Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Invasives/ Byron Slack Interview, by way of John Wright, Nomeansno, and Rong: Of Feeling Good and Living Forever

This article will get to Invasives presently! ...But first, I figure the people who know Invasives' music - their bandcamp is here - will not mind a digression into John Wright's upcoming project. Wright - drummer for Nomeansno and frontman of the Hanson Brothers - has recorded his first post-Nomeansno album, and it features Byron Slack of Invasives (and Kristy-Lee Audette, of Rong, also playing the album release that this interview is written in regard to). So it is not entirely irrelevant. Surely no Invasives fan will mind the news of this other project, and perhaps some Nomeansno fans who don't know Invasives will discover them, given that John Wright himself is a fan and friend to the band?

So commence the digression!

Part One: John Wright's new project! 

In the spring of last year, despite fresh travel advisories from the BC government, my wife Erika and I travelled to Powell River to talk with John Wright (and visit his pub, The Wildwood). Some of that appeared in a German magazine last summer, but other than the odd mention of it on my blog, the article has not run in North America. To be honest, the interview wasn't even the biggest part of it, for me, since I've interviewed John Wright (and his brother Rob) more than once over the years. 

No, the peak for me of the experience was that I got to drink John's beer. I am very glad I got to do this, because I'd wanted to sample his beer for years. If I had had a beer bucket list, "beers to try before you die," it would have been the only beer on it. Which is fortunate, because - though I am not dead - it turns out to have been one of my very last beers ever, since a few months later I would discover that I had recurrent cancer in my tongue and be told to not drink alcohol, period. John's beer may not have been the last beer I had - I probably downed a few at shows afterwards - but (unless you count de-alked stuff) it is the last real beer I REMEMBER having, and as such, is a great beer to "go out on," so to speak, because it was absolutely yummy and well worth having waited for. 

Photo: Erika Lax

There was a lot else that took place, including, earlier in the day, trying "the Hanson" pizza at the Wildwood (where, note, you CANNOT as yet buy John's beer - the licensing didn't work out. But the beer there is great too!). I also got to meet Colin Macrae of Pigment Vehicle, who is one of John's partners in the Wildwood and runs the Powell River coffee shop Base Camp (or did last I heard - I haven't stayed in touch!). But the coolest part of the actual conversation was learning from John (who, unlike his brother, has not retired from music) about his new musical project, which he was inviting Ford Pier, Byron and Adam Slack of Invasives, and Kristy Lee of Rong to partake in (Adam Slack, it turned out, was not able to attend, though John hopes he can be involved in the future; also note, vocalist Selina Martin also contributed to songs via the internet, sending in tracks from France, and John's son Aiden also played some acoustic guitar). 

John Wright in Powell River, 2021, by Allan MacInnis, not to be reused without permission

Commence John Wright mini-interview: I am in italics, John is not, but he is indented a bit. As we join the conversation, we are talking about the impact of John having worked most of his musical career with a brother like Rob, with John admitting that in many regards, he was "a bit intimidated" meeting the standard set by Rob when putting together his upcoming record. 

John: ...The people who are going to listen to this are Nomeansno fans, and yeah, Robbie set the bar pretty high when it comes to the tone and the text and the songwriting, lyrically... I can string together words sometimes that are clever, and silly Hanson Brothers songs are okay, but Robbie was the lyricist in the band. Robbie could find the emotional tone in his words that makes the music mean something. And the music - it worked both ways; I could write music that gave Rob that palette to emote on. So we worked well together. He didn't find it difficult to write words to my songs, and his words gave the songs an emotional and intellectual depth to the feeling. Like, I write a song and I know just how this song needs to feel, lyrically. But I can't necessarily do that, I'm just not as talented a lyricist...

...So I had all these songs that I really [couldn't] come up with anything lyrically for, so I thought, maybe I'll farm a few out... [plus] I play drums, and I play keyboards, [but] I play very rudimentary guitar and bass, and to be in a band and play some of these songs, some of the stuff is kind of complicated and beyond me, although I've tried to simplify things to suit my abilities. But I knew that eventually maybe Ford or Byron or people I know would come and help: "Do you want to play some guitar on this song?" And also I said, "Ford, hey, I've got this song and no lyrics, do you have any ideas?" Byron was sending me music for the robots, for instance [John Wright provided vocals and lyrics for the Compressorhead album, where the music was played by robots - this being a few years ago now]: "I've got these demos, these ideas." So we were exchanging things amongst ourselves, primarily with Byron and Ford, and I talked about how it would be awesome if Adam could play some bass for me. But this was a couple of years ago, and as time goes on - I'm busy with the bar, they're busy with their lives, and Adam has a baby, and blah-blah-blah. And there was no timeframe set. 

