Published Jun 18, 2013When singer-songwriter Brohan Moore and guitarist Alec O'Hanley started the Danks, they probably never thought it would become a full-time band. Formed during solo recordings in Moore's parents' basement and swapping members with Two Hours Traffic and other Maritime rock acts, the Charlottetown natives released their debut LP, 2009's gloriously underrated Are You Afraid of the Danks?, to critical fanfare and attention before disappearing completely. While O'Hanley continued on with THT, Moore traveled west for a degree in journalism. And although the scrappy power pop outfit never announced their break up officially, for a while it seemed like one of Canada's greatest unknown bands would simply fade into obscurity. But after a four-year hiatus, the Danks are back and better than ever with their new LP, GANK, finally seeing it's long-awaited release today.
Moore, O'Hanley and drummer Phil MacIsaac sat down with Exclaim! to talk about the band's recent move to Toronto, parting ways with Two Hours Traffic and the bizarre meaning behind the title of their new album.
What's the origin story behind the band?
O'Hanley: Brohan and Phil were in a band called the Robots. The band and Brohan parted ways — I don't know under what terms, but they're still all buddies. So Brohan had a bunch of songs that were kind of poppier. He moved into my college apartment and then played me some songs. [To Brohan] You had kind of like a solo record you did in your parent's basement and I played on that a little bit. Then we brought in Phil and Chris [Doiron] from the Robots. We just kind of took their rhythm section. Well, borrowed, I guess.
MacIsaac: There's a lot of that in the East Coast.
O'Hanley: We just kept playing whenever we could. All our recordings to that point were in Halifax, recording with Chuck [Charles] Austin from Super Friendz. He's still our unofficial guru.
Were you all studying at the University of Prince Edward Island at the time?
O'Hanley: Yep. These two were doing religious studies and Chris and I were doing chemistry.
MacIsaac: This goes way back. We've had different variations and different members and stuff. So it was kind of informal for a while, but now we all live in Toronto.
Alec, when you guys were kicking things off you were still in Two Hours Traffic. But obviously it's pretty normal, especially on the East Coast, to be in numerous bands. Was this more of a side project for you while you were working with THT?
O'Hanley: There was more of a focus because we had a label, so it was focused by default. But in terms of enjoyment and fun, I was equally passionate — for lack of a better word — about the Danks. It was just always fun to play with, where THT could get kind of bogged down with stock bullshit band kind of stuff. You know, just the stereotypical bullshit. But we're all friends and that's how it all started. Luckily, it's stayed that way, especially with the Danks. We just all hang out and have fun.
I remember when the debut full-length came out I was really excited about it. But after the record was released you guys toured for a bit and then it just kind of seemed like you stopped playing altogether. Was it meant to be a permanent hiatus, or did it just kind of become that way over time?
MacIsaac: I don't know if we ever dealt in absolutes in that way.
Moore: I think we all wanted to just…
O'Hanley: Well, Brohan went to school.
I think I heard that you went to McMaster University to do journalism, right?
O'Hanley: So that was the point where we were like, "Okay, is this going to be sustainable? Can we pull this off?" We resolved to cut some demos, a lot of which made it on GANK, and we just prayed that Phil would move up to Toronto at some point.
MacIsaac: Which was inevitable. A big part of it [the move] was being in Charlottetown. Not to say that it's a really shitty scene or anything, because there are really talented people there. But as far as a launching pad for your career, it's just about the worst place you could be.
O'Hanley: You have to be so mobile if you're doing it from there. Bands do that. It's just a lot more work and, frankly, we're pretty lazy.
MacIsaac: I think most musicians are. Maybe that's why they become musicians in the first place.
Moore: Well, that's the only reason we came back to music, because we all tried our hand at the stock market for a couple years and it just didn't pan out. We were hoping to spend the rest of our summers just lazing around doing nothing on PEI on the beach.
Too many stocks in Nortel?
Moore: Yeah, too many. We just lost everything.
O'Hanley: The Lehman Brothers take a lot of flack for the 2008 crash, but we were actually behind the scenes, unraveling capitalism.
