Thursday, June 30, 2016

David M.: on David's Bowie, CanCon, and so forth

David M. - praised by Nick Jones in the Pointed Sticks interview below - will be doing his Small Salute to David Bowie at Music Madhouse Records on Saturday, July 2nd, at 3pm, the day of the Pointed Sticks show. I have caught this set before and abundantly recommend it, even if you don't care THAT much about Bowie (I don't, I must admit, though he has his moments, he has his moments). And it seems to make perfect gig-sense to me, or for anyone coming from Vancouver or Burnaby: Skytrain to Lougheed Mall, find the record store, see David M, go for dinner - my girl and I have been enjoying the New West Spaghetti Factory, which, for some reason, is much more appealing than the Gastown location - then see the Pointed Sticks at the Columbia. Not exactly sure how to get to Music Madhouse, mind you - the Dishrags, who did an in-store meet-and-greet there last year, made it sound like it might be a little complicated - except that I know that it's by Lougheed Mall; I've never been. I'm excited to check it out - because if the people running it have this good a taste in in-stores, they probably have some cool records, too.  

Meantime, here's David M, speaking to a few points of relevance to the Pointed Sticks interview (and his own set). On the Retinal Circus show that never happened (which I first heard about through him; apparently collectors often ask him for copies of gig posters for that particular piece of history):
I think that the promoter couldn't get proper licensing, or the capacity was limited by the fire marshal, or the building wasn't habitable, or something technical like that. It got cancelled abruptly and without much explanation. There was some speculation that the city didn't want the show to happen, but it's likely that the promoter just couldn't make the venue work. As for why the poster might be in demand, obviously it's because of the nostalgia Vancouver old-timers have for NO FUN. The fools!
Asked what year that was, he writes: 
It would have been the day after our Thursday/Friday/Saturday at the Smilin' Buddha and 8 days before our Monday to Saturday at the Cave, so it would have made our insane career trajectory of November 1979 even more insane.
We had also been booked by Perryscope to open for Talking Heads on October 6, 1979, at the Commodore. It was going to be two shows, 8 P.M. and midnight. But a couple of weeks before that date  Talking Heads management decided to bring their new signing Pearl Harbor and the Explosions along as opening act. That kind of thing has started up again, I've noticed, now that the "real money is in live shows".
On the Small Salute to David Bowie, there have been a few changes and additions to the set we previously discussed. He has apparently altered the description in the poster, above, from "40 minutes of David's Bowie" to "44 minutes and 14 seconds of David's Bowie". He had actually mentioned that there might be a "short set as a warm-up and for fun, consisting of a few songs that wouldn’t exist if David Bowie didn’t exist (and perhaps something by Elvis Presley, who shares Bowie’s January 8th birthday)." But I do not know what exactly he is doing. He has said that he would "rather surprise people" than go into a list of which songs he plans. We did talk about his salute to David Bowie here, however, and I've seen the set one and a quarter times (the quarter happening in front of the Rickshaw during their February Bowie salute, which I shot a little video of.

Then I asked David about CanCon. Specifically, I wrote: "I'm curious in particular - a lot of bands that WERE good, like the Payolas and Doug and the Slugs, really started to blow goats the more they chased radio play. But did that have anything to do with Canadian content regulations? The Replacements were getting a bit blowy, in their later career (before the reunion), and that had nothin' to do with CanCon..."

David M. replies:
Allan,
 
An industry arose because of Canadian Content that provided very nice livings for a lot of hard-working Canadians by emphasizing the “Canadian” over the “Content”. Jim Vallance told me back in 1979 that “a hit will buy you a house”. Ra McGuire told me at around the same time that “you guys would have hits if you weren’t so fucked up”, to which I replied “you guys would have hits if you weren’t so fucked up looking”.
 
Money money money money.
 
As for music, I think Phil Ochs covered the importance of that with “Bach, Beethoven, Mozart & Me”, just with that title, and he was probably clinically insane.
 
Zeus preserve us from the fragile egos of old musicians, especially me.
 
David
All images lifted off David M's "Small Salute" Facebook page, which, I discover, is distinct from the Music Madhouse event page, previously linked. So go check it out, there's lots else there. That's David and Ozzy with a Jim Cummins' Bowie.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pointed Sticks 2016: a Nick Jones interview


I love the Pointed Sticks, and I really like the story of their comeback. "The Marching Song" on the Vancouver Complication was one of my first exposures to the first wave of Vancouver punk, but by the time I heard it - and saw them onscreen as part of their cameo in Dennis Hopper's film Out of the Blue - they had already broken up. I got to see a partial version of the band, minus singer Nick Jones, perform "The Marching Song" at the Vancouver Complication anniversary gig a little over ten years ago, and saw both their comeback shows at Richards on Richards in 2006, which were just delightful (I was at both the afternoon and evening gig). I've seen them a dozen times since, and enjoyed it every time. There's lots else on this blog on the band, if you look - including the odd detail that for some reason, the Pointed Sticks themselves have twice photographed me from the stage. What's with that?

You know who else is a Pointed Sticks fan, though? Jack Rabid. He's the man behind US music mag Big Takeover, which has run countless pieces by me, both in print and online. Jack's present plan is actually to be present in New Westminster for the July 2nd show at the Columbia. He writes the following about the Pointed Sticks:

I first heard of the band through following everything i could about the Vancouver scene, getting the early singles and Vancouver Complication, and seeing D.O.A. on their first trip through New York and asking them about Subhumans and what else I was hearing about from there. It was pretty much a comprehensive dive: at the same time, I was obsessing over the L.A. bands and San Francisco bands. I still think those were the three best scenes 1977-1979, and I'm a New Yorker! Only saw them once, when they made their only New York appearance at a power pop fest, 2006? 2007? I interviewed them the day after the show. can't wait to see them a second time! my favorite songs are "Out of Luck," "What Do You Want Me to Do," and the louder version of "True Love," and most of all the Vancouver Complication version of "Marching Song," man I am a sucker for that kind of Buzzcocks-type mix of power-pop 60s melodies with punk's raw energy and guitar edge, and good lyrics too.

My kind of music!
The following is an interview with Pointed Sticks singer Nick Jones, conducted, as I write this, yesterday afternoon, by cellphone from Jones' home base in Nanaimo. The band plays the Columbia in New West on July 2nd. It's kinda next to the Army and Navy, near Columbia Street station - an easy Skytrain out. Local music fans will also want to stop by Music Madhouse Records, near Lougheed Mall, at 3pm to see David M. of NO FUN do his small salute to David Bowie (free of charge!).

Nick follows...

 Pointed Sticks left to right: Nick Jones, Gord Nicholl, Ian Tiles, Bill Napier-Hemy, Tony Bardach

Allan: Okay, so - I've been thinking about you as a songwriter. You've written some fantastic songs, and I don't think I've ever talked to you about songwriting before. Why is that?

Nick: I don't know, but that's what the Pointed Sticks have always done, and the reason we're still going, and why people in other places still cover our songs and listen to our music, it's because of the songwriting. It's not because we were like DOA, a totally dynamic, heavy, confrontational live band, or anything like that. I think the whole key to our band has really been the songs. And it's not just me. There's three other really good songwriters in the band, too.

Yeah, but I've talked to Bill (Napier Hemy, Pointed Sticks guitarist) and Tony (Bardach, bassist) about songs they wrote, but, like, "The Marching Song" is probably like one of my top ten Vancouver punk songs, maybe one of my top ten punk songs anywhere, and I don't think I've ever asked you about it. 

Hm.


So did you write the lyrics for that, or did Steve (Macklam, Pointed Sticks manager at the time)?


