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Lions in Ottawa

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Living With Lions

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For the past seven years, Living With Lions has been cementing their place as a Canadian pop-punk institution.

The four piece Vancouver band have worked like dogs, playing shows throughout Canada and beyond to quench their thirst for travel and the need for being heard. Chase Brenneman, Landon Matz, Bill Crook and Loren Legare have seen it all. Through trial and tribulation the four men have become brothers in arms.

Since 2006, they have been keeping fans charmed through unabashed, crass pop-punk tunes, a merry-go-round of vocalists and a bad joke that led to a small national incident.

Controversy and a Middle Finger: Holy Shit

Keeping in the key of humor, the boys proved their adolescent jocularity in May 2011 when they released their sophomore record Holy Shit. The album is a story in itself. For those who don’t know or haven’t heard I will briefly recap.

Young boys make poop jokes. All of them do! Especially the ones in punk bands… However most of those jokes do not make it past three-holed binder paper and grade school lockers, and never do they find themselves on an international stage.

The cover art for the album is a leathery brown surface with the words “Holy Shit” depicted as a gold leaf impression, meant to be a satirical take on the cover of the Holy Bible. As if that wasn’t offensive enough, a few liner notes referring to the “Poo Testament” and a depiction of Jesus as a turd await the average listener underneath the cellophane wrapping.

lwl2Living With Lions immediately started getting serious backlash from religious groups and even American media. The Harper government and specifically the then minister of Canadian heritage, James Moore went on a lion hunt that would make Michael Douglass and Val Kilmer proud- they were in that movie in ’96 The Ghost and the Darkness about the lion hunters, remember? FACTOR (Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent On Recordings) funded $13,258.00 towards the production of the album. As demanded, the band returned the money and re-released the album without the FACTOR logo. To gain support they launched a major Kickstarter campaign and surpassed their fundraising goal in no time. With the extra money raised Living With Lions made a donation to the National Portrait Gallery, another victim of James Moore and his funding cuts, in the name of the minister himself. Punk rock.

“It was a fuckin’… it was a pretty stupid joke, that obviously was taken the wrong way and, you know, at the end of the day were going to do whatever the fuck we want to do, as cliche as that sounds. We really don’t give a shit about what’s going to happen to us or what people think, you know what I mean? So, in that regard it has not fucking changed our ideology one bit.” – Brenneman said.

Some Of My Friends Appear Dead To Me

Aside from political controversies, Living With Lion’s have had a revolving door for vocalists since the band’s inception. The debut EP Dude Manor was recorded in 2006 with the former vocalist of Vancouver happy-hardcore group Daggermouth, Stu McKillop. One full-length album and a few years later the band started preparation for Holy Shit. Stu Ross of Misery Signals recorded vocals on the controversial album taking over for the vocalist who recorded Make Your Mark, Matt Postal. Ross went on to play guitar in Winnipeg punk band Comeback Kid. Postal rejoined for a brief stint and then guitarist and adjunct frontman Chase Brenneman took over all vocal parts for their latest EP.

Some Of My Friends Appear Dead To Me was released on July 9th, 2013 as a follow up to the vexed Holy Shit. Fans curious about the new sound eagerly awaited the three-song EP and were happy with what they heard. The tone is reminiscent of golden era pop-punk, superficially comparable to the bass heavy pop-punk riffs of Blink-182, Crook poignant bass lines combined with the powerful punk chords and familiar guitar melodies Living With Lions and guitarist Matz are best known for. Drums wailing to the beat of perfection, Legare takes a simple yet creatively brilliant approach to playing for the genre. Brenneman’s new voice of the band sinks into the instrumental parts and adds a different, more practiced sound to their arsenal. This quick glimpse into a revamped Living With Lions leaves the imagination wandering on possibilities for the full-length.

