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Interview with KOI Fest Co-Creator Cory Crossman

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Interview with KOI Fest Co-Creator Cory Crossman

For the past five years downtown Kitchener has been the host to KOI Fest, one of Southern Ontario’s largest alternative music festivals. Cory and Curt Crossman saw the opportunity to start a community centred on a cartoon superhero koi fish and the stage lights are the limits for the two brothers. Currently they own and operate Civilian Printing, a screen printing shop in Kitchener as well as working year round to help grow their brand and show their hometown to the world in a new light.

I talked to Cory Crossman about some of the innovations that KOI Fest has brought to the table for this year’s festival.

KOI Fest creators Cory (left) and Curt (right) Crossman

KOI Fest creators Cory (left) and Curt (right) Crossman

Where did the idea for KOI Fest come from?

My brother and business partner Curt and I have been promoting shows for over a decade and we also own a downtown business. At the time that KOI started happening there was a lot of rejuvenation going on downtown with the tech industry in Kitchener really booming and taking off with Blackberry and Google and EA Sports all coming here. There was a new face for downtown, people were looking at it a bit differently and we always wanted to do something like this. So we were like, “You know what? Instead of that music festival we talked about doing in a field out in the middle of nowhere, why don’t we do it downtown and throughout the city? Model it more after a lot of those European festivals that are in the city centres.” That’s how it came to be. Something we talked about for a while but it was we never thought about doing it downtown until we owned our own business down there, we have a screen-printing place called Civilian Printing. We saw how awesome it was down there and thought it was the perfect spot.

What makes Kitchener such a conducive environment for your music festival?

Kitchener has always been a strong music community. In the past couple years it has really grown with all the different festivals we have. With TD Kitchener Bluesfest, which brings a couple hundred thousand people, to all the other cultural events we have here, the music scene has really taken off in the past couple of years. We’re in a really unique situation here where we have this super strong tech community that’s really blowing up, and it’s bringing a lot of young people with fresh ideas and they want to see cool stuff happening in their community. These tech businesses really want awesome events happening downtown so we get a lot of support from the local community because all these businesses want to please their employees and have something cool happening. It’s a win/win, the music industry here supports them and they support us, so it’s a situation that you don’t really see in a lot of places.

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Very cool. How is this year’s festival going to be bigger than it was in previous years?

Well right off the top we’ve added an additional day of programming, so we have Friday, Saturday and Sunday taking place now. On top of that we added a whole bunch of new components, additional outdoor stages, we’ve added a massive food truck event, which takes place on Ontario Street. We’ve added KOI Con, which is a music industry conference that we used to do outside of KOI Fest but now it’s running concurrent to the festival. We’ve added a huge charity drive, were working with 16 local charities to bring awareness to these organizations and their causes, that’s going to be going on the whole weekend throughout the festival. We’ve got the cool comic book that we’re doing this year and we’ve also expanded our Sunday shows. We’ve always done these brunch shows and you get to see one of our headliners stripped down doing an acoustic set the day after they do their big show, it’s really small intimate environment, we’re doing two of those this year. Yeah, so there is a ton of new components we added this year. We have our best line up to date, so were expecting it to be the best festival.

Awesome. Tell me about some of the charities that you’re working with.

They are all local charities that are based out of Waterloo region here. They really vary in the different causes whether it’s supporting kids or mental health, there are a wide variety of charities that we’re supporting and none of them overlap which is really exciting.

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Setting up for KOI Fest 2014

Right on! Do you have an idea of how many people you expect to see this year?

Yeah I think well see about 10,000 people out to the festival this year.

That would be cool. When you started the festival five years ago, is this where you expected you would be? Are you meeting or surpassing goals?

8Close. A couple smaller logistical things we were hoping to have in place by this time, but getting to that 10,000 number that’s what we were shooting for year five. Things are looking pretty good and I think getting the caliber of artists that we have now, this is where we wanted to be for our fifth year.

What are the smaller logistical things?

Just having a larger team with us. Right now it’s a pretty small team still, so it’s quite a bit of work.

Cool, so where would you want to see it go from here? I guess a larger team.

Yeah, our big thing were trying to do is we want to create awareness and we don’t want it to just be KOI. We want KOI to be something much bigger and that’s the idea with KOI Con, the business music conference. We’re trying to help educate bands and develop more musicians and more of a music industry in Kitchener. That’s what we want to do with the KOI brand we don’t want it to be thought of as just one festival, one weekend, we want it to be something that’s ongoing. That’s what we’re looking at developing as we move on.