Macklam wrote the lyrics for that. I had the music - it was at a point where I was having a hard time writing lyrics, and I had two songs, "The Marching Song" and "The Real Thing," and I loved them both, but I couldn't come up with anything good for the lyrics for them. And regrettably, I let him write the lyrics, so he's gotten half the money for them over all the years, half the cut.

I had hoped you were the one who wrote the lyrics, I wanted to ask about them...

I was not.

It's a complicated song! What strikes me about it is it seems too mature of a relationship song for a bunch of guys that young. The emotions in it are emotions I didn't feel until well into my 30's or maybe my 40's, and you guys were practically teenagers!

Well, Macklam was an older guy, so I'll put it down to that... yeah, I dunno, I think he wrote that song as a sort of silly song, really; I don't really know what he was thinking about when he wrote that. But yeah, I dunno. I can tell you where I stole the music from, though.

Where did you steal the music from? 

"Wooden Heart" by Elvis, do you know that song? (Sings) Doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-da-doo-doo-doo, but I don't have a wooden heart." I think it may have been from GI Blues. It was one of the really bad songs from the movies, but it was a hit single. I just liked that little melody, so that was kind of where I lifted "Marching Song" from. 

There are two different versions of it. 

There's at least two.

I assume the Vancouver Complication version precedes the Perfect Youth version?

That's the first version of it, yeah, that's Robert Bruce playing drums, and the other is Dimwit playing drums. 

The drums do this thing in the Complication version that I really like, where they kind of really punctuate the song like it's the sound of marching, a rhythm that's de-emphasized on the Perfect Youth version. Is that down to Robert being the drummer?

I think so. Robert had some technical limitations, as a drummer. The style he could play in, no one could play better than him; he would have been a perfect replacement for Tommy Ramone, in the Ramones, because he could play that style down pat, that quick eight on the high hat, he had no problem doing that. But Dim was a little more adventurous, shall we say, a little more developed as a drummer, so he brought a little more fills and things... It's funny with Robert: he was only in the band for, like, three months, but he plays on "The Marching Song" and he plays on the Quintessence "Out of Luck/ Real Thing" single, and those could be the most played things we ever recorded. The "Out of Luck" single certainly is, and "The Marching Song" is probably second, really. It's kinda odd...

Is he still around?

Yeah, I saw him at the Brad Kent thing, the celebration of life for Brad, I saw Robert there. He's still around. 

Does he still play?

I don't think so. He played in a couple of bands after he left us, he played in the Antheads and I think he played in the Thirsty Souls for awhile, that's a band off Bud Luxford's second album, Tony Balony [AKA Tony Walker, of Trailerhawk] was in it, and Mary (AKA Mary Jo Kopechne/ Mary Celeste) was in that band as well... I can't remember who else.

Has Robert come to see the Pointed Sticks?

I don't know if he was at the last show, but he was certainly at the one before that that we said could be the last show, at the Rickshaw, I think it was December of 2012, when we sort of stated that we might not be playing anymore. Robert came to that show. I didn't speak to him because I was so drunk that night that I couldn't talk to anybody! (Chuckles).

The last show - not the "last" show, but the last show - was also at the Rickshaw. 

Yes. 

The one last year... Steve came to that! I was talking to (former Quintessence employee/ current Noize To Go proprietor) Dale Wiese in the audience and he was telling me that that was the first time Steve had seen you guys since you reunited. Is that true?

Yes, absolutely.

Why was that?

I think there probably was - I wouldn't say it was animosity, but I'm not so sure that Steve and our relationship ended on such a good note. Steve's a strange fellow - he's very Steve-centric, shall we say. But back in the day I was pretty good friends with his wife Caroline, who worked at Quintessence, and I told Caroline that they should come, Steve and Caroline. And they came, and two of their three kids, and it was very nice. We all talked to them and they stayed to the end and watched the band and were quite complimentary when we finished. It was nice.

Do you want me to tailor that for print?

Well, no... I think he wanted us to become big faster than we were ready to become big. We sort of got moved along back in the day a little faster than we were ready for. We were only 21 years old, and we had a record contract and were in England, a year and a half after the band started, when, in retrospect, it probably would have been better for us to just sit back and make a couple more singles, and take another six months or so before we did what we did. And I think a lot of that - I mean, he was doing what we wanted him to do, but probably in retrospect, he should have known that we weren't ready for it, as a manager. I think he did the same thing with Colin James, when he managed Colin James; Colin was a young blues phenom guy and Steve turned him into Bryan Adams, and shoved him to the top. He had that one record, and then he just kind of disappeared for a few years, and had to make his way back with the Little Big Band later on, after Steve wasn't managing him anymore. That's what managers are supposed to do, I suppose, is move their artists along and send them straight to the top, but we just simply weren't ready for it at the time. But Steve's had a very successful career as a manager, since then, and he probably wouldn't make the same mistake again.... I mean, we were making an album when we probably just didn't really have enough songs yet. We put out three great singles, and we could have kept on doing that.
Right.

And the other thing that we never really did, which so many bands that came after us did, and which bought them their houses and cemented their careers, is make sure we had the Canadian market locked up before we went anywhere else. Like, bands like the Payolas and 54/40 and even Images in Vogue, they had hits in Canada, which we could have done. Except we sort of overstepped our bounds, we were like, "fuck Canada, we want to be big all over the world!" So we kinda left that behind and kind of ignored that in favour of chasing another brass ring, which we never achieved. 

In the lyrics to "The Marching Song," the word "stiff" pops up, that wasn't an early attempt to cultivate Stiff Records from the gitgo or or anything?

No, no, that was long before we were ever signed to Stiff. "Marching Song" was pretty early. "Marching Song" was probably like, maybe March or April of 1979, and that was a full six months, at least, before we had our deal with Stiff. Boy things happened fast back then. The band was only together two and a half years start to finish!

And now it's the stuff of legend.

And now we've been together ten years, since we came back! (Laughs). 

So did you write the lyrics to "Out of Luck?"

I did.

Tell me about that one! I tried to grill Bill (Napier Hemy) about a couple of his songs - "True Love" - and "Found Another Boy" - asking him if they were about girls he still knows, or such. He didn't want to go there at all.

I can see that. He probably got very uncomfortable.

Very quickly. So was "Out of Luck" written about an actual, specific life experience, or...?

No, I don't think "Out of Luck" was a very specific song... "Out of Luck" was literally a five minute song. I was sitting on the couch one afternoon and I sort of came up with the idea, the intro and things like that, and I would say 80% of the song was done within maybe five or ten minutes later. I showed it to the band and we probably played it very quickly after that. Sometimes songs just work like that. Sometimes you work on them for months and months and months and they don't ever get any better and they don't ever get where you want them to be, and sometimes they just fall right out. And "Out of Luck" was definitely one of those ones, which is pretty crazy, because, if you look on Youtube, there's probably, like, ten covers from bands that do "Out of Luck." I think it's kind of a basement staple, where punk rock bands get together and jam in basements around the world; I think "Out of Luck" is one of the ones that come up. 

Do you remember anything informing it? Relationships, movies, other songs?

Well, I would say... back then the first girlfriend I ever had, she kinda bore the brunt of a lot of those early songs. I think that's kind of natural that people would write about what they know. A lot of them were based around the love experience, the relationship with her, though I wouldn't call her a muse, that's for sure. The songs were pretty simple. They were good, though - they were good punk songs, and... the thing was, when we'd write a song like that, when anybody in the band wrote a song like that and took it into the rest of the band, the rest of the band always changed what came there in the first place, it wasn't very often that we'd play a song the way the songwriter had initially figured it out. The way it was initially presented to the band was quite a bit different from the way it ended up turning out, because everybody's got an opinion, and everybody's opinion is usually pretty valid. Like, Tony's the songwriter on "Part of the Noise," but me and Bill wrote the bridge on that one. And there were other songs, where people contributed little bits - we just figured the first person who put his name to it was the one who got the credit for it. There was enough to go around - we didn't ever got rich, but we made a little bit of money off of them. 
Pointed Sticks' Tony Bardach by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Coming back to "The Marching Song," there was a line that changed between recordings, where "she's in command of my har-har-har-heart," where you stutter a bit on the delivery, whose contribution was that?

