Bend Sinister's Dan Moxon

Bend Sinister's Dan Moxon
Vancouver’s Bend Sinister have spent most of the 2000s pushing the limits of genre, whether it be through their earlier instrumental math rock or their current incarnation as ’70s prog pop troubadours. Having recently signed to Distort Entertainment for their latest opus, Stories of Brothers, Tales of Lovers, the band are ready to take the world by storm with their piano-driven rock’n’roll. Exclaim! spoke with pianist and songwriter Dan Moxon about his influences, his goals, and what it’s like to be on a primarily metal label.

What are you up to right now?
Right now I’m on day eight of this master cleanse I’m doing. You drink lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper liquid for ten days to cleanse your whole system from toxins. It sounds a little hippie-ish, but I try to do it every few years to cleanse my system after a summer of heavy drinking.

How’s that going?
I’m kind of feeling a little faint at this point because it’s been eight days since eating solid food, but I only have two days to go before I can start drinking orange juice and eating vegetable soup.

What’s your role in Bend Sinister?
I’m the singer/keyboardist, I play mainly keys, and I also usually bring the songs to the table. I always start with writing the majority of the songs, and then I bring them to the band and everybody adds their own flair. It would definitely sound different with different performers. I think everybody definitely makes it their own.

When did you form?
We’ve been playing together as a band since 2001, but we started way back in the day as an instrumental math rock band, and then after about three years of doing that I worked up the balls to start singing. We used to get together as four friends in Kelowna, but we were all going to university. We used to meet up in the summers before university. That’s when we started the band. We just started playing music, and it started as a side-project but as time went on I realized I was more into making music than I was into what I was doing at school. So I transitioned into making it a bit more full-time.

What were you going to school for?
I was getting a film major at Simon Fraser University.

What were your influences for Bend Sinister’s current sound?
Growing up, I hadn’t started to go back through history and listen to more bands from the ’70s and ’60s. When we started out we were an instrumental band, and I was much more into modern stylings. But all of a sudden I started checking out bands that I would have laughed at before, like Elton John or Supertramp or even Queen. You hear the hits but you never actually check them out. Over a few years, I got all of their discographies and became obsessed with that genre of music. Basically, I was obsessed with piano-driven rock’n’roll, so that became a big thing for me to have songs written on piano that still had balls to them and really solid rock. It seems to me that when piano is in a band it’s usually an accompaniment, and when it’s used as a main songwriting tool, it never really gets that epic. It seems like it’s R&B or singer-songwriter stuff, and it’s all a bit more pansy-ish. So I wanted to put the super harmonized guitars and crushing drums to piano songs.

How did you come from math rock to that sound?
It was a very slow progression over time, because starting out instrumental there was a turning point where we were all still amped on sounding like that in about 2003, and I kind of gave the band an ultimatum where I was like I’ve started to sing now and I really love it, so I’m either going to start another band where I write my own songs and then we can all do Bend Sinister as the instrumental group, or we can kind of meld the two and make it work. So we melded the two, but our first album probably wasn’t the Bend Sinister sound as you’d know it now. It was released in 2005. Even on that album, I was playing mainly guitar. Guitar was the main instrument I grew up playing, I took guitar lessons and played in jazz band and only picked up piano after the fact. As soon as I started singing and playing the piano – that was kind of the turning point.

How did you end up working with Distort Entertainment?
It was kind of the transition point because we’d released our full length, Through the Broken City on Storyboard Records out of Montreal in 2005, and then we were planning to move on to something else and we’d recorded the five songs and we were kind of sitting on them for a year or two. We finally got Storyboard to release the CD version of it, and we had gotten in touch with Distort and they were going to release it digitally. That led to us touring out there on a CBC 3 tour. We went out there last September and actually met up with Greg [Below] and all the Distort people. That’s how we decided to sign with them.

It seems like such a strange fit since Distort works mostly with metal bands.
That was my initial though as well, that it was a metal label. But I believe it was Greg’s enthusiasm that brought me over to it. He had initially contacted us and said he was into the band. When I checked out Distort, I thought they weren’t doing the same things we did, but his enthusiasm was amazing. We’re probably a bit of an experiment of a band for him, because I know Greg and he just loves good music. He’s trying to branch out and have more bands from different genres, but his main love is metal. Through conversations with him, he convinced me that for sure they’d be great people to work with.

Who produced the new album?
It was produced by Sean Cole. He has been working with us since pretty much the beginning. I met him when he recorded my film score for my grad film, and the minute I started working with him I was like man this guy’s a genius on the other side of things. So as we’ve gradually done things we’ve given him more control to the point where he now runs things.

Where did you record it?
His studio is called Fader Master, and it’s in East Van beside the old Profile Studio, which is a punk studio. But he’s smart in the sense that he’s not sold on only using his studio from a production sense. He looks at all the studios in the city and decides what’s best for the recording. On this record, we recorded the drums and bass at Mushroom, I went and did some stuff at this studio called the Spaceship, I recorded a bunch of Wurlitzer and Rhodes at Hipposonic. We were going everywhere to get the best quality.

Do you feel well-received in Vancouver or are you tempted to move east now that you’re on Distort?
I’m pretty settled in Vancouver and I quite like it here, but there is that urge to want to go to Toronto because it seems like it would be way easier to start getting further with things being there. You can go not even an hour away and play another major market, and every weekend you could be playing shows and gaining an audience that’s way bigger than Vancouver. Here, the closest places are Victoria and Nanaimo, and they’re not even that big. To get there, you have to spend $90 each way on the ferry, and that’s including if you’re hiding people under blankets and up top. It’s just economically difficult in Vancouver, and there just aren’t as many people here.

Are you at a point where you can do Bend Sinister for a living?
I’d like to think that I could make a living out of it, but at this point I still have my day job. It’s every musician’s dream that you could make enough money from it to not have a day job. I freelance as a composer for film and television, and then I also have a job part-time as an AV tech at SFU where I set up microphones and computers and all that jazz.

Are you a huge film buff?
I was a huge film buff and then film school drained that out of my and now I watch Hollywood drivel. That’s half a lie, but they drilled in my brain that films should be all for art and intellectualism and not for escapism whatsoever. But then you realize when you watch a film that half the time you’re trying to escape from your day and just relax a little, so I’m kind of 50/50 about it now. I still love the Terminator movies.

Where did the name Bend Sinister come from?
Bend Sinister is a name that was given to us by our lead guitarist. When we started in 2001, we were all sitting at this house trying to think up a name, and he came up with the name Bend Sinister because he was reading the novel at the time. It’s written by Vladimer Nabokov, who also wrote Lolita. It’s kind of funny because we never had any inkling that it was a Fall album. I had never even listened to the Fall. So people were like "What the hell are you naming it after the Fall for?” They were actually mad about it, but to this day I haven’t actually listened to that album.