia. She and her husband have been at the forefront of amazing healing work with plant medicines, and I was able to experience some incredible deep and life-changing journeys within.
The short story is that I’ve been able to reconnect with my soul – a connection that had been waning since my 20s. Rather than reacting to situations based on ego or pre-programming from childhood, I’m now able to respond by trusting that my soul knows what’s best for me. I’m seeing anger, fear and grief as gifts, or signals, that there is something within me that needs integration.
I think we all have traumas that we need to heal, so I’m taking plenty of time for myself every day to look within and be present with what my body is revealing to me. Each morning I prepare some Cacao and have a ceremony where I set intentions for the day. Cacao is a powerful, heart-opening plant medicine itself, and I find making it a ritual offers me plenty of insights and sets up the day for creativity and joy.
Me: I’m glad that you guys have found ways to manage your stress. Jon, I’ll be following your journey on socials. I bought tix for your Saints and Sinners Tour with The Tea Party, Big Wreck and Headstones – but the tour was rescheduled once and has now been cancelled altogether. I’m bummed out, but not surprised because of COVID. Was your album somehow inspired by the pandemic? How did you manage to put together the songs on your album without a recording studio?
Kevin: We were recording at Revolution Recording in Toronto just before the pandemic was declared. So, we got a lot in the can over six or seven days of being all set up, all playing together, doing a bit of arranging and rearranging of the tunes, fine-tuning tempos, and getting Francis’ drums recorded. Quite a bit of keys, guitars, and bass we kept from that.
Honestly, we thought we’d get back to it and get together to record overdubs in a month or so. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, we all hunkered down in our home studios and recorded ourselves. That, to be very clear, is not the way we generally work. The back and forth, arguing about fiddly bits, pushing each other to nail a part or performance differently – it’s aggravating at times, but I much prefer that to recording alone. For Moist, recording has typically been very much a team sport (full contact – at least verbally).
Jonathan: We generated many of the arrangements and song ideas for End of the Ocean at Studio Base Bin in Montreal starting on January 30th of 2020. Mark and I had a dedicated laptop opened up to the John Hopkins COVID-19 virus tracker page…that was when there were only a few hundred cases worldwide. So, it’s hard to feel the record was influenced by the pandemic… especially when everyone else in the band thought it would be done in a few weeks.
I’m a bit of a perfectionist. So, once it became clear we’d be working from home I did the best thing for myself…and Mark…I didn’t record any new guitars at home. All my guitar takes on the record come from those initial drum and bass sessions at Revolution. What I did do was buy myself a new vocal microphone and rent an awesome Universal Audio compressor. I don’t ever remember spending so much time on backing vocals on any album, but I really got into it. Sometimes you can feel a bit rushed in the studio doing BGs. But, in the privacy of your own home, you can take as long as you need to get it right. It’s your house, after all.
Jeff has an amazing ear for harmonies, and I essentially matched him note for note. Doubling Jeff and Kevin’s harmonies made me really appreciate the harmonies on all the Moist records over the years.
Me: Home studio recording seems to be the trend with other musicians who I’ve interviewed. I suppose that everyone had to adapt to this pandemic way of life. My all-time favourite albums are Silver and Creature. I’m listening to your music right now as I put this interview together. You guys have put on so many concerts over the years. What’s your memorable concert and why? And do you ever get tired of performing?
Kevin: There have been times I’ve burned out on the road. And when we’ve collectively had enough. We did take 13 years away from Moist after all. But the short answer. No. I absolutely love playing live. We all do. It’s the spot where there’s no daylight between putting something out there and getting feedback. It’s glorious.
The pandemic…About six months in I realized it had been the longest I haven’t been on some kind of stage, playing some kind of instrument, since I was about 9-years old. That’s small change compared to what many others have had to deal with. I know. But I missed it deeply. Still, I’m a very lucky human given the struggle so many others have had during the past almost two years.
As for memorable shows…Well, loaded question, I fear. I’ve got favourite shows – two in particular that weren’t Moist concerts, and gigs where everything went off the rails and felt horrid, but mostly – I’m getting quite on in age remember – it’s a patchwork of memorable moments, too many to list. But off the top of my head: That time at McMaster back in the 90s when security didn’t realize David was in the band and tried to throw him out for tackling Mark on stage; that time at Fort Erie when I would have been happy to help them toss David out after he soaked my keyboard in water mid-show, and, most recently, the Silver anniversary Horseshoe gig where our illustrious backline tech, Connor, had to hold my keyboards up so I could keep playing after my keyboard stand collapsed.
Jeff: I have never gotten tired of performing. In fact, there are moments still when we are playing where I suddenly get a third person perspective on what’s happening, and I think about how amazing and lucky we all are to be able to do this crazy thing!
Jonathan: Ah! That’s a tricky question as there have been so many great memories from the road. Playing to a packed crowd in my hometown of Toronto at the Danforth Music Hall was a definite highlight. Or, having my Mum, Dad and sister in the front row at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver would be another one.
The Moist fans truly make performing such an incredible experience. Feeling the energy rise as the concerts move along are like nothing else life can offer. The past two years have been hard, not being able to play shows. Plus, spending time with the boys rehearsing and travelling is kind of like free therapy…and I miss that a lot.
So, even though it was a bit of a kick in the gut to be playing just one show in Ottawa this past September (seeing as we were supposed to be touring Canada all November), it may now be top my list of favourite shows. Everyone seemed so happy just to be out and about, and we were so happy to be on stage. It didn’t matter that we were rusty and making plenty of mistakes…it was just about pure connection with the fans as human beings living through a crazy time. It was beautiful energy.
Me: Wow, it’s so great to hear stories about your experiences. Kevin, you mentioned to me that Put the Devil On It is one of your favourite songs on your upcoming album. The song is a commentary about former US President Donald Trump. I was reading some of the “lively” comments in response to that song on your social media page. What about this song makes it a favourite?
Kevin: LOL – my favourite song changes often. Currently, it’s the title track. But ‘Devil’ reminds me of tracks from the way back, like Break Her Down and Shrieking Love tunes that grew over time, both from writing to recording and then again over time on stage – with room to flesh them out. Lyrically, too, ‘Devil’ is a song that can be interpreted in different ways. What it means to Put the Devil On It depends on your point of view.
My read on ‘Devil’ is not that it’s a commentary about ‘he who shall not be named’. Although it certainly could be. To my mind, it’s about demonizing people for their opinions, the dangers of refusing to engage with people who disagree with you and at least try to find common ground, which, frankly, for ‘he who shall not be named’ are go-to positions. I’m not against going after someone about their opinions/beliefs if I find them offensive – There’s shit well worth arguing about and speaking vehemently out against. But I’m equally prepared to listen – even to someone I vehemently disagree with – I might learn something I didn’t know. I might be able to take what I’ve learned and use it positively. It might give me more ammunition to shake their cage, work them up and make them crazy. It might just piss me off. Or it may only deepen my belief that we’d all be better off if the offensive prick of a person in question was put in a steamer trunk and dropped off a very high cliff into a very deep hole – preferably filled with molten rock, acid, or long sharp spikes and poisonous snakes.
Generally, though, I think by engaging with people who have different opinions, beliefs, and/or life experiences I’m better able to find, if not common ground, then at least a better understanding of how to counter their argument. Know your enemy, right?
Incidentally, in between writing this and sending it to you I’ve changed my mind about my favourite tune on EotO, again.
Me: I love your visual of the molten rock and poisonous snakes Kevin – too funny! Jeff, what’s your favourite song on the album and why?