Excellent. Why do you guys offer a free show on Friday before the festival?

We get a lot of people asking about that. It’s kind of like a showcase. We wanted to create a showcase as we’re building a name for ourselves. We want people to come out and have a chance to see what all the hype is about. That’s Friday, the idea is people can come, see a big outdoor stage, see some awesome bands play, and then we have a couple after parties too where people can get a feel for what it’s going to be like at the smaller indoor venues. The idea is really to give a teaser of what it’s about. And just to bring music to the community, before KOI there really wasn’t anything sort of for more of a youthful audience. We really want to help develop and grow the music industry here and I think that’s a good way to do it.

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Wicked, so you kind of touched on this a bit, but you’ve done a lot of branding with the KOI name and the logo with the superhero fish. How has that added to the success of the festival?

Well I think right off the top it was important for us to choose a name for the festival that had strong branding. We actually have a festival mascot that goes around with us from event to event and it’s been awesome because you see the reception people have. They are so much more open to coming up and getting a picture with the mascot as opposed to just talking to us promo people.

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Cory and KOI

What are some of the difficulties of organizing a festival with over 150 bands?

Yeah there are a lot of logistical issues haha. Ha, I think the difficulty is prioritizing things. It seems like at every point in the day there is somebody trying to get a hold of you or there’s some issue that you need to put out. One of the things that we have gotten a lot better at is delegating roles and if ‘this issue’ pops up ‘this person’ deals with it, just so there isn’t so much strain on two or three people. That’s really allowed us to focus more on what each person needs to; it was just a learning curve. I remember the first year we did the festival our walkie-talkies were non-stop, going off like crazy. You couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Ha, now we sit down pre-event and go over everybody’s role, sit down post event and wrap up and see what worked, where the were issues and why. We worked a lot of those kinks out and were expecting a smoother execution this year.

How do you organize what bands play which stages and when?

That’s a good question because we have a lot of people ask, “why is this band playing here, or there?” We look at the size of the band, the frequency that they’re coming through here, for what venue they play at. Then we also look at what other bands are going to be playing at that time. We really try to go out of our way to not match bands of the same genre or the same draw up against one another and we really try to spread it out.

Something else we do at the support venues, we work off a three-band system. So well put a smaller band in front of a bigger band, then a smaller band on the other side. The idea is to help get awareness to those smaller bands and at the same time build a larger audience for the bigger bands.

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That’s awesome. Do you run into any difficulties booking the bigger acts closer to the end of the festival season?

Yeah, right off the top it’s tough because we’re in Canada so it’s a little difficult to get some of the American artists to come up. So we have an issue with that always, we have issues with some of these larger festivals that book bands that were trying to get. They obviously have a lot more money and can sway them that way. One of the benefits we do have is September is a heavy touring season, so there is a lot of artists that are looking to get out and play. That works out really good, but another draw back is that we’re in Kitchener and it’s not as well known as Toronto. We’ll bring a band up from the states and it’s expensive to bring them to what people consider a “B market” like Kitchener.

Where does the budget for the festival come from? Is it money earned from the previous year’s festival or do you have outside funding?

Hahaha. Yeah I wish. We rely heavily on public engagement and private support. Ticket sales are a big source of revenue for us. We also get grants and funding from provincial, federal and municipal governments, and then we sell sponsorships. Those three main factors: grants, sponsors, and ticket sales.

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PBR is one of this year’s official KOI sponsors

Did you have any issues booking bands for this year? Is there anybody that you wanted to get but you could not?

Yeah, we always have issues, there’s always a band that you want to get but we didn’t. This year is pretty cool because last year, our headliner, we were really shooting for Every Time I Die and USS; we got both those bands this year. Four Year Strong is a band we’ve been trying to get for years. If it doesn’t work this year keep with it and hopefully we get them next year.

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KOI 2014 headliners, Four Year Strong

Right on. I have one more for you, how would you say KOI Fest is different than other music festivals?

KOI Fest is different for a couple key areas. KOI Fest is really unique in the sense that it takes place throughout a downtown core, its not some empty field. We’re very communal, there’s a grassroots feel to us. It’s really cool because you’ll see a lot of artists out walking the same streets, eating at the same restaurants, shopping at the same stores that you are, I think you don’t see that at a lot of other festivals. The audience is a lot more engaged with the bands, which is something we pride ourselves on.