But Ford has written some music for one song which is on the new album, and he wrote another song that is complete that is not on the album [a second release is also in the works!]. And Byron wrote some lyrics to my songs, and then he sent up a song and I rearranged it and edited the words. So we've kind of collaborated on some stuff. [There was] about a year of talking about them coming up and doing some recording and replacing some of my guitars and working on these songs that I'd written together - I'm speaking primarily about Byron here. And Kristy [his partner], whom I'd never met - it was like, "Kristy plays trumpet, she plays guitar, she's kind of a multi-instrumentalist." "Awesome, I've got horn parts, maybe she wants to play those?" And she did. She came up, she played some horn, she did some singing, And Byron did some guitar and some singing, the background 'gang vocal' kind of stuff. It was awesome. And the next album is well on its way, and hopefully I'm going to get them to do more. The opening song is Byron's song and mine. 

Can we know the name? 

The first track is called "Just Breathe," which is essentially a Byron song that I turned on its head and did a lot of changes to. Primarily his words and primarily his music, but I completely rearranged it, like "Hey, Byron, you know that song you sent me? Well, I kinda changed it. In fact, I changed the title!" 

There's an Invasives song on Robot Stink called "Stop and Breathe." 

Yeah, I forgot about that, actually, until afterwards, when I was doing a little Invasives binge on Spotify and thought "Oh fuck!" But they're not the same. 

Okay, so, about Invasives. Do you have favourite songs of Invasives, or something you've done with them that you want to talk about...? 

Invasives, from the moment I heard them and saw them - what a fucking great band. Really strong songwriting and just great live. So I've been a fan from the gitgo. I think it was Blair Calibaba that introduced Invasives to us, and then of course they played some shows and did some tours with us. I haven't been involved in any of their songwriting or recording, but a couple of times they have asked my opinion about which songs to do in what order. So I've offered my opinions here and there. The last album [Just Another Under the Sun], I heard some roughs and gave some opinions on that. Byron and Adam have always reached out to me about their recordings and asked my opinions about this-that-and-the-other thing, but [their music] is entirely them, what they do and produce, and it's great. The new album is very strong - I'm afraid I don't have the song titles all in my head or in front of me, but they did five more songs for the album [than are on it]. They were talking about wanting it to be different from their other records; they went to a different studio, and they didn't have Dave Ogilvie mixing it. And some of the song arrangements are a little different on this one. They kind of sent me the songs in the order they wanted and the bonus tracks, the extra tracks, and I said, "I'd include all of the extra tracks on the album. If you want this to be different, here you go!" 

But they eventually decided on their own order, and it was primarily what they originally had. But there are five outtakes that are awesome. I think there'll be an EP of them...

Something Byron and I talk about [below]: bands that are influenced by Nomeansno. And he is happy to acknowledge that he was influenced by Nomeansno, as is Ford Pier. But there is also the question of what he thinks is a sort of regional sound, which includes math-rock or, sorry, "prog" influences in punk, in bands like Pigment Vehicle, Removal, and maybe Victims Family. I wonder about that - if there's a regional aspect to this sound, that Nomeansno participates in, that comes from somewhere else? Or does it all sort of start in terms of technical, mathy punk with Nomeansno, in terms of the West Coast at least...? I mean... do you hear Invasives and think, "Hm, they sound a bit like Nomeansno?"

Personally I never thought Invasives sounded like Nomeansno. When I first heard them, I thought, "They sort of sound like Helmet" - total riff-driven, hard-hitting songs. And they like to fuck up the time signature a lot. They blend time signatures. I like doing that, too. There's one song, "The Hawk Killed the Punk," where at one point, one of us is in 3/4, one of us is in 4/4, and one of us is in 5/4, all at the same time, then eventually it all comes together and ends. I like doing that a lot, and Byron does that a lot, which is cool. I like that. And they reminded me of Victims Family a bit, though I know they never heard Victims Family til later... but in terms of a regional sound... uh...

[This leads to a long discussion of actual influences, John's lack of interest in prog bands, and the possibility that Rob Wright, eight years older, had listened to that proggy stuff more than John. It remains an inconclusive conversation which takes us far afield from Invasives, so... End John Wright mini-interview!]