Jeff: When we were sending each other song ideas for this record, Kevin sent a pretty much complete song around called High on It that I found so beautiful and powerful. It was so great as it was that I didn’t want to mess it up too much, but that is the song that I snuck some ukulele on. I can’t wait for people to hear it. And I am super-excited for people to hear Ammunition which is really the calling card for the record and shows a side of the band that I don’t think we have explored since the first writing we ever did almost 30 years ago. Slightly more power pop then most of our songs, but still very Moist… has more in common with Freaky be Beautiful than any other song in our catalog.
Me:Freaky be Beautiful is a classic! And Jonathan, what’s your favourite song on the album and why?
Jonathan:Ammunition does it for me. Something about the overall vibe of the song transports me back to the summers of my youth. Maybe it’s because the current conditions and complexities of our world make me yearn for it. That feeling of getting out of school for the year, with nothing to do…and no one telling you what to do. If you wanted to learn how to skateboard, you just got a board and went out and did it. No fancy instructors or clubs. No social media to post to. Hell, there weren’t even helmets.
Sure, you had your moments when you felt you were “left for dead” or “breathing fire”, but you somehow managed to battle through. Nowadays, you can’t go five minutes without an app being out of date on your phone or “breaking news” upsetting your week. Everything is so scheduled, monitored and packaged up as entertainment that it can be easy to lose track of which thoughts are your own. While listening to Ammunition I feel all that tightness loosen up. I guess it just gives me the good feels.
Me: Guys, my expectations for Ammunition are now super high! Your song End of the Ocean is so powerful. Together with the video, the portrayal of humanity is striking.Can you tell us the story and symbolism behind the song?
Kevin: It’s definitely rooted in the idea of society collapsing – there’s plenty of lyrics that call up images of environmental catastrophes of various flavours. David has a way of putting things that allows a lot of room for anyone – myself included – to see their own life and experiences in. So, at the core, I see EotO – when I’m singing and playing along with it and trying to figure out what the hell I actually played. I get the sense I’m experiencing something ending, and being entirely present – it’s like the clarity I get when I feel ready to let something go when I feel capable of mourning an end, but loving every minute it took to get to that point. So, basically, a bit like Monty Python’s ‘The Galaxy Song’ but not nearly as funny.
Me: Following the release of the songs, End of the Ocean, Tarantino, Put the Devil on It and Dying for a Light in the Dark, I have an overall sense of the theme of the album. In a nutshell, I would say that there’s humanity and lost humanity, then there’s a light or a glimmer of hope for us to be strong and rise above everything. I think that your songs are especially relevant today because among other things, people have so many internal struggles and inner demons; there are harsh societal conflicts and wars; and our planet is literally being destroyed because of the actions/inactions of humans.
Dying for a Light in the Dark is my favourite song so far. I love the lyrics “lost in world without light/and I’m waiting for…/we are…dying for the light in the dark”, music and the metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel. I wrote in a post that after I listened to it for the first time, I had this deep sense that my life would be ok even with all the crap going on. To me, the sound of rain in the intro is symbolic of a spiritual cleanse and rebirth.
Tarantinois a commentary about modern day society’s obsession with beauty and the insatiable need to be perfect. The video for this song which has footage from “Caterpillarplasty” – a short film by David Barlow-Krelina, is quite dramatic and the people (if I can call them people) are hideous yet oddly fascinating at the same time. While exaggeration may seem extreme, it often speaks the truth. The hot pursuit for beauty often blinds us and makes us forget about things that are truly important. On that note, fill in the blank: the world would be a better place if ____________.
Kevin: Wow, that requires optimism, which is not my bag really. But I’ll give it a go… IF… “humanity had to deal with an existential threat that required us to all come together and put aside the pursuit of power and wealth in favour of…” Oh. Shit – Climate change – We’ve already got that and yet we’re still pissing on each other. So much for optimism.
One more try… IF… “we found beauty in truth.”
Jeff: I can’t be as succinct as Kevin here. And I can’t be optimistic enough to simply wish we could all learn how to get along… but if we would just take a moment to take a breath, and think before we speak, or text, or type, or generally act, then that would be a good start.
Jonathan: … “it’s only love that matters” … which happens to be my favourite lyric in Ammunition.
Me: Very lyrical. You guys are so deep. Here is my usual get-to-know-you better question – if you had to pick, who would you say are your top 3 favourite musicians?
Kevin: I change my mind about that constantly. Historically: Nick Cave, Alice Cooper, Johnny Cash – Currently (bands and solo): Bring Me The Horizon, Public Enemy. I reserve the right to change my mind the next time someone asks, however. With virtually the whole history of recorded music at my fingertips, it’s a moving target.
Jeff: I can’t pick. My most recent playlist includes The Replacements, Rolling Stones (Brian Jones era), Pixies, The Glorious Sons, early U2, Chuck Mangione, ZZ Top, Hamilton, The Reign of Kindo, Jamiroquai, Tenacious D and every song ever recorded by Sade.
Jonathan: I’d have to say Mark Hollis of Talk Talk is my musical hero. Clear an afternoon with no interruptions and listen to their final two albums, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock. For me, I can’t classify them as rock or jazz or blues or pop. They are simply immersive sonic experiences I get lost in. He’s also the reason I own a Gretsch Country Classic II guitar, which I used exclusively on End of the Ocean.
I also recently binged watched Peter Jackson’s “Get Back” documentary on the Beatles. It reminded me of how they turned popular music continually on its head – from Please, Please Me to Let It Be, it’s hard to fathom how much they transformed and re-invented themselves in those eight short years.
Finally, I have to say James Jamerson, who played bass on Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, and defined many Motown records, makes me wish I was a bass player. No doubt about it. Just don’t tell Jeff!
Me: Jon, it’s lucky that Jeff is part of this interview! Let’s see if he reads the final version lol. It has been such an absolute pleasure and honour to interview you guys. Thanks again for sending me to Cloud 10 and taking the time for this interview. You know how much I love you guys and I’m so happy that you are still rocking this world. BTW – how do I get my hands on your self-titled cassette?! I still have a cassette player lol.
Everyone, check out Moist’s brand new music! If you’re not already a fan, take a listen to their older music as well. See for yourself why these guys are my oldest favourite band.
Remember, following on socials is FREE – so give Moist (and its members) a follow. Also show your support by streaming/buying their music, buying concert tickets and merch. Guys, is there anything else that you wish to share with your old and new fans before we wrap up this interview?
Kevin: Yes… But, unfortunately, I’ve misplaced my mother’s butter tart recipe. Sorry. So, just let me say, thank you. For listening to us and coming to the shows and making us laugh and smile and jump up and down like crazy people and generally inspire us to act and feel like we’re far younger than we are. Of all the things I’ve missed since March 2020 being unable to play and/or experience live music is a big one. Can’t wait to get back to it.
Jonathan: Thanks for reaching out, Monica. This has been fun. I can’t wait to reconnect with fans across Canada when we can get back out there. And I look forward to hearing from them when the new record is finally released!
I can’t believe that I ever lived without Ro’s music. I may have seen his name before because he has done a few collabs with AARYS (one of my favourite female musicians), but only took the time to explore his music when AARYS mentioned him in one of her IG stories. With music you know right away if you feel it or not. With Ro’s…I’m definitely feeling it. It’s what happens when music runs through your blood and makes your body move on its own. Ro’s songs Can We and Code of Conduct got me hooked. I’m lucky because at the time I discovered his music, he had just announced a live performance. I didn’t think I could make the show because I had Stuck on Planet Earth‘s (playing with One in the Chamber) concert just days after, but I knew that I would kick myself if I missed it. I summed it up to “VERY important music interview research” and bought my ticket. Cheers to living with no regrets!
