Two of Hooded Fang's four members are late. April Aliermo, who recently relocated to Montreal, can't make it at all. The rest of us are scheduled to meet at a local cafe to talk new Hooded Fang album Gravez, as well as April and singer Daniel Lee's label DAPS (co-run with Ian Chai) which recently made its online catalogue Pay What You Can. Alone outside the cafe, sucking an ornate pipe, sits drummer D. Alex Meeks. Later, when the interview overruns, it's at the expense of his day-shift as a horologist. D. Alex is the assistant to a punctual Hungarian master-watchmaker known for European turns of phrase: "If a man steals your watch, he can give you money; if he steals your time, you won't get it back!"
When guitarist Lane Halley arrives clutching a just-purchased vial of Chinese ginseng, D. Alex retrieves from his pocket a similar item and they briefly compare trinkets. Finally Daniel cycles into view, and the three ― rarely assembled off band-duty ― rebound chat from one to another, sharing stories of day-job mishaps and baseball sessions that ended in broken bones. Talk turns to D. Alex's unique childhood, during which he was often accompanied by animals his zoo-owner parents looked after...
Tell us your most heart-warming anecdote about growing up and working in a zoo.
D. Alex: One time I raised a baby kangaroo. Baby kangaroos are pretty heart-warming. You basically fold a baby blanket in half and sew up the sides, then carry it around in that because it likes to be in a pouch. If you raise any animal from infancy it's pretty much a friend for life.
Daniel: Did you have to put goo in the pouch to simulate a real kangaroo?
D. Alex: It provided its own goo.
Lane: Do they like it when you hop?
D. Alex: They love it when you hop.
Daniel, you've been doing some work at the creative playschool April founded.
Daniel: Yeah, it's super fascinating. April lives in Montreal now, but she's like a consultant. The playschool is really cool. There are alternative methods of care, enrichment, and it supplies so many jobs for all these people. She definitely doesn't take enough credit for that. And other people have worked for it: Henri Fabergé, Maylee Todd, Kat Burns, a whole bunch of other artists and educators.
DAPS recently made all their downloadable releases Pay What You Can. What was the thinking behind that?
Daniel: We just wanted more people to be able to hear it. And some people don't have a Paypal account, or don't have the money to buy music, or prefer to buy a record at a show or go to some other concert. It doesn't matter; people support music in different ways. And if they're real music fans they wanna listen to music. Providing those people with music is the most important thing.
Is that something you gave a lot of thought to?
Daniel: It was spur of the moment. It actually generates income. People do buy stuff [using PWYC]. And it gives people more of an incentive to check it out. I mean, especially the more obscure stuff is likely to appeal to people who don't have a lot of money. And those are the people that are probably gonna go start bands and stuff.
You got a local artist, Patrick Kyle, to do the cover art for Gravez, and DAPS seems sort of community-based by nature. Is it more important to focus on community as our social lives are assimilated by the internet?
Daniel: I'm not sure how the internet affects things. As far as the community part, for us it was always really localized: people in Toronto that we meet or respect, our friends. It's about meeting people face to face.
In your Exclaim! interview for Tosta Mista, you talked about using the motifs of doo-wop etc. to get an emotional response from your audience, without needing to invest yourself personally. Which sounded kind of cynical, but I'm wondering whether you were covering up for the fact the lyrics were really personal...
Daniel: Some of them were, but... er, yeah... they came from a place of emotion.
That sounds like political doublespeak. "They weren't emotional, but they came from a place of emotion..."
Daniel: No, yeah, well it was paying tribute to a lot of similar events that people had gone through. Throwing a whole bunch of melodramatic hyperbole on it.
As a way of distancing yourself? Or to make it more entertaining?
Daniel: Definitely not to make it more entertaining. I guess it's like a cynical joke.
Okay. On the new album, there's one lyric that's repeated in two songs, "Trasher" and "Genes": "Come in in the morning when the light comes in / Come in in the evening when it's down again..."
Daniel: [cough] Er, I don't know what you're talking about...
Ha. I was gonna ask about the significance of that...
Daniel: Mmmm... I'll let D. Alex answer that one.
D. Alex: Well, you get up in the morning... and you come home in the evening and the day's over.
Daniel: It happened two times! [Laughter.]
When you listen to the record, how does the mood compare to your previous stuff? Does it feel darker?
Daniel: Yeah, it sounds more serious to me. I think it's the best record that this band has put out. It takes time for the stuff to meld together.
D. Alex: There's a certain refinement at work on Gravez. [He pronounces it, Grah-vez.]
Do you feel the increasing seriousness comes hand in hand with it being stronger material?
Lane: A bit of that, and a bit of just getting older as a band.
Older and wearier?
Lane: Just a better band, more knowledgeable. Better at playing together, more of a team effort.
Are your personal relationships with one another becoming smoother?
Daniel: We're like brothers and sisters. We don't hang out very often, but when we do ― say, for this interview ― we just wanna talk to each other.
D. Alex: Even on tour it's like a family reunion.
Daniel: Yeah, it's really fun. The longer we play together, the more fun it is every time.
D. Alex: It's like an old lover, who you continue to enjoy.
Daniel: An old blubber.
D. Alex: [Slightly southern] An ooold blubber. [Long pause.]
Lane: It just keeps bouncin'.
The song "Gravez," what's that about? There seems to be some kind of comedown from too much brain activity, and then a summery beach, which made me think of your super-fun and summery album Tosta Mista. Then you talk about being free.
Daniel: That song was written about a night in Vancouver. It was with April and another friend of ours. It was a long time ago. It was one of those nice nights in Vancouver, when we hung out on the beach, met some people. It just stuck out for some reason.
A lot of the lyrics on the album, you could still apply a personal interpretation but there seems to be a political aspect.