So that's how cool Invasives are, if you didn't already know. (As for John's new project, it is still a ways from any release date, and note, there is no great news yet about Nomeansno reissues: John explains that all the existing materials in the band's possession, including lacquers, CDs, vinyl, and what tape exists, have been turned over to Alternative Tentacles. Since many original masters and much of the art has not been returned to the band by Southern Records, there is a slow, laborious process of rebuilding things, with no fixed date as to when it will be completed). 

Meantime, people looking for a high-energy, super-smart, precisely-played punk onslaught like you might expect from Nomeansno - though from a band who are indeed very different, as John notes - are directed to Buddha's on November 26th to see Invasives perform...! Also note that Rong, on the bill, has a new album called Würst, which is out now on vinyl (digital release upcoming in February) and a new single, "Queezey." (I do not know what Pet Blessings are up to!) 

Commence Byron Slack interview; again, I am in italics, Byron is not. You may also enjoy my previous Invasives feature here, from 2016. 

See you at Buddha's!

Part Two: Byron Slack and Invasives

Allan: I have always associated Invasives with Nomeansno – maybe because I saw you open for them, maybe because there are two brothers in a three-piece band, maybe because sometimes your rhythm section owes a bit of a debt to Nomeansno on some songs (the intro to “Below the Salt,” for example, sounds very Rob and John to me, and some of the guitar riffing and background vocals on “Piece of Land” seems very Wrong-era Andy)… you’re obviously very DIFFERENT from Nomeansno, but could you talk about their importance to your history? What have you learned personally or musically from Nomeansno? Do you have any favourite memories of seeing them live or sharing stages with them? Any insights in how to be a band that you’ve gained from them?

Byron: Well that’s one heck of an opening question Allan! What band is this interview featuring anyway?!?! ;) Kidding aside, I feel that some of my songwriting choices owe more debt to those gents than our rhythm section. After spending a lot of time with their music you can hear a shift in our recorded material mid 2000’s as we sponged up so much from those guys while under their wing, though I do feel that our time of wearing that on our sleeve is not as present now as it once may have been. The “Below the Salt” intro in my imagination was a reference to Missy Elliot’s “The Rain (Supa DupaFly)” but then I can hear what you are sighting, tight loud bass and a drummer who is locked into the accents and groove are an attribute of NMN. Victims Family is one of my favourites as well and that also leads down a path that one could argue has similarities to NMN.

I would prefer to be associated with what in my mind is at this point a regional sound, the Ford Pier Vengeance Trio, Pigment Vehicle, Removal, all these groups we pull influence from as well. A big happy artistic pool of muck. 

The background vocals on “Piece Of Land” is John Reddit of the unfortunately defunct War Baby, he was visiting the studio and we asked if he could step in the booth, I am so happy he did, it was great to have him add his touch to those back up vocals.

The Germans in particular are very excited about the upcoming return to music for John Wright… have you played Germany before? (Are there places outside Vancouver where your music is particularly appreciated?). Any impressions of music fandom in Germany, stories about Germany...? 

We have played many shows in Germany though this goes back a few years so there are some cobwebs in my memory bank. Most of the touring we did overseas was concentrated in Germany and Eastern Europe.

I know that if you drive a van with Dutch plates in Germany you are going to get pulled over by the police over and over again because they think you are transporting contraband.

I had my toiletries bag stolen out of the van in Berlin but they left my laptop, very considerate on their part.

Great venues, great shows, lovely people we were very welcomed and well looked after. There are many folks I miss, it’s been too long and we would love to go back as soon as is possible. Much love Deutschland. 

Invasives by bev davies, 2015, I think at the Hindenburg (formerly John Barley's and maybe once a Cruel Elephant locale?), not to be reused without permission

If we could go back to your early days, what was the prehistory of the band? When did you first start playing live as Married to Music? (Had the Slack brothers been making music together before then...?). What was the musical context of your earliest shows – who were you opening for, where were you playing?  Has the lineup been consistent since, or have there been changes? 

Adam and I have played music together as far back as I can remember, our father ran the local FM radio station CKGO where we grew up in Hope BC. so music was always a part of our household. We have music that we recorded on a boom box dating back to the mid 80’s so it’s really something we do as a way to express ourselves together and still enjoy. We were in bands together in our teens during the 90’s and then through that process met Hans and decided to play in a group together around 2001. We played around Surrey and the lower mainland and eventually made the move to Vancouver after recording our first full length as Married to Music, The Worlds Gotta Go Round, in 2003.  

