Honesty and the new Band on the Block
Canadian Music Week 2010
ORIGINALLY FOR FAZER MAGAZINE
by Aaron Binder
Honesty is a hard trait to define. In the 50’s it meant having a good job, loyal housewife, two cars and a couple of kids, probably named Jack and Sally. Since that rose-coloured time, in North America we have become self-aware of many things, consumerism, hyper-capitalism and how to keep them from getting out of hand. It only took one decade for North Americans to rebel against a generation that attempted to enforce ‘traditional’ values. The lines of honesty were seemingly blurred forever as the 60’s truly began to bloom; the first major social upheaval of our current time gave us the ability to open our eyes and realize that not everything is the way it is portrayed.
Today in music is no different, while the stakes may not be as high as ending a war in Vietnam, we all deserve to enjoy and end product that isn’t shoved down our collective gullets like some sort of mass-produced pellet. The internet has been the past decades rallying cry for honesty in the music industry and the big players have begun to wake up from their zombie-like trance. This has meant a lot of down-sizing and some legitimately talented bands being cut from deals. It has also exposed the music industry on many levels in a way that has allowed incredibly talented bands to emerge where they may not have had the same chance of exposure before.
The Balconies are a band that may have had a chance in the music industry of old, but now that the internet’s increased mobility has allowed them the chance to spread their wings on their own terms, they are taking every step as not only a gift but as natural progression. Speaking to them is one of the most natural and easy things to do, the words ‘down-to-earth’ are thrown around quite often, but these guys really live it. Here’s the conversation we had during the tail end of CMW.
Aaron: That’s a really cool organization to be involved with. You guys seem to have a lot going on.
Liam: Yeah, and especially because the shows we’re playing right now, a lot of them aren’t bringing in enough cash to pay our rent and bills and stuff so we all have day jobs. That’s why we put a two week pause in between our east coast stint of the tour and our west coast stint of the tour, so right now we’re just finishing up our two week work break. It’s weird because the band thing is like a real job but it feels more like a holiday and then we come back to town and we work in coffee shops and clothing stores.
We all have pretty fun jobs too, but it’s definitely way more exciting to be on the road obviously. It was great, the whole east coast thing was the longest stint we’ve done yet so when we got back and we were in Toronto for a few days, it felt weird not spending every day in the van. So this week we’re playing around Ontario.
Aaron: I’ve got to ask you, a lot of bands have day jobs, it’s a pretty common thing, I’ve got a day job, everyone has a day job in the music industry these days. What do you find the dynamic is like going to work and being a guy that does a thing to being a guy in a pretty popular band? How does that translate for you?
Liam: It’s good. We don’t ever want to get to the point where you feel like you’re somebody special because you play in a band. I think it’s really important to keep yourself down to earth. And so having jobs is important, plus a lot of the shows we play are pretty modest still. We don’t quite feel like superstars, but we travel around and scrounge money together to pay for stuff on the road, it’s a lot of fun and we wouldn’t want to be doing anything else right now.
I really enjoy working at the coffee shop where I work, it’s really chilled out and the customers are great. It’s also a good way to keep yourself comfortable talking to just anybody. I find when you’re on the road for a long time, you’re still talking to a lot of people but it’s not the same kind of back and forth as when you’re serving somebody. You kind of get this weird relationship with the public that way and it’s a good thing to keep up normal.
Aaron: It’s almost like a one way relationship on the road because people are there to see you guys, people aren’t going to the coffee shop just to see you.
Liam: Yeah, exactly. It’s better that way, I really like having a job and I think no matter what we’re doing, I’d still want to be doing something other than music just to have a balance.
Aaron: I find that a really interesting dynamic these days. Even people that are in successful arts related careers tend to do something else. It seems a lot of people want something else going on.
Liam: I think it’s just a matter of having some regularity in your income. Even if you’re playing a really big tour, making money that way, you could still have a month without shows and then how are you going to have money?
I think a lot of people realize that it’s important to keep some sort of job in your back pocket to have as a stable fall back cushion so that you’re not totally screwed if you don’t get a gig next month.
