Interview with Kevin Young, Jonathan Gallivan and Jeff Pearce of Canadian Band: Moist

canadian music, Interviews
Photo credit: Jeff Nedza

By Monica Ng

“End of the Ocean” – anticipated album release date: January 2022! Pre-save your album now on most music platforms.

Cloud 10

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.

Contact

Instagram: @moisttheband
Facebook: moistonline
www.moistonline.com

Music

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)

About

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.

Interview

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.

Tarantino is 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!

—End—

Here are some new and older videos:

Interview with Ben VanBuskirk of Canadian Band: Blackout Orchestra

canadian music, Interviews
Photo credit: Portraits By Shak (Instagram: @portraitsbyshak)

By Monica Ng

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! 

New single “It’s Fine” releases August 1, 2021!

Contact 

IG: @blackoutorchestra 

Facebook: Blackout Orchestra 

linktr.ee/BlackoutOrchestra 

Blackout Orchestra’s music 

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. 

About 

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. 

Photo credit: Portraits By Shak (Instagram: @portraitsbyshak)

Interview

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!

—End—

Here are some videos of my fav songs

Interview with UK musician Andrew Ford of Inner Pieces

Interviews
Andrew Ford of Inner Pieces
Photo Credit: Andrew Ford/Inner Pieces

By Monica Ng

Instagram (and other social media) is a very powerful tool in connecting the world.  As you may already know, I’m very passionate about music and always looking for new musical experiences.  I’ve been searching for ear-pleasing meditation/yoga music for a long time.  I’ve spent hours listening to different music on iTunes and YouTube, trying to find the “perfect” meditation/relaxation music, but I only managed to add three songs to my playlist. I had trouble finding music that I found peaceful enough to trust closing my eyes. Often, I find that the pieces have these annoying isolated chiming sounds (ping!) or the sound of water running (which I hate). I would never have imagined that I’d find my perfect meditation/relaxation music from the United Kingdom (UK).  I was admiring art from one of the art curators I follow on IG, then clicked on the artist’s profile, then the artist had a musician playing a piece in front of her painting, then I clicked on the musician’s profile and somehow got to Inner Pieces. It’s amazing where a few clicks can take you.

Though, my focus is on interviewing Canadian musicians, I’m really happy to make a special exception for Inner Pieces.

Contact

IG: @inner_pieces_music

Facebook: innerpieces1

www.innerpieces.co.uk

EXCITING NEW SINGLE RELEASE: “MOTION” on MARCH 5, 2021. A collaboration with James Oram.

Photo Credit: Andrew Ford/Inner Pieces

Inner Pieces’ Music

The Calling, Feat. Inner Pieces by Sean Tinnion – single (2021)

Breathless – single (2020)

Rains, Pt. 2 – single (2020)

Space – single (2020)

Within – album (2016)

One – album (2013)

About

Andrew Ford is the talent behind Inner Pieces. Based in Bristol in the United Kingdom, Andrew composes music, collaborates with other musicians and runs music meditation/yoga sessions. He plays the Hang, RAV drum, Native American style flute, Sansula and the piano.

The story behind his project “Inner Pieces” is an inspirational one. It was created out of Andrew’s personal journey of metaphorically putting pieces of himself back together in light of Scoliosis – a rare genetic condition where the spine twists and curves, his experience with hearing loss and Tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and respiratory failure. 

Interview

Me: Andrew, I am so grateful for your music and a chance to interview someone so special. BTW- I love your accent! Through your music, I literally found the peace that I’ve been looking for.  Your sounds are so beautiful, smooth and peaceful.  For so long, I’ve been feeling so claustrophobic and cluttered in my environment (too much stuff mainly). I’ve put off any action to fix this because life is too busy, but after listening to your music for a few days, I was driving and suddenly knew that I have a mission to accomplish – declutter and turn my room into a “zen” space, where I can truly relax and calm myself. 

I’ve never met you before, but your energy and vibe translate into your music. Where do you get your inspiration from? When did you first set your hands on those unique instruments that you play? And where do you even buy them?

Andrew: Hi Monica, thank you so much for inviting me to take part in this interview. I am really pleased that you have managed to find some peace from my music and I can totally relate to the cluttered environment! (Note to self, I must empty those two boxes in the cupboard from when I first moved in 2 years ago…)

Hmm, I guess it was the Hang that inspired me to start Inner Pieces. Late one night playing the Hang I felt this strong urge to somehow use my musical abilities to help people and to share these beautiful instruments with those who might not normally get to hear them.