Do not miss out on KOI Fest in Kitchener, on now.

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Interview by Griffin Elliot

Pictures taken from the web

THE SCENE


Interview with Mike Bilenki of Take Me To The Pilot

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Interview with Mike Bilenki of Take Me To The Pilot

Winnipeg’s Take Me To The Pilot has been rocking into the hearts of Canadians since their formation in 2010. The four-piece pop/rock group have seen national success touring the country on the heels of their self-titled release. With songs receiving radio and TV play, including being featured on Degrassi, the guys are ready to hit the road and pump out more hit pop tunes with a rock show styled performance. Recently, Take Me To The Pilot released a new single called “What They Ask For”. The first release since their album is soon to be followed by a music video and subsequent singles as they try to change up the typical album release cycle. The Scene Magazine’s Joey Fitzmaurice caught up with vocalist and guitarist Mike Bilenki on tour before their show at Leaky B’s in Ottawa.

Your band is categorized on iTunes as Pop/Rock. How would you describe your sound?

Well we tell people we’re a rock band that plays pop music. Our last EP came out in 2012 but we’re actually in the process of releasing a bunch of singles right now, and there’s been a big step taken into the pop world between those two releases. But when we play live it’s definitely heavier, it’s definitely a rock show. That’s sort of undeniable when you see us, but the songs are pop songs. That’s what we tell people, but we are a pop act.

What are some of the bands you guys get inspiration from? What are some of your favourite bands?

Lyrically I just like stuff that’s snappy and interesting. This is going to sound nerdy but I’m a big fan of words and language. Whenever something is either said or the sense that it’s being expressed in an interesting way or snappy way or a catchy way, the use of the language is really cool, that’s what I get drawn too.

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When I write lyrics I try and make sure that they’re as interesting to me as possible, because that’s all you can do is write for yourself. As far as the band there isn’t really anything set in stone. I like to come at it from all over the map. Nothing drives me more crazy when you see a band live and you can’t differentiate the songs from each other because it’s all just so deep inside of a certain niche or genre. It’s sort of all just the same thing more or less. I try to come at every song with a little different approach. So that when a kid comes home from one of our shows, and they go, “Man that band had that sweet one song.” They’ll actually be able to go home and be able identify it correctly and be able to pick it out of a line-up. For example our song “Melody”, our last single off our last EP, was written very much in the vein of Rocket to the Moon. I remember three months ago one of the last writings sessions I did in Toronto, I went in saying I wanted to write something like Whitney Houston. Two very different artists, but one of the common lengths there is both artists are good. We just want to be good. You can take the most boring thing in the world and say it a million different ways, and you can actually breathe new life into what you say depending on how you word it. A lot of it too definitely has a lot to do with song writing. I mean you look at something like rhythmic pop, which is what’s big today, like Kesha and stuff like that. You can write her off all you want but listen to the way she words things and the way that goes with the beat, rhythm, and vibe of the song, and that’s all work. Super, super important, and that’s why I’ve always been drawn to interesting lyricists.

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You went to school before starting the band, correct?

Yeah, I got my bachelor in psychology, I graduated in 2010, it’s been a while but since then it’s been about the band. It just sort of all worked out. In my last year of university we were just all starting up, really building up towards releasing our first EP and getting ourselves together live. And it just so happened, it wasn’t planned, it wasn’t a conscious thing but by the time I graduated we started playing shows locally around Winnipeg then the following September we hit the road for the first time. 

How long have you guys been a full-time touring band? 

I can’t honestly say we’re a full-time touring band, we all have jobs back home and haven’t really reached the level where we can make ends meat playing music. We are on the road between three to six months, depending on the year. So we’ve been doing that pretty much from the start. In 2010, the first time we hit the road we did about 88 dates. We tour whenever we can, and with the way we’re releasing our songs right now that’s going to allow us to do more of that. Instead of sticking to an album cycle we’ll be a little more freewheeling with what we’re doing with the singles. Being from Winnipeg its tough cause we’re so far away from everything. This country is so sweet it’s been great to see all of it. 

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So it is TMTTP’s first Ottawa house show. Do you find house shows are important to scheduling a tour? Or are they just a thing that you have to do last minute because you can’t book a proper music venue in that city? 