Aaron: As cool as the day jobs are, you guys love touring, what do you like the most about getting out there?
Liam: Just meeting everybody and seeing new places. I haven’t seen a lot fo the country yet, I’ve been to Vancouver once, but I’ve never seen in between Ontario and BC. I’ve never been to northern Ontario, I’ve never been to the prairies, this is my first time visiting the maritime provinces this past month and it was just really great to be out in all these new places.
Just thinking that I’m out here for music and I’m out here because of this band that we created and people want to see us out playing shows and that’s a really cool feeling. So anywhere new that our music is taking us I feel really happy about it.
I hope to be going to the States and maybe going to Europe and Asia and going everywhere, wherever we can go we shall go.
Aaron: I know in a recent interview you did, the interviewer asked you about Ottawa compared to Toronto shows, the different types of crowds that come out to see you…
Liam: And that wasn’t the case when we started, we had already been in other bands before so we knew a lot of people in Ottawa that were familiar with us as musicians. When we started the band we had a good number of people coming out to see us right away but after we had kinda played for a year and a half, right when we released our album the Ottawa crowd just exploded.
We’ve been lucky, I think we sold out the last four or five shows we played in Ottawa over the last eight months. It’s just such a cool feeling because it has now gone beyond people I know and people I recognize from other shows, it’s actually people I’ve never seen before coming to shows and a lot of them are singing along and it’s just really wild.
Ottawa, I think because we’re from there, and there are a lot of great bands there, but we got a lot of publicity for our album which is really nice, we were featured in a lot of Ottawa newspapers and a lot of people know about us so they come out to see us. So they’ve been really, really supportive and it’s really cool. So there it really feels like it’s our audience.
In Toronto we generally have pretty big audiences, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like they’re there for us, it feels more like they have a show-going scene and people just go check out bands. So people come out and get into it and stuff but there’s not that kind of excitement that exists when you’re about to be playing a show where everybody kind of knows who you are and everybody is coming there just to see you, it’s really cool.
Aaron: So your recent east coast tour in mostly new cities, how was the reception there?
Liam: It was overall amazing. We had one concert we played where…mid-week and it was -30 outside in Charlottetown. The audience wasn’t huge but the people there really got into it. I found overall that the East Coast, not just certain people, but everybody loves music there.
You can talk to anybody about music and they all play music or have a close relative that plays music and they’re into it. Whereas if you’re living in Toronto or Ottawa it’s a lot more normal to be in business or medicine or law. It’s a lot more normal to have other jobs, working other places and whenever you mention you’re a musician to just the average person in an Ontario city they’re always like ‘Oh…that’s weird, why would you do that? You don’t make any money.”
In the East Coast they were all really excited that we were going through to play music, but it didn’t feel like it was just because of us, it felt like it was just this overall feeling of an embrace for musicians there.
Aaron: Passion for life.
Liam: Yes, passion for life. It’s just beautiful in the East Coast, we were there in winter so a little bit intense in terms of the weather sometimes. We had really receptive audiences, Fredricton was wild, people were going crazy for us and when we were in Halifax we got to play with three pretty well known local bands and we had a huge audience for our Halifax show and everybody was into it so we’re hoping to continue that. I’ve heard some fun stories about Northern Ontario where they’re used to country bands, but hopefully win their hearts.
Aaron: You’ve also got a very interesting sound, I heard the guitar, the drums, the bass, the voice and one thing came to mind, The Zombies. That early 60’s dreamy rock really hit me while watching you.
Liam: Really? Cool, we really crank up the reverb on the amps, Jackie plays an Ash Telecaster that’s really bright and jangly. We really like the sound of old gear, I usually play a 1970’s Gretch drum set which is really punchy and old sounding. The only thing that’s really different I guess is the bass which is really fat sounding and contemporary. We usually play with a giant Ampeg and a Stingray which has a really huge, high output humbucking pickup on it which keeps the bass rockin’ and the dancefloor going. We have a lot of parts that are four on the floor kickdrums so we try to boost up the low but we also try to get that golden age of pop, 60’s 70’s sound with the guitar and drum tones, so I’m glad you picked up on that.