Very soon thereafter we found ourselves on the road opening for our heroes Removal and then SNFU who put out our sophomore effort Sweet Kicking and Screaming in 2005. We have been very lucky to have been supported by so many great bands. It’s been the same three guys in Invasives for all these years, it wouldn’t be Invasives if all three of us were not present. The sound we create is the result of us working with our strengths and producing something that we all feel is ours. We try and one up with each consecutive release, weather we do is up to the listener. It’s been a wonderful journey.

I caught an early Married to Music gig, maybe two, I think at the Red Room… once opening for Nomeansno, and once… did you open for SNFU there? (I seem to recall Mr. Chi Pig being present in a red shirt that Goony had gotten when he cleared out the estate of Ray Condo. but I'm not sure if he sang that night or was just THERE). I remember the vocals being a bit more abrasive but the band being quite tight… How do you feel about those early days now? How and when and WHY did you transition from being called Married to Music, anyhow? Do you still play any of the Married to Music songs, live?

We have transitioned our first two albums under the name “Married to Music” to be housed in our Invasives universe (Please see the streaming service of your choice). Yes we still do play many of those songs in our live set as there are some favorites of ours and fans alike. Sometimes still there are folks at shows who recognise us from 20 years ago and ask if we were ever in a band called Married to Music.

Due to our dislike of the name Married to Music and the opportunities at the time we bit the bullet and renamed ourselves Invasives, after invasive species. I like to think that it suits us well, three annoying guys that just won’t go away. Fitting right?  

Speaking of musical influences and the proggier side of the band, do you care about Rush? (I do not myself care about Rush – I respect them but I don’t want to listen to them much. You?). What about the minutemen? (Did you ever see the minutemen live, or share a stage with Watt?). 

I think Rush is great, tho I never choose to spin a record, I saw them live once and it was fantastic. I have only ever really listened to Double Nickels on The Dime by the Minutemen, another amazing band. Never met or shared a stage with the mighty Mike Watt. However, we get compared to both bands often, which is honorable in my mind.

I always wondered about the title of the album Desk Job at Castle Dracula. What was that in reference to? The cover art for that album is really striking – can you tell us about it?

Desk Job at Castle Dracula (2010) refers to the day job that is sucking your life’s blood. We thought it was fun and also something that people would identify with.. I feel like it’s one of our best artistic outings as well as one of our most challenging.

We commissioned the cover art to local Jordan Bent and had requested an image of Count Dracula as the Birth of Venus and what you see is what he returned with. Personally, I love it.

If I could ask about my two very favourite past Invasives songs, what was the context of writing “LivingYour Life Like It’s Somebody Else’s” and “Stop & Breathe?” They kind of stand out on Robot Stink - they're a bit poppier, a bit more tuneful, a bit less intense than the surrounding songs, like they could have been "radio hits" if bands like Invasives had radio hits ("Abstract World" seems to be their equivalent on the new album). But neither are the dominant mode of songwriting that Invasives do. Are different members of the band taking the foreground in the songwriting on those? Is there a conscious decision to put one or two "lighter" songs on the album? Or do you just end up with a few different flavours, when assembling an album? 

During the Robot Stink sessions we were attempting to write an album that was simple and psychedelic, kinda dreamy. Those two tunes are still favorites to play live and I can understand why they are considered poppy, especially “Living your Life”. We wrote sooooo many songs for that album and picked the ones that turned out the best. The further away I get from that album the more of an anomaly it seems. Ryan Merchant recorded it and Dave Ogilvie mixed that album and it turned out absolutely bananas. We get compliments on the bass sound still.  

Is Ford Pier involved on the new album? (“Abstract World” kind of has a Ford Pier flavour, but I wonder if that’s just an accident borne of his also being somewhat influenced by Nomeansno?). Do you have a favourite Ford Pier song? He’s filled in for members of the band at past gigs, hasn’t he? Any Ford Pier stories are welcome - I really like Ford, but I always kind of feel like he's smarter than I am.  

Ford was not involved in this album however I totally love Ford's music, I feel like our tune “Just Another Under The Sun” deserves more credit as a track that holds some of his influence, tho I can see some of that in “Abstract World”.  My favorite Ford track, that’s tough, I love “Legionnaire’s Song,” “Maybe It Cameat the Wong Time,” “When We Were Poor.” The last album with the Vengeance Trio, Expensive Tissue. is phenomenal as a whole. Ford is fearless when it comes to composing so many amazing tracks.