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Lions in Ottawa

As the weather started to turn brittle and unforgiving, The Truffle Shuffle Tour rolled into town on November 7th, 2013. A compilation of international pop-punk bands, the tour included Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! all the way from France, Albany new wave pop-punkers State Champs and of course Canadian pop-punk heroes, Living With Lions. Hamilton hardcore sensation Counterparts, fresh off of their Canadian tour with Terror, joined the bands when they crossed over the American border.

Mavericks played home to a pop-punk onslaught, with local openers Remember the Fire and We Were Sharks; the show brought out fans of all ages and lifestyles. Younger pop-punk fans moshed and crowded the front of the stage while experienced audience members lined the walls around the venue like a roll of tattoo patterned wallpaper.

Living With Lions was the first of the tour package to play for Ottawa and they reminded us all why we fell in love with the genre- by we I am speaking for the older fans aforementioned as wallpaper. I’m sure the littluns appreciated it just as well, but the band has stepped away from a dedicated in-your-face frontman, to a lead vocalist behind a guitar and microphone stand more focused on musical integrity than mic sharing with the crowd. They played a set of mostly songs from Holy Shit and SOMFADTM, capping off the performance with Regret Song; a personal favourite, I let my composure go for the three minutes it took to sing along with my friends.

They were followed by Pure Noise Record label mates in State Champs who offered an energetic, younger take on the pop-punk sound. The audience was chomping at the opportunity to have vocalist Tyler Szalkowski grace them with his microphone.

Momentum building still, Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! bounced into a dark stage and cheering crowd after a hilarious recorded introduction of a ditzy girl switching from announcing the band to an f-bomb laced princess rant. The five Frenchmen played to an audience desperate for their happy-hardcore sound. The kids loved jumping along and moshing to the poppy songs ridden with bass drops every few bars. The band have definitely found their demographic.

After Living With Lions’ set I caught up with Brenneman and Crook on Rideau Street out front of Mavericks in downtown Ottawa. The boys had more than a few things to say about tour, their genre and what’s coming next.

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A Conversation in the Cold

How does playing a show in Ottawa compare to playing a show in Vancouver or elsewhere in Canada?

Brenneman: We’ve always had a really good time here, the shows have always been fun. We’ve been pretty lucky, we’ve met a lot of cool people here over the past two years so we enjoy it. Toronto and Ottawa and Montreal are really fun places to play. We really, really enjoy coming out here, always have a good time.

When did Living With Lions start? What year was it you guys started jamming? 

Brenneman: Around 2006 we kind of started writing songs and put out an EP. Around that time, it was kind of weird it took us awhile to start touring and start doing stuff like that but we’ve been going since then I guess until now, which is probably like 6 or 7 years, 7 years now. Yeah ha ha ha!

The new EP has a different sound than Holy Shit, what would you guys describe that sound as? How did you get there?

Brenneman: Well, I don’t think we were trying to go for a different sound it was just something that we knew was going to happen with changing vocalists. It has always been the same writing process for us. It was always the same people writing the songs and vocals, so it just kind of came out that way, for better or for worse. We’re really proud of that EP, we’re really excited about what we did. Writing songs and just kind of continuing doing it this way, it was something that just kind of happened naturally. We weren’t trying to really sound different at all or anything.

What’s the song writing process like for you guys? 

Brenneman: Usually one of us will come to jam with a song idea and well kind of work on it and pick parts apart. Everybody has input on things and as we work on it songs evolve a lot and change. It has always been a group effort; there’s never really been one songwriter in the band. We really try to work on everything together and I think that’s what makes writing songs really exciting for us, having that spontaneity.

Interesting tour having Living With Lions, Canadian pop-punk, State Champs, American pop-punk and Chunk! No Captain Chunk! all the way from France, what are some of the differences between the genre from different countries?

Crook: I would say it’s definitely different, I wouldn’t even define it by country, I would even say regions. With pop-punk, punk, hardcore, all rock sub genres, it seems like there’s always a west coast thing that’s going on that has maybe a bit of a more throwback side, and then there’s an east coast thing. With a lot of these bands that come from America [different regions have different sounds], there’s like California bands and then there are Florida bands and New York bands. What’s cool is when you’re a band from Europe or maybe Japan or another part of the world, that’s not around you as much. So maybe you’re directly influenced by whatever bands you like, that’s what you get into. On this tour you can definitely tell, for me personally, there is definitely an east coast sound and a west coast sound, and Chunk’s kind of from their own universe which is cool. We also have Counterparts joining us in the states.