Originally from London, England, Ro is a Toronto-based singer, songwriter, composer and spoken word poet. He takes centre stage warming the crowd with his catchy hip-hop and R & B tunes, vibrant lyrics, positive energy and buff bod.
Can We – single (2021) Code of Conduct – single (2020) Love, Pt 2 – single (2020) Inner Peace – single (2020) Water Fights EP (2019) – The Real, Let Em Go, Movin’ On, You Time, Look Away Fallin’ – single (2019) Touch Down – single (2019)
Me: Ro, Ro, Ro! Your vibe is vibin’!!!
I have already shared your music on so many of my reels and stories on social media. From the feedback I’ve received so far, you have at least three new fans. A friend said that he added you to his playlist right away and appreciates the freshness of your music. I love your freestyle videos about the pandemic – they are hilarious! You can find these videos on Ro’s IG page. And congrats on being the voice of Jeep in the ad you posted on your socials. What are your thoughts on the Toronto music scene as the city is slowly reopening during the pandemic?
Ro: Toronto had such momentum before the pandemic and we have some serious catching up to do. Just like the mosaic of the city, the artists here create from a beautiful blend of cultures and experiences.
Me: I’ll definitely do my part to support musicians. BTW – thank you so much for treating me to a drink at your concert. It was totally unexpected and sweet!
I know that you and AARYS are involved with other musicians at Division 88 – a Toronto-based recording studio bringing musicians together for collaborative work. Can you tell us about your involvement and briefly describe the creative things that happen there?
Ro: It was part serendipity and part the brilliant workings of Division 88 owner and founder Billy Wild. Billy found me at a songwriting camp where I was writing for another local Toronto singer. A song was being created at the time, Billy asked me to take a stab at it and the rest was history. At Division, amazing artists from all styles come together and create music with no particular goal and what comes out is usually amazing.
Me: Sounds like a creativity is brewing there for sure! I love the thriftiness of your lyrics – yet each word is right on target. That’s true poetry. It reminds me of my haiku writing (5/7/5 syllables) – you can only use a total of 17 syllables to conjure up a visual and deep symbolic meaning of the human experience. When did you start writing and what influences your musical style?
Ro: I started writing in elementary/middle school. I actually have a speech impediment so I’m sure it assisted in me diving into the creative arts – as it forced me to be intentional and narrowly focused on what I was creating and the emotion I wanted it to convey. My influences are Nat King Cole, Tupac Shakur, DMX and late 90’s and early 2000s RNB.
Me: It was great to hear some music from your upcoming EP at your concert. Come Forward is such a catchy, fun song – can’t wait to add it to my playlist. What inspired the album and why did you choose Edible Flowers as the name for it?
Ro: I am a writer first, that being said, I wanted to put together a body of work that showcases that. Individually each song was inspired by a different woman in my life. Similar to my poetry I take an introspective look at a situation that I experience or someone I know is experiencing and the art creates itself. Each song is about the women in my life and my partner has grown my intrigue for plants, so somewhere in the cross section came Edible Flowers.
Me: Sorry Ro, but I can’t resist…lots of music = lots of ladies! Just bugging you of course. I love how your songs are relatable. In your concert promo poster, you indicated that there would be “special guests”. I wrote in a post following the show that the most special guest wasn’t ON the stage, but OFF the stage – your mother. She told me that she surprised you by showing up. Too funny when you promised her from the stage that you’d only say Motherf***er two more times. Also, you’re so polite – you asked the crowd if it was ok to take off your shirt because you were hot. Of course, someone feisty was telling you to take off your pants too, LOL. You have such a positive vibe and great message about the importance of open communication. If you had to live by a single philosophy, what would it be?
Ro: You hit the nail with this one. Single philosophy would be: Get to know yourself inside and out and learn to express yourself in a way you intend to be received.
Me: That’s a good one to follow and by extension – learn to love yourself. I didn’t get a chance to speak to your mother more, but I asked her if you were musical since you were a child. She hesitated and said that she didn’t really think so. I read on your interview with Canadian Beats that you did some writing for other musicians and a music producer encouraged you to sing your own songs. When did you discover your gift for music and do you play any instruments?
Ro: I wrote hooks and songs from about middle school but I never really had a medium that I was comfortable enough to express it. As I started writing for artists, there was a pivotal moment when one of the artists got an opportunity to be on The Launch. While there he performed a song I wrote, and the music executives gave such high praises about the songwriting. That was the moment I went from just being confident in my abilities to knowing I had developed the skill to really do this on a bigger stage. I’ve been teaching myself the piano and guitar.
Me: That’s so amazing! I told you that I while I was driving with Can We on repeat, I thought of this specific interview question. The lyrics of the song go: “I get so lost in you/I’m upset when I only get a part of you/It’s killing me I wonder if it’s hard for you/poker face like it don’t even bother you…” then “Can we be friends/can we make love/can we surrender…?” You so beautifully described the inspiration for and the meaning of this song at your concert. Can you share your thoughts again? And I ask you – do you think it’s possible to have it all? BTW – I love the shirts that you sold at the show. They each have a different message on the back – “can we be friends”, “can we surrender”, etc. I bought the one that says, “can we be open”. Everyone, if you are interested, you can purchase a shirt through Ro’s online store.
Ro: I got inspired to write that song after reading the book Mating in Captivityby Esther Perel. Perel is a psychotherapist who focuses on couples counselling. In the book she draws from her experience counselling couples and finds that in most cases, the couples who have been together for a long time often lose their erotic side either through the mundane patterns of the relationship or because children have changed the dynamic of the relationship. The conversation was brought up that can we have both? Can we have the security/friendship that comes from a long term relationship without sacrificing the erotic element that is so prevalent in the beginning. Mixed in with inspiration from my own relationship, we get the song Can We. I think it is possible to have it all, but it forces us to learn about ourselves and be able to communicate in an effective way. Miscommunication often comes from uncommunicated expectations. The “Can we be open” shirt is my favourite one. Thank you for that.
Me: It was great to have the chance to meet you in person. There’s so much to love about you. The world would be a better place if everyone was so warm and genuine like you. On stage and from your posts, I see that you put in your time at the gym. Other than working out, what else do you do to reduce stress?
Ro: Helping people. I believe I am here to serve, so whatever opportunity I get to serve others – that is what reduces stress and gives me a greater appreciation for the world I live in.
Me: That’s so lovely Ro. The world needs more people like you. I have to ask because I ask all my interviewees: who are your top 3 favourite musicians? I know it’s hard, but if it helps…who are you listening to currently?
Ro: Nat King Cole, Tupac, and right now Russ.
Me: What are you plans now that things are opening up and is there anything else that you’d like to share? It’s a bit ironic, because as I’m finishing up this interview, Toronto pandemic restrictions are being implemented AGAIN! Will this pandemic ever end?
Everyone – as usual, don’t forget to show your support to musicians by following them, like/commenting on their posts, sharing their music with others, buy/stream music, buy merch, attend concerts, etc. And remember that love is free, so show Ro some love!
Ro: I am working on some cool collabs with some established artists and I am excited for these projects to come to life. I will be releasing more singles from the project and looking to release in March.
At work I usually play my own daily playlist on Spotify, but sometimes I listen passively to random songs. As I was working away one day, this beautiful voice sung out to me and I had to quickly maximize my Spotify screen to find out who was singing – and of course, it was Kane.
