Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Exchanging emails with... Ketch Harbour Wolves

I think Ketch Harbour Wolves are one of the/the most underrated bands in Toronto, maybe in Canada.... hell, maybe in the entire world. I came across their album on Herohill's top Canadian EPs of 2008, and it took me approximately 15 seconds to figure out that the guys at Herohill had really hit the nail on the head with KHW. They (KHWs) ended the year in a three way tie for BM's album of the year with Kanye West and Chad Van Gaaelen, so, pretty select company for a pretty impressive album.

When I went to go see them in January, I was a little underwhelmed for a variety of reasons which I discussed then (and we discuss in the emails), but after seeing a great deal of improvement in their live show I'm projecting a solid second half of 2009 and a break out year for 2010 when, presumably, they'll have a new album out.

Also, and I realize I'm getting long-winded here, you should note that:

1/I'm kind of fine-tuning this 'Exchanging emails with' segment, and am hoping to keep this a little more brief/readable.
2/Thanks to Jonathan, I think I'm now going to finish every series of emails with a LIGHTNING ROUND where I'll ask a bunch of rapid fire, InsidetheActorsStudioesque questions...

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Thanks for agreeing to do this... and, like I said, I think what makes this interesting is if it turns more into a dialogue rather than just the standard - question, answer format. Also, if there's something you want to ignore/don't want to talk about feel free to just ignore any questions/comments.

First, that poster/photo(?) that you had up on your myspace for a while was spectacular. How/Where did that come from? It kind of looks like you're playing in some sort of stadium... you guys aren't secretly really big in Europe are you?

Second, what's been going with you guys since you put out Dead Calm Horizon?

Third, what inspired you/how'd you come to the decision to give the album away for free?

Hopefully that's a good start to get the ball rolling, and feel free if you want to ask/answer your own questions to do so... hope you've had/are having a good holiday weekend...


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Hey Rob,

First off that was a pretty damned good dialog with Bryan from Black Hat Brigade so I realize I've got my work cut out for me!

On the poster - Sadly, we are not really big in Europe and despite the spectral haze surrounding the lights which is easily confused with the crimson smoke that wafted through Red Rocks in 1984 when U2 tore it a new one with their rendition of 'Sunday Bloody Sunday', ... it is in fact, Toronto's very own Mod Club with a wonderfully serendipitous alignment of lighting and camera angle.

On post-Dead Calm Horizon - Actually much of our energy since Dead Calm Horizon, or at least up until the beginning of this year was taken up with developing material for the next album. We had been taking inspiration from the prolific careers of the Bob Dylan's of the world and figured that our DIY system of recording should be the perfect compliment to a hyper-productive band. In retrospect I think we were focusing on the new stuff to a fault. I think our performance at The Elmo in early January really revealed that and so we took a bit of a step back to focus on learning how to properly 'deliver' the songs. (hmm.... this little email confession booth turning public idea is kind of terrifying, but also really great!)

The free album - The decision to give the album away for free was pretty easy actually. Our philosophy was about maximum availability to the point of total redundancy (hence the 'Catch 22' - esque situation of having it simultaneously available for free and for a price on our website... all we would have to do now is sell it back to ourselves for twice the price!). The thinking is that most of those who tend to pay for music will pay for it, most of those who don't tend to pay would either not get it or rip it from someone, but most importantly those who come across the band randomly, who might really enjoy coming back from the far places of the web with some obscure canuck band in hand would almost certainly not have paid and thus not have brought it back to places like - Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Australia, The Philippines etc.

It's not a perfect system as evidenced by the fact that we're still drowning in debt but what has been invaluable is the 'barrier free' way to connect with fine bloggers such as yourself who consistently mention (and most of the time link to) the free download page. If we drew a grand old pyramid scheme we would ideally have visions of Giza but you get the idea. Revenue, not so much..... generating interest.... hopefully! (here it would be prudent to throw in the link I think... www.ketchharbourwolves.ca).

I guess I'll leave it with a possible critique of our little method - by giving away the album for free, we're only engaging in nihilistic opportunism that doesn't help solve the problem of how artists will create a viable model for generating revenue. It's this kind of seemingly harmless behavior that is actually undermining the industry's ability to respond and so ultimately hurts all artists.

What's your opinion Rob?

Looking forward to hearing back from you.


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... the photo, if I can make a suggestion, I think should be your next album cover....

Well, if the DIY thing for you means you are going to put more stuff out then that's awesome, because your music (and when I say music I mean Dead Calm Horizon since that's the only thing I know that you've done) is really great. I hope my comments on your set in Jan. didn't make you think twice about putting out more music?!?! I think my comments - when I said there were a couple of songs that weren't super clean (and what do I know, really) - was more as a comparison with the album (which, again, is spectacular). I mean, I imagine its tough for you guys, especially when you have a pile of friends at the show who are shouting at you, to think about playing a tight, professional kind of set. Honestly, IMHO I don't think it was a delivery thing, so much as a setting kind of thing.

On the giving your album away for free front, I think that was great. Again, it so good, that I'm pretty sure everyone who has heard it is basically going to pay whatever you ask for it. That said, have you guys been talking to anyone (labels, studios(?), music industry goombas) about a follow up? I'd imagine people would be climbing all overthemselves to get your next album given that everyone I know who's listened to it thinks its spectacular. Obviously, on your end it sucks - because you're not making any money from it - but I feel like the first free album thing is almost like putting out a resume, no? And now that you've killed it, that things will start swinging your way...

In conclusion, my thoughts are free album = excellent move. And since I liked it so much it made me buy a t-shirt (which were a wicked cool design - I bought the gold on black) at your show, and make me want to tell everyone I know to listen to it...

Curious to hear more what you think about my first para. on your show/new music especially...

Talk soon.


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Hey Rob,

>>I hope my comments on your set in Jan. didn't make you think twice about putting out more music?!?!

Not at all, we really appreciated the honest feedback. We try to have a very open dialog with ourselves about what is or isn't working for the band. Your comment that you felt you "had wandered into a high school reunion at a school neither of us went to" was absolutely spot on and we've kept it on the table in our discussions. This also ties into your comment below (above?) about the double-edged sword of playing for friends. I had a recent epiphany (I use that word cause it sounds cool but more accurately I was recently clocked in the face with the 'obvious' bat): As with most bands at the early stages, our friends have been forming the major bulk of our crowd for a while. When the album came out it was for them a kind of compliment to the live show but their initial contact was in the higher-energy atmosphere of a bar (an energy that was further heightened by the fact that they are friends and they were mostly all drunk). With the album circulating quite steadily we're getting a significant amount of people coming out whose first way into the songs is through the recordings - which as you know incorporate a fairly significant dynamic and emotional range. This is a very different listener (of course I'm polarizing the two to make a point when in reality there is a lot of overlap), and one that I think we really need to invest a lot of energy in properly addressing.

As for the new material, despite my comments it's progressing quite well. We have 5 out of the projected 10 songs written and almost ready to record. There has been some interest from labels (and a few 'goombas'...great word!) but it's hard to gauge how serious that is (and if we want it) so rather than sitting around waiting we're just going to go ahead. A good friend of ours runs a great little studio in Halifax (Spaces Between) so we're going to fly him here in September, rent some gear, go into the woods and see what happens (how typical!). Having said all that we still have the ludicrous goal of getting 10,000 copies of Dead Calm Horizon into people's music collections between now and the next record (there are about 1000 out there right now). If the remaining 9000 are free downloads that's totally fine, we just want it out there!

Ok, Rob, I've got a question for you but by all means, ignore it if you want -

At one of the panel discussions at NXNE last year I heard someone say, "The best thing about cheap, ubiquitous recording software is that anyone can produce a recording. The worst thing about cheap, ubiquitous recording software is that anyone can produce a recording."

I wrestle with this a lot - just because I have the means, does that make me entitled to be an 'artist'? (btw, I'm not looking for validation or fishing for compliments... It's something I'll wrestle with as long as I'm making music I think).

One could imagine the above quoted statement being made in terms of the blogging/music criticism infrastructure. And so as a blogger I guess I'm just wondering what your thoughts are on that?

For the record, this isn't any kind of criticism of you! I really like your blog. You write with insight, accessibility and a slight flicker of dark humor that keeps things interesting, and besides this whole "exchanging emails" thing is a testament to your interest in really exploring the medium. I guess it's just a general issue I wonder about from the other side of the screen.

Again, we can just leave that topic if you want...

Hey maybe after your next response we could get into a lightning round?

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Good. So we're still friends then...

I think that quote ("The best thing about cheap, ubiquitous recording software is that anyone can produce a recording. The worst thing about cheap, ubiquitous recording software is that anyone can produce a recording.") is bang on. But, I'm not sure whether the volume of music that is being produced impacts whether you're an artist or not. In fact, I might argue with you that whether you're "an artist" or not is really inconsequential. I think different bands have different goals (create meaningful music, make people feel good, make money, get chicks (or dudes, I guess) much like people have different reasons for listening to music, and its the extent to which bands accomplish their goals and connect to their audience that makes them successful.

I think the same thing is true for me as a blogger. My goal, I think, is basically to try and write stuff that I think is going to be fun, interesting, make a few people laugh/smile/snicker, hear good music, and generally connect with people who think the same way. In that way, I think the internet is great. If for example, you were to judge my blog by readership, professional journalistic standards, etc. it would be a pretty catastrophic failure. But, I'm doing what I want to do, so its a success. What would I do if I was going to try and make a living doing this? Shit. I have no idea....

Love the lightning round idea... here goes: Your favourite song that you've done? Favourite song of this year? If you could only listen to one band for the rest of your life who would it be? Person you'd most like to meet? Best show you've ever played? Best show you've been to? Best venue to play at? Best book you've read in the last year? Best movie?

And, if you want a few more: If you had a dog (presuming you don't), what would you name it? What's your facebook status say right now? Coolest thing you've ever done? Favourite sports franchise (that's not the Leafs)? Famous person that you like the least/think is the doucheyiest? Favourite TV show?

I'm definitely going to use this lightning round thing going forward...


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Hey Rob...
Good answer, now on to the lightning round!

>Your favourite song that you've done?
It would be unprofessional of me to answer that with our cover of 'Hungry Like The Wolf' so I'll say "Leaves" with a string section at Humber College.

>Favourite song of this year?
"Big Red Machine" - Justin Vernon & Aaron Dessner from 'Dark Was The Night'

>If you could only listen to one band for the rest of your life who would it be?
Shit that's tough. Sufjan Stevens - not because he's by any means the favorite but if he continues to be ridiculously prolific and varied then I'll be able to buy sometime before going insane from listening to the same artist over and over again.

>Person you'd most like to meet?
Maynard James Keenan

>Best show you've ever played?
This coming Friday with 'The Rest'! (it's probably a stupid idea to say something like that)

>Best show you've been to?
Big show: Tool - Copps Coliseum, 2007
Not as big show: Wintersleep - PEI Shoreline Festival, 2004

>Best venue to play at?

I'm going to go with El Mocambo on that one.

>Best book you've read in the last year?
"What Is America?", Ronald Wright

>Best movie?
"The Lives Of Others" (it's a bit older but a recent watch for me)

>If you had a dog (presuming you don't), what would you name it?

>What's your facebook status say right now?
Nothing, I've never gotten around to using that feature.

>Coolest thing you've ever done?
Saw the northern lights shoot across the night sky while standing on a house boat in Yellowknife with a guitar in one hand and a caribou steak in the other.

>Favourite sports franchise (that's not the Leafs)?
AS Roma

>Famous person that you like the least/think is the doucheyiest?
Gary Busey, for reasons I don't even understand.

>Favourite TV show?
Kids In The Hall

Thanks again to Jonathan for taking the time to allow me to badger him. Another reminder that the entire album Dead Calm Horizon is available for FREE DOLLARS at ketchharbourwolves.ca.
Or, if you prefer:

[mp3] Ketch Harbour Wolves - Letters
[mp3] Ketch Harbour Wolves - So Long to the Ground

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