How did the Holy Shit incident affect you as a band?

Brenneman: Aside from the time period where it was all unfolding, it hasn’t really affected us that much to be honest. It was really overwhelming at the time and kind of weird. There was a lot of attention and it was definitely something new for us to deal with, and not the kind of attention we necessarily wanted to have but after that period passed and blew over, aside from getting asked about it here and there it hasn’t really affected us that much. It was a fuckin’… it was a pretty stupid joke, that obviously was taken the wrong way and, you know, at the end of the day were going to do whatever the fuck we want to do, as cliche as that sounds. We really don’t give a shit about what’s going to happen to us or what people think, you know what I mean? So, in that regard it has not fucking changed our ideology one bit.

Got any plans for the future? What’s the next step? 

Brenneman: We’re just going to write. We’re working on a record right now so we are going to do that. We are going to go home and hopefully record this winter and then start all over again. Put out another record and hopefully do a lot of tours. Nothing earth shattering or anything but were really excited to get back and write a full-length album again. That kind of stuff is always super exciting, I’m sure for any band to do, so looking forward to that.

You guys just got back from Japan, how was that?

Brenneman: It was awesome; it was awesome. Japan is like pretty overwhelming. We were also in Australia, China, Indonesia, [Singapore], it was like culture shock/so eye opening/what the fuck are we doing here ha ha ha. It was one of the coolest trips I’ve ever done in my life and I think I speak for everybody when I say that. That’s one of those things where its like so fucking lucky we play in a band because we would never ever really get to do anything like that if it wasn’t for having this to use as a vessel to do those kinds of things.

Did you have a good crowd out there? People knew your stuff?

Brenneman: Totally, ya we had no idea too. We just kind of did it for the sake of doing it and it went really well. We went out there with no expectations and we had a really good time, the kids were stoked it was a really fun trip.

Beers, Buds, and Good Times

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I acquainted myself with the rest of the band and offered them a roof and some couches for the night. After the show we headed to The Standard Luxury Tavern for a few beers with some old friends.

A somewhat nomadic, “on the road” lifestyle of touring musicians makes it hard to nail down a steady job (or girlfriend) but it connects you with a large network of musicians in similar situations. Sometimes you get together with them for a drink or two when playing a show in someone’s hometown and sometimes you randomly run into them in the midst of a European tour, as the Living With Lions boys reminisced about their encounter with Canadian brethren in Counterparts half the world away.

As we sat around a circular booth at the back of the bar, notable figures in the Ottawa music scene mingled with their friends from out of town. Paul Mascaro, owner of Skoser Merch custom screen-printing is a local businessman and philanthropist. He gives away a large portion of his revenue to charity and he endorses tons of local bands with free clothing and support on tour. The Vancouver boys reacquainted themselves with Michael Ieradi, founding member of The Kindred and most recent drummer in Protest The Hero who played a show earlier on the same night.

Through conversations about unconventional Star Wars trivia and the history and direction of their genre, Living With Lions glued their feet to the ground and came off as modest, war-torn, musicians.

The Standard’s house lights came on and last call was missed. Friends slowly retired with hugs and well wishes; and we parted ways.

The show at Maverick’s was at least their seventh visit to Ottawa in recent years and Living With Lions continues to make new friends and connections obligating them to keep coming back. If you see the weary musicians on the road, in a bar or at the show do not be afraid to offer some kindness and not only will it be appreciated but also reciprocated. Through a relentless drive, humble personalities and a talent for writing punk tunes, Vancouver’s Living With Lions is (and always will be) Canadian pop-punk.

Photos and words by Griffin Elliot

THE SCENE


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