Published Feb 19, 2008Electric and nervy post-punk? Have we entered a time warp? If we have, well, fuck it, because when these young Guelph-via-Oshawa, ON natives get things perfectly aligned, these songs are some magical musical amphetamines. Though instrumental track "Knock Out the Fat sets the mood, the proper introduction comes from the title track, which, at its peak, feels like a Memorex ad. Yes, when the shouts and calls, crashing drums and tight, layered guitars are going full steam ahead at the climax its akin to the immediacy of early Constantines. Though this tension and release has been heard before, these young musicians have an instinctive feel about how to make a maximum impact and then get the hell out. This can be spectacularly heard on the insane peak of "Belladonna, Deadly Nightshade and on the crackling "Spin the Bottle. Yet the true coup de grace of the DUrbervilles comes on the note perfect "The Receiver. Starting with a simple clockwork beat and John ORegans plaintive vocals, it explodes on a dime and never looks back. When the bands starts shouting, "Speak into the receiver/Do you hear a believer? I say yes, yes I do.
The band says youre from Oshawa/Guelph? Whats the history there?
John O'Regan: Well, were confusing. Tim [Bruton, guitarist] and I are originally from Oshawa. We grew up down the street, weve known each other since we were seven and we started the band in Oshawa and our first drummer was from there as we all went to the same high school. We kind of started the band one summer in Oshawa then we were all in university in Guelph and thats where we met Kyle [Donnelly], our bass player. And, we didnt really start playing seriously until we had all moved here here being Guelph. But right now, I guess if we were pressed to name just one place we would say were a Guelph band. Yet, just the way things have worked out in the last little bit, Im living in Guelph, finishing up school, Kyles living in Toronto and Tims back living in Oshawa, saving money for tours. So thats where the different cities and stuff come together, but theyre not really far away from each other, like a short GO train ride away. We practice in Toronto, though. So, yeah, were kind of from everywhere. Its sort of fun.
When you started playing together, did you go for a literary name on purpose or did it just sound really cool?
We went for it because our original drummer and I were in this English class, since we all went to the same high school, and he was a few years older than us but we took the same class, like in different years, and we both had to read the book Tess of the DUrbervilles for it. It was a commonality we had, but, I dont know, we were like Oh crap, we got a show, heres a name thatll make our friends laugh and its just kind of stuck with us, or we kept with it. We didnt really set out for it to have any kind of specific meaning in the songs or point to us being a literary band or whatever. We just wanted to play a few shows. Our only goal at that point was to somehow open for Cuff the Duke in Oshawa or something. Weve done that since then, so mission accomplished. Everything else is gravy, as they say.
How do the songs come together? Obviously youve gone through a rotating cast of drummers, but is just you three or do you lead and others tweak?
On this record, Tim laid a lot of the groundwork for each song, whether thats coming up with a guitar riff or something on the keys, he does a lot of that work. He will usually bring an idea to Kyle or me, either at the same time or separately, and well add our parts depending on what the song needs. Ill do keyboards or guitar or sometimes work on the vocal melody and we kind of piece them together that way. The drums change throughout each song. Some of the songs on the album were written when Colin [Smith], our first drummer, was in the band and weve been playing them, or some of them, up to a year at live shows. And, then, half of the album we wrote with Adam Seward who we played with for the summer. The songs we did with him were written comparatively quickly, like he would come up to Guelph where we were practising and just work, work, work. Yeah, some of them were really different and some of them were really known and others we were going into the studio and just experimenting with.
The songs are very tight and controlled, so do like to really nail a song live or do you go and hack it out in the studio?
Its interesting that you say that because it plays into what I was talking about. The half of the songs that were written with Colin and that Steve Hesselink drummed on, well, we had toured out east with those songs and played them and played them and played them, like you could play them in your sleep, and that definitely, especially when youre paying for recording with your own dollar, makes things a bit less stressful when you go into the studio because you know youll be able to nail it. But, the others, we basically were going in and just recording. We played a few shows in the summer like we did Hillside and we always like to do a show once or twice a year in Oshawa for our friends, so wed played one there but that was about it for a lot of the songs. If you play something live and you get the impression that people are into it then it gives you a bit more confidence to go and make it a permanent thing that youre planning on sending out into the world and relinquishing control over. So, a lot of them, we were pouring all this work into recording them and not really totally sure people would be into it or how they would react, but, at some point you just gotta go for it because we want to finish this album. In a way, it was kind of exciting. We were putting these things together and we played the tracks for our friends, when they came in to do group vocals, and theyd never heard the songs before and I think that was neat, to have some of that on a record. If youre into a band, its good to hear those songs youve been hearing them play live for a while but its also good that theres some surprises. I think we struck a good balance. People seem to like it so far.