We haven’t done a ton of house shows in the past, and I think partly that’s because you can’t find a lot of people who want to do that. It’s tough to find somebody who’s down to invite potentially many many many strangers into their homes and maybe they’re not down to risk the potential destruction that might come about. As far as house shows go, I think its like anything else man; it’s a place to play. I don’t know whether it’s even that important to distinguish between playing in a house and playing in a venue. It’s just that you get to perform and you get to have that interaction with musician and listener. I think that a house show is cool because it adds that variety. A house show is certainly unconventional, but I’ve seen some great shows in some garages, and I think if you can do it in the garage you can do it in the stadium. You gotta do it all man.

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I thought you guys had a very interesting approach to crowd involvement. I read that you guys are asking for submissions for “selfie videos” of people signing the chorus to the song “What They Ask For”, where did this idea come about? 

Well its one thing to write the song, release the song, and perform the song, but what ultimately makes or breaks it is the connection the listeners make with the music, and so the idea is just re-enforcing that connection. Giving them the chance to really participate and to be apart of our story in a way that you can actually see on screen. The listeners are everything. They are 100 percent vital, without them there would be none of this or us and we just wanted to show some love.

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How much longer are the fans going to have to wait until they see their faces in your video? 

I can’t give a definite answer it will be soon though. I would say the next month, month and a half or so. We are all very proud of this song, it’s the first of many singles coming out in the next little bit because we’ve decided to do it that way, instead of releasing an album, and we want to start things off right.

Why are you guys doing your releases that way? 

Well even when you release an album, it’s a single, it’s a song that everyone in the industry will tell you that makes or breaks how successful a band is during that album cycle. Rather than lump it all together we’ve decided to focus our energy, be selective, write a lot and pick a bunch of songs that we thought would be good enough to go out there as singles. Really kind of do it right without worrying about making this date or that date or how long people have been waiting. The whole time people are getting more music, rather than waiting a year or two years to hear a new album we’re releasing a new single every few months. When you’re a DIY band like us, not a lot of resources, not a huge budget it makes sense for us to do it this way. It’s like we’re financing an album rather than buying it all at once. 

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Interview by Joey Fitzmaurice 

Pictures taken from Facebook

THE SCENE


Atom Willard of Against Me! on Transgender Dysphoria Blues

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atom willardAtom Willard of Against Me! on Transgender Dysphoria Blues

“I’m proud more than anything,” admits Atom Willard, sprawled across a booth bench in the basement of Ottawa’s Ritual Nightclub. The drummer explains the attachment to his current band, Florida punks Against Me!, amidst touring behind their January release, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. The record details singer Laura Jane Grace’s dealing with gender dysphoria and coming out as transgender, the album is Willard’s first with the band.

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To say Willard has earned his stripes is to put it lightly; “Oh boy, old man Willard,” he sighs wryly at the mention of his career. Since his ‘90s gig with Rocket From the Crypt, he’s pounded skins for The Offspring, Social Distortion, Angels and Airwaves, and now he’s nested with the Gainesville rockers. As he intimates, it’s not quite like anything he’s done before.

“There’s really two different kinds of projects that I’ve been involved with. There’s things where I’ve been in a band, and then I’ve been an employee. When I joined Social Distortion [and] The Offspring, I was basically an employee,” he recalls. “You’re not involved in songwriting, you’re not involved in aesthetics, you’re not involved in tour decisions. You go where the band is going.”

He repositions himself for a moment, and goes on to elucidate just how different Against Me! is from those projects. “It’s kind of everything you would hope for from a band, cause you do have this idealistic notion where people are all working together and everyone has a say, and so often that’s not the case. It’s pretty nice to be in a situation where everybody’s opinion is valued.

“Everyone’s got their own niche of the thing, these four corners, and we all get together in the middle. I’m pretty stoked on it.”

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Both Willard and bassist Inge Johansson, who joined the band shortly after Willard, carry an air of confidence and comfort with Grace and guitarist James Bowman, who have been Against Me!’s core since 2001. Unlike Johansson, Willard recorded on Transgender Dysphoria Blues and contributed to the record’s creation. He points out the importance of creating a record they were personally pleased with. 

“It’s like, ’Do we like it?’ Ultimately, being your own worst critic, it becomes harder to achieve that status than anything else. This is our life’s work, essentially. Everything that we’ve done up to this point has gotten us to this moment. Every show that I’ve ever played has gotten me here today. You couldn’t have gotten there by skipping any of it.”