Keep Away From Time – EP (2021) – Keep Away From Time and I Still Love You
Isolation Sessions – EP (2021) – only available on Bandcamp – Wait for You, Catch My Heart, Mystery (Leads to You), All In and Feel You
I Still Love You – EP (2021) – I Still Love You and Arrow
For You, For Now, For Always – EP (2020) – Something New, Getting Older, Memories, Do It All For You, Secrets, Kings and Queens and Never Coming Back
Something New – single (2020)
In this Moment – EP (2019) – All We Need, Could It Be, Coral Reefs and Morning Dew, Black Dress (Acoustic) and All We Need (Acoustic)
Secrets – single (2019)
Through That Door– single (2019)
Black Dress – single (2019)
Remember Us – single (2019)
Sleeping Sea – single (2019)
Kane is a classically trained musician, singer and songwriter based in Lakefield, Ontario. In his spare time, he is out and about in nature and being so handy – has even completed his own kitchen and bathroom renos.
Me: Hey Kane! Thank you so much for taking part in this interview. I say it all the time, but I love the positive reception I get from all the musicians that I’ve interviewed. I’ve shared your music a lot on my social media stories and IG reels. I was hooked the moment I heard I Still Love You. Some of my other favourites are Could It Be, Through That Door and Sleeping Sea.
In light of the pandemic, what does the music scene currently look like in Lakefield?
Kane: Thank you so much! Lakefield is a pretty small town so not a ton of a music scene to start, but definitely there has been a hit in the area. No bars/theatres meant no shows. Usually I try to do at least a larger theatre show and some pub shows throughout the year at home, but obviously nothing in the last little while.
Me: Hopefully things will get back to more normal soon. The pandemic hit Toronto pretty bad. Some venues closed their doors for good. Based on your posts it looks like you play the piano, guitar, violin and drums. Which instrument did you first get your hands on and do you play anything else?
Kane: Sadly, not drums. I can’t quite seem to get my feet to go in line with my arms. My first instrument would probably be violin (maybe piano). I picked up the violin when I was 7 and took classical lessons and played with orchestras and different groups right up until university. Guitar came later, around high school.
Me: Very impressive that you can play so many instruments. I once sat behind a drum kit and I did just that – I sat there with no clue what to do. In the midst of the pandemic, you released your EP titled Isolation Sessions. Basically, you isolated yourself in a cabin while you produced six songs during a 4-day period. Obviously, you were productive during that time, but what thoughts ran through your mind in terms of the pressure and stress of having to produce an album?
Kane: I don’t think I really felt much stress to produce the album. I have a background in audio engineering so I was fairly comfortable doing it on my own. I really wanted all the distractions out of the way when I did it though. While I was at the cabin, I made sure to leave my phone at home and keep away from the internet. I really had no contact with the outside world while I was there. That really helped me to get going and feel productive with each song.
Me: What a great way to focus. We should all disconnect from technology once in a while. I’m a bit confused about the labelling of your LV Cabin Sessions versus your Isolation Sessions – are they the same thing?
Kane: Isolation Sessions and LV Cabin Sessions are different. LV Cabin Sessions were done with my regular producer, Femke, as well as Singer-Songwriter, Micah Dalton, a drummer, Matthew Singler and an engineer, Josh Reynolds. We did this one in an Airbnb house a couple hours outside of Nashville in 2019.
Isolation Sessions were completely done by me. All engineering, mixing and mastering as well as all instrumentation. All songs were written with either Jeff Turner or Fain Spray. Everything was recorded in my family cottage in Bancroft in June 2020.
Me: You are one talented guy putting together a whole album on your own. I’ll have to check out your Isolation Sessions on Bandcamp. I love your outdoor shots where you are holding your guitar. The mood of your photos totally supports the organic sound of your songs. What inspires your music?
Kane: Thank you! Every picture is really to the credit of Rebekah Littlejohn from Littlejohn Photography. She has an amazing eye and always seems to catch the best photos and moods. My inspiration for music comes from pretty much anything, whether it’s a thought I had one day or just a feeling. I love to sit down with a guitar and try to write out whatever I can.
Me: It’s so perfect that you love to sit, write and sing – while I love to listen. Keep the songs coming! I find your music authentic and uncluttered – free of bells and whistles. I am reminded of a comment that musician Jake Feeney made in my interview with him about the competitive music industry. He said “A lot of the time it feels like the music isn’t enough, and that you need a compelling story to really cut through the noise.” What do you think it takes to make your mark in the music industry? And were you ever part of a band, or ever consider forming a band?
Kane: I agree. It always seems to feel like you need some kind of story or way to market your music. With so much coming out on Spotify or Apple Music daily, you have to find a way to cut through. I have a Celtic band, Hunt the Hare, that is more of a hobby and something completely different from my solo music. I love playing with groups of people and am always looking for interesting people to play music with.
Me: So cool! I’m taking a listen to Hunt the Hare as I write. I read that you signed on with LV Music – a Nashville (Tennessee) label and did some collaborative work with other artists. Can you tell us more about this?
Kane: All of my music out on Spotify and streaming services has been produced by Femke and released through her label, LV Music. It’s an incredible label to be part of and Femke is an amazing producer. The label feels like a small family and the support between artists and Femke is great. I’ve done a ton of writing collaborations with other artists and writers since starting to work with Femke and LV as well. Pavel Khvaleev just released a song that we did together a couple years ago, with him being a DJ and producer and me a singer-songwriter. It was a totally cool thing that was a very new experience for me.
Me: Nice. One of the things that I love about these interviews is learning tidbits about the music industry. I’m going to change up my typical interview question about your top 3 favourite musicians. Instead, who or which artists would you say most influenced your current musical style?
Kane: Even narrowing it down to 3 favourite musicians would be real hard. I listen to a huge amount of different stuff, from classical to folk to Celtic and back to alternative rock. Currently I’m listening to some Sufjan Stevens B-Sides while we do this but I think my biggest influence would be Damien Rice.
Me: I took a listen to Damien Rice and I get where you’re coming from. I’ve received all sorts of feedback about the challenges associated with being a musician, but the need to have a thick skin is a recurring one. What advice do you have for anyone wanting to start a career as a musician?
Kane: Thick skin is a good one. I love the music part of being a musician but you have to be aware that there is so much more in the marketing and business side of it, if you want to succeed. I find attitude is one of the biggest things as well. There are going to be nights when you play just to the bartender and you have to give that your all, just as if you are playing to a packed stadium. Every moment is important.
Me: So true about attitude and I love the visual of the performer and lone bartender. With an impressive 2 million streams across music platforms, what are your plans to keep up the momentum?
Kane: Thank you! I’m always releasing music and I’ve got a few things in my mind and up my sleeve – so stay tuned!
Me: Kane, thanks again for this interview. If you ever play in Toronto, I’ll be there. Is there anything else that you wish to share?
Everyone, don’t forget to give Kane a follow and support musicians by streaming/buying their music, buying merch and tickets for their shows.
I’ve seen One in the Chamber’s name mentioned here and there on social media, but most recently through Sara Sunshine (IG: @sara_sunshine_meredith) and Canadian band Stuck on Planet Earth’s (IG: @stuckonplanetearth) posts/stories. I figured that I should take some time to listen to their music – afterall, Toronto has some wicked musicians.