So I did some research and then I started volunteering once a week at a Children’s Hospice playing relaxing music to the children and nurses. In fact a lot of the musical ideas and melodies for my previous album ‘Within’ spontaneously developed while improvising at the hospice. It was such a privilege, and at times heartbreaking to be able to play my music to these children. The work they do at the hospice is truly amazing. 

But yes, it’s hard to pin down exactly where I get my inspiration from. Often I will just be improvising and experimenting and I will stumble upon a melody that wants to be fully realized. Sometimes it happens quickly, but sometimes it is a long drawn out affair filled with doubts and trepidation as it was when I composed ‘Breathless’.

It was July 2012 when I picked up the Hang. The Hang was invented in the year 2000 so its a very new instrument and not so easy to get hold of. Over a space of a year I wrote a couple of letters to PANArt, the creators of the Hang and they eventually invited me out to Switzerland to choose my instrument! It was such an amazing experience meeting the makers and trying out all the different Hanghang (plural of Hang) in their workshop! I must have played around 70 different instruments and they were all slightly different. In the end, the one I chose seemed to come to life more than the others I played. 

I think I picked up my first Native American style flute from Ebay at around a similar time, but several years later I met David Cartwright from Second Voice Flutes who made me a beautiful drone flute and gifted me a flute specially made to fit with the tuning of the Hang. 

The Sansula and RAV drum were later additions to my collection of instruments. The Sansula I stumbled upon in a little shop in Amsterdam and the RAV I discovered on YouTube.  

Me: That’s an incredible gift from David Cartwright. And lol, who would have known that the plural of Hang is Hanghang! I like how you identify the different instruments played in each piece on your IG posts. It’s a great way to learn about them and the sounds they make. I can’t play instruments, so I’m really curious how you learned to play them. Did you learn on your own or through formal lessons? And were they hard to learn?

Andrew: One great thing about these instruments is that they are very accessible to play and don’t require years of training. The Hang, RAV and Sansula are made in such a way that it’s not really possible to play a wrong note. They lend themselves very well to improvising, as the instruments only have 7 or 8 notes which have been chosen to produce a certain mood. The Native American style flute is also quite simple to play, as it is tuned to a 5 note pentatonic scale which is very pleasing. However, like all things, these instruments do benefit from practice but you can be creating beautiful sounds in a matter of minutes. 

I learned to play mainly just by experimentation and listening to others. With these instruments there is not really an absolutely “correct” way of playing them. A lot of Hang players I saw would use the sides of their thumbs or their palms hitting it like a drum. But I found I didn’t really like the slap sound of metal so much, so I started playing with my fingertips to get a softer sound.     

Me: Needless to say, the way you play these instruments is incredible. I would just hold and stare at them with no clue where to begin.

Congratulations! You’re about to release “Motion” – a collaboration single with musician James Oram.  I love the beautiful simplicity of your cover. What is the significance of the title “Motion” and what was the inspiration for the single?

Andrew: Thank you, I am really excited about releasing “Motion”. It’s quite different to anything either of us have released before. This is my first collaboration with James Oram and the track is definitely a little more energetic than the stuff I usually create. 

It came about when I posted a little clip to Instagram of a rhythmical groove idea I came up with on the Hang. There wasn’t much to it but there was definitely something in it that required further exploration. James had seen it, and then sent me a recording on WhatsApp of him jamming along to it on the piano. It sounded great and took the groove into a totally new direction that I never would have taken it to on my own. 

Because of the lockdown restrictions, we sent some ideas back and forth over the internet and had a couple of jams in the garden. I think it took us around 6 months to fully craft and record the track. 

As is usually the case for me, the title of the track came much later. The track felt like it was going somewhere. In my mind, it felt like travelling through space and passing different planets in the solar system. And the piano definitely added to the feeling of motion with its cascading melodies. “Motion” seemed like a good fit.  

Me: I can’t wait to hear Motion. I listened to some of James’ music as well and he is very impressive. To get to know people better, I always like to ask musicians who are their top 3 favourite musicians. Who are yours?

Andrew: Ah, this is always a difficult question. I guess I’d have to include Beethoven for the sheer breadth of emotion in his piano works, Manu Delago for his creativity and Hang playing and maybe Nitin Sawney for blending Indian classical music with western contemporary styles. But there are many more, Bob Marley, Chopin, Thievery Corporation, anything unique and interesting really. 