On the recording process, he laughs, “I learned that it’s really easy to work with Laura. She was essentially the producer. We would circle around to the point where we were both excited and happy about what was going on. We’ve both made a lot of records, we both kind of know what we’re doing in some regard, so it was like applying shared but different learned experiences.” 

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Willard’s handiwork is evident and enamouring on the rollicking, wily “True Trans Soul Rebel.” Perhaps the definitive cut from the album, the songs lyrical grip is matched with high-strung drumming.

“When she played me that song I was like, ‘There’s so much room for really high energy, high impact drumming here,’ and I just heard all these spaces and parts. My goal is to create tension and then release,” he relates. “You create tension in the verse and then release in the chorus, and to do that, there’s gotta be that level of push and pull.”

But for Willard, being a part of Against Me! has been about more than just gnarly drum fills and bombastic rhythm.

“Ya, I wanna make songs that people dance to and sing along to, but at the end of the day, if you can do something that actually affects one person, if you can have a drastic effect on one person’s life, you’ve made a contribution,” he says. “It’s humbling and it’s this thing you have a sense of pride about.”

The outpouring of support for the record indicates a mutually beneficial thing; as much as the band receives support for the record, the fans have found support and strength in the records contents, in particular Grace’s decision to publicly confront gender dysphoria and her own life.

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“Its exciting to see people’s reactions, and people saying like, ‘Oh my gosh, this record really helped me come to terms with thing that I’ve been struggling with,’ he continues. “It’s really just about spreading awareness. I think there are so many people that are just unaware that this is something that many, many people are struggling with. 

“Many people have no reference point or idea how to handle it if they were confronted with a loved one that said, ‘I’ve been living a lie, I need to be myself.’ It’s hard to be labeled a spokesperson or a leader in this cause, that’s never anything [Grace] set out to do, nor any of us. But to help spread awareness, if we can do that on a real significant level and honestly bring awareness of this kind of thing to this community, its been a good thing.”

Willard deftly reminds that these emotions and plights go beyond gender dysphoria. Against Me!’s courage and open-minded attitudes are applicable to many walks of life, and Willard’s gentle smile betrays a true excitement to be a part of that.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be gender dysphoria or outing yourself to your loved ones. It can be about so many things. People are drawing so many parallels to their lives. They say, ‘Well if she can do that, I can change my job,’ or ‘I can leave this abusive relationship.’ For me, that’s the greatest thing, to be involved on a deeper level,” he says.

Check out a live review of Against Me! at Ritual in Ottawa.

Against Me! release Transgender Dysphoria Blues.

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Interview by Luke Ottenhof

Article photos by Ryan Russell

THE SCENE


Interview with Rachel Bolan from Skid Row

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Skid Row 2014

As SKID ROW gears up for their upcoming release, RISE OF THE DAMNATION ARMY – Chapter Two of their United World Rebellion EP series — Skid Row Bassist, Rachel Bolan says “There’s plenty of rock and roll for everyone.”

The EP releases on August 5th in North America and August 6th in the U.K., Japan, and the rest of the world.

I had the opportunity to discuss how they got back to their roots, the strategy behind their EP series and get to the bottom of some speculative controversy about ownership of the band name and much more.

Naomi-Joy Blackhall: With the release of your EP series vs a full length album, I feel like you’re sucking us in and leaving us wanting more.

Rachel Bolan: We’re not the first ones to do it. The whole idea came when we realized we hadn’t put out any music in six years. We love playing live, and creating is such a huge part of this band. The idea really appealed to us. Five songs and a couple of covers, do that over the course of three years. From a songwriter’s standpoint, it takes a lot of pressure off you. You don’t have to write thirty songs and pick your best ten. Three small bodies of work really appealed to us.

Right now we’ve got three chapters and we’re writing them as we go along. Tour, write, record, release, tour, write, record, release, tour…

N: So it’s like your music becomes more organically developed that way?

R: Yes, it’s fresh and hasn’t been in the can a while. We really like doing it this way.

N: How else do you feel you’re successfully romancing your fans with this strategy?

R: You keep out there, on the road, the band stays visible and you get to play more shows. Instead of getting the record out and working it for the next few years. Another big issue was economically for a
Skid Row fan, you could put down six or seven bucks than paying fifteen bucks for a record at one time.