October 30, 2021 – Halloween Rock N Eve (Fundraising concert in support of frontline workers at Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation)
November 16, 2021 – The Rose Brampton (with Stuck on Planet Earth)
I’ve Got Something to Say (EP) – 2018 – Crooked Step, Bills to Pay, The Ballad of Captain Jack, Something to Say and Itchin’ Back
The Boston Session: Bootleg Demos – 2017
This self-described dirty rock ‘n roll Toronto-based band is made up of Mike Biase (lead vocals/rhythm guitar), Cecil Eugene (lead guitar/backing vocals), Christian Dotto (bass) and Gerrod Harris (drums). One in the Chamber (“OITC”) is on a roll with over 20,000 Spotify streams, more than 10,000 followers on social media, and their album “I’ve Got Something to Say” being named as “Canadian EP of the Year” following its release by Canadian Beats and their readers.
Me: I’m delighted to have this opportunity to get to know the four of you. You guys are LOUD and banging – I love it! I admit that I haven’t been listening much to heavier rock lately, but I think I’m ready for some head banging. What I like about rock ‘n roll is that you can just let go of everything and ride the music. The pandemic has affected so many industries, but now that things are opening up again here in Toronto – let’s hear it…How was Voodo Rockfest?
Gerrod: Thanks for having us! Voodoo Rockfest was unreal. It was amazing to be back on stage and to see so many of our friends in other bands for the first time in almost two years.
Christian: Nice to meet you, Monica! Thanks for having us!
Me: Pleasure’s mine! And thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedules for this interview. You guys are really great with social media. When I first followed you, I got a DM asking what made me follow you with links to your socials. I find that music is a whole new experience when you have an opportunity to interact with musicians through commenting and DMs. That being said, I can imagine that managing your socials is a full-time job in itself. With over 10K followers, how do you manage and where do you draw the line between band life and your personal lives?
Gerrod: We try to keep it as professional and in tone with the band as much as possible. We have so much going on that we never feel that we need to post about our personal lives. It’s nice having the separation.
Christian: It really is a pleasure to connect with these people. We’ve met some of the most amazing fans and some truly cool musicians this way.
Me: I posted on my social media that I fell in love with your softer song Just for Tonight. It may sound weird, but it IS possible to fall in love with a song. I’ve only experienced this feeling twice in my life – the first time was Lewis Capaldi’s song Someone You Loved. If I try to describe it, I would say that your song has this way of wrapping itself around me and carrying me in such an intangible emotional way. It’s been on repeat for a while now. So, thank you for this beautiful song. What inspires your music and your latest singles Blow and To the Gallows?
Mike: I generally write lyrics first. I always keep a notebook or paper around and I have pages and pages of lyrics written about whatever comes to mind. Sometimes I would end up writing music to them. For lyrics my inspiration has generally come from what is going on in my life (songs like Just for Tonight or Bills to Pay). Since being in OITC though, I’ve found that I like hearing the music first, and writing lyrics that come from the song. That was the case with songs like Blow and To the Gallows. The music has its own emotion and the words come out of it. I still write a lot in my books, but I find I’m also writing guitar licks and lines more often now, such as Itchin’ Back, and then putting lyrics in once we’ve written the music.
Christian: Wow! Thank you for the compliment! Just for Tonight (Stay) is a song that we recorded in Boston with former Bang Tango guitarist, Scott LaFlamme. The bassline that I wrote was inspired by an idea that Scott had given me at the time and was far more interesting than what I was playing during rehearsals. Blow and To the Gallows were written in a more organic way than Just for Tonight (Stay) was. Mike immediately expressed how the riff was too heavy, so he started messing around with it on his guitar and eventually created the main riff that you hear in the song. The original riff was still salvaged though, as that is what Cecil plays in the first verse of the song!
Me: It’s nice to hear the story behind my favourite song. Congratulations – I read that you guys recently made it to the semi-finals in 97.7 HTZ FM’s annual Rocksearch competition. How did you get involved in the competition and what’s the story behind how you guys formed as a band?
Gerrod: It really meant a lot to us to be recognized by 97.7 in 2020’s Rocksearch. It is a Canadian institution that has promoted some of the coolest bands to come out of our country for the last two decades and it was amazing to have been a part of that.
Cecil: The band formed in 2015. At the time, the band I was playing with was in the midst of breaking up, so I decided to get a bunch of guys together to start a rock/hard rock band. I knew Mike from the pub I worked at, which was at York University. We had played a few gigs together before, so when I saw him waiting in line on pub night, I asked him if he wanted to start a band, and so we were the first two members of OITC. I hosted jazz nights at the pub and one night Gerrod subbed in as a drummer for a group that I booked regularly. The guitarist in the group worked at the pub as well and gave me Gerrod’s number, saying he was looking for a rock band, so I gave him a call. We met up at one of the university’s music rooms and the three of us jammed the early stages of Bills to Pay. One night, I was talking to my brother, telling him we were still searching for a bass player. He told me to message Chris because he was also looking for a band and played bass. After a few months, we decided to name the band One in the Chamber and played our first gig at The Valley Bar and Grill in Mississauga.
Me: I love those stories…how destiny brought you together! I’m sure you get asked this all the time – how did you choose your band’s name? I stumbled upon another rock band with the same name while checking out your music. How can fans avoid confusion on this front?
Gerrod: I’m sorry to the hear that! To my understanding, we are the only active band with the name, but follow us on our socials and website to see everything from us firsthand.
Christian: It actually took us about a month to finally decide on a band name. We had close to ten ideas that we’d narrowed down to a top three, and finally agreed that One in the Chamber was the name for us.
Gerrod: One in the Chamber is about making your one shot count.
Me: Cheers to first shots! I enjoy hearing how musicians first get into music. When did you guys pick up your first instrument and what other instruments do you play?
Mike: My dad used to listen to Q107 every morning taking us to school, so I started listening to rock music at a young age. My mum played guitar as well so I was surrounded by music all the time. I played trumpet in band in elementary school and picked up guitar when I was 12.
Gerrod: I grew up with music playing in my house all the time, but I started playing the drums in the seventh grade. Since then, I’ve learnt a little guitar but drums have always been my passion.
Christian: I also grew up around music. My parents would always have rock and metal music playing in the house and on car rides. When I was about 13 years old, I got my first electric guitar and picked up the drums and bass guitar in high school.
Me: Wow, your houses were rocking! Sounds like music is in your blood. As you may know, I interview musicians (mostly Canadian because I’m a huge supporter of my fellow Canadians) out of pure passion. What I love is that I have a chance to ask my questions and learn about them and what drives them. If you had to describe yourself in 2- 3 words, what would they be?
Gerrod: Dirty, rock and roll.
Mike: Hairy, hard hitting.
Me: That’s so funny and most awesome! I would have never expected those descriptions. I’ve received feedback from previous interviews that it’s really hard to pick 3 favourite musicians, but to get a feel for where you’re coming from – who are yours?
Mike: Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen.
Gerrod: If we’re talking drummers, I’d say John Bonham, Chad Smith and Danny Carrey.
Christian: That is a tough one. I’m going to narrow it down, like Gerrod, and stick to bass players – Cliff Burton, Geezer Butler and Geddy Lee.
Me: I like getting answers to this question because I get to discover more musicians. You guys are so personable and down-to-earth. I would imagine that those traits are assets in the music industry. Any advice for anyone starting their music careers?
Gerrod: Be kind, actively pay attention to the business side and never stop learning.
Christian: Also be genuine. People can see right through you if you’re being pretentious or trying too hard. If you’re doing what you love, just have fun with it!
Mike: Leave your heart and soul on stage every time you play.
Me: Love it guys. It’s been great chatting and I look forward to seeing you guys in concert.