I agree. Coming back to Feel Good Live Forever, there’s stuff happening on “Ocean Park” that I don’t get, musically. There’s a quiet little swirl of what sounds like electronica in the first minute, but maybe that’s just guitar with effects? The solos that kick in about 1:15 in the song sound like it’s guitar being filtered through a harmonica or something. What am I hearing?  (Do I hear a reference to an "abstract world" in the lyrics at the end of that song, too? Is there a lyrical theme to the album, a conceptual continuity...?). 

No electronics on that number, just one guitar one bass and drums, I think that bit at the beginning you;re hearing is some harmonic runs up and down the guitar strings. It is an extremely stark track and for sure the wackiest on the record. I play the guitar solo at 1:15 and there is some heavy lifting on the whammy bar at wicked loud volumes, no harmonica necessary!  Yes, I do a call back to the song “Abstract World,” the album is a conversation regarding disillusionment and successfully lifting one’s self from the distortion of perceived personal shortcomings. We are all human, don’t sweat the small stuff, stardust dude, nothing really matters, Life Is But A Dream.

I wonder what the song “Cats Blood” is about? I can’t really make out the lyrics – can you provide them? “Free theLeeches” too – a very curious title. Are we talking literal or figurative leeches? ("Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed"-type leeches, preying on bands?). Trivially, I once put leeches on myself at a pond to see what it would feel like, and to practice removing them. I kind of like leeches, but then, I'm a music journalist.

"Cats Blood" is a break up song, classic right! The individual goes to some dark places as one does, but they do recognize that what they want is not going to help and not good for them, and either is the person they have parted ways with. So it’s a positive, the night is darkest before it starts to get light again …or something like that.

"Free the Leeches" is about taking a daypass into someone else’s distress and misfortune to which then the participant feels the audacity to share their experience and expertise of. Big opinions of individuals whose investment is benefiting them and not the community they are imagining to support.

 Is there a typical approach to songwriting...? Who writes the lyrics? Do you have the music before you add words to it, or…? 

I write the lyrics, and Adam, Hans and I work on the music, passing demos back and forth in email, or jamming out small ideas. Every song tends to form a little differently. I love the ones that seem to drop out of the air; "Cats Blood" was one of those. The music spurs the words, once there is a theme or feeling it builds out of that. Sometimes its vague, sometimes its right on the nose. For every 10 album tracks there are hordes of abandoned ideas and bad songs.

The COVER for this album is fantastic. Where are those fucking warthogs, anyhow? (Those are warthogs, right?). Where did that come up as a cover idea?

That is a real photo! Taken by a Mr. Filip Jandourek in Bangladesh, he was taking pictures of some other subjects and turned around and saw these two boars and snapped a shot. I came across the photo somewhere on line and reached out asking if our little Canadian band could utilize the image. He’s a lovely guy and we worked out the details.

I like to think of the album cover as Pink Floyd meets the Dayglo Abortions.

 [The title] Feel Good Live Forever rounded up the whole package perfectly, from there it was off to the races.

Why that title? Anything else we should say about the album, in terms of guest players, credits, or fun trivia? 

We were going to call the album “Abstract World” for the longest time, but after we attained the artwork we agreed that we needed a better title to go with the image. I was looking at positive affirmations like “Live laugh Love” or something ridiculous like that and was scanning the lyrics of the album track “Sundown” and saw the line “Do you Feel Good? Oh ya, Live Forever”.

The light bulb went pop, a lovely surprise just waiting there to be found.

Anything you want to say about the upcoming gig is welcome. How are gigs happening at Buddha’s again? (Does it still have that awkward skate ramp curvature on either side of the floor?). Any history with Rong or Pet Blessings? 

The show is going to be great, I love the bands that have joined the bill, Rong and Pet Blessings are both incredible two of the best bands in Vancouver, they are gonna destroy! We feel so lucky to have such amazing supportive friends and family participating in this event that celebrates a lot of hard work and the release of our noisy little record. Hope to see ya at the show.

Invasives courtesy Byron Slack. Gig information here - Nov. 26th at Buddha's (the former SBC Cabaret/ Smilin' Buddha location, which I gather is quite different from the SBC Cabaret days - the ramps are gone, for one thing (but so is the stage, so getting up front is advised, if you want to see stuff!). . 

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