It’s become a really fun way of doing it too.

N: Yeah, Dave said in virtually every interview about the EP that it’s the most fun he’s had making a Skid Row record because of the freedom you’re afforded. Why else would you say it’s the most fun?

R: Because it’s not a long long process. When we used to make records, it would take six months to write them. Then you demo it and pick the songs you like and before you know it’s a year later before you’re
even about to go into the studio.

Now that we don’t all live down the street from each other, it’s a lot easier this way, and you’re not there for six months at a time. You’re there for two months and everything is positive and happens so quick.
Sometimes less is more. I think that’s what makes it more fun, at least for me.

N: When Sebastian left, your music seemed to grow darker, heavier and at times more progressive.

R: There’s a lot of life. We’ve been a band for twenty-five years, so whatever changes were made, were for the good of the band. There’s plenty of rock and roll to go around for everyone. The band broke up for
four years and when we got back together… I mean, four years is a long time. There’s a lot of life that goes on in between that time.

N: In what ways might that have been a result of your music growing up with you?

R: Life is in there the older we get. I did an interview yesterday. Guy says “Okay, you guys are in your forties, crawling up to fifty and yet you guys still have teenage angst.” Yeah I guess we kind of do. I don’t know where it comes from, but when we sit down and write, we do it the same way all the time. We get ideas and we’ll bounce them off. Usually we’ll just sit there. We’ll have the guitars in our laps but not even get anything done because we’re just talking all the time.

N: Are there any specific themes you wanted to explore with this new EP?

R: That’s the whole idea with all the Unite World Rebellion chapters. It’s themes. It’s not really a concept. Skid Row’s always been a band to stand up for who you are and what you believe and not let anyone else dictate what’s right for you. That’s kind of taking it to a global level of things.

When the whole idea all came together, we never thought things would pop up all over the world. There are twitter accounts. They call themselves “Sectors,” and they’re almost like street teams but it’s just groups of fans that will start sectors like in Finland, New York, California, all over the world, and now they’re keeping in touch with each other and the common bond is skid row and united world rebellion.

We went to Spain and the sector leader was there with the people from a couple spots in South America like Brazil and Argentina and stuff, and it was pretty cool. They get together and it’s because of us and I guess that’s the whole unite part.

N: I’m loving the new EP… you can hear in the music that you’re having fun, and I love the sort of Judas Priest and Punk Rock vibe to a couple of your songs while still being uniquely Skid Row.

R: I always seem to go back to my Ramones records, Kiss, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Deep Purple. I always go back to those; crank those on my ipod. That’s what I grew up on. And we wanted that to shine through in our songs.

We thought we should retrace our steps and find our roots again for this series of EPs and I think we were pretty successful and it wasn’t easy. Like I said… 25 years, man you can get really far away from something in 25 years. Snake and I had a conversation, we really gotta find out who those kids were that wrote SLAVE TO THE GRIND, the first record. It wasn’t as easy as one would think. It wasn’t like “Yeah there we are,” because of everything that went on back then.

N: What were some things you did to specifically did to help get back to your roots?

R: I didn’t listen to commercial radio at all…I just listened to the bands I grew up on and did that for about a year… I studied all those bands I said… the Beatles… the bands that influenced me and inspired me to play and become a songwriter. That’s all I listened to for about a year. It’s really weird when you have to skip over like 8000 songs on your iPod. It was a reconditioning of sorts.

N: Okay, Rachel, so being the member to have reinvented your image the most… let’s talk about cutting your hair.

R: I just got sick of the nap to be honest. Every morning I’d be like “oh god…” no matter if I put it in a ponytail or not. I’ll never forget… We were over in Japan and it was so wadded up, that I was like I can’t stand it anymore. Our tech at the time, I go, “You have scissors?” and he’s like “Yeah why?” and I go ‘Cut my hair off!” It was pretty funny.

N: Have you put any thought into your image recently or is it like ‘this is who we are, as we are when we are?’

R: I guess in the beginning we did but now we’re just like, you know what, we’re five distinctly different people but the common thread obviously is the band. But we try to make it cohesive, like if everyone wears enough black that’s cool but just do your own thing … we don’t wanna look like an accidental version of the Village People… been just kind of street and dirty. That’s worked for us.

