Scene and Heard is all over local music news, concert announcements, record releases and festivals like a cheap rug. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to send hot scoops and band gossip.
Can I be real with you guys for a second here?
The truth is that while I am a fan of certain metal bands, I actually know sweet fuck all about grindcore. Thanks to the film Metal: A Headbanger's Journey , I am aware that grindcore is, like, a thing in metal. But I can't tell you much more than that. Yes, I AM CLOAKED IN FAILURE.
So when people started getting excited about the upcoming appearance of seminal grindcore band Napalm Death at the Seahorse tonight, I didn't really know what they were talking about. Moreover, I felt supremely ill-equipped to write/report on it in any meaningful way. So I asked Mike Parks - guitarist and resident shrieker for the Halifax grindcore band Burnt Church - to answer some of my stupid questions about grindcore and explain why the band is important to him. He kindly obliged. Thanks Mike!
PS _ Burnt Church open for Napalm Death along with Pith and Hellacaust on Wednesday, October 12. Tickets are pretty much sold out, although there may be a few stray ones kicking around if you ask nicely.
1. "Grindcore" is one of those metal sub-genres that make me feel vaguely anxious because I don't know much about it. Can you explain what characterizes grindcore - sonically and ideologically?
Grindcore has more or less become of a vague blanket term, much in the same way punk has. There's so many different subgenres that cater to people's specific tastes. There's subgenres like porno-grind that are sonically way more metal and as you can gather from the genre name, the lyrics are generally pretty trashy and/or intentionally offensive.
The way I always describe grind is that it is a mixture of hardcore punk and death metal, with lyrics that focus on mostly socio-political topics. I feel that would best describe the style that both Burnt Church and Napalm Death plays.
2. Where do Napalm Death fall on this grindcore continuum? What makes them notable?
Napalm Death are really the first band that was called grindcore. The name was derived from the buzzsaw grinding type sound that was made by their guitars. They've been together over 20 years, put out a slew of amazing albums and have never really sucked. Whether or not you like some of their mid 90's output depends on your individual taste, but I think it all rules. You can't say that about a lot of bands these days.
3. When did you first hear Napalm Death?
The first time I heard Napalm Death was on much music of all places back on the Power 30. The minute the music started I was floored. That would have been 1992 or 1993 and until then Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer were the staples of my musical diet, I hadn't really discovered punk yet. They had this speed and aggression that not even Slayer really matched.
4. How have they influenced your songwriting?
I would certainly say they've influenced both me personally as a songwriter and Burnt Church collectively. Their last album Time Waits for No Slave is one of my all time favourite records and has definitely influenced my playing a bit. One of our newer songs that Gerald wrote was temporarily titled Napalm Death until I wrote lyrics and gave it a title.
5. Tell me your favorite Napalm Death song and why you like it.
My favourite ND song is probably "Suffer the Children" from Harmony Corruption. I hope they pull that one out on Wednesday. I want to mosh to that breakdown.
Buck 65's new album 20 Odd Years comes out on February 1st and features a series of all-new songs and collaborations with Gord Downie, Jenn Grant, Nick Thorburn (of Islands and Unicorns fame) and others. (You can pre-order it here.) Buck/Rich Terfry was in town filming a video for the song "Zombie Delight" at the Bloomfield Centre and when I met with him, he was doing interviews on a makeshift newsroom set, wearing a suit and tie, the floor around him smeared with blood.
So I was wondering where this song came from. Are you a fan of zombies?
When I was really young, I had this serious phase when I was really into horror movies. It went on the wane for awhile, and then when I met my wife, she had this zombie thing. I seem to remember one of the first things she ever said to me was that she had a whole plan worked out for the zombie apocalypse. I was impressed by that. Then when we started dating and I began watching more of the underground zombie movies - the low-budget stuff, the foreign stuff.