Oh, I dunno. The band put the stutter in it, when we put the accents in it - it was probably just me being theatrical, something like that.

Had you all had serious relationships at a young age, by the time you were writing these songs? Because one of the things that makes your songs memorable is that there's a real emotional richness.  they're young people's emotions, maybe, but they're not simple.

Well, I would say... I can't really speak for Gord (Nicholl, keyboardist), but I would say that me and Bill and Tony all had fairly serious relationships by that point in our lives. And all three of us had travelled, when we were teenagers, and... I dunno, our experience was probably a little bit richer than the average 21 year old. And also, I think 21 year olds were a lot older back then, than they are now, too, in terms of, like, life experience. Like, 21 year olds now can manipulate a lot of machines and come up with answers very quickly, but I don't really know that they have as much interpersonal interactions with a lot of people as 21 year olds had had, by that point back then. That sounds like a strange thing to say, but I'm not saying that as a "things were better when I was a kid" grumpy-old-man kind of thing, but, having children of my own, I know that I'd done a lot more worldly things by the time I was 21 than any of those three had. And I think that that experience is true of the other guys in the band, as well.

Gord Nicholl, photographed by Nick Jones, 2006 at Richards on Richards!

How old are your kids?

My kids - my oldest, she is going to be 28 this year, and my middle daughter has just turned 25, and my son is 21. 

Wow. 

Well, Tony's got a daughter in her 30's. We got a few kids between us. Ian's the oldest guy in the band with the youngest kid, which is pretty funny. 

I agree with you, by the way, to say, that you had to grow up faster. It does ring true, it doesn't sound odd to me. 

I think that just - you had to make your own experience, I don't think it was presented to you. I think the whole internet platform, and social media thing, just puts things on kids plates, rather than having to go out and find them yourself. There wasn't really anything to entertain you, you really had to go a long ways to make your own entertainment back then. I think that has a lot to do with it. 

At the same time, I know when I was young, like, I've written songs - I mean, nothing that anyone has done anything with - and I know that when I was a kid and playing around with writing songs, and a lot of the really early songs I wrote, weren't based in experience. They were faking it. Were there any early Pointed Sticks songs that were like that, where you were putting on emotions, trying to guess and get it right, where you hadn't actually lived through it yourself?

I think there's fakery in all of the songs! I also think it's a bit of a trap to try to write too literally, when you write about relationships, when you write about anything. That's almost the problem... like, I've always admired songwriters that can write stuff that sounds fantastic but doesn't mean anything, you know? Like words that are stuck together and you're listening to it, and you go, "oh, this is fantastic, this must really mean a lot," and then when you start thinking about it, you go, "whoa - or maybe it just doesn't mean anything at all." I've always tried to not write literally, but it's hard to get away from that, it's hard to get away from that, it's hard for me to write abstractly. So I would say, in terms of faking it, there are songs we wrote that we knew nothing about. When we started out, it was punk rock, so there's a few Pointed Sticks songs that never saw the light of day, particularly where we lean towards the political side. We were never very good at writing that. I don't think, other than "American Song," there's an overt political song in our entire canon, and we never even play that one live now,  just 'cause it seems silly.
Nick Jones 2006, at Richards on Richards, photo by Cindy Metherel (now Cindy LeGrier), not to be reused without permission

Are there older songs you thin of bringing back to the light?

At Brad's thing, we played a song, "You Must Be Crazy," that we haven't played since we got together again, so that means we haven't played it in over 35 years. And we're going to play it on Saturday, too. There's a couple of Bill's that I tried to get him to learn to play again, but he didn't... but we're playing a song called "All I Could Take" that we haven't played in a long time. We try to mix it up, keep things fresh. We play the odd cover, play songs that we don't play... I'll tell you a story. When we came back and we played those gigs in Japan, and they were great, and we played the gigs in Vancouver, and the gigs in Vancouver were great. But then we did those gigs in Toronto and New York, and in Toronto, the gig wasn't that great. We were kinda tired and we didn't really play all that well and I don't think we were really feeling it. And then we came back and we sort of thought we should sit down and talk about this, so we sit down, and we had a meeting at Tony's house, when he had the Dental Lab, he had this place upstairs, it's like a big long boardroom table, it was like having a board meeting there. And the consensus, particularly led by Bill more than anybody else, was that continuing to just go and play the songs we had written 35 years ago was a total non-starter. We were already bored with doing that, already, after having only done it three or four times. The gig in Toronto, it felt like were were faking it, and that was really distracting to us. And then we talked about whether we should say, "Okay, that's it, we've had our little thing," or, whether - if were going to continue on, there was going to have to be a creative aspect to it, it couldn't just be, like, a sideshow,  just playing those old songs. And that's when we started writing songs. At first, the songs were just pouring out of Gord and I, just like literally every week we'd call each other up: "Well, I got this, I got this, I got this..." It's kinda slowed down a little bit since then.

Naturally. 

 The Pointed Sticks in Japan! (Provided by the band)

But I think that's what made us want to continue on. We like to challenge ourselves, to play new songs, to make records to record, and to just not be the same thing. We could go out and play the same fifteen songs every night. Another reason we can't really do that is we can't really travel, we've got some legal issues, so we can't really go anywhere. We can't go to America and play because of legal issues. And everybody's got jobs and stuff. If we're going to play to the same audience in Vancouver over and over again, we gotta give them something every time we play. So that's where the idea of songwriting came from, plus the pride you feel when you've written a new song and the songs are good... it'll be half new songs, on Saturday night, so...

Anything new new? 

A few off the self titled album, and four, maybe five off Three Lefts Make a Right. 

Anything since then? 


We've got a couple of things we've been working out. We kinda tend to collect stuff and get together and put it into order, but I doubt... if you're familiar with all of the Pointed Sticks material, we wouldn't playing anything you haven't heard yet, that haven't appeared on a record, although there's a couple of covers we haven't played before, that we're going to play. But I'm not going to tell you what those are, heh-heh-heh.

I kind of feel like I did Three Lefts an injustice. I'd heard it when I was going through a weird time, and it didn't grab me. I like the self-titled one a lot. But... do you have a preference between them?

Well, they're very different. Three Lefts is very much closer to being a continuation of what the Pointed Sticks were when we broke up in 1981. Which is kind of understandable. I think Three Lefts is about half great, and there's a couple songs on it that aren't very good. But "Anytime" is a great song, "On Fire" is a great song - there's a few really really great songs on that record. I don't have a preference between them. Three Lefts was a little more spontaneous, a little faster. We really laboured over the self-titled record. I mean, Gord and I spent months on that record. I'd be away working and then I'd come back and we'd spend three days working on it at a time, change a bunch of stuff that we'd already had before. It was very labour intensive. I'm really happy with that record, too. I think it's a really great record - lyrically too.

I think we already talked about a couple songs on it - "Tsune's Song," I know that "You're Not the One" was a Bill Scherk song from the Los Popularos days. "La La La" kind of interests me, but I don't have a full sense of what that song's about. It sounds like advice to someone on the scene.