N: Johnny mentioned in another interview that this project was one of the most challenging for him vocally. What are some of the ways you challenged his voice and pushed his range?

R: He jokingly said to me “Man you write a lot of lyrics, sometimes too many to put in one verse.” It’s just a rhythm thing. A lot of our songs have a lot of lyrics. So I think that’s the one thing that challenges him. He’s like “I gotta retrain my brain to get really short breaths,” but we tried a couple different keys we usually don’t write in, and it wasn’t on purpose it just sort of happened. Yeah, I think that’s why there were some stuff that pushed him. We like doing that to each other.

N: One of the most captivating aspects of your music is the incredible range of vocal melodies – from the more emotionally piercing, soaring vocals of Sebastian Bach to Johnny’s grittier, harder rocking vocals. It’s like night and day. But I love your new song “Catch Your Fall”! Melodically it has more emotion than I’ve ever heard on Johnny voice. What inspired that song? How involved is Johnny in the writing of the lyrics and melodies?

R: It’s always been this way with us. Snake and I, before we even started a band, we started writing songs together. We do write a bulk of the stuff, but it’s never truly a Skid Row song until everyone puts their stamp on it. There are times where we think that we just wrote “Stairway To Heaven” and we bring it to the band and they’re like “Meeehhh….” Can’t make someone play something they don’t like. For that song, Snake had a melody and we rewrote it a couple of times ’cause we weren’t both 100% happy with it. So I started writing lyrics over it, then one day they just kind of fell out of my head. Snake and I got together and wrote it and then sent it to Johnny and he put his own inflections on it. I can only imagine what it’s like when you got two guys that are just so attached to a song and they hear it all produced in their head… You just gotta not let your ego get in the way. It’s gotta be comfortable for everyone to play.

N: A band’s name reveals something about their music & who they are. You’ve been a well known BRAND for years. How do you connect with your brand NOW versus when you first formed?

R: Well when we came up with the name it was accidental. We were on our way to rehearsal, Snake and I and we were driving through where there was an accident, and there were skid marks all over… and we liked the idea of the skids because we had no money and we were basically on the skids… so it was like “What about skid row?” And we looked at each other and was like “How much money you got in your pocket? I got about a dollar fifty… Okay we’ll split that beer when we get to rehearsal.” It was like, this is this perfect name for this band!!! And then it became a brand and something we’re very protective of. We’ve had lawsuits, people have fought over it, misuse of it… it’s just something we’re very protective
of.

N: Which leads me to wonder about claims that Brush Shields made, that, reportedly, Jon Bon Jovi bought the rights to the name from the late Gary Moore (guitarist with late ’60s Irish rock group of the same name) for $35,000.

R: Well here’s the whole thing with that. We named ourselves Skid Row. We had no idea there was a Skid Row from Ireland. I mean, there was no internet back then. And as much as I love Thin Lizzy – which had members of the Irish Skid Row at one time – we had no idea that there was a Skid Row in the sixties. We were born in the sixties. It wasn’t until our album came out… Then this whole story came out that we got permission from Gary Moore and we gave him money…but that never happened! I don’t know where that story even evolved from. I’ve got emails from back in the myspace age from Brush and I didn’t know who he was. I tried to explain and he didn’t want to hear it. I just said okay I’m not gonna argue with this.

N: So it’s just hearsay, rumours and misinformation between different groups?

R: Yeah absolutely, I’ve heard that story before.

N: And you were like “We didn’t have $35,000. We were broke!”

R: Is it up to 35K now? It started at 15K…it keeps going up every time I hear it.

N: Lastly, I totally agree with a comment made by Snake, that it must frustrating when asked about your break-up Sebastian Bach. It’s so 1997!! So how have you managed to stay so gracious about the whole thing?

R: You know what, it’s just indifference. I don’t get why people ask. It just kind of rolls off my back. I’m in the now. This is Skid Row. This is what I’m worried about. You know, you could sit there and shrug your shoulders and roll your eyes or you can get pissed off at someone, but that’s not us. Like I said earlier, there’s plenty of rock and roll for everyone. If everyone would just stop causing the two parties, everyone would get along just fine. Know what I mean?

N: People are really concerned about it… Claiming that Sebastian is riding your coat tails on this tour and booking dates behind you…what do you think about that?

You know what, if it doesn’t affect me or my family or my friends or my band, I don’t care. It’s just so not a part of my life. I don’t care one way or the other.

