Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Exchanging e-mails with.... the Black Hat Brigade

So, I'm fairly sure I mentioned that I'd be exchanging e-mails with some bands to see how it turns out and... I think it did! Thanks to Bryan of the Black Hat Brigade for obliging and agreeing to be the first one to... feed my ego? We exchanged about 7/8 emails and talked about stuff ranging from bars in stripmalls to the depth in the Toronto music scene... here it goes....

just kidding... thought I should also mention that they have a new EP coming out called Fathers, and I'll have a review up soon, but, for the mean time, two singles "Zombie City Shake" and "Kitchen Party" are posted below....

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It's unclear how awkward this is going to be, so, bear with me; but, at least we actually got to meet in person so that makes it better (less weird), doesn't it?

Anyways, why don't we start talking about the show? How did you guys feel like it went? Walker's Brew was a completely different kind of place to see a band - I guess since the last bunch of shows I've been to have been at the Horseshoe, El Mo, Rancho Relaxo, etc... I mean, WB isn't exactly an uber-trendy hipster concert venue. What's that like versus, say, playing before a band like Handsome Furs? Do you think the venue/crowd/band that comes before/after you makes a big difference in your set? Last one, and feel free to ignore any of these, what's it like playing shows with only one (now two) to draw from? I saw Lily Allen at Lee's Palace in her first show in North America (Thanksgiving '06? maybe) and, not only did she looked terrified, but her set was probably just under an hour and you could tell everyone was pissed...
Thanks again for doing this...

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Hey Rob,

Bryan here. SO... playing Walker's Brew.

It's definitely an awkward spot to play. When we went in to set up, there was a bunch of guys playing poker in the spot where our gear was supposed to go and everyone was watching soccer and already somewhat inebriated. So, when they find out their lovely evening of watching sports and eating nachos is going to get disturbed by a bunch of hooligans making noise... it's definitely a little awkward.

The main difference between playing a place like the Horseshoe is that people go to these places to listen to music. Walker's Brew (or any other random small town bar located across the street from a mall in a tiny strip plaza) isn't a place where people expect to see bands playing. But, we play those shows mainly for our friends that can't make it out to shows in Toronto and our Families. Those shows are always a good time and there's (usually) no pressure.

It's a totally different experience playing to a crowd that's expecting music. Especially if it's for a popular or buzzed about headliner. If you're not that well known and you're playing for a bigger band, it's almost like there's not as much pressure on your set because most people in attendance are there to see the headliner. We'll put pressure on ourselves to play really well, but we've never been boo'd or heckled (other then at Waker's Brew...)

In regards to material to draw from for shows (that's what the question is about right?), we've never really had an issue. When I first started playing with the guys (cuz I joined a little later) there were already a ton of songs written and on the go. We've gotten into the habit of playing new songs live as soon as we're comfortable with how they sound in practice. A good example of this is Kitchen Party and Zombie City Shake off of our upcoming release "Fathers". Both of those songs have been in our live sets for a year and a half. For us, playing a new song here and there keeps the set-lists fresh for us and for everyone who comes out to the shows all of the time.

Thanks again for coming out to Walker's! It's a random spot, but we had a great time. You live in Toronto now, right?

Talk to you soon,

* * *


Interrupting a poker game... I love it... it definitely kind of seems like that kind of bar, since, it is after all, in a plaza. I'm not sure I'd ever been to a bar in a plaza before. Although, Liz's mom tells me those are just the kind of the bars that are in Brampton.

Anyways, I think after watching you guys interact with everyone on Saturday it seemed like you guys are at a pretty fun point with your band. I mean, you can come to Walkers play for a bunch of family, friends, have a good time and have a few drinks, but you can share the stage with some really awesome bands. So, I'm wondering what's happening next for you guys? Obviously, the EP release, but what're you all thinking post-EP release? Are there any thoughts about a tour? Signing with a label (you're not on a label right)?

Yes, I am in TO now (and likely for the forseeable future - despite my url). I would definitely like to grab the EP...


* * *
Hey Rob,

Yeah.. bars in plazas always have a weird vibe. I'm not from Brampton (Adam, Rob and Justin are) but Pickering (where I'm from) has the EXACT same bars. Dan's from Burlington... I don't know if I've spent enough time in Burlington to know if there's plaza bars. I went to one with a patio over some water... but no plaza bars...

We're definitely at a really fun point for playing in a band in Toronto. We've gotten some great breaks (playing with the Handsome Furs a couple of times) and have a couple of solid shows coming up (playing with DD/MM/YYYY and Youth Group), but the best part about the band right now is that we have really good friends in other bands that are going through a similar experience. It's great. It's really rewarding to know that you can play a bill with three or four bands that are filled with your friends and peers, and people actually come out to see you have a good time with your buddies.