Me: Very interesting. I haven’t heard of a few of those artists…I’ll have to take a listen. Because of the COVID pandemic, the world has been an absolutely crazy place for about a year now. I enjoyed a live concert the day before the lockdown here in Ontario and have only been watching online concerts since then. How has COVID affected your day-to-day life and music?

Andrew: Yeah its been quite a ride this past year. I make a living teaching piano so this all stopped very suddenly. But thankfully I was able to transition most of my students online which I am really grateful for. Thank god for the internet! But it has actually given me a chance to slow down and dedicate more time to my creative projects which has been really great. I don’t think I would have released as much music last year if it wasn’t for lockdown. It has definitely made me reassess my priorities.

The biggest thing I miss are the gigs! I have done a few Facebook live gigs which have been really fun, but it is an odd experience performing in my living room. You get the interactive comments and stuff but it’s not quite the same as looking people in the eye and talking to them in between tracks.    

Me: Yes, the common theme with musicians playing via live streams seems to be the oddity of performing in a non-human interactive environment. I can tell from your IG posts that you have quite the talent for photography and videography. How did you develop these interests? And are there any other interests that you have?

Andrew: I guess I’m a bit of a control freak, so I like to do everything myself. I always enjoyed taking photos but videography came about through necessity and lack of money. These days, music is becoming much more visual so it’s vital to attach music to video wherever possible. 

That’s actually been another benefit to lockdown life. Its given me so much more time to watch 100’s of hours of YouTube tutorials learning different photography techniques. Last year I did a ‘Photo a Week’ project where I had to take a photo every week for a whole year. I didn’t expect to be confined to my house for most of it so it forced me to get as creative as possible! I really feel I’ve stepped up my game this last year. I am however really looking forward to going out and about with my camera a lot more!

Other than that, I enjoy going to gigs and watching bands, and seeing films. 

Me: Hopefully, you’re sharing your “Photo a Week” collection somewhere. I’d like to check it out. You seem to be really in-tune with your inner-self. Since you’re involved in guiding meditation/yoga sessions, can you give a few recommendations to those wanting to try meditation?

Andrew: Yes, I do try. I go through phases of meditating a lot and then sometimes not at all. Before the lockdown my partner and I would often meditate at the Buddhist centre here in Bristol, which I really miss. During lockdown I have found it much harder, but recently I have got back into a daily meditation routine as I came to realize I was neglecting my self-care. 

I guess my advice to those wanting to start, is to try and set aside 5 minutes a day at first. This is what I am currently doing. Because we are all very busy and there’s always so many distractions. But there’s really no excuse to not be able to find 5 minutes somewhere in the day! 

I use an app called Insight Timer which is free and has lots of different guided meditations. However I use it just to time my meditations as you can set your own meditation length and it will begin and end the session with a chime from a Tibetan Bell. For me, focusing on the sensation of breath is my favourite type of meditation, but there are many different techniques out there.  

With meditation, the effects are cumulative, so little and often is a good way to start. 

Me: So true – there’s no excuse to NOT find five minutes a day to calm your mind and body.

I was reading your blog on your website about Scoliosis. You’re very open about your traumatic physical, mental and emotional experiences relating to the condition, as well as the metal rod in your spine. What gave you the confidence to share your personal story with the world?

Andrew: This has been quite a long journey. I spent most of my life trying to hide the curvature of my spine from the world and I never spoke about my worries and anxieties growing up. I was an anxious child. I guess this goes hand in hand with meditation, as I have been on a quest for self-discovery and psychological healing for quite some time. At some point I realized that to really heal I would have to shine a light into the shadows. 

In Jungian theory it states that there is a lot of energy tied up in the shadows (I’m paraphrasing badly here). For me I can see that it took up an awful lot of my resources pretending that there was nothing wrong. Trying to hide my body with more clothes than necessary during the summer months for instance. So these days I am trying to embrace it and accept my body’s asymmetry. My hope is that my writing can inspire others to fully embrace and heal themselves too. I still have a long way to go, but I feel a lot lighter and happier than I used to be. 

Me: I never thought about the concept of energy being tied up in the shadows before, but I can see that it’s true. I go through phases where dark thoughts consume me and drain my mental energies. I’m thankful for my writing because it helps me to re-channel the negativity onto the paper or screen. On your blog, you also wrote in detail about your experience with hearing loss and Tinnitus. Normally, the thought of losing ones’ hearing and ringing in the ears is scary enough, but I would imagine that it’s even scarier for a musician. You mentioned that you took precautions by wearing ear protection when playing electronic music in the past and being around loud music, but it wasn’t enough.  You also wrote that Tinnitus could be more of a mental issue than a physical problem. What are your struggles with hearing loss and Tinnitus, with respect to music?