Yeah, I think it's just kind of a song that says, "Don't be so sure of yourself." Because sometimes the people with the very most confidence have got the furthest to fall. It's basically a song about someone who thought they had everything going their way, and all of a sudden you realize that you don't, and - how do you deal with it, at that point? The whole "La La La" thing was, like, when you try to talk to somebody, or - not that I'm in the business of giving anybody advice, but sometimes you might want to say to somebody, and say, "hey, this isn't working out exactly the way you think it is," and that person's just like, "LA LA LA LA LA LA LA," the "La La La" part was just the person not paying any attention to warning signs that people are trying to tell them about.

Was that autobiographical, or are you thinking of someone specific?


I think all songs have things have slightly autobiographical elements, but - I'm not going to tell you who, but I was thinking of someone else when I wrote that. But you know, especially because we took so long on that record, I tried a lot of different things. A lot of songs I changed tenses, changed genders. Sometimes I would be singing the song from a first person point of view, and change it to a third person point of view. "Tsune's Song" was at one point sung from the girl's point of view, and then it turned around and it was sung from the guy's point of view, and at one point it was a first person song too. So we had the opportunity to try and do all those sorts of things, and we found out a whole bunch of interesting things about how quickly the whole tenor of a song can change when you do things like that, how the whole tenor of a song can change, when it's something just as simple as changing from first to third person.

Is there a song you're happiest with?

I'm trying to think what my favourite song on that record is. Mmmmmm.... I think "Lovely Bird," that's a good one. Kind of a creepy kind of song, I like that. We've never played that before, and we're going to play it on Saturday.

Where did that song come from?

I think that one was just a kind of makin' up a story, kinda song. Gord had that one - the music got finished top to bottom, done, and I just sort of fitted the words to it. I think again, it's a typical Pointed Sticks relationship kinda song. 

Pointed Sticks at Khatsahlano, photograph by Allan MacInnis

Were there songwriters that really mattered to you as a young person, as a kid?

Well, I didn't really start writing songs until the Pointed Sticks started. It was punk rock that inspired me to start writing, that inspired me to be a musician. Before then, I was a kid growing up in the 1970's, and being a musician, unless you were classically trained... those were the days of Yes and Led Zeppelin and really complicated bands. So the idea, when punk rock came along, that anybody could do it, the whole DIY aspect to it, I loved that. Loved that. That was the greatest thing ever, that all of a sudden, something that had seemed like you had to have started working on it when you were 13 years old, to perfect all of this, to become some sort of a maestro musically before anything you did was valid - to have that concept blown away was really important. But I don't think it was the punk rock songwriters, except for Pete Shelley. Pete Shelley and the Ramones, those were the ones I liked. But I was a young kid growing up in the 60's, so the whole pop music thing - I loved Herman's Hermits, I loved every British invasion band, every single one of them - the Beatles and things like that. And when I became a serious young man, when I was in Grade 10 or whatever, it was Dylan. I got to see Dylan with the Band in Seattle in 1974. Dylan was a very formative influence, too. When you start writing words, there's really nobody to look to, moreso than him, because he could do it all. He could write the simplest song, write a song with five words or write the most complicated imagery, that you would never be able to understand... he was somebody to be admired. I still admire him. I still think the albums that he's made lately... obviously he had a patch in the '80's and '90's where he wasn't doing so good, but the last few original records he made, I thought were great, as well.

That's neat, I didn't realize that. 

Bill was a Dylan man, as well. 

I only have a couple of more questions. I've been asking a couple of people this question, whether power pop gets taken less seriously than punk rock, especially in Vancouver. 

I sort of don't even believe in power pop, I think that that's sort of way too nebulous. I think it's a category that you put bands in that's kind of convenient, but it's too broad... then there's the power pop aficionados where unless it's got a Rickenbacker 12 string it's not actually power pop. See, I don't think we are a power pop band. I think we're just a rock band, and we bear all our influences on our sleeves, and those influences, like I say, come all the way from the British invasion 60's bands, like obviously the Beatles and the Stones and those kinds of bands, then came of age in the 1970's and were enabled by punk rock coming along. I would never call us a power pop band. But in terms of "does it get taken less seriously?" By idiots, it does, yes! By anybody who thinks that... by people who believe that punk rock, especially punk rock in Vancouver, was somehow this political movement was going to change the world. I mean, punk rock in Vancouver, let's face it, it was kids just wanting to have a good time. It was kids who could be in a band, who could escape from their suburban realities, move downtown, and just have a great time. The people who were involved in it were all smart, so they understood what politics meant, they understood what social injustice was, but to suggest that somehow the music was going to open people's awareness to that, unhhhh, I dunno, I think that's a bit of a stretch for me. 
David M with NO FUN at the Smilin' Buddha

Okay. A last question: David M. of NO FUN is doing a set at Music Madhouse Records by Lougheed Mall the same day as the Pointed Sticks. So I wonder if you had any NO FUN stories, if you were a NO FUN fan?

David is a super-smart guy, good songwriter, sarcastic, very observant, and their track on the Complication record [and here I presume Nick is talking about "Mindless Aggression," not "Old," which is also on the Complication record, but is very easy to miss]... when NO FUN first came out, they were on the record, but they never played in Vancouver; like, nobody ever saw them, they were kind of a mystery kinda-thing, and there were a lot of people in Vancouver who didn't think they deserved to be on the Complication record? They obviously did, because the song is great, and of any of the bands that didn't get on the Complication record, it was usually due to their own incompetence; I'm thinking about the Rabid, here. I mean their incompetence in getting themselves recorded, in getting a recording in in time, not in being a band. People were just like, "Come on, guys, there's a spot for you on the record, but you've gotta have a song recorded." I don't have any NO FUN stories, but I do admire David. I think he's a smart guy, and I saw him last year at the Kits fest, and he's pretty funny! He sorta has declared himself to be not commercially viable. He wanted to poke fun at the whole idea of being commercially viable,  so the whole thing with his Gorgo and his sponsorships... I don't have any stories, never played on a bill with him, but always followed them and thought they were pretty damned good. And also, he had Paul Leahy in his band, which says a lot there.
There was a gig poster he gave me, for a gig that never happened, that had had the Pointed Sticks, NO FUN, and the Subhumans...

At the Retinal Circus, correct. 

That never happened, and that was the only gig where you would have shared a bill with them?

Correct, although we may have played a benefit for the Complication or a benefit for something else... but that gig at the Retinal Circus, the fire marshal closed that down, like, two days before. All the permits were in hand. I think that's the place that became Celebrities or something, at Davie and Burrard. It had been a hippie place in the 1960's, and we sort of had the idea that we would reopen the place; Gerry Barad was kind of instrumental in that, and he was promoting that gig. And it was closed down. The fire marshal stepped in a few days before, which was something that happened... if you want to talk about the political side of punk rock, that's who we were fighting against. We weren't fighting injustice in the south of the United States or wherever, we were fighting injustice from the authorities and the music industry in Vancouver. The music industry in Vancouver did everything in its power to squelch all of the bands like us, and the Young Canadians and the Modernettes and the Dishrags and DOA and the Subhumans, they did everything they possibly could to make sure that this never really got out of the bag.  

When you're talking about the music industry... could you be more specific?

Well, I should say it wasn't a matter of the press. The press in Vancouver was very supportive. First and foremost would be Tom Harrison, who was with the Georgia Straight before he went over to the Province. Then Fiona McQuarrie, Neil Hall, John Mackie and Vaughan Palmer, who was a music critic before he became a political bigwig, those were the main writers. And there was television too, Nite Dreems and Soundproof and even the Vancouver Show. Every single one of those bands got a shot on the Vancouver Show.

Right.