Lane: Game of Thrones maybe.
Daniel: There's a lot of Game of Thrones throughout the record. Ever since we started watching it every week together in Lane's bed, it's really affected the way we think about the band. It's kind of our ritual.
Lane: It's our glue. It's our blubber.
So you don't let a political conscience into your music?
Daniel: I don't, but April does.
If she were here now, what would she say about that?
Daniel: She touches on a lot of gender issues. People who are less fortunate. Equality imbalances. She's very socially conscious and aware. I am too, but when it comes to lyrics, I just write whatever comes off the top of my head. She thinks about them a lot and spends a lot of time on them.
I noticed a Hooded Fang tweet about Harper's plans for CBC. According to the linked petition, he's trying to "control the Canadian media landscape and move it to the right."
Daniel: April tweeted that, but my opinion is... speaking as musicians... I dunno, I'm not a Harper supporter really. I mean, I have problems with CBC as well, relating to content and the specific people they target to play their content to. There are a lot of people who it doesn't speak to. I think Harper's weird and old. You don't want the government doing that. I would say that seems like a given, but some people would disagree.
How do you feel about the lineage of Canadian labels that DAPS follows?
Daniel: Growing up, there was Mint Records, there was Sonic Unyon ― those were really cool. I saw a lot of those bands play all-ages shows. They were all Canadian. Canada had a good thing going at that point. I like the way it is now, because a lot of artists are running their own boutique labels.
D. Alex: And a lot of them are really, really good.
Daniel: And they can put out the music that they appreciate. Like One Big Silence, Buzz Records, Pretty Pretty, putting out so much cool stuff that people wouldn't hear otherwise. It's such a good documentation of what's going on in Toronto. I heard Slim Twig is gonna have a label, Ben Cook has a label. The Slim Twig record, A Hound at the Hem, is incredible, so cool. The great thing about these labels is they're not doing it as a business so much as for the appreciation, for the music.
Full Time Hobby are releasing your music in the UK, right?
Daniel: Yeah. This record, we had a lot of demoes that weren't really finished ― that were very different from the final product ― and they were like, "Argh, this is too demoey," which was totally true. Then we recorded a whole bunch, and ended up using some of that and some of the demoes that were brought to a more polished state.
D. Alex: There's three versions of this record and they're all totally different.
Is the version being released the most... market-friendly?
Daniel: No no, it's exactly what they wanted.
D. Alex: [Full Time Hobby] helped us realize that, to be fair.
Daniel: We recorded a bunch of songs in a week and a bit, which we've never really done before.
So the record was mostly completed in a week?
Daniel: We completed a whole 'nother record in a week, some of which is on this record. And a lot of it is gonna be released later.
Lane: There are a few songs that go really well together. I'd like to see it as a small EP. Might be cool to do something like that.
Daniel: I think the way we recorded is reminiscent of the Feelies.
D. Alex: Because of the way it was recorded, there was a really immediate energy.
Daniel: I used to be annoyed that what you put out is not the way it is at the exact moment. Which the internet has changed ― you can put something out and be like, "I made this today!" But I guess when you're trying to scale it up to a certain level, you have to plan, and work to other people's schedule. Especially people we're working with in other regions.
D. Alex: You really have to commit to what you've made and live in it long after you've moved onto something else. You have to hang onto it while you're welcoming new things as well.
Are you at all sick of the new songs?
Daniel: That's the good thing about this album ― they're either more fun or more interesting than other stuff we've ever done. I really like the way the internet is a way for artists to put out exactly what they're doing at the exact moment. Like, the guy who did our record cover, Patrick Kyle, he's a visual artist, a comic book artist, really awesome guy and super-productive, and when he's done something he puts it up on the internet instantly. Does a page for a comic, puts it up, everyone can see it. So he puts it up as he goes along.
Is this what you're doing with Phèdre ― releasing one song at a time?
Daniel: Kind of, although the reason we didn't put the record out is that we didn't have the money. But it's cool, because we can put out the music, build demand, and make the physical after. People get to hear it instantly. I like to see where artists are at the exact moment: "Oh, I recorded this song today in my house." I think it's cool.
Do you think, using that system, you could become too dependent on people's reactions, i.e.. valuing your work on people's response?
D. Alex: Like focus group testing.
Daniel: That's a danger, for sure. There is a lot today, because information moves so fast, that's about constantly beating the machine. Like in the press. You need more content all the time. So a lot of the content out there's really stupid.
D. Alex: It's so different, journalism now. The only newspaper around that can still ― to a much less degree than they used to be able to ― send field reporters out into the world is the New York Times. But they used to plan articles for months. How can you compete with that? Content for content's sake is pretty empty.
Daniel: But then again, I like instant stuff. I appreciate if you take a lot of time, but I also like the instantaneous, not too much thought.
[Eating occurs. Together we grasp to wrap up the interview with appropriate analogies linking food with the Hooded Fang creative process.]
Daniel: Maybe this is a dumb analogy, but as far as musical influences go, that's all the food; and then we're this little body here, and then the food goes in, and it goes through the guts, and then we shit it all out. And it's steaming!
You don't mind making the comparison between Hooded Fang's music and human excrement?
Daniel: Yeah! You can't take it too seriously.
D. Alex: Yeah, like Dan was talking about "Gravez" being from this night that didn't have any specific content. He couldn't say why it moved him ― but it did. And I think if you get too close to the thing that moves you, it's gonna bite you. So if you keep it at distance, you recognize it, you give honour to it, and it'll repay you. If you know it too much it's gonna be little use to you. How closely do you wanna know the things that are moving you? Personally, I don't want to know them at all. It's like, you have a butterfly, and it will beguile you. But if you wanna observe it closely, you have to stick a pin through it. And then what have you got?