Andrew: Yeah that was quite a transformative time. It completely changed the direction of my life with music. But in the end it definitely helped change my life for the better. 

I had lost a fairly substantial amount of hearing from gigging and working in noisy environments for many years, but my hearing tests showed me that my hearing had stabilized despite the increasing volume of the ringing in my ears. With the help of a Tinnitus therapist I was able to see that a large part of my negative experience with Tinnitus was caused by my mind and the way that I think. I went through a lot Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to eventually rewrite some of my problem neural pathways. The Tinnitus is still there, but it doesn’t affect me so much anymore. Most of the time I don’t really notice it, which is quite a relief as when it was at its loudest I really didn’t know how I would cope.

But yeah, I ended up quitting all the music I was doing at the time and I was in a really low place. I slowly began piecing things back together and it was around that time that I picked up my Hang from Switzerland. The music I am making today feels truer to my inner self and more fulfilling than anything I was making before. If I hadn’t had all the problems with my hearing, I don’t think I’d be making the music I am today. 

Me: I love the visual and emotional aspect of piecing yourself back together. That’s so inspiration. You already went through so much, then you were recently diagnosed with respiratory failure. That’s crazy! My heart breaks for you. But you’re so tough and keep fighting back.

I already loved your song “Breathless”, but appreciate it even more after I learned the story behind it. You were literally breathless and in need of a ventilating machine for sleeping. Does this condition affect your flute playing?

Andrew: This was definitely one of my biggest challenges to date, but I do want to make clear that it was not as extreme as it sounds. Because of the Scoliosis my lungs are restricted somewhat and therefore at night when my body relaxes, I don’t take in quite enough oxygen. It had been creeping up on me for many years and it just meant I was becoming increasingly groggy in the morning with headaches that would persist for the whole day. It is technically respiratory failure as my lungs are not exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide as well as they should, but not in an immediately life threatening sense like it can be in more extreme cases. I now use a ventilator every night to keep my oxygen and CO2 levels in check while I sleep.

Unfortunately this does affect my flute playing as my lung capacity is greatly reduced so I am unable to sustain notes for as long as I’d like. But it doesn’t stop me being creative and expressing myself with the flute. 

Composing “Breathless” was a rather cathartic experience and it really helped me to channel a lot of  difficult emotions. I think it’s probably the most honest piece of music I have ever created. 

Me: Andrew, you’ve proven that even though life can throw a bunch of crap, beauty (your music) can stem from it – much like a phoenix rising from the ashes.

I’m really looking forward to your new collaboration single and new music from you. Thank you so much for being you and agreeing to this interview. Everyone, make the meditative sounds of Inner Pieces part of your lives and channel your inner peace…Om….

Andrew, do you have anything else that you wish to share?

Andrew: Thank you so much Monica. It has been really awesome connecting with you over the last couple of weeks. 

—End—

Here’s are a few of my favourite songs:

Interview with Al Capo of Canadian band: Stuck on Planet Earth

canadian music, Interviews


Get in touch with Stuck on Planet Earth

www.stuckonplanetearth.com
Instagram: @stuckonplanetearth
Facebook: Stuck on Planet Earth

!!!ALERT: STUCK ON PLANET EARTH’S DEBUT ALBUM RELEASE DATE IS JUNE 26, 2020!!!

Photo credit: Stuck on Planet Earth

By Monica Ng

Phoenix Theatre

November 22, 2019.  That was the day I was first exposed to Canadian band, Stuck on Planet Earth. Stuck on Planet Earth was Moist’s supporting band. I have been a fan of Moist since I was about 18 years old and I am a huge supporter of Canadian music.  It’s always great to discover new artists and music. I even picked up a free nifty Stuck on Planet Earth logo sticker at the merch table. Recently, I took the sticker on my forest run. Pictures from the photo shoot are pictured above. I thought it would be suitable for this post, as it would appear that the astronaut was indeed stuck on planet earth!

I was just polishing up my interview with Neon Dreams when I caught one of Stuck on Planet Earth’s live streams on Instagram. It was a lot of fun because Adam and Al had the chance to answer all of my questions during the stream. I decided to reach out to Al about participating in my blog interview. I was totally honest with Al and wrote that I was just discovering their band and would need to do some research in order to prepare my interview.  Further, I told him that I am not a professional writer but write for the love of it. So no pressure right? Nah.