 Skid Row will play The Virgin Mobile Mod Club – 722 College St, Toronto, ON
Wednesday August 20, 2014 – Presented by Inertia Entertainment More info HERE

Written by: Naomi-Joy Blackhall


Interview with Alex Kerns of Lemuria

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Interview with Alex Kerns of Lemuria

Buffalo’s Lemuria is currently on tour promoting their most recent release The Distance is so Big with friends and Portland natives Kind of Like Spitting. The bands will be playing in Ottawa at the infamous House of TARG on July 10. I had the chance to pick the brain of drummer/vocalist Alex Kerns about the band, international touring and owning his own record label.

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What was the first song that you heard that really made you fall in love with music?

That’s a very tough question because I have been a big fan of music since I was very young. I grew up on a lot of 80’s pop. But I remember the first band that really got me digging for music that wasn’t just being played on the radio was They Might Be Giants when I heard the album Factory Showroom when I was in middle school. The song “Metal Detector” blew my mind. I also used to leave a VHS tape running on record while the station was set on MTV2, which at the time was all music videos, most of which that didn’t make it onto regular MTV. I would go away to school for the day, then come home fast forward through and find the videos I liked.

What is the most important part about writing an album?

I think it’s important to have a good flow between songs, so that the album sounds like one focused idea, instead of a compilation of unconnected thoughts.

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Being a band for 10 years now, what changes have you seen in the music industry since you started in 2004?

It’s all pretty much the same to me. The only thing that has changed is that I care less and less about the industry each year and more and more about trying to write songs that we enjoy playing and people enjoy listening to.

What is your craziest tour experience?

25% of our shows in Russia were attacked by neo-nazis. At one of the shows we were locked in a basement room with our friend who was driving us to a few of the shows. He nonchalantly guarded the door while sitting in a chair reading a book with a gun rested on his leg.

How would you compare the Canadian music scene to the American music scene?

I’m envious of the Canadian music scene. It seems that your country’s population generally appreciates artists more. I’ve heard so many stories about bands receiving grants to buy a tour van, make a music video, record an album. I also think it’s really cool that your radio stations have to play a certain ration of Canadian music. Also, Canada has so many killer bands. I’m from Buffalo, so being so close to the border I am lucky and able to pick up Toronto stations.

What do you think about playing in Ottawa?

We have only played Ottawa once before and it was awesome! We played with a really great band, The Creeps. That was a while ago too. I remember the capital area being very beautiful too.

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How would you describe your sound and how did you find it?

As vague of a genre title it can be, I usually say “indie rock”. But we have punk and hardcore roots as well. We have a wide assortment of influences. All three of us are music dorks.

As a three-piece band how do you cope with member changes?

Sheena and I have been doing the band since the beginning. We have had a couple bass player changes, but it was a pretty easy transition. Max who plays with us now has been with us for five years. But in a lot of ways he has been with the band since the very beginning because he would tour and roadie with us before he officially joined.

In your opinion, who is the all time greatest musician?

Tom Waits is my favorite songwriter. But the musicianship of all the members of Thin Lizzy will always win my ears as well.

What did you hope to get out of the band when you started? Have you achieved that goal or has it changed?

My first goal was to release something on vinyl, then it became to tour to places I have never been to. Those goals have been achieved. We are always developing new goals though. There isn’t really a finish line for the band; it’s just an ongoing adventure to us.

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What are some of the challenges and advantages of operating your own label?

It’s easy to become very disconnected when your own band is on tour and you have to leave the office, and by office I mean designated corner of my apartment. But most of the bands I have released records for on the label are bands I discovered from going on tour and playing shows with them.

What are some of the benefits or downfalls of being signed to a label? What does a good label do for a band or artist?

It’s really great to have a home base when you’re on tour. Reliable people mailing you more records, helping out with press, sending posters to the venues so they are hung up. We haven’t had any complications with any label we have ever worked with, but of course any band should always do their research before agreeing to put a record out on a label. There’s ample amounts of horror stories out there.

Where do you see the band going in the next 10 years and how do you plan on getting there?

I would love to travel and play places we have never visited before, specifically places in South America. I’m sure we will continue to write, record, and tour. I can’t imagine ever stopping.

Catch Lemuria in Ottawa on July 10 at House of TARG.

Enter to win tickets to the show here.

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Interview by Griffin Elliot

THE SCENE


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