Which ones were the surprises?
The new ones we did with Adam were "Dragnet, "National Flowers, "The Receiver and "This Is the Life. Those were all relatively new. We played Hillside and some other shows, like small, tiny things with friends so that was pretty much it and we went in and recorded in August. The others had all been worked and re-worked for quite a while.
Thats interesting because it all fits very well together. Like on the "The Receiver the cogs all fit together nicely and it sounds just as practiced as "Spin the Bottle, which youve been playing for a while.
Yeah, thats awesome. That was the kind of thing we were worried about and talking to other people too theyve been kind of similar. Even talking to Steve, we gave him the album a long time ago, since its been done for a while and weve just been sort of sitting on it since weve not been wanting to tour in January or anything like that... just because were bad drivers. Yeah, he said the same thing. Phew! We know what we like but you can never really know about others so at some point you have to not care. People are going to like it or not.
When you were recording this album with your different drummers, were you concerned with the overall flow?
That was kind of in the back of our minds. It was recorded over a long period of time as well. It wasnt quite as disjointed as it may seem. Steve was always going to be a temporary drummer in our band. We originally signed him on to do a brief little tour before calling it quits way back when and we just had so much fun playing with him that we just kept going at it for a while and eventually his other group was getting back together so we stopped playing. We knew that was temporary but wed also played with him for so long we knew we wanted him on the album because hed been with the band and we felt wed grown and developed a lot with him, even as a temporary member. And with Adam, when we were recording those songs, the idea was that he was going to be a permanent member for the long haul or whatever. We had a great time with him but it didnt work out musically. Were happy with the songs we put together but I think when it came down to signing onto that commitment to touring with the band, quitting your job and all that stuff that was kind of necessary for an up and coming group, he just wasnt wanting to make that commitment like the rest of us were. Its totally fine since he and Kyle live together, so its not like a horror story with violent band fights or anything. The guy we have now, Greg Santilly, hes super-awesome, hes a great guy. We knew him from Guelph and he lives in Hamilton but hes here in town all the time. Hes in Slow Hand Motem, which is one of Burnt Oak [Collective] bands from Guelph, so hes pals with all those kids so its nice and comfortable since youre getting a new member, but without any growing pains. Its worked really well and were excited to hit the road.
On a bigger scale, in terms of the post-punk genre, it requires a real discipline to be a post-punk band. What draws you to this genre and its discipline?
Well, um, its hard to say. If you went out and looked at everyones CD collection in the band, like theres quite a range of stuff that we all listen to individually. I think generally, I know for me, because I cant totally speak for everyone else, I do definitely like the idea thats its always been part of our goal that see how much you can cram in beginning to end without having to repeat yourself or really looking at cutting out the parts, that arent unnecessary but seem like. "Why put in another chorus if the song doesnt need it? How much can we get away with working off the same kind of riff? Or throwing in a few changes here or there that are going to keep people guessing as to what comings next. Our goal with a lot of songs was, since we all like pop songs, can you make a pop song without a chorus that repeats more than once? Is it even a chorus if it doesnt happen twice? I dont even know, but, kind of seeing whats possible outside of that traditional pop song structure but still hoping to kind of create that feel that you can put on this song on a mix-tape or an iPod with a range of other types of music and still have it stand out as an exciting piece of music.
In terms of the lyrics, do you write them together or is it all you?
A small number of them were written by Tim. Actually, really funny, the ones he did write, and I dont think he did this intentionally but hes the first and last person to sing on the record. Like the first ones an instrumental and he has that first little verse on "We Are the Hunters and the last line at the end of "Belladonna, Deadly Nightshade with the guitar going totally haywire and him screaming. I remember when we recorded it; I felt "Oh my god, youre going to frighten the kids. But, he did those parts and for the most part I generally do [the lyrics] on my own. Thats kind of how its always worked. I dont necessarily know if its the best way to do it, but Ive always kind of handled the singing, but Ive always come up with the vocal melody before theres any words. Ill write things down and keep them in a binder and pull things out when I need to but, generally, everythings structured to fit into a really, really, really specific melody like on "Hot Tips. I remember we laboured over the vocal melody for that. For a long time we had quite a few practices where it was literally coming down to like, "I cant fit this syllable in here and "I want that to go there, so how are we going to push and pull the bass line around? or "What are you going to do with the guitar riff? We kind of find that exciting, that piecing together of something. I dont know if its too idealistic or something, but theres tons of directions you can take things in but theres ultimately, sometimes, a best way and if you push and pull and dig long enough you can kind of find that buried in there and the result is that it comes out sounding really natural and almost unpractised and unrehearsed. But the reality, like a lot of things, is that youre busting your ass to find that kind of hidden little nugget of fun times buried in the tune. So, yeah, I do the melodies and the lyrics come after, specifically, to fit the feel of the song and some songs feel a certain way and kind of necessitate certain subject matter that another song wouldnt. It kind of depends what Im feeling like writing about at the time and what kind of direction the intensity of the song is pushing things toward.