So I'm talking about CFOX radio, Bruce Allen, clubowners... Bruce Allen and Sam Feldman controlled all the bookings in all the clubs, so it was quite easy for them to make it known that they didn't want... they had their own bands that they were booking and getting 15% of, and they made it pretty clear that we weren't welcome in those places. And weren't really welcome in the radio. The only time "The Real Thing" got played on the radio was when Quintessence bought an ad. It was a great ad, I don't even know where it is now, but JB Shayne did an ad for "The Real Thing" and that got played on CFOX radio, but the song itself never did. They waited until Bruce had his own little band, waited til he had the Payolas, waited til it was safe enough to actually promote this. So they were the first and only... Payolas, 54/40, and all the bands that came after us, they were all a little more malleable, shall we say, to the corporate interests, and they were the ones that reaped the benefits of all the work that the people that came before them did.

The Payolas kind of got fucked over because of their name, still. That didn't really work out for them so well.

I guess so. But there was also the fact that they were a terrible band, as well! I mean, they had one big single, which was fake Police/ reggae stuff, but... I never thought much of the Payolas. 

Wait a sec, there, Nick, their first EP...

Oh, the first EP is great, the one with Ian and Gary Middleclass playing on it, the first EP is great, but once they started making albums and things like that, egggh. I dunno. I feel the same way about most of the bands that came after them, 54/40 and Images in Vogue and all of them. They road the coattails of a lot of people who did the work before them, who were never really rewarded for it. I'm not bitter about it or anything, I still have a better band than any of those guys, and we still get to play gigs, so he who laughs last, right? But I think it's just the case. And when I was talking about taking care of the Canadian aspect of things beforehand, that's one of those things that all of those bands managed to secure: radio airplay. I mean, 54/40 can still go and tour across Canada, because their songs are ingrained because of Canadian content rules. They got that built-in advantage where 30% of the music played is Canadian content. And it has led to some astonishingly terrible music over the last 40 years. 

It's true. There's such a small pool of songs that they draw from, too. It's hearing the worst ever Doug and the Slugs song over and over and over again, is what it boils down to.

That's right. It's why a band like Tragically Hip can sell out stadiums across Canada, yet they go five miles across the border on the other side and they're playing in a nightclub to 300 people. It was an engineered reality for the Canadian music industry, and it worked out pretty well for some Canadian record companies, that's for sure, and for some Canadian bands. But in the long run - it's like Tony Walker says, if you're not good enough, you're not good enough, and legislating "good enough" is a weird kinda thing to do. It's a particularly Canadian kind of thing to do, it seems to me. Basically we're saying, "Okay, you guys aren't good enough, so we're going to legislate it so we're going to play your music over and over and over again," because you and I both know, if you're exposed to music often enough, it doesn't matter how bad it is, eventually it will get in your brain, and you'll start humming it, and you'll start thinking you like it, even though you probably really don't. So.

People eat what they're fed.

Well, it's true, don't you think? Especially if it's something you don't choose to listen to. People listen to the radio at work and they hear "Switchin' to Guys" by the Kings or whatever that stupid song was - "Switchin' to Glide" - they hear that all day long, and eventually, they think that they like it! And it takes away from the really good Canadian songs that get sort of just get lumped in with all of that, because it's Canadian, I mean like great songs like "Echo Beach." It's a great song, but people think, "Oh, CanCon, it's just another shitty Canadian song," but "Echo Beach" obviously was a good enough song that it became a big hit in Britain and the United States. 

I didn't even know it was a Canadian song!

"Echo and the Beach," Martha and the Muffins. It's a great song, but people just lump it in with Rough Trade and Parachute Club and all the other nonsense that came out of Toronto around the same time, because that's when it came out. I was against CanCon when it started, and looking back on it... it breeds mediocrity, that's what I think!

 Pointed Sticks play the Columbia in New West, July 2nd! 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Brian DePalma retrospective at the Vancity Theatre

I like Brian DePalma's films a lot. I know people who don't - who dismiss him as a derivative, maybe misogynist, style-over-substance hack - but I think, in fact, that that`s getting to be a minority view, critically, that slowly the dominant discourse around him these days is turning pretty positive, that people are more and more recognizing that, for all his borrowings of Hitchcock, he's a person who thinks quite a bit about his images and his craft, and has - often between the lines - the capacity to be harshly critical of America, masculinity, and the status quo - often all at once. He`s always had a few interesting and vocal admirers, of course. Pauline Kael was one (though her praises of Casualties of War go far even for me, and I respect the film a lot). Quentin Tarantino once admiringly interviewed him (I think for the softcover-book-format film magazine Projections) about Blow Out, his conspiracy thriller starring John Travolta. And it's been refreshing to see the Criterion Collection putting out a few items from his back catalogue over the last couple of years. There are definitely duds in DePalma's body of work, of course - his treatment of James Ellroy's Black Dahlia was a serious disappointment, in particular. I caught it theatrically on a trip to Toronto, during its opening week, and I'm an admirer of the novel; I came away positively dejected over how little I had cared for what I`d seen, which managed to even be duller than L.A. Confidential (another Ellroy adaptation; wish someone would do him justice, maybe with a big screen American Tabloid; somehow the best of the films based on his work - Rampart, Street Kings, and Dark Blue - are not adaptations of his novels, but original screenplays). I can`t speak much on Bonfire of the Vanities - it seemed at the very least a faithful adaptation of Tom Wolfe`s novel, so I never got why it was so reviled - but even films of DePalma`s savaged by critics, like Mission to Mars, manage to, oftentimes, be more interesting and fresh than more so-called respectable movies they share screenspace with...

The best of DePalma`s films, by me, are the films that are most overtly his, the ones that he plugs, name-over-title, as Brian DePalma films, which he doesn't, always; for the first Mission: Impossible film, he subordinated his brand to the franchise and the star, Tom Cruise, and kept some of his signature flourishes in check (split screens, say, or smirkingly deliberate audience-torturing suspense, or guilty spectatorship, or explicit nods to Hitch). It's still a fine thriller and very watchable, mind you - maybe my favourite of them, even still - but it's not really all that "DePalma," if you see what I mean, and not that different from the other films in the franchise (John Woo probably was the filmmaker to most noticeably assert his own brand onto those films, and his is the worst of them, so...).
Anyhow, because I like DePalma, I will be seeing the new documentary about him on the screen, when it opens at the Vancity Theatre (July 1st). I'm also excited about the retrospective of his films that accompanies it, though I'm sad that it is missing some of his very early work - especially Hi, Mom and Greetings, both with a young Robert DeNiro and both packed with anger, wit, and resonances for DePalma`s later cinema, including some very telling meta-cinematic reflections. These films in put everything else he's done in a somewhat different context, provide a decoder ring to help you appreciate just how smart, in fact, the man is, and I suggest that people with an interest in this series who haven`t seen them seek them out. I would have liked a double bill of Casualties of War and Redacted, too, which I gather was considered and deemed impractical for some reason or other; those two films, especially together, will also help one appreciate the political anger that informs De Palma's work, which it's quite possible to miss in some of his more mainstream movies. They`re imperfect films, maybe, but essential; Redacted is certainly the angriest film I`ve encountered about the recent US adventures in Iraq...