Everyone – don’t forget to follow these rocking dudes on socials and check out their music.
Guys, is there anything you wish to share before we wrap things up?
Christian: Thanks again for having us, Monica. See you around!
Gerrod: Thank you for your time! Hope to see you at a show soon!
Vegan. Toronto. Musician. Three words that caught my interest and prompted this interview. I “met” Jake on the Toronto Vegan Facebook group. He posted asking if anyone knew of any vegan restaurants where he could play live. Of course, I had to check out his music right away! I have to be honest, folk-alternative music is not really my style, but Jake’s songs are beautiful and heartfelt. His latest single, Evaporate is really nice.
Pipe Dreams (Album) – 2020: Pipe Dreams, We Used to Float, Memoria, Jane, I’ll Get Halfway, Mooring, Ageless Storm and The Hall.
Calling Cards (Single) – 2020
No Headlights (Single) – 2019
From Toronto, Jake is a singer, songwriter, guitar player and music producer. He produces his music in his bedroom studio and enjoys performing in front of live audiences. Jake had an early start in music – with his first recording at age 8 in his father’s home studio. At age 18, he won a finalist award in RBC’s Emerging Artists program.
Me: Jake, thanks for taking the time to participate in this interview. You paint a very nostalgic picture recording your own music in your father’s studio. I read online that your father is a country music producer, so it seems like music is in your blood. Can you share one of your favourite memories in the studio as a child?
Jake: Thank YOU for doing this, it’s my pleasure to answer your thoughtful questions. Music has definitely been at the forefront of my life since I was born. My dad Joel did a lot of his work in his home studio, so I would have to say my favourite memory would be sitting on the carpet in the room next to the studio, playing with Lego and mini sticks. My dad has mentioned that the sound of me rummaging through the Lego box showed up in some of his recordings. Not sure if these takes made the cut, but those were lovely times.
Me: I can totally picture you sitting there. I would imagine that the sound of shifting Lego blocks would be edited out lol. You’re one of my younger interviewees. Congratulations on winning a finalist award at the RBC’s Emerging Artists program. I’m happy that programs like these exist because they give musicians an opportunity to showcase their talent. How did you get involved with the program and what are your plans (including new music) going forward?
Jake: Thank you! I’m happy that they exist too, and I honestly didn’t know about this one until they contacted me. The principal at my high school (Etobicoke School of the Arts), Rob Mackinnon, had submitted my music to RBC and that’s how I got involved. I am so grateful he did, because I think that experience gave me a lot of confidence and excitement about a career in music. My plans are to simply keep creating music that is authentic to me. I am also becoming more involved in other projects like writing for others and session work. The goal has always been to inspire others like my heroes do for me – so however I can do that, I will.
Me: Sounds like you have a great plan mapped out. I like the distinctive sound of your fingerstyle guitar. I read on your website that you’re a self-learned guitar player. When did you pick up your first guitar and do you play any other instruments?
Jake: I picked up guitar around 13 after playing piano as a kid. I dabble with bass guitar and love to still play piano when I’m around one, but guitar is my main squeeze – I can’t get enough. I would play as many hours as I possibly could when I was younger and had fewer responsibilities. Being late or half asleep in high school because I stayed up too late playing guitar, was a very real thing. Discovering John Mayer and his playing was a huge inspiration to me.
Me: What, sleeping in class? Unheard of lol. Well, you certainly had a good reason for it. My favourite song of yours is “Calling Cards”. It’s hard to explain, but somehow it takes me back to a less complicated time in my life. What is the source of your musical inspiration for your songwriting and style?
Jake: That’s really nice, I love the different effects songs have on people. Songwriting came first, likely because I wanted to be like my dad. When I discovered guitar, I felt like I found my instrument and the right way to deliver my songs. I like to write songs about my life, but ones that can be interpreted individually. That’s why I don’t like to label a song as specifically about this or that. I think that’s why I love slightly more impressionistic songwriters, like Bon Iver and Gregory Alan Isakov. I’ve always gravitated toward mellow, melodic and emotion-heavy songs. That kind of expression is what comes naturally to me, so I try to embrace it as much as I can.
Me: That’s one of the things I love about music – people can interpret the same song totally differently. For me, certain songs are emotionally loaded and take me back to a specific moment in time. As someone with stage fright, I really admire your confidence to perform in front of crowds. Do you get stage fright? And what kind of challenges have you come across promoting yourself and your music?
Jake: I do get stagefright. Maybe a little less each time, but I’ve never not felt it on the day of a performance. I like the nerves though, because I think it means I care, and want to do a good job up there. After the first song, a lot of it dissipates.
Promoting yourself as an indie musician is definitely challenging, and there are a lot of amazing musicians fighting the same fight. Sometimes I feel like the biggest challenge is trying to find your own angle. A lot of the time it feels like the music isn’t enough, and that you need a compelling story to really cut through the noise. While I do agree that this helps, I think it still comes down to writing a good song that will speak for itself. So more often, the biggest challenge is writing that song.
Me: I can appreciate how hard it is for musicians to find their spot on a highly competitive metaphorical “world stage”. I agree that staying true to yourself and your style is important. In your case it definitely comes through. It’s obvious from your posts that you are smitten by your girlfriend Julia (who happens to be on the singles cover of “Sunrise”). In one of your posts, you wrote “my crush on her grows embarrassingly bigger and bigger every day.” Awww…young love is so sweet. Did you write any songs specifically for her? And does she ever sing along with you?
Jake: Absolutely I’ve written songs for Julia. It’s hard not to. She does sing along with me! She is a very talented singer and I’ve heard some beautiful songs that she’s written. We sing covers together a lot, and it always leaves me smiling.
Me: Amazing to have a partner in crime! If you had to pick one of your songs – which one holds the most meaning for you and why?
Jake: I think it changes – but right now, my newest song Evaporate definitely holds the most meaning to me. I think it’s because it came from an honest and vulnerable place, and it’s about feelings I deal with constantly. It’s a reminder to me that it’s okay to let go of a thought. This is something I need frequent reminding of.
Me: It’s amazing that from vulnerability comes beautiful music. Letting go of things is something that I write about often. Music shapes and influences us in so many ways. Here’s my usual “get to know you” question: who are your top 3 favourite musicians?
Jake: This is very tough… but I’ll try to narrow it to 3, in no particular order:
1. John Mayer 2. The Tallest Man on Earth 3. Frank Ocean
Me: Frank Ocean and Thom Yorke are probably the most popular fav musicians named by the other musicians I have interviewed so far. Pandemic life has changed people’s lives in so many ways. What are your plans now that things are finally opening up?
Jake: I am slowly getting back to performing here in Toronto, which feels great. My rule has always been to say yes to every gig (if it’s feasible) so I will continue to do that, and hopefully the ball will keep rolling. I’m also recording and working on releasing more new songs.
Me: Amazing! I know this is a music interview, but it stemmed from your vegan group post, and I get really excited when I meet a fellow vegan. I’m glad that there is a huge global movement right now towards ending animal cruelty and saving the planet. This November marks my 3rd veganversary. You mentioned that you’ve been vegan about 2 years. What’s the story behind why you became vegan?
Jake: I’m glad there is too. It feels like I came into it during a big surge, which is very exciting. Julia had a lot to do with me switching to a plant-based diet – but not through persuasion, just education. I was inspired by her and I learned so many things that changed my perspective. The switch was a bit gradual at first, but as I learned more, I became more passionate about the movement. Now it seems being vegan is a no-brainer for me, personally.