In terms of the song - just before Halloween in Toronto, there was a zombie walk, so all these people gathered dressed as zombies, and the place where they gather is right outside my house. I think part of what motivated me was seeing that and being highly amused by that, and thinking I'll make a song and they'll use it as their theme song next year.
Also, this is another case - more common for me these days - where the music was done first. I didn't have any concept for it - I just had this piece of music, and I sat on it for a long time trying to figure out what it would be about. There was an urgency to it. It felt like there was a panic - what is it? Maybe I'm alerting people or warning people about something. Threat - warning - something - zombies! It was a funny thought.
Once in awhile, it's fun to do a song that's kind of a novelty. It's not the most serious thing I've ever written. Usually my primary motivation is to write the most beautiful thing that I can possibly write. This is a clear exception. It's like yeah, I'm taking a break from the thing I'm going to agonize over, to bleed for, and just do something fun and simple and fast.
It's something that eats at me a little bit at times, through the years, when I dabble in this particular area, when I do something with a novelty factor, those are the ones people gravitate towards. People shout them out and request them when I play live, stuff like that. So that's something I wrestle with. I also realize I have a sense of humour that people like sometimes. If I have a silly thought that pops into my head, sometimes you just gotta do it - there seems to be an appetite for it.
Well, it's probably not fun for you to be serious all the time, either.
Well, the sillier and lighter songs are the most fun to do live. It can be heavy, it can be serious. There's a lot of my stuff that is that way. On a Friday night in a room packed with people, you need to break up the heaviness once in awhile. It makes that much more of an impact, if people aren't hit over the head by that. It's important to have a few of those in your back pocket.
What's another song of yours would fall in this category? I assume, like, "Kennedy Killed the Hat"....
Yep, that's one. The one I still have people requesting the most is "The Centaur" which I made a million years ago. High novelty factor. "Food" is just a list of food, people like that one. "Hot Lunch" is just bragging about looking good. More recently, people have latched onto one called "The Niceness" that's all about being nice and bringing some absurdity into it - like bragging about being nice. I thought what's the most ridiculous thing to boast about? Being nice seemed to work. A lot of those silly ones are fixtures in the set a lot of nights, yeah.
Going back to the album - you wrote a lot of the music beforehand. I read somewhere that you said you wrote with a specific person's voice in mind. With this album, were you able to get everyone you wanted in your mind's eye?
No. Close, but not quite. One thing that I have been working on really hard and chasing and chasing but I refuse to give up is tracking down Roland Gift from the Fine Young Cannibals. I have spoken to him a couple of times, he knows this is something I'm hell-bent on doing, he's expressed seemingly cautious interest. It's time for him to come back. My view is that he has one of the best and most unique voices from the last 30 years. I know a lot of people would love to hear him again.
I also approached K'naan but just as things were starting with all the World Cup stuff, I sent him some music for him and he was really into it. But then his world got completely taken over. He's been working hard and I still don't think he's taken a break, really. It's still something we'd like to make happen.
There were a lot of people I had in mind specifically - early on, the seeds of the album were coming together in the studio with Charles Austin and I, and my friend Graham - they're kind of my core guys - and with one song, we could hear Gord Downie's voice on this one piece of music right away. We were like do you think we can get him? He's been pretty supportive of me, he's taken me on tour a couple of times. Maybe. We were hesitant to get our hopes up. But we sent it to him and he was like "I'm in, I've got ideas" right away.
Most often if I'm working on something, and I'm thinking - "I need a great singer, guitarist, pianist, whatever" - I usually have a friend who is talented that I know and trust and feel good around. Usually that's my primary motivation. It's not like "Hmm, who's a name I can get on this thing?"
In regards to Jenn Grant - her voice sounds so different on all the songs. Since you've chosen to include three collaborations with her, I was wondering what about her is appealing for you.