Moore: So now we're back at music.
Well, great. Thanks for ruining Western civilization for all of us.
MacIsaac: You're welcome.
O'Hanley: Go China!
You mentioned the demos, so when was this, time wise?
O'Hanley: I guess this was the start of…well, 2011, I guess. The end of 2011 we finished it up. Then we started recording last summer. We finished it and had artwork ready. Phil was doing the artwork in PEI. We kind of asked our label, "Do you think this sounds good?" and they were like, "Yeah, it's wicked!" But then, I don't know, it just didn't pass the up-to-snuff test, so I ended up remixing most of it myself with Ian McGettigan [ex-Thrush Hermit, producer and sound engineer], another East Coaster. But we got er' done and did some tracking. We're just kind of becoming more self-sufficient as we go along. We'll probably start recording and just releasing shit out of the basement. It's where we're most comfortable and you can work really quickly. Not that we didn't have a ton of time with Jeff McMurrich [producer on GANK] at his studio. It's just the proper studio thing, not that we'll never do it again, but…
MacIsaac: I just don't think it's really necessary at this point.
O'Hanley: Who knows what six months from now will hold.
So do you guys all live together now? O'Hanley: Yeah.
So you have a little basement studio going on?
O'Hanley: Yeah, it's just a cassette eight-track. It was, like, the last tape machine Tascam ever made. It's from 2001, or something, which is fucked for a tape machine. But it's great. It's super cool. People are like, "Why would you want to fit eight tracks onto a cassette?" It has no bandwidth at all, but it's fun and Brohan does a lot of Garage Band sort of stuff, as everyone does.
What's it like recording with Garage Band? Is it versatile, or after a while does it get kind of annoying?
Moore: It's pretty annoying. It's a little better now that I'm using that snowball mic, but…
O'Hanley: You hear things like Wavves did that record on Garage Band, or whoever, or Grimes, and you wonder what their method is, because it seems so insane. Like, you can only track one thing at once, right?
MacIsaac: And the program itself gets really bogged down just after a few layers.
Moore: After five tracks it starts being like, "There are too many tracks!" It starts fucking overheating.
O'Hanley: It would be really nice to just cut the computer out completely. Every band waxes romantically about that notion. I've had to take courses to mix over the winter and shit, because I was just tired of having to wait for other people schedules to line up. So I had to learn, like, what's an EQ. Then you learn that EQ is actually delay and all this weird philosophy shit, engineering, physics stuff behind it. So we're just trying to be as D.I.Y. as we can be.
What was the recording process like for this one? Because your previously record you didn't record in Toronto, right?
O'Hanley: Yeah, we did it at the…what's it called?
MacIsaac: The Echo Chamber [in Halifax.]
And you recorded this at a studio in [Toronto's] Kensington Market?
O'Hanley: Yeah, it's called 6 Augusta. A very nice studio, it's beautiful. But we had a different drummer — Adam Hindle — playing with us. He's a go-to guy around town. Great guy. He plays with the Big Sound and he used to play with Germans.
Moore: Dwayne Gretzky.
MacIsaac: He played with Dwayne?
Moore: Still does.
I was wondering, is Ian (McGettigan) based out of here now, or is he still in the Maritimes? O'Hanley: He's out here for the time being. He could pick up and move to Romania tomorrow. He's one of those cool guys.
Moore: That wouldn't surprise me in the least.
O'Hanley: He's great. He's a good guru. He'll tell if you something sounds like shit, won't butter it up, and for that we value his input. So he's another unofficial guru.
This is more of a personal question for Alec, but what made you decide to focus on the Danks full-time instead of Two Hours Traffic?
O'Hanley: I wanted to move and those boys weren't really ready to do that. I mean, we did our thing. It's tough being in a band. I don't know how Sloan did it with four principal songwriters. It's a lot of creative input to balance. I don't know, we're still huge buddies with all those boys. Derek [Ellis, drummer for THT] was in town and we went to a baseball game with him last week. Andy [MacDonald, bassist and now lead guitarist for THT] used to be our bass player. Yeah, it's just like, I got an email one day saying, "I don't think you can be in this band anymore," and I was like, "Okay, thank you."