About

Stuck on Planet Earth is an alternative rock band based in Toronto.  The band is made up of three members – Al Capo (vocals, songwriter and bass), Adam Bianchi (vocals and guitar) and Andrew Testa on drums.  The “3As” band! The band has been playing together since 2007.

Anthem Records recently signed up them up for a record deal.  The record label represents bands like Rush and Big Wreck. Stuck on Planet Earth will be releasing their first album titled, Beautiful Nowhere on June 26, 2020. Prior to this album, they mostly released singles. Their repertoire of songs includes: Higher than the Drugs, Rising, Permanent, I Want it Now, Just to Have You, Gone, Another, Lights So Low, Stay Away, Alive and so many more…

Stuck on Planet Earth
Photo credit: Stuck on Planet Earth

Interview

Me: Al, you are a singer, songwriter and bass player. I find this very impressive – as I cannot sing, write songs, or play any instruments. I am so honoured to have a chance to interview you.  From what I gather so far, you are super-charismatic and a “straight-to-the-point” kind of person.  Adam and Andrew – you guys are very talented as well! You guys are all so well-spoken – I am enjoying your live streams/chats. Al, I appreciate and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to participate in my interview.

What I remember most about your band from the concert was your enthusiasm.  You guys were genuinely excited to be on stage and there was definitely a positive vibe. The one bad thing was the quality of the sound at Phoenix Theatre.  A friend warned me about the issue.  The vibration of the music made it difficult to hear any lyrics and the guitar and drum sounds were a bit muddled for both yours and Moist’s performance.  I basically had to stand near the back to have better sound. That might be the reason that I wasn’t completely hooked on your music already.

Al, thanks for directing me to a Podcast your band did with Michael McDonnell (@allaboutthesong – Episode #68). You told Michael that at the start of your band’s musical career, people were telling you that you sung/played out of tune. But you guys practiced and persisted. Music is obviously a passion for you guys and you have been playing since high school.  Because becoming a musician is not a traditional path, I ask you the following question – what was the “defining” moment when you knew that you wanted to pursue a career as a musician and did anyone encourage or try to discourage you?

Al: I’m not so sure there was a defining moment. I think it was just the passion and desire to create, write songs, and perform live… once I really delved into it, I knew that no matter what, I always wanted music to play a big part in my life. Like in anything, once our band started to make a name for itself- it was like “oh okay, maybe we can actually do this”. Of course along the way there have been people who have not favoured my career path, but to be honest, I’m not the type of person who really ever cared what others thought of me. I truly believe in life you’re supposed to carve out your own path. 

Me: I love your don’t care attitude and totally agree about finding ones own path in life. Any advice for those considering pursuing a career as a musician?

Al:  I usually don’t like to give advice, because there isn’t a rule book that tells you how to pursue a career in music. However, I think one has to be willing to get knocked down, and have really thick skin. I also think staying true to your authentic self is very important. If you can remain true to who you are, while creating your art – that to me, is more important than any accolades. 

Me: I have to ask because I am curious and cannot find the information anywhere – how did you guys decide on your band name? To be honest, when I first heard your band’s name, it took me a long time to remember it – I just knew it was something about planet Earth. But, when I think about your name now, I am reminded that so much happens in our lives and this planet called Earth, so to be “stuck” here may be a bad thing?!

Al: We wanted our band name to be a statement. A name that could make someone feel something, whether that’s a curious feeling, or an understanding. Also, given the chaotic ridden times we’re currently living in – it seems our band name because it’s more relevant as each day passes. 

Me:  Yes, I remember you mentioned in one of your live streams that the astronaut in your Higher Than The Drugs video was roaming around in a deserted place – which is similar to our empty streets post-COVID-19. The pandemic has definitely taken a toll on the world.  You were probably performing a lot before then. Shortly after the Moist concert, I saw that you guys were playing at The Drake. I wanted to catch your SOLD-OUT show but didn’t get a chance. What is a typical COVID-day for you? How has COVID-19 impacted your life?

Al: Before the pandemic we were either in the studio recording, or touring and playing shows. Although all of our summer touring plans have been cancelled, the positive out of the situation is that it’s really allowed us to focus on our social media presence, and given us the opportunity to connect with our supporters and fans. 

Me: Just to get to know you a bit better – aside from music, what are some other hobbies/interests?

Al: I like to make art @kid_capo, [Instagram account], I love basketball, hiking, and love hanging out with my family and close friends. 