All the same - regardless of what isn`t there - I'm delighted to be able to see some of these films on the big screen. By coincidence, my two favourites are right at the top of the listings, starting with Blow Out. This is DePalma's masterpiece, maybe, punning in the title on Antonioni's Blow Up. It's a probing of American cynicism in the wake of Watergate, with a pinch of Chappaquidick thrown in for good measure. Innocence does not fare well in DePalma's America, and experience can lead you to despair: John Travolta plays a movie soundman who, out recording sounds for his library, manages to capture the audio of what he believes is an assassination attempt. The lovely Nancy Allen - even lovelier in Dressed to Kill - plays an at least somewhat innocent girl in a sleazy business who gets caught up in the conspiracy. DePalma regular Dennis Franz (NYPD Blue) is at his greasiest and funniest; John Lithgow is a psycho, playing it to the hilt, as always.
I've had friends I've played it for get seriously pissed off at me for showing Blow Out to them, but I don't want to say why; people who have seen it will know. It's actually pretty sad, pretty angry, pretty bleak - but also very, very intelligent, and a supreme exercise in cinematic craft; I would guess that it`s probably the film of DePalma`s that most pleases Lars von Trier. It's the film all DePalma naysayers need to see, to be able to fairly evaluate him; people who go on about what a hack he is lose my ear or any attempt at engagement when I find out they`ve missed this movie, because they just don`t know what they`re talking about. Travolta is great, and there's a panicky revolving-camera scene that is up there on my list of the best-ever bravura camera stunts in mainstream cinema. If you're only going to see one of these movies, see this one, screening July 14; it may make you want to see more.
Then there's  Body Double - which plays with Rear Window in the same way that Dressed to Kill plays with Psycho and (we gather) Obsession (which I have not seen) plays with Vertigo. Screening July 15th, this is, by me, the most fun and the most funny of De Palma's engagements with Hitchcock. It's all about voyeurism and spectatorship - in life, in horror movies, in pornography, and in "detective work." There was a time when I rejected the film for its violence against women - and chuckled to see that Patrick Bateman uses it as pornography in Ellis' American Psycho. But if I were teaching a course on self-reflexive cinema, and had to choose between Peeping Tom - complete with the Laura Mulvey commentary track - and this film, I'd choose this film. Plus Melanie Griffith is great, and Craig Wasson is one of my favourite-ever "everyman shmuck" characters. The actual "body double" scene that plays when the credits role are a reference to the making of Dressed to Kill, by the way. (Heads up Keith Gordon fans, this is is biggest and maybe best film as an actor shy of Christine...).
There's lots else worth seeing. I know Phantom of the Paradise is a cult hit, particularly among music geeks (no, I was not at that particular July Fourth Toilet concert, sorry to say); but I've only seen it once, years ago, so I can't really evaluate it. Femme Fatale is giddy fun if you're a DePalma fan ("arguably his most underrated movie," the program says, though I'd give that honour to Snake Eyes, not screening). It's kind of up there with Raising Cain (also not screening) as an audacious, excessive film that people with an investment in and understanding of the filmmaker can just delight in while everyone else looks at us funny (it may not be the best film for noobs). On the other hand, The Untouchables, which I saw not too long ago with my Mom, is far more interesting now (and far more of a De Palma film) than I gave it credit for being at the time; I wrote it off, once, as not really BEING a DePalma film, just a blockbuster-for-hire, but in fact, it's a pretty rich, exquisitely crafted movie... I have a friend who loves it, another who hates it; I can only say that I liked it a lot more, on last viewing, than I expected to, and am full of respect for its craftsmanship.
Of the rest of the films, there are some I have not seen (Obsession, Passion), a couple I don't really care much about (Carlito's Way and Carrie are both good films but I have nothing at all to say about them); and one I did not get, Sisters, which I saw knowing how much Robin Wood loved it, but didn't find very engaging. Wood had a tendency to praise films for the ideas in them, without taking into account how well-or-poorly crafted they were, which comes up in the kerfuffle about David Cronenberg that he presided over, especially when he comes out as thinking Larry Cohen's nearly unwatchable It's Alive is a better film than The Brood. It's a less politically objectionable film, maybe, but surely that's not the only consideration when evaluating a film... Anyhow, Wood makes much of the ideas that he sees at work in Sisters, and makes it out to be some sort of masterwork, which is probably taking it a bit far, and possibly set me up to be disappointed. I liked Margot Kidder, at least...
...And then there's Scarface. That's the only film screening that I have political misgivings about, and they have nothing to do with the film per se, are in no way De Palma's fault, because they relate to developments in contemporary culture that came about decades after it was made. I simply do not care for the hip hop valorization of Tony Montana: the un-critical transformation of a blinged out, coked up, murderous criminal into a cultural icon. It's not MY culture, what can I say. Scarface is great cinema, but what has been done with it freaks me out enough that I haven't revisited the film in twenty years, however much I loved it during the days of VHS, when my friends and I watched it often enough that we could riff on lines from memory. I might try to see it again on screen simply because Tony's sister is played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, an under-rated actress who I almost always enjoy, probably at her best in John Sayles' Limbo. But she's good in this, too, as I recall... and young, and kinda naked...
All told, it`s an exciting retrospective of a filmmaker who is under-rated precisely because he is (at least to some extent) famous and successful. The main page of listings for the DePalma screenings - including both the documentary and the retrospective - is here. Thanks to the Vancity Theatre for programming these films!

Joey Only is Troublin' the Peace

There's a long list of people on the Vancouver scene who get taken for granted - especially by me. I only noticed Joey Only, for instance, when I ran into him busking on Commercial Drive one day, back in 2011, and struck up a between-song conversation. There I learned that he was giving up Vancouver and moving to Wells. At that point, he had played around Vancouver billions of times, was on Co-Op Radio, and you could find his albums everywhere, but I hadn't really explored his catalogue or made a point of seeing him live. I figured, superior snob that I tend to be, that I could safely just infer most of what he had to say - earnest leftie folkie East Van gripin', meh.  

Then somewhere around that time I checked out his 2010 album Transgression Trail - even before Gerry Hannah and Todd Serious began recommending his music to me. It's great stuff - authentically rootsy, well-recorded country/ folk with an underlying punk attitude, and a band that included the Creaking Planks' Rowan Lipkovits on accordion and Jeff Andrew, interviewed by me not too long ago, on fiddle. Only's voice sounds a bit like Petunia's, tho' in place of Petunia's yodelling, there's more of a Stompin' Tom-ish East Coast twang. Only - an Ontarian - comes by that twang honestly, mind you, explaining that "Ottawa Valley is very Irish and Scottish historically and is known for a thick accent." It makes him a natural for covering Stompin' Tom songs (see more on that below, or see his song about Stompin' Tom on the his upcoming album...).

There are other points of distinction that could be productive to mine. Compared to Petunia (or Stompin' Tom, for that matter), who seem most comfortable with third-person storytelling, Only's songs tend a bit more towards the self-referential and confessional. That's neither good nor bad - I'm not disparaging anyone - but you can't really imagine either Petunia or Stompin' Tom singing something like, "I was huggin' the toilet instead of my wife/ I've never felt so bad in my life"  - one of Only's many amusing references to his being a "piss poor husband" on the album, a "bastard" who is "plastered." It makes Only stand out, gives him a personable charm; I mean, who else would write a song about turning 29 on a Greyhound Bus ("Birthday Blizzard Busride Blues")?  There's still some socially conscious imagery, for sure - in, say, "The Ghetto Birdz," which conflates images of East Vancouver crows and addicts, scavenging the sidewalks for crumbs or dropped rock - but it's nowhere like the in-your-face preachifyin'/ teachifyin' of Only's debut, Radical Folk of the Great North, recorded only six years previous. In fact, you could see someone spinning Transgression Trail right in sequence with Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, my head-and-shoulders favourite country album, and about as preachily political as "Bud the Spud."

So, there I go: from that album on, I've had abundant reason to want to see Joey Only play live - because this stuff would obviously be just DELIGHTFUL with an audience and some alcohol - except now the guy has moved out of town, and his appearances in Vancouver are nowhere as regular as they once were. (Plus I've been back and forth to Maple Ridge and living in Burnaby, which add my own challenges to the mix). That's what you get for taking people for granted! So other than watching Only busk a few songs on the Drive that day, I've never seen him play. For shame!