MacIsaac: I mean, really it was a kind of coming-of-age thing. Liam [Corcoran, THT's singer] is married, right? So he's not leaving the island anytime soon.
O'Hanley: Yeah, it's totally understandable. And I was kind of ramping things up with my girlfriend [singer-songwriter Molly Rankin] too with Alvvays, which is the name of that band. So I just kind of had to evaluate where my love lay. The Danks were always fun and Brohan had a lot of new songs that I was really excited about, like some of those earlier ones like "Who is You" and "Sharpshooter." I don't know. It just seemed like we were more on the same page. The same goes for Phil and for Brian [Murphy, bassist for the Danks] now too. There's a mental, telepathic sort of bond.
So were you living in Toronto during all of this?
O'Hanley: No, I was in Charlottetown when that all started going down, so Molly and I were like, "Okay, Brohan is up in London. We may as well fly the coop," so we moved up here. We're so lucky to have found a nice place. Our landlord works for the National Film Board and is totally cool with us jamming in the basement and he's always recommending video directors and stuff. It was just a great move for everybody.
So what's it like for you guys now being stationed in Toronto? Do you find it way more fun?
O'Hanley: Yeah, it's great. (Laughs.)
Moore: Absolutely. There's definitely more going on and way more to do and just more fun to be had. I think we all just felt like we were there for a bit too long and just had to get out for a bit, even though I still love going home. I'm looking forward to going home and checking out the beach.
O'Hanley: Three months out of the year it's the best place on earth. Well, maybe not earth.
MacIsaac: Aesthetically, it's nice. You can say that much.
I'm sure you're going to get this in every interview you do, but what does GANK mean?
Moore: Gank is a Charlottetown street word, basically. You can hear it being screamed from the banks of north river late at night.
Are you serious? Is that actually a thing?
O'Hanley: It's pretty Tabula Rasa. [Laughs.]
MacIsaac: It's interchangeable.
O'Hanley: It's just like, you know, "Hey, can you play that part that went GANK GANK?" [Mimes guitar strumming.]
MacIsaac: We use it when we're talking about recording a lot. We just find these weird words to describe sounds because there aren't actually words for them.
Moore: "Play that ganky guitar part again! GANK, GANK, GANK!"
O'Hanley: We could have called it, like, SKRONK.
Moore: Or DUDGE, DUDGE, DUDGE. BRAKK, BRAKKA, BRAKKA
MacIsaac: DUDGE, DUDGE, DUDGE. That's how we describe tom drums.
O'Hanley: It also means steal, which we do constantly from Wal-Mart. [Laughs.]
Moore: It also means cocaine, I've been told, which I think describes our sound perfectly.
Isn't that when cocaine drips down your throat? Or is that gak?
Moore: I thought gak was that slimy stuff you manipulate? [Note: Gak is a brand of toy putty made by Nickelodeon.]
O'Hanley: Well, isn't gak that little baby, like, not barf, but not spit up?
Anyways, is there anything else you guys would like to add? Is the NXNE showcase you're playing going to be the official album release?
O'Hanley: I don't know. I'm not sure what constitutes an album release these days. It might be that. We play the Piston [in Toronto] on June 27 too, so that may be it.
Do you have tours planned for the future?
O'Hanley: We got some stuff on the docket, but we're still cooking it. We just shot a video last week and we're finishing it up tomorrow.
What song is that for?
O'Hanley: "Experimental Fiction."
MacIsaac: It was shot at Aunties and Uncles [in Toronto]. Have you been there? It's a brunch spot.
O'Hanley: It's where our bassist works right now.
MacIsaac: It's a really cool place. The guy who runs it, Russ, is a collector and has a bunch of cool posters and stuff. Really nice guy.
Moore: A really vibey guy. [Laughs.]
Well, I guess that wraps it up.
O'Hanley: All right. Pants back on, interview over.