In terms the album artwork, are you conscious of trying to put forward a certain visual aesthetic for the band?
I dont know if you say our first EP, but we made them as a nod to school. We had them as bound Cerlox with the plastic Cerlox bind and paper sleeves and put them together. Tims mom and my mom are teachers so whenever wed be back in Oshawa to visit our family, wed have them sign out the Cerlox machine and wed be in the basement punching holes and putting them together. As far as this album goes, in the summer when we were recording the songs with Adam, I moved back to Oshawa or we all moved back home to live with our folks to save money and basically to practice all day while we were working. It was fun, it was like being in grade 11 again, you know? When we were learning how to play the guitar Id go over to Tims house and jam in the basement. It really was kind of a throwback. We practice in Toronto now and weve practiced in Guelph at the Family Thrift Store and a bunch of other places but it was totally going over to the parents house, bring down the plate of cookies and just working on songs. Sorry this is a really convoluted answer, but the album art came from, well, we were in Oshawa and I was just going through my old stuff in my old bedroom
I was wondering why the old Toronto Blue Jays are in the artwork!
Yeah, those are all from my old baseball card collection. All the dirt, theres a really great bar in Oshawa called the Velvet Elvis and theyre building a new courthouse right across from it in this abandoned lot that used to have a GM factory in it. Which is where almost everyone in Oshawa worked or used to work, since theyre all closing down now. So they were digging this hole for the foundation of it and they made this huge mound of dirt that they were excavating. Thats kind of a picture of the mound from different angles and its stacked on top. The hockey players are stuff from my old trophies when Tim and I played together since we played house league hockey. And the tires are just another nod to being in the Shwa, because its cars that kind of built the town and it might be pessimistic to think about, but its our car culture thats kind of undoing that city right now and not just in Oshawa, but everywhere. I feel ultimately its kind of an unsustainable industry and its kind of whats gotten us to the point where were at and it seems in a lot of ways that theyre going to be one of the reasons for our downfall, I guess. I was going around, grabbing bits and pieces of our own histories and things we felt a connection with I guess with the art. I dont know if its necessarily specific to the album or anything, but we were looking at the album as a culmination of a good many years work. And then we always wanted to keep things for our friends and have it be something that, ultimately, if your pals can pick it up and look at it and think, "Okay, yeah, thats cool then youve done your job. We just wanted to make our friends happy and if anyone else is interested beyond that, then great!
Also, looking at the lyrics it seems theres also a pessimistic view of cityscapes as well, is that something you tried to get through as well?
When youre writing short stories from grade three, they always say, "Write about something you know. And theres a lot of bands that I like where the lyrics are totally off the wall and crazy, fantastical things but Ive always found for us, and for me in particular, that its always easiest to write about what you know and what youre experiencing day to day. And, consequently, a lot of the songs on the record are about being in a band and what thats like. I think thats really fun and, as I said, were making music for our friends. Everyone here in Guelph is playing in a band of some kind and its great. Those are the types of people that I hang out with and its great to have people to bounce ideas off of and I find a lot of times, regardless of the type of music that it is, to go out and put yourself out on that line and write lyrics and sing them and perform them in front of people, it takes a specific kind of person to do that. Theres something to be said for lyrics that address what thats like and that a lot of other people can maybe connect to that. So a lot of the songs are about making the record and putting it together, being like "Oh, shit, were doing this thing and about to go out on a tour and who knows what were going to do, were going to be sleeping on the floor a lot hope I dont throw out my back. And a lot of them are, too, about the cities were living in and I am interested, to some degree, in the more political aspect of living. I think its kind of hard to escape that. I wouldnt say were, necessarily, an overtly kind of political group, I feel uncomfortable doing that just because, as the lyricist, I dont speak for everyone in the band. We agree on some things but others we dont. I like that theres a certain amount of ambiguity to things as well, I kind of find that adds more depth to a song or a piece of music. If you have to sit down and spend some time with it or if you can project your own feelings and your own inspirations into the lyrics of a piece of music, those are the songs Im really drawn too. Its like, well, I think theyre talking about this and I dont really know but thats what I think and then that becomes what the song means to you. Its easy to attach that specific piece of music to a certain time of your life and a certain feeling and thats one of the exciting things about making music to me. It comes from somewhere really personal but it offers people that option to make it their own as well. (Out of this Spark)