The first thing I would say about Jenn Grant is that she's one of the best singers in the world right now. Her raw talent is unbelievable. I'm very lucky that she's a friend that I can go to. I'm interested in her as a creative person, her whole approach. Even though she's got great chops and everything, I think everyone gets the feeling that there's something innate with her. Like she's been singing since she was a little kid. I got it the first time I ever saw her play - that not all of what I was hearing was written and labored over - there was something natural that just oozes out. She's also an inspiring person to talk to and hang out with - she's got a pretty unique mind and a unique sense of humor. She makes me feel good. I have a hard time with people in general - I'm pretty shy - so often it's hard for me to feel really relaxed around others. But I do with her.
When we did the Leonard Cohen cover, the only way I knew we'd get away with it is by being as faithful as possible. I said that to Jenn - "We have to do this by the book." My God, when you turn her loose to sing parts and harmonies and stuff.....She did her part before I did mine, and figured out the harmonies and everything, with no base to work off of. Her raw musical ability is awesome.
I liked the idea of challenging her and a few others - getting them outside their comfort zone. She rose to the occasion and handled it really quickly and easily. She approaches things on a real gut level. She doesn't overthink. I like to challenge myself in those ways, and I like to challenge friends in those ways too. She's my ringer, basically.
Most artists, when faced with a 20-year mark, would lean towards doing a greatest hits package. I know you've done something like that before....(2004's This Right Here Is Buck 65.)
Sort of. That wasn't my idea - it's something the label at the time put me up to.
Right. So now, I imagine you've been going back and listening to all the old songs you've got - I was wondering how that process informed the way you wrote the new songs?
I did consciously choose to go back and look through all the old stuff. I found the first or second song I ever recorded, and the first song I ever did in a studio, and with the others I did it chronologically. And I heard some things that were exciting to me, and others that were embarrassing to me. With some songs, I came away saying "Uh, no, not gonna try that again." And then there were others where I was like, "I was really onto something in '96, maybe it's time to get back to that place. Why'd I ever stop doing that?"
What's an example of something that you found embarrassing?
There's moments on the first album I put out on Murder Records, Game Tight that are okay, I kind of like them. There's some things on that that give me the willies a bit. And then there was the Chin Music EP, which came out on Waye Mason's old label No Records, I pretty much can't listen to it at all. It sounds like the work of a very insecure person. There's just nothing worse. But yeah, in '96 I was like, here's I'm finding a voice that sounds like my own. I was still kinda cocky, but dabbling in the absurd, and to me that's an irresistible combination - cocky but absurd at the same time. At that time, I did that song about Kiss - cocky and absurd, like "No one's as into Kiss as I am!"'
Just like bragging about being nice.
Yep. And I found a sharp distinct difference between my bedroom recordings, and the stuff I did in the studio. In the past couple of years, I did these three Dirtbike recordings, I was like "I need to make more music like this. I need to get back to when I was living above Black Market at Blowers and Grafton. I need to get back to what I felt like then." And the result was Dirtbike.
I also noticed (with the new album) that my vocal recordings were suffering in the studio, as opposed to when I recorded at home. I thought "I'm not getting the right level of comfort. There's no comparison. My performance was always better at home than when I was in a studio." So I said for the new stuff, I had to record my vocals on my own. I told the guys, we'll buy a good mic, do everything else in studio, but I have to do the vocals at home where I can be completely alone and get a performance I'm happy with. In the past, there was a pressure, an embarrassment about it, an unwillingness to open myself up in front of others. I wanted to be alone. I just wanted to get a take and finish it. There was always a lack of commitment, a stiffness, or just not a gutsy performance. I knew I couldn't keep doing that.
You may recognize Bloodhouse from the majority of my answers in the Coast's Best of Music survey, but if you didn't catch my personal ballot, please click the handy highlighted link to transport yourself to a shack in the woods swirling with pot smoke and fantasy hockey league stats. They are playing a show on February 27 at 2627 Connolly Street (final basement blowout show) with Bad Vibrations, Genetic Angry and Tongan Death Grip (8pm, pay by donation).