As for next steps... we're really trying to focus on playing outside of Toronto. We haven't actually toured at all (a tour meaning packing up a van and hitting many cities in not a lot of days), and it's difficult because we all have full time jobs. Planning some weekend tours, taking advantage of long weekends, and saving vacation days to head to Montreal and the East Coast... that's kinda what the plan is for the summer/fall. The good thing about having solid jobs is that we don't have to rely on a label to put out the record that we want to put out and we can play shows on our own schedules. It's a delicate balance, but it's been working well so far. That's not to say that we're against signing to a label by any means, it's just that what we've been doing has been working and we'll see where that takes us.

I think this email thing is going alright. It's not really that awkward. Let me know if my answers are too long!


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Re: playing with other bands like you guys - it seems like there is a really good crew of Toronto bands like you guys... off the top of my head: Still Life Still (who I'm really interested in seeing), Oh No Forest Fires, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Bruce Peninsula, and on and on... I think the really awesome thing for me about moving to Toronto has been that basically anytime I want to go see good live music, there's always something on. And, thanks to Jen Polk, its always pretty easy to find.

You all having full-time jobs has got to make it tough with the music, no? I mean, I guess in once sense it makes it a lot less stressful - a nice release - but at the same time it makes recording, touring, and doing other music related stuff that much more difficult. What do you think it would take to get into doing music full time (or maybe that's not even the end game)?

So, campy interview question time, what's the best show/best audience you've ever played in front of? What's the worst? And, while we're in that mode it might also be interesting to hear what you think about what you think about the internet/music/myspace/people giving away albums for free now/illegal downloading/etc.

And yeah, it hasn't been too bad at all, so thanks for doing it. I think we're doing okay for length, don't you? I've been thinking maybe we'll try maybe one/two more emails and I'll see how it looks, and I'll post it maybe Monday?


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Hey Rob,

This is a long one...

Toronto is a great place to be playing music right now. There's a ton of great, supportive venues and promoters along with all of the great bands. I know Dan Wolovick has got a little band factory over at Rancho. He pulls in all these random bands that no one has heard of, then a year later they're all over the place. Dan Burke over at the Silver Dollar is another guy that really helped us out last year and has given a lot of our friends breaks to play some good shows.

With the jobs, making the music isn't really a problem. Our songs come together in various different ways. Everyone brings in pieces and we'll just jam on things until they work. Sometimes, someone will have their part figured out and bring it in, or have a basic riff and melody, then everyone will piece parts around the main part and build the song. We'll always have 5 or 6 half songs on the go waiting to be finished. I could see those songs coming together A LOT quicker if all we did was play music... But I wouldn't say it's difficult writing at all with the jobs.

Touring on the other hand... that's tricky. Our buddies in The Darcys just packed up and left to go across the country and I'm exteremly jealous... but we're just not at a point right now where we can do that. One day (hopefully...). Like I mentioned earlier though, we're just going to piece together little mini tours and see how that goes. If someone swooped in and gave us a ton of Bon Jovi money to go tour... then that'd be another story.

Best show, hands down, was the show we played in Ottawa a couple of weeks ago with Handsome Furs. We played Ottawa once before with Handsome Furs at the I(Heart)Music Festival, and that was a really fun show. But, when we went back to Ottawa this time, it was crazy. The place was PACKED because it was the first show after Face Control came out. So, there was a ton of buzz for the Furs. But when we went on stage, people knew the words to our songs and were singing along and shouting out song names... it was weird (but rad). Then, when the furs went on, people went nuts and were moshing like it was a Black Flag show. It was a really solid night. Runner up was the Dinosaur Bones 1 Year anniversary show at the Horseshoe in January.

Worst Show... hmmm... I don't know if this example was our WORST show, but it was the most annoying. It was the release show for the first EP at Silver Dollar. We had our friends The Darcys and Oh No Forest Fires on the bill with us and it was going great. They both had great sets and there was a fantastic crowd. When it comes time for our set, we couldn't find one of our keyboards anywhere, so we were scrambling around for 20 minutes to find that. Then we had some technical difficulties with some pedals and one of the floor toms broke. Then to top it all off, this other band that was playing after us (who I won't name) came up to us half way through the set and gave us shit for "dicking around" WHILE we were playing one of our songs. Then when they went on stage for their set they called us a bunch of cunts, then continued to try and fight some members of Oh No Forest Fires... It was ridiculous.

With the free music/downloads, etc... I think it's really cool that people have so much freedom with their music now. For "Fathers", we have a donation project going where people can donate various increments and get things like pre-release tracks off the album, get thanked in the liner notes of the EP and get pre-orders of the EP. All the details are on our Myspace. If someone wants to give away their entire album/EP though... I find that a little bit dissapointing. You put so much time and effort into recording and creating this music that you love, and you just give it away... But on the other hand, it could be really rewarding and can get more people out to your shows that might not have heard of you or your music other wise. What Radiohead did with In Rainbows worked for them because they're Radiohead and people love them and they're a gigantic band. In Rainbows was one of my favourite records last year and I didn't pay shit for it... hahahaha. BUT I did pay $70 to go see them play live.

Did you pay for In Rainbows? I'd like to know how many people did...

I've got a question... What's been the most surprising show that you've been to since you've been in T.O.? Like, which show blew you away that you weren't expecting. Those are always my favourite shows to go to. The unexpected ones....

Jesus... I just wrote a novel!!!!

Thanks Rob,

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I'm all about causing controversy so please feel free to name names (kidding... kind of). What's that like having people sing-a-long? Are you somebody who sings a long at shows? I'm curious what bands think about this, since, its my feeling that it is the worst possible show going experience if you have someone belting out "I Want It That Way"... I mean, I paid to hear the Backstreet Boys!

I didn't pay for 'In Rainbows', but I'm not exactly a Radiohead fan. If you were to skim through my blog, I'm not sure that you'd find Radiohead mentioned. I did listen to it, and I really liked "The Reckoner"(?), and a couple of other songs - and I like (and paid for - when I was like 14) the Bends (possibly through Columbia House), but I'm not someone who thinks they're the best band ever. My philosophy on this who thing is that I feel compelled to support bands that need support (ie. I'd rather spend my money paying for a Ketch Harbour Wolves t-shirt (which I bought and is awesome), than spending money buying the new Radiohead album... they're probably not going to starve).

I can't say I've been blown-away-surprised by anything since I've been here, in as far as I've got to see a lot of good bands that I really liked, and they've all been excellent. For example, I'd never seen Bruce Peninsula live, and they were incredible, but based on what others (like Bob 'It's Not the Band I Hate... and History Jen) had said I was expecting them to be that good. I think the best blown-away-surprised show I've ever been to has got to be seeing Ohbijou open up for Great Lake Swimmers. Great acoustics in Aoelian Hall (where GLS recorded Oniagara), and they sounded gorgeous. What's that show for you? Or, maybe, is there a show that you went to that made you want to be in a band?


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Hey Rob,

We'll keep the controversy to a minimum on this one... hopefully.

I think it's fun when people sing back. I totally sing back when I'm at shows. I can't sing that well though (hence why I just try to play a bunch of instruments so I'm always "too busy" to sing. But I get stuck at the mic sometimes). As long as people aren't shouting out annoying things at the band... I'm all for singing in a crowd (at respectable levels). We haven't been too overcome by crowd singers when we're playing... so sing away people!

When it comes to music, I just try and support music I like. If it's a major label band or friends that are putting CDs together in their living rooms... I like supporting them, they all deserve my money. I've been into buying new albums on vinyl lately. My girlfriend bought me a turntable that plugs into my computer and I can transfer my songs to mp3's. It's fucking great. It's also a huge bonus that most new records come with digital downloads now.

I remember seeing TV on the Radio play for the first time. That show really impressed me. Their guitar player (Dave Sitek) was playing his guitar with sleighbells at one point, and they had Grizzly Bear (who opened for them) come out for a song (Let The Devil In) and everyone had drum sticks and tambourines and cymbals and were shouting along to the song. I left the show with a GIANT grin on my face and saw that you can just make a bunch of noise with your friends and if you have a good time, even if you mess up or forget words... as long as you have a good time on stage, everyone else will have a good time.

So, maybe the show didn't make me want to be in a band, but it tought me an important lesson... Shaky, jangly things like sleigh bells and tambourines are fantastic.


* * *

Congratulations for making it this far, and so, as promised, the mp3s from the upcoming (and awesome) Fathers EP. Thanks again to Bryan and the BHB.

[mp3] The Black Hat Brigade - Zombie City Shake
[mp3] The Black Hat Brigade - Kitchen Party


B said...

I think I smell a bro-mance in the works!

Great work in setting this up. It's nice to see band members as, you know, real people.

But seriously, you guys should go play laser tag or something.

Paul said...

Awesome feature. I'm looking forward to further instalments.

Bobby B said...

I really like that you came up with this idea; it made for a very interesting read. Looking forward to more. (Just want to add that although I think it's admirable that BHB didn't name the mean band, thew curiosity is killing me!)

The R.O.B. said...

I actually edited the most bromantic parts of the emails... haha..

Thanks Paul... it appears that the next group on the block will be 'The Rest'. Maybe we can get emailing before your TO shows later in the spring...

rajiv. said...

This was great!!!! Bry's friggin awesome, you both did awesome... AWESOME ALL AROUND WHEEE!!

rajiv onff.

mike (for the records) said...

I'm liking BHB the more and more I hear their MySpace samples. Saw them at CMW just recently for the first time and was impressed I'm kind of glad I skipped out on their Walker's Brew gig since I don't think I'd have enjoyed the venue much. I haven't read your e-mails of your BHB conversation in full but so far it's an interesting read.

The R.O.B. said...

You love me! You really love me!

But seriously, thanks for all the positive feed back...