Me: That’s amazing! You recently mentioned your artistic talents in a live stream. I can’t say that I’m surprised that you have more talents. I will definitely check out your art. Generally speaking, what drives you and keeps you going both in life and your music career?

Al: To me, I’ve always been driven by the notion that we can’t take anything with us when we leave this place. Making music and art is my imprint on the world, and I love that sentiment – as morbid or beautiful as that is, depending on how you choose to look at it. 

Me: As I am getting older, I too have come to the same realization -that we can’t leave earth with any physical possessions, so I am all about life experiences versus material items. I would much rather go hiking or kayaking and surround myself with nature than drive around in a fancy car. How do you manage your stress day-to-day and when touring?

Al: Haha, I’m not that great at stress management. I’m a bit of a control freak with a lot of OCD tendencies. Luckily, Stuck has a great team around us who help us manage all the stresses that come along with the lifestyle. 

Me: I believe that what music people listen to can provide a lot of insight into who they are, so I ask this question of everyone. I know that I asked you guys this during your live stream, but I have to admit that I was only half-listening because I was working at the same time –oops sorry! Who are your top 3 favourite musicians/bands?

Al: I don’t think I could ever narrow it down to just 3 – but I can tell you some of my big musical inspirations: The Police, Cage The Elephant, Nirvana, Jimmy Eat World, Killing Joke, The Raconteurs, the Gypsy Kings … the list could go on. 

Me: I haven’t heard of one-third of those musicians and will definitely check out some of their music. I’m sure the life of a musician is exciting.  What is the craziest thing a fan ever did for you?

Al: I don’t know about crazy – but when we first started touring the US, we had a rough go on a few dates, and a fan decided to put us up in a hotel, where we could get some real rest and recovery time from all the floors we had been sleeping on. So not crazy, but nicest thing. Very grateful to that fan to this day. 

Me: In the Podcast with Michael McDonnell, you talked about your band working together and being on the same page; and being straight when working towards your common goal. Whereas, other bands often break apart possibly due to resentment of one member (ex. one person does all the work).  Did you ever have conflict with Adam and Andrew, where you couldn’t agree on a particular direction for your music? And if so, how did you overcome the obstacle?

Al: We love like brothers, and at times fight like brothers. I think over time, we have just learned our individual roles in this band, so we don’t step on each other too much. We usually overcome conflict by talking very openly and honestly and don’t hold anything back.

Me: That’s great that you can be open with each other and not let anger manifest itself. On that note, you are known for writing and singing about the raw blunt truth of life. Your band plays songs about topics that most people would shy away from – like in your song, Another. It’s actually one of my favourite songs. The lyrics go, “I am thinking about another when I’m with you.”

I studied sociology and psychology in university and mostly explored concepts of human nature.  While it may be normal to think of someone else while being with another, no one vocalizes it.  Correction – no one except you guys! What type of feedback have you received from friends, family, or fans about your lyrics in general? Has anyone told you that you are singing about their life?

Al: A lot of people have told us that our lyrics really resonate with them in many different ways emotionally. That’s why we do this, to connect with people through our music – we’re very grateful for the privilege of being able to communicate through our music. 

Me: From what I gather –  over the years you have been releasing singles for budgetary reasons as well as allowing people to enjoy one song at a time.  You also mentioned that when albums are produced, some songs get lost on an album. How do you feel now that your first album is about to be released? Do you think that some of the songs will ‘get lost’?

Al: I think we’re at a point now where our style and sound is very focused. We know which direction we’re headed sonically, and all we can hope, is that it doesn’t get lost. 

Me: Can you give your fans a hint of what “vibe” your overall album will have?

Al: Beautiful Nowhere is a very dynamic record – it’s all rooted in alternative rock; it’s vibey, dancey, and anthemic. 

Me:  I’m so glad that I stumbled onto your Instagram live stream because I had a chance to re-visit your music. I am hooked now and can’t get enough. Seriously looking forward to listening to the new songs on your album and catching you guys in concert.  I have already pre-ordered your digital album 🙂 I wish you the best of luck with your new album.  Thank you again for agreeing to this interview and your time.

Everyone out there – check out Stuck on Planet Earth’s music. They are Canadian and TOTALLY rockin’!!! Before wrapping up this interview, do you have anything else that you wish to share with your fans?

Al: Our debut album Beautiful Nowhere is our everywhere on June 26th! 

—End—

Here are a few of my favourite songs:

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