Aaron: I know you guys are all classically trained musicians, you draw a bit of influence from classical compositions but from current classical contemporary as well from the 50’s onward. You seem to blend it all together and then add in a bunch of other stuff from your more current influences.
Liam: Yeah, we try not to limit ourselves in terms of what we incorporate in our music. A lot of people talk about how the record is like a child with no personality; every song is a little different. We don’t shy away from having odd chords here and there, there are strange key modulations. We won’t throw it in just for the sake of throwing it in, but if we’re finding a song is lacking in a certain depth, we’ll see if we can branch out and push the pop side a little into the fringes to get a little more dirty or depth. We’ll get some weird dissonance and stuff that kind of makes people get a little shocked sometimes.
We’re pretty conscious that we’re writing music that we want overall to be accessible to listen to and have catchy hooks and stuff, but underneath that we’ll try to throw in this darker side of stuff that people can appreciate if they so choose to go deeper into the music.
Aaron: One thing I really noticed were the vocal melodies, the minor differences in keys makes it very interesting to hear all three of your voices work in a contrasting harmony.
Liam: It’s nice. I find that all three of us have totally different voices so we’re not just stuck with a certain sound. I know a lot of bands have one singer or maybe two singers that sound the same and there’s nothing wrong with that, it works for a lot of people, but I like listening to a record and it’s fun to know and it’s a lot more personal to know each different voice. It can do a lot to expand where we can go having all the different voices.
Aaron: That’s a really good point, a lot of people focus more on the vocals as music fans, so when you have 2 or 3 different voices that are singing their own style, it is really unique and adds a lot to the depth of the music.
Liam: I don’t sing lead too often, but on the last few tracks of the record I sing lead vocals in the chorus and bridge part and we did it that way because it adds a refreshing quality to the end of the album. Everybody probably that listens to full records kinda gets the feeling where you get to track 7 and 8 and it just keeps sounding like the same record and you have to turn it off and listen to something else.
We really try to keep it interesting as we go and make sure that we don’t keep kicking the dead dog. We hope to put the record out on vinyl soon. We tracked it so side one is a little more rocky, it’s got the guitar heavy rock songs and the side b starts with more of a slow number and then we hit Battle Royale and speed it up a bit. I think it’s going to work really well as an LP.
Aaron: It’s also been a big trend recently for indie bands to press on vinyl, what’s the attraction for your band?
Liam: It’s just…the way you listen to an album is different on vinyl. I really feel that if somebody has an LP they’ll listen to the whole side as an experience rather an individual songs like on your iPod or getting your playlist shuffled. It’s a really trendy way to listen to your music but it’s kinda cool because there’s that two-sided music listening community. There are a lot of people that listen to LP’s and listen to the whole thing as one.
We want people to listen to it as an LP, but we don’t have anything against anyone that listens to just a few tracks because there’s so much variety, not everyone is going to like every single thing. We’ve had so many different people tell us ‘song a is our favourite song’ or ‘song x is our favourite song.
Aaron: What do you guys find the two strongest opinions are good and bad?
Liam: Well, there’s the opinion that happens when people come check us out and just see a little bit and don’t take the time to figure out what we’re all about. That’s the image that we’re a female singer pop band like Paramore or something. I’ve heard a lot of people come up with that kind of idea where we’re just like a shallow pop band with a girl lead singer that has a nice voice. That’s fine but we’d really like people to pay attention to what we’re doing and appreciate the other things that are going on.
I guess that would be the negative, but the positive response would be people coming up to us and saying how much they like the different sounds and the different writing styles and vocal qualities and different influences. It’s really nice afterward hearing people coming to us afterward that pick up on a lot of stuff.
We have some people coming up to us after shows saying ‘well, that lead singer has a really good voice, I don’t know why that guy is singing sometimes’. So people that think that way probably think a band should only have one singer, but I personally believe that as we put out 3,4,5 albums down the road over the next 5-10 years, people will know our sound by the way we all create.
Aaron: Well, you guys do work really well as a unit and it’s going to be cool to see where you go. Thanks for chatting today.
Liam: No problem, thank you.