By Vish KhannaToronto’s Republic of Safety recently announced they’d be closing their borders for good with a couple of farewell shows that would double as CD release parties for their final release, Succession. In a candid interview, co-founder/guitarist Jonny Dovercourt discusses the break-up, the new record, and what will become of Republic officers Maggie MacDonald (vocals), Marlena Kaesler (bass/vocals), Steve Sidoli (drums), and Martin Eckart (saxophone).
I guess we should get right to the big news here Jonny; why is Republic of Safety closing up its borders for good? Basically, myself and Maggie MacDonald were the founders and creative directors of the band and we started moving in different directions in terms of what we wanted artistically. Maggie wanted to take things in more of a folk-meets-synth-pop direction and, y’know I like both those genres but not enough to really get excited about it or have it be my main musical project. I’ve always been happy with the band’s sound and felt like it really didn’t need much tinkering, just honing. So basically, I wanted to stay on the straight-and-narrow and she wanted to take it in this other direction. We just kinda talked about it and decided that, rather than doing it for the sake of doing it and having something that we were both not happy with, we thought it was better to call it a day, move on to other projects, and most importantly, stay friends.
It does sound rather amicable then, like you’re all getting along despite the creative differences. Well, we’re grown-ups! We’re adults! That’s the most satisfying thing about it really. Rather than it being, "Eff you, it’s over! I hate you!”
Like when you were 18 or something. Or even 28! It’s nice to be mature about it and accept that, y’know, we had a good run and we’re happy with what we produced but, it’s like "mission accomplished." Every project has a life span and we’ve come to the end of this one but it’s not the end of the road for us as artists or creative people.
That’s good to hear. When bands break up, it can be something of a headache sorting through paperwork and belongings but is it particularly difficult to shut down a whole republic? Is it like a diplomatic nightmare? (Laughs) Well, we’re just closing our borders and letting the rest of the world sort it out themselves. No one’s allowed in anymore. Maybe it’s like we’re becoming more like North Korea; we’re just shutting out the rest of the world and seceding into the hermit kingdom. Maybe that should be the name of the next band: Hermit Kingdom. I’m sure someone’s used that already.
Hermit Kingdom, that’s sounds pretty good. Do you have any sense of what’s next musically for the members of Republic of Safety? Maggie’s talking about doing something in this folk/synth-pop vein, sort of like Billy Bragg meets OMD...
Billy Bragg meets OMD?! That’s…incredible. That’s what she wants to do. I want to see what she comes up with and, who knows, maybe I’d be involved in some way. I’m not going to rule that out but probably not. Marlena is jamming with a band but it’s still pretty new. Steve Sidoli is currently playing in Teenanger, which is basically three-quarters of the band Quebexico, with a different bass player. They’re really great from what I’ve heard at practices — kind of a '70s, New York punk, Richard Hell-ish thing. Martin, our sax player is from Guelph and is also a member of Elbow Beach Surf Club and Special Purpose. As for me, I don’t really know. I’m looking forward to laying low and getting back to basics. I just wanna write some songs and see what comes out of it but I don’t really have any big plans. This might sound crazy but [in February] I’m celebrating the 20th anniversary of forming my first band.
Oh wow. So, I feel like it’s been a long run; I don’t know if I’m done but…
Wait a minute, so you were like 14 or 15? Fourteen; I’m in my mid-30s now and I’m getting reflective. Like, "What’s this about?” I want to take a break and see what happens naturally rather than trying to force something.
Yeah, it’s always nice when you can do that of your own volition. It’s horrible to feel forced into doing something creative. Well, you know in the past, every time a band broke up I’d just be like, "All right, new band! I’ll show those mothertruckers! They’ll never mess with Jonny Dovercourt again!” Being a grown-up and all, feeling motivated by that kind of "proving yourself” mentality is… it gets pretty old. We’ll see what happens; I think I’ll do something again but it might not happen for a while but I’m not stressed out about it.
You’re going out with a bang of sorts because you’re sending the Republic of Safety off with a brand new four-song EP called Succession. What can you tell us about this record? It’s funny because we actually recorded it twice and this is the second time we recorded these songs. They’re not the newest songs; we started playing them in late 2005 or early 2006, so they’re probably familiar to people. We first recorded in 2006 when Evan Davies was still our drummer, right after we played our triumphant gigs at the Hillside Festival in Guelph and opening for Mission of Burma in Toronto.
Right, those were great shows. Those were great shows; career highlights for me I would say. Definitely the Hillside show was like the best show we ever played.
You guys were fantastic that day, I must say. Thanks man. So, we recorded these songs with my friend Andrew McAllister who’s a fellow Scarborough-ian that I’ve known since high school. He didn’t actually play in my first band but he was the "producer” of my first band because he always had lots of technological toys and helped us record some of the demos for my high school band. Republic of Safety shared a practice space with his band Soft Copy, so I asked him to record us there. The first takes sounded really good. We just did bed tracks and some vocals but then took a year off because Maggie went on this long tour with the Hidden Cameras. In 2007, we started playing again but Evan had decided he wasn’t really into the band anymore and parted ways with us. We had a couple of shows with a drum machine — including one in Guelph, which is where we met Martin — and I really enjoyed those, as a fun little experiment. Martin came up and spontaneously played sax at the invitation of Maggie and Marlena, much to my horror. I want everything to be organised and they knew I was going to hate this idea so they invited him without asking me! Luckily Martin was a brilliant improviser and it worked out really well. He’s never been to a band practice; he just comes up and ad-libs. The only time we’ve ever worked on parts together is when we were recording. Then Steve joined us on drums and solidified the sound so much, we felt like we needed to record the songs from scratch. So, we recorded them in May and took our sweet time to hone the sound, get the sax parts down, and all the vocal harmonies and getting a good mix. We finished it at the end of the summer and, after it was done, we made the decision that we weren’t gonna do the band anymore. We hadn’t been able to agree on what kind of songs to write, so there was nowhere to go from there.
In terms of Succession, it seems a bit different than past Republic of Safety records; do you think fans might be surprised when they hear it? I think people will be, yeah. People who were expecting this hard, bracing, onrushing punk sound may be a little disappointed but it might appeal to a wider audience. I think it’s a very commercial-sounding record and not in a bad way. It’s definitely comparably slick.