Me: Cheers to a more compassionate world! Jake, it was great getting to know you. Thanks again for your time. Hopefully, I’ll catch you performing when I’m out enjoying vegan food. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Everyone – check out Jake’s music and support local Canadian music!
Jake: Thank you so much for doing this interview! I’d love to see you out at a show. The support you give to upcoming artists is so valuable and admirable, and it goes a long way. I hope your readers can find something that speaks to them in my music.
This is the second music interview that I give credit to @sara_sunshine_meredith (IG) for the band intro – the first one being Toronto’s Hideout Legacy. Sara’s a music lover and always discovering new music like myself. I get so excited every time I come across music that “clicks” for me. It’s like receiving the rarest, most precious gift because music is so enjoyable and can tap into emotions that you never knew existed (or have buried). Music can also heal your soul and take you on a spiritual journey. It’s like drummer Adrian Morris of Neon Dreams – I was blown away when I heard him play drums for the first time in concert. I never knew that drums could make those sounds. And same with Stuck on Planet Earth’s Adam Bianchi’s guitar playing…the music coming from his guitar awakens parts of me that I never knew existed.
I say it all the time and I’ll say it again now – I’m so proud of Toronto’s local and Canadian musicians!
I Will Want You When We are Ghosts (Album) – March 2021: Siren Song, Fine Lines, Bijou, Nowhere Near the Looking Glass, Apartment Window, Stargazing, A Thousand Times, Wanderlust, Dreamers Often Lie and Nothing but Blue Skies.
Ben VanBuskirk is the singer, songwriter, guitar player and producer behind Toronto’s Blackout Orchestra(“Blackout”). With self-described “Lo-fi art-alt-post-pop-rock for long walks, dark nights of the soul, and underwear dancing in your bedroom” music, tied up beautifully into a solid 10-track album, Blackout masterfully gives the listener a glimpse into the darkness and light that exists within us. As the world slowly emerges from the ashes of the COVID pandemic, Blackout has recently had its first live performance and continues to make its mark on the world stage.
Me: From what I gathered about you online and through your posts, you were battling with alcoholism and serious mental health issues including depression and anxiety, and basically hit rock bottom after your relationship ended. Often dark emotions inspire creativity. I find the same thing for my creative writing – I write my best stuff when my emotions are going haywire. Can you tell us the story of how you got to where you are today?
Ben: I suffer from depression and general anxiety disorder – it’s always just kind of been in the background, but I found a lot of ways to avoid dealing with it directly – drinking, romanticizing it – but eventually I was drinking to be social and to calm my thoughts, or writing about this overwhelming sense of dread. “The tortured artist” idea and all that – all kind of fell away. I was drinking to excess every day, I was broke because I was spending all my money on alcohol and junk food because I was too hungover and exhausted to even do groceries. I had nothing really left in me to fight for. When my last relationship ended – and she was dealing with a lot of the same issues, but they manifested very differently – I looked around and I really had nothing left in my life that I felt good about or proud of.
I was really lucky because a couple of friends saw where I was at and staged a sort-of intervention. They helped me clean my apartment, put together a budget, suggested some ideas to exercise as I was in really poor shape, forced me to really think about what my ideal life would look like – and they put down some ground rules to help me drink less – “only on weekends” was the plan. But that first weekend came around and I had started to have a little bit of a sense of control over my life back, so I thought “why not push it, not drink this weekend either, and maybe go back to it the weekend after, once I’ve cemented some of these better habits” . But I never did have another drink. I was surprised at how much better I felt just with some of these steps.
I still suffer from anxiety and depression, and some days are harder than others, but being sober and really back in tune with my emotions and with a sense of hope and purpose, I don’t get to the point of feeling hopeless anymore. When I have a bad day it’s more like “oh, this again. Well, push through it – you know it comes and goes.”
Me: Thanks for sharing your story. Luckily you have good friends who weren’t afraid to confront you. Mental health is such an important issue that if left unchecked can destroy people. Whenever I think of mental health, I think of Frank Kadillac of Neon Dreams [read my interview to find out why] and musician AARYS. In my interview with AARYS she talks about her personal struggle with anxiety. She is an advocate for mental health awareness. It’s inspiring how you turned darkness into light through the power of your music. Do you have any advice to help those struggling with mental health issues and alcoholism?
Ben: I only know what’s helped me. Being sober helps me regulate my emotions and keep perspective, so that’s been important. Exercise really helps me get out a lot of the nervous energy that comes with anxiety – so I can actually fall asleep at night instead of having to be at the brink of collapse to get there. And writing, just sort of unconsciously and letting what comes out happen, has been a really good way to process and think about what I’m feeling and deal with a difficult situation in a way that’s safe – and at the end I often have a song, so something productive has come out of it. Really that’s one of the keys – taking the negative things you’ve gone through and reframing them into something positive. You don’t have to make art to do it either – just consciously taking a hard situation and thinking “Whether or not the trade off was worth it, aside what did I learn from this situation? What has it made me wiser about, more careful about, what can I take from this to improve future situations?” And most importantly reach out – I’d likely be dead if it weren’t for those friends I mentioned earlier.
Me: I can appreciate what you went through, as I’ve had my own dark days. I’m really glad that you’ve found a way to channel your emotions and reach for the light. It’s obvious from your talent that you didn’t just become a musician as you were finding your way. When did you first get into music and other than guitar, what instruments do you play?
Ben: I was a film score nerd as a kid – Aliens, Star Trek, Jurassic Park – I’d buy the CDs and play them on repeat and try to pick out the melodies on the little Yamaha keyboard my family had. When I was 12 or so, I discovered alt rock through my sister – she had introduced me to Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana and Moist. She ran away briefly as teenagers tend to do, and when she got back, I’d co-opted all her CDs and tapes. I still have most of them! From there it was just a matter of time until I managed to make a deal with my dad to save up half the cost of a cheap guitar and he’d pay for the other half.
It’s funny because I’m not “great” at any instrument. I play enough guitar to play the rhythm parts of most songs. I really enjoy playing bass, which I kind of picked up by default. I pluck around on the piano, mandolin, give me an instrument and I’ll find a way to do something with it, but in a really naive and unpolished way. I don’t think of myself as a musician really. More like a songwriter who just plays instruments sometimes in order to write a song.
Me: I don’t think that you can convince me that you’re not really a musician! Your music says otherwise. Going back to your “rocky” relationship, I saw on one of your posts that you and Morgan have made your way back to each other and are now engaged. Congratulations! How do you feel at this stage in your relationship and when is the big day?!
Ben: It’s wonderful! She’s not the person that the album refers to – Morgan is someone I’ve known for 14 years or so. We’ve been together on and off, but always at the wrong times in our lives. This time we reconnected and it just lined up – I was getting my life together and so was she. We’re non-monogamous, which wasn’t my “default” relationship setting – but it’s turned out to be the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had. I’m very much an introvert who needs time alone, and she’s very extroverted – so we have an incredibly happy “home” life but also the space we need from each other to feel fulfilled in our own lives as well. No date set yet – it’s gonna be a small affair, probably late next summer or early next fall. We’re working it out as we speak!
Me: Very exciting for you both! Morgan is a talented musician as well. I love the arrangement of your stripped-down version of “Siren Song” with you on guitar and Morgan playing the violin. I also love her backup vocals in “A Thousand Times”, they add an unexpected depth to the song. What is it like for you to collaborate with her musically and what are your plans going forward?