Thankfully, there's a chance to amend that. The Joey Only Outlaw Band has a gig July 9th at the Rickshaw; plus Only has a new album coming out, No More Trouble in the Peace - his first since Transgression Trail - and a release party planned for October. Perfect timing! For those yet unsure, there's a video of the title song from his upcoming record here, and while we're at it, there's this terrific little cover tune that he did and shot a charmingly homemade video for. Pretty hard not to like this stuff a lot, innit?

That's about all I can say about Joey Only, except that I'm enjoying following him on Facebook (look  him up under Joey Onley - Facebook weren't about to recognize Only as a real name, he tells me). Just did the following email interview, apropos of the Rickshaw gig (instrumental folkies Cornshed, much praised by me in the past on this blog, have an opening slot, too, plus Devil in the Wood Shack, whom I did a West Ender piece on; should be a great show). Here's Joey...


Joey Only by Karl Mattson, Rolla BC, not to be reused without permission

Allan: Why did you decide to leave Vancouver, and how is that working out? What's your home base now? What's the musical community like around you? Any words of wisdom for people still trying to make it in Vancouver? Anything you miss about life here?

Joey: I first came to Wells to climb Mount Murray in 2005 and wrote a song while in the area called "Smells Like Quesnel."  That song got me invited to Artswells 2006.  The town is quaint and quiet most of the year.  At 4000ft above sea level, it has big snow, big animals and big fishing.  I loved it and somehow conspired to buy this lodge in 2009 with my partner and our friend Josh who is now president of Island Mountain Arts here (the organization that hosts the festival).  Because every musician in BC wants to play the festival it's nice that  they all come here throughout the year trying to impress us.  I've now had my name on the festival bill for 11 straight years, the longest running streak...despite the fact we live way out here, we have credibility in the music world just because of our festival.  People want to know everyone here who is involved.

My advice to people in the big city is tour the province lots.  Make relationships with people all over.  When you are popular all over the province eventually Vancouver will recognize your resume.  Small communities really love live music and they are often willing to treat you well because of it.  If you leave to go live in a small town don't worry, you can create your own thing...Artswells and the Outlaw Band are two local examples here.

Who is in the Outlaw Band these days, and what's the dispersal like? (How far afield do people come from to rehearse?).

The rhythm section (Sean Scallion-drums, Ed Hanrahan-double bass) lives in Quesnel which is only 85km down the mountain.  Mike Mourneau, our shreddin' guitarist, lives here in Wells so that's convenient.  It's not too bad, even then we rarely rehearsed.  Our old bass player up here Joel Stern use to say 'rehearsal is for cowards'.  Joel was the one who got the band together after I moved up here, I didn't intend to ever have a band again...but lo and behold I got some of the hottest country players in BC now!!?!?!

Any favourite Rowan Lipkovits stories? [Note: as of this writing, Joey and Rowan have been arguing naked about the pros and cons of protesting naked on Facebook, after Rowan mentioned in passing having someone come up to him at a nude protest, speaking to him in Hebrew, despite the evidence of his non-Jewishness being plain to see that day...].
Every story about Rowan Lipkovits is a favorite one.  Nobody has ever been kicked out of the Outlaw Band... you earn membership by playing 10 shows.  Rowan has only played one show in four years with me, but he's still an Outlaw member albeit an inactive one.  I met him in the Railway Club and I thought he was someone else and asked if he wanted to tryout for the band.  He said yes and then I was surprised to learn he played accordion and not lead guitar... but I kept him anyway.  Rowan must have played 400-500 shows with me all across western Canada!  Where could I begin to pick a favorite story with a guy who produced so many incredibly hilarious one liners and incessant comedy relief? [Note: Rowan is the guy who deadpans that the Blair witch "prefers to be called the Blair Wiccan" in this fun mini-doc about the band's travels]. 

Do you define  yourself politically these days, if you do? Marxist, anarchist, anarcho-syndicalist...? How politically active are you nowadays?

Descriptive words like rationalist, materialist, humanist, socialist, anarchist and skeptic would all be satisfactory ways to describe me.  The great thing about anarchism is we believe consensus (or pure democracy) is a great way to solve problems.  I also think science is one of the best tools we have to know what's right and what's wrong.  I put in my sacrifice and jail time in my youth and have since moved on to leading an Outlaw Band that advocates artistic and social freedom.  I remain friends with most of my old radical friends but my focus these days is raising kids, getting firewood, working on the lodge and stuff like that.
Pedal Steel photo, recording session at Shaw Cable Building, Quesnel BC, 2015

Really, really curious about your friendship with Todd Serious. Any stories to tell? (You climbed together?). In particular, I'm curious - since I gather you fish and raise chickens - what the conversation was like between you and Todd around the politics of eating meat... note that I'm an omnivore myself (but occasionally have tried to go without meat... I think six months is about my maximum time away).

 Todd and I had a friendship based on a mutual group of friends, a mutual love of punk rock, similar politics, similar understanding of our music scene and a drive to adventure in the mountains.  We did do a five day epic climb/hike once in the Cayoosh Mountains.  Our bands played a dozen shows together in Whistler, Vancouver, on the Island and elsewhere.  If I were gigging in Horsefly or Williams Lake he would show up unexpectedly to run sounds for us and invite us to his parents house.  I booked shows for them sometimes and twice was asked if I wanted to play in the band.  I set up their tour with the Restarts and pushed the northern folk festivals to book the Rebel Spell.  Here at Artswells Festival last year my property was empty without him here camping with us, he was part of the festival volunteering here for 5-6 years.  When we lost Todd I couldn't function, couldn't stop weeping...so finally I pulled myself together and drove down to Lillooet to be with everyone.  As terrible of a week that was, being with everyone there was a great memory.  We drank, we cried, we hugged.  Not only do I love Todd with all my heart but I love the people he, Stepha, Erin and Chris Rebel brought into my life.

We didn't discuss veganism much.  I was a vegetarian when we became friends more than a dozen years ago.  I admit I lived with west coast natives who had lots of wild meat, so I wasn't a very stict veggie...but I lost 60lbs when I contracted a lethal disease in 2006.  The doctors told me to eat meat now or I might die of consumption...so I did and I'll never go back.  Nobody who loves me faults me for this.

 I actually didn't know who Dudley George was until I heard your song about him, which Todd Serious had pointed me at when we were discussing Billy Bragg's "I Dreamed I Saw Phil Ochs Last Night." How did you come to write that song? I assume you were in Ontario when George was killed - were you politically engaged back then? (And since we're on the topic, what are relations with First Nations like up where you are? Anything people should know about? My knowledge of the geography of BC, outside the lower mainland, kind of blows, so I have no idea if your area will be impacted by the Site C dam...).

I was part of the movement to fight the Mike Harris Conservative Government.  Dudley George was a native warrior killed by a police officer over a land dispute in 1995.  These were the days that politicized me.  A local Mohawk warrior reached out to us and we got involved with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.  We started our own group in Belleville called Tenant Action Group which attracted some of natives from Tyendinega.  It was the Midwinter Society from Mohawk Territory that sponsored the production of my first record.  People in Ontario back then used to call my things like 'the singer of the movement,' so these were the kinds of songs I sang.  Beyond all that though my brother is an Anishnabe warrior, I have done business with warriors in multiple provinces, I've put on shows on reservations, I supported their protest camps often, I lived with them in Vancouver and built some friendships and alliances in BC that matter greatly to me.  My dad's side has native blood, I don't claim to be anything like that but it explains why I always understood the issues.

Beyond enjoying the sense of humour you find in native communities my abilities to hunt, fish, fall trees and climb mountains have made me many friends.  My dog comes from Neskonlith reservation.  I like native people more than I like whitey.  We have things in common. 

