Published Apr 25, 2012On his third album proper, Eamon McGrath blazes a jingoistic path in an attempt to capture what defines Canada and its music. And while it's up for debate as to whether the album lives up to such lofty ambitions, there's no doubt that Young Canadians is easily McGrath's best effort yet. More sonically varied than 2010's Peacemaker, the record name checks influences both figuratively (Neil Young, the Band) and literally (Ramones, Minor Threat) while laying bare the close ties shared by folk and punk rock. It would be easy to pick on Young Canadians for its overt sonic references and McGrath's reverence for his heroes, but doing so misses the point entirely. And, more importantly, ruins the fun of listening to a great record.
How does if feel to finally put Young Canadians out? You've been working on it since before Peacemaker was released.
It's weird; we've been doing our own press. You can get caught up and be worried about responses leading up to a release, but the minute it happens everything is exponential. It's a windstorm of bites in the press and that's been great. Release dates are kind of arbitrary these days ― the minute you make an mp3 version and start sending a link to people, it's out in the world. The minute the record was mastered, it was done and released; it's just a matter of protocols for when campus radio or whatever have an add date. We live in an age where the physical album is obsolete.
You work fast in the studio and you used to spit out releases on a regular basis. Is waiting so long to release something hard for you?
It is a little weird. There's the philosophy that every musician is only as good as the last thing he or she has done. You write a bunch of songs in a span of time and then you sit on your ass waiting for them to get released. You can write ten or 20 songs in that time. There is an urgency to have that stuff heard because that's going to be a better representation of who you are as an artist or person than the stuff you wrote before it. Before Young Canadians was released, I had already been in the studio with Greg Millson, of Great Lake Swimmers, and recorded four or five new songs. So there's still that urgent output, but with more money and people involved, I'm less of an independent artist than I used to be, at least in terms of the amount of involvement with people. I have to be a bit more practical and strategic of what, and when, I let people hear. You want to sustain a career and maintain an audience, and part of the game is keeping people interested. You have to be a bit selective as you get older. My attitude used to be "throw everything at the wall and see what stuck." And that was cool for then, but part of maturing is having that selective mentality and being more aware of the finished product.
Are those new songs geared towards another release or was it just a case of you had them so you decided to record them?
We don't know; we'll see. I sent Greg a bunch of stuff I hadn't put out and he listened to it and was kind of like, "Well, I like this stuff, but I don't like that…" He drew up a list, picked out the best ones and did these five priority songs that lent themselves best to the situation, and those were the ones we did. There's no plan right now. They'll probably be included on a record, like a full-length or a seven-inch. Who knows? Right now I'm in Young Canadians land.
You recorded Young Canadians in several stints at JC/DC in Vancouver. Were there songs that you wrote that were left off?
The album is 12 songs that were chosen from 40 studio tracks. Every time I went back into the studio I'd cut 15 or 20 songs and then decide to keep working on certain songs or abandon them. After two years and four sessions that's a lot of music. All of a sudden you're sitting on four albums' worth of material. Every time I went into the studio I came out with an entire record; we just picked the best and got them mastered. The song "Auditorium" wasn't even recorded in Vancouver; it was recorded in our jam space in Toronto. It was a demo; I demoed it the day after I recorded it. And it was a coin toss. There's another version in Vancouver on [producers John Collins and Dave Carswell's] hard drive that's really abrasive, with drums, and kind of Depeche Mode-ish. We ended up using steel girders for percussion tracks and chains and loads of guitars. It was super-heavy, fast and punk. I just decided to go with the lo-fi solo version for some reason.
Are you the type of person that goes back and revisits old tracks and reworks them?
Fela Kuti had this whole principle where once he recorded a song he'd never play it live again. I think that's really cool. So, yeah, once you have a document it's kind of dead. After this tour, I'm going to go back to a lot of the songs on Young Canadians and rework them and make them different. Right now I'm at a point where I'm trying to be more accurate and play them like they are on the album, but that doesn't usually last long for me. I get so bored of it that I change something.
You've never hidden your influences, but on this record you embrace them and even name check some in your songs.
Absolutely. I think it was a matter of trying to build on the last album. Peacemaker was a record based on one sound, one vibe, one guitar tone. And that was fine, that's where my head was at. I wanted to make a punk record, but this record was an attempt to be more diverse and schizophrenic.
Despite the diversity, all the weird noises in the background are the through line in the record.
The one thing that holds the record together is the dysfunction.
Was that the original idea or did it slowly emerge?
Dave [Carswell]; he just presses record and lets me fuck around. And then John [Collins] comes in and shapes everything. John was only there for two of the sessions; Dave was there for all of them, so he acted more like an engineer and offered constructive criticism. Dave throws me into the woods and I cut down a bunch of trees and John comes along and makes me build a house.
You've said you were trying to make Young Canadians a pan-Canadian record. What makes a record Canadian?
Well, that's the whole point of the album ― that question. For me, Canadian history has been defined by certain moments in time and the things that have managed to unite us. It's amazing that you can have something like an event, like the death of Pierre Trudeau, which manages to make people as far away from each other as Vancouver and St. John feel like they're part of a whole. You share a place on the timeline with someone that's that geographically far away from you, but you're united by that common bond of being Canadian, even though you're on opposite sides of the globe. That's a fascinating phenomenon; we're so bonded by these common cultural occurrences. Canadian music has had the same effect on people. Eric's Trip, Constantines, Tragically Hip, Neil Young ― Canadians are bonded by their relationship to those artists. Like, where were you when you bought Love Tara By Eric's Trip? You ask someone that and they'll tell you. It doesn't matter where they are; it could be in Vancouver, Lethbridge, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Toronto. You could be in any Canadian city. Someone in White Horse is listening to the Constantines right now and that's an amazing feeling.
Read a review of Young Canadians here.