Ben: What’s great about Morgan is that though there is some overlap, we generally have very different musical tastes. She’s a real “singer” – and also likes a lot of pop music, bluegrass, and folk. I’m more into sad bastard music, and loud rock and also hip hop and electronic music. So I’ll write with my own frame of references and then ask her to add to it – and it’s always something that I never would have thought of on my own. Whatever she adds is ten times better than what I would have thought of on my own, because if I think “this is a very Smashing Pumpkins sort of melody” I’d automatically write harmony in that style. But she doesn’t listen to that at all, so she’ll sing something that makes it more unique.
On the record she’s only on a couple of songs – she wasn’t able to be around at the time I was recording it, save for some of the early demos – so it’s largely a “solo” album. But she’s on most of the new songs we’ve been recording. And live, at least so far, it’s mostly been us as a duo. So it’s been really fun to strip the songs down to the acoustic format and hear what happens with the harmonies. That’s part of why we released the acoustic version of “Siren Song” – I loved the way it sounded when we were doing it live and wanted that version to be out there too.
Me: Collaborations are nice – everyone shares their unique perspective. On the topic of unique – band names are getting more unique. In my last interview, I tried to decipher Toronto’s Phantom Atlantic’s name. They said it “came about from one of our long winded philosophical conversations that we love having, but beyond that we kind of like to leave it as a blank slate for people.” What’s the story behind your name?
Ben: I wish I had a good story for you on this one, but we literally just went online to a band name generator until we came across something we both liked. We could have been “Twilight Algebra” or something!
What’s funny is – much later we found out there used to be an indie punk band from Australia called “The Blackout Orchestra”. I assume they went to the same band name generator page.
Me: Well, the “1-2-3” promo would have been good for Twilight Algebra! That’s a story in itself lol. A good one after all…
It sounds like most of your album was produced during the pandemic. I read that some parts of your songs were created with the help of your cell phone. How is that even possible?! Can you describe the creative process behind your new album?
Ben: The whole genesis of the project was in lockdown. I was writing some songs and had just got a new phone – not a fancy new iPhone or anything, a BlackBerry Key2 – and there were some basic recording apps. I’m a luddite so I didn’t have a computer or even internet at home for a long time. Anyway, it was really fun to play with for some rough demos at first. But as I got to know the ins and outs of it I found ways to work around some of the limitations. So I have a lot of decent gear – microphones, midi controllers, and the like – but it’s all running into my phone instead of a laptop. It probably makes the process ten times harder than it needs to be, but it also means I can record just about anywhere, anytime. And having a lot of limitations kind of forces you to get more creative.
Me: Yes, limitations…reminds me of the old days. When I was growing up, my sisters and I didn’t have much in terms of toys. Instead we put together performances with our stuffed animals and wrote silly books. Creativity is always there, we just need to be open to it.
It’s rare these days for musicians to release 10 songs on a track – mostly they release EPs and singles. I mentioned in one of my social media posts that generally I don’t buy full albums. Normally, I’ll pick and choose my favourite songs, but I love your songs and have purchased the entire album. Did you have a consolidated theme in mind before you started writing and producing your songs?
Ben: Thank you so much for picking up the album! I’m definitely an album guy. I like to listen to a record from beginning to end and really experience it, and I definitely write with that in mind. Our album – it’s not a “story” in the narrative sense, you can’t necessarily read the lyrics like a book or anything – but it starts at a relationship ending and takes you through the process of hitting rock bottom and climbing back up to being okay. And musically I was very conscious of the ebb and flow, where the energy picks up and where it gives you space to breath. The songs should work on their own but they’re definitely parts of the larger whole.
Me: I’ll take another listen with that in mind. I’m passively listening to your album as I’m putting together this interview. It helps me to connect better and feel the vibe. I don’t really know you, but instantly liked you more because we share a love for the band Moist and another musician who we are both currently on the fence about. On that note, here is my usual get-to-know-you-better question: who are your top 3 favourite musicians?
Ben: That’s the biggest question! Thank you for giving me a limit otherwise I’d just be naming bands I love for pages and pages! I can’t give a “top 3” because it all depends on my mood. But 3 of the many that come to mind at this moment are:
Radiohead. I love how they’ve never repeated themselves – they always just make whatever type of music they’re interested in at that time, and they also make really immersive albums that flow beautifully from beginning to end.
The Cure. What I love about The Cure is that they can make the most sad, dirge-y music to mope to. Or the most joyful silly pop songs. Or the most visceral, angry songs. Sometimes all on the same record. If you throw “The Figurehead” on after “The Lovecats” – they’re completely different genres, but it always sounds like The Cure somehow. That’s sort of my goal, I think.
Phoebe Bridgers. Phoebe writes the most heart-wrenching emotional lyrics, but she also has a wickedly funny sense of humour. Some people tag her as “depressing” but I actually find, even at her saddest, her music is really life affirming and makes me smile. Also, seeing her talk in interviews – she just always comes across as 100% authentic. Like, there’s no “persona” there, no rock star BS – she’s just her. It reminds me in a weird way of when I got into Nirvana – Kurt always came across that same way, and also had that sad but funny thing with his lyrics. They don’t sound anything alike but I definitely feel there’s some connection there.
Me: My younger sister was a huge Radiohead fan. Though I like their music I never really got into them. So true about The Cure…Friday I’m in Love…
You mentioned in a recent post that you’re working on new music…do tell us more!
Ben: Yeah! We have a one-off single coming out called “It’s Fine” – first as an exclusive single through QuickFix Recordings out of the UK as part of their monthly singles club on August 1st. That comes with a bunch of bonus content like remixes and whatnot. It’ll come out on streaming services a little while later, but without the bonus stuff. It’s definitely a guitar pop song, sort of like a Pumpkins or Limblifter kind of feel. That’s coming out on its own because I really like it but it doesn’t fit at all with the next album, mood wise, so this was a good opportunity to have it come out there but not be tied to a larger narrative.
The next record – I’m just finishing up the last couple of songs for it – is, well, weird. This is gonna sound super pretentious but mood wise I’m going for that feeling of being between asleep and awake, when you’re having a really haunting dream, and that feeling is still lingering in your brain but fading and it’s also a brand new day with all these possibilities. And that’s reflected in the subject matter – which is a continuation from where “Ghosts” left off. Like – “Ok, I got through the hard stuff. I’m okay now, and things are good, but it’s not like everything is magically fine now.” So what do your days feel like when you’ve gotten through the worst of it but still have ups and downs? And when you’re between “big” moments in your life, like break ups and deaths and great loves. What do those “in between” days feel like?
Originally I thought it was going to be very raw and acoustic – and that’s in there, but I was also listening to a lot of Nas and Black Star so some of the songs became very beat oriented. And I was also listening to a lot of Leonard Cohen, so there’s some darkness. And a lot of Bjork, whose orchestral arrangements I love. So it’s become a weird mish-mash of things that I love. It’s going to sound very different than what we’ve released so far. But like I said about The Cure earlier, you’re definitely still going to be able to tell that it’s us.
Me: I’m definitely interested to see how you pull off your next album. You guys are really on a roll. I look forward to new music. It’s been great chatting with you. You’re so nice and down-to-earth. I hope everyone has a chance to check out your music and discover a little part of themselves while listening.
Everyone – that’s a hint to listen to Blackout Orchestra’s music! Support musicians however you can – stream, buy tracks/merch/tickets…it doesn’t matter how you do it. We all need music in our lives.
Ben, is there anything else you wish to share?
Ben: I just want to thank you for all the support you’ve been giving us, and for your thoughtful questions. You’ve been a joy to speak with!