We also seem to have a mutual friend in Gerry Hannah - I gather you played some shows with him. Any stories there? Thoughts about Gerry - areas of agreement, disagreement, or consternation? (By the by, how old were you when the bomb went off at Litton Industries? I assume you were in Ontario at the time; was it on  your radar?) (I'm guessing you might be just a few years young for the arrest of the five to be part of your direct experience, since I *think* I'm older than you and was 13 or 14 when they were arrested...).

On Gerry Hannah,  I was five when they blew up the weapons plant in Toronto but I learned about the legends as my politics matured.  I actually met Ann Hansen long before I met Gerry.  She would still make appearances at activist functions back home (she has/had a couple Joey Only CD's too).  She lives near Kingston, Ontario which is an hour south east of where I grew up.  I read her book when I was very young and it was empowering to me.  Up till I read Direct Action I had only heard of the UK Subhumans so I went searching for a copy of the Canadian band.  I would say 15-20 years it was hard to get a copy of the Canadian Subhumans music out east where they weren't known very well.  I still listen to Incorrect Thoughts all the time, it's my kinda punk.

I first met Gerry and the gang on August 7th 2005.  It was their first reunion show in 20 years at Under the Volcano and I was opening act while they set up behind me.  I got to watch the show from on stage and at the time I was humbled.  Since then Gerry and I played a couple solo shows together at places like Kumsheen Canyon Whitewater Resort, we've talked on the phone once in a while and have visited with eachother.  He's someone I really appreciate, a very smart man. 

I was also lucky to work with Brian Goble a lot with PHS.  When Brian had his heart attack he was sitting in the same office chair I always did during the last two years I was in Vancouver.  I came down for the memorial at the WISE and saw everyone.  Knowing exactly which of my old clients were with him in the end created some painful thoughts, I didn't think things could be worse till Todd Serious died three months later.

Still, I feel lucky to have stories like these.

What got you playing music? When you were in punk bands in Ontario, was there ever a time when you hated country music?  How do people who listen to country music primarily tend to respond to your political side? Any unusual or amusing stories?

I have always hated Nashville pop country.  I grew up listening to Waylon, Willie, Johnny, CCR, Ozark Mountain Daredevils etc.  My love of punk dominated for a couple years but I eventually remembered that I liked rock and old school roots music.  I have a bass vocalist range, so I found singing Johnny Cash easier than singing blues songs.  I was a bass player in punk bands but I sang songs in my bedroom at night.  I was living on a farm 16 years ago and had no punk band to play in.  I started developing a folk show so I could take a guitar to any campfire, protest or street corner and say something.  I knew folk music would let me play small towns.  I didn't think it would take me anywhere, I regarded folk music as a hobby.

As far as my politics go, people don't seem to mind it when it's imbedded in my music.  A lot of country music fans see that I genuinely know the trade and I come from a legitimate background to be a country singer.  I'm not sure all my fans appreciate my Facebook posts but they get a kick out of me when I perform.  I used to sing a song called 'Stephen Harper is a Nazi Douchebag From Hell and I Hate Him So Goddamn Much - FUCK'.  I was singing it to a cowboy type audience in Calgary once and the whole room was roaring with laughter.  When I finished the song two of the laughing hillbillies in front of me were talking and one said to the other 'I voted for Harper, fuck'.  That's when I knew I could say anything if I had enough country cred, the right sound and songs that were really damn funny.

(Left: Joey Only at Artswells by Lynn Connor)
Who are your enduring musical heroes?

My first manager was John Irvine, the same man who was Stompin' Tom's first manager.  When some carny punched him after a show in Trenton Ontario (1998) Steve and the Bunchofuckingoofs came to the rescue. It was a carnival of chaos and carnage as advertised... carnies getting their asses kicked by BFG's.  Meeting the Subhumans, befriended Glenn Anus (from Toronto's Dirty Bird) and a bunch of other punk legends like the Rebel Spell...  I got to be mentored by another hero named Buffy St. Marie and to a lesser degree another named Utah Philips. 

I partied with people like Corb Lund and Gord Downie.  I don't really have many heroes but I have been lucky enough to meet some people I can't help but look up to.  My son is named Waylon, if I had any heroes at all it would be all five members of the Highwaymen.  Other than that the love of my life is Warren Spider Hastings, I grew up 15 minutes from him and his legendary Spiderland Punkfest.  I came of age with Spider being like a grandpa to me, I love him as much or more than any human who ever lived.

What's your history with Stompin' Tom? I gather you have a song written about him on the upcoming album. 

 On Stompin Tom, like I say, the very first agent I ever had work for me, John Irvine, was the same man who claimed to have discovered Stompin' Tom.  John's son Keegan loved my old punk band the Persecuted so John took on setting up our recording dates and essentially managing that band back in 1998.  In Stompin' Tom's book he speaks pretty lowly of John who may have been a different kind of guy back then... but despite the fact Tom didn't like him he never denied that John was indeed his first agent.

I never gave Tom the credit growing up I later realized he deserved.  Some of it I liked and mimicked a little but mostly I thought it was quirky flag waving music.  I never understood what an outlaw Tom was until I was much older.

People point out that I have an uncanny ability to mimic pretty much everything about Tom except his waste size.  This really was an accident.  I was modelling my shtick after the Johnny Cash rockabilly sound up until he died (2003) which is when everyone else started playing Johnny Cash songs (so I largely stopped).  It annoyed me that suddenly everyone was singing Johnny, especially as almost none of them could hit those important low bass notes.

As an anarchist, I was never going to sing about American cowboys, I was gonna sing about my own backyard and things I knew about.  Having a twangy bass vocal range sealed the deal.  I accidentally fell into my Stompin' Tom Tribute Act, people asked me to do it after he died only cause they could think of no one else who could pull the material off.  There was a big memorial show planned for him up here, in the end I was the only person who knew any of his songs... so we became essentially the only act of the memorial. A booking agent was at the show and next thing I knew I went on a string of casino shows pretending to be Stompin' Tom, I hated it but the money was great and the songs needed to be kept alive.  I had no idea how much money there was to be made off of a shtick like this.  I think Stompin' Tom would rather me sing my songs rather than spending so much time learning 40 of his...

Let it be said, I'm a huge Stompin' Tom fan.  I didn't know how bad ass he was.  Twice I stopped at the end of his driveway outside Guelph, Ontario but decided to keep driving.  Both times I had other musicians in the vehicle.  From what I know about him he might have welcomed me in the door, but if showed up with a vanload of grubby musicians it might not go so well.  Pretty jealous of Tim Hus for getting to play those last two Stompin' Tom tours, but the reality is Tim really deserved it more than I did.

 Anything you want to say about the Rickshaw show?

We're stoked for the Rickshaw Show.  It honestly doesn't suit our business plan to come down for it, we have the album launch in the WISE on Oct.9th... but when you get an offer to play with great bands on a great stage you run with it.  It will give us a chance to show off some of these hot new tunes we got.  It's a good bet we'll have some guests up there with us too like Steven Drake on steel guitar and Adam Farnsworth on keys.  One thing is for sure: we'll amp the energy up, we'll convince you to get another beer and we'll prove to the hipsters that hard-ass outlaw country music is the real deal.  This is the best lineup of musicians I've ever had...we'll roar like a locomotive flying down the mountain!
Joey Only Outlaw Band, Canada Games, Mainstage, Prince George, Feb 2015, photographer 
uncertain!

Once again, the Joey Only Outlaw Band's new album, No More Trouble in the Peace will be available this fall, with an upcoming album release in October at the WISE Hall. But come see this show too!