Music fans were shocked to hear the news on Wednesday that Jay Reatard had passed away (and then Teddy Pendergrass! RIP). Reatard played a memorable show at the 2008 Pop Explosion, and as you can see from Mark Black's Pop Ex story, he wanted to be remembered by more than just his stage antics.
Our own Tongan Death Grip have some pretty boss news! Germany's P-Trash Records will be doing a TDG full length that should be ready late spring/early summer. So get your fill of their angelic faces before they inevitably pack their bags and tour Europe forever.
See them January 22 at Club 1668 with Pastoralia, Cold Warps and Darby Hall (10:30pm). DO IT.
HOT MONEY RECORDS: Mike Wright
I've been feeling really excited about bands from Halifax lately, there seem to be a lot of motivated people recording and releasing. Some bands I can't wait to hear more from are Bloodhouse, Cold Warps, Bad Vibrations (Husband + Knife, Air/Fire), The Lodge, Gamma Gamma Rays, Cat Bag, Dog Day, and a bunch more.
Alt-country trio Deerfield have started a new matinee series at Jacob's Lounge in Dartmouth (106 Portland Street), performing every Saturday afternoon at 3-8pm, providing you with tunes to salt your draft to. The group also added Katherine McQueen (formerly of Skank Williams) on vocals, to get some of that sweet, sweet lady harmony in there. Guitarist and vocalist Roger Nelson talks about the Deerfield developments
Stop Motion Massacre play manic punk rock, that, in my personal experience, usually involves one of them taking off their instruments and rolling around on the stage. They have my vote for most compelling vocal performance in Halifax. See them play at Gus' Pub on December 10 with Myles Deck and the Fuzz, The Fat Stupids and The Crimson Tides as a benefit for the IWK.
Meat Curtains play minimalist punk songs about underage boys, dead dogs, and news anchors. Their vocals all sound like like they've unleashed the gates of hell and dual drummers mean you hear that hammering in your head for days. They're great entertainers, what can I say?
Scene & Heard: What are you up to right now?
Meat Curtains: Puking, but later on, basement recording for our first cassette release
S&H: What has been your best band memory so far?
MC: Ham sammiches, active wear, road trips to Truro
S&H: What has been your worst band memory so far?
MC: Denim onesies
S&H: What is the meaning of life?
MC: Making detailed plans and preparing oneself for the afterlife boyfriends and ultimate cunt fortress in the sky
S&H: What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
MC: Often effort is the only reward
I did this extended interview with The Pack A.D. in the summer, but it disappeared into the black hole where Coast files are kept. A whole series of events happened after that and I missed the band as well, but fortunately, they're back for HPX (Saturday at the Toothy Moose, 11:45pm), so here you go.
Vancouver blues/ garage-rock two-piece The Pack A.D. is, apparently, inexhaustible. Though their album Funeral Mixtape was released a year ago, they’ve been on the road since March, with the exception of one six-day break at home. “We don’t have day jobs so it’s the only way we can make a bit of money,” singer and guitarist Becky Black says, en route to Windsor, Ontario.
I ask what the strangest place they’ve played is. “We played this little town in Illinois in the middle of a cornfield, we didn’t think there was a town and then it appeared, this little town with one bar…It was a pretty good show, I guess not a lot of touring bands come through there.”
One of the women Jill Barber shouted out in her ECMA acceptance speech on Sunday night was Meaghan Smith, who's out with Stuart MacLean's Vinyl Cafe Tour, along with ECMA winner Matt Andersen. She phoned us from a parking lot in Port Hawkesbury.
"It's one of the funnest shows, I think, if I was going to see the show it would be what I want to see," she says. "Stuart reads a story and then Matt comes on and plays, and then Stuart reads another story and I come on and play, Stuart and I do a duet. Stuart does a slide show. There's a nice finale number. The show goes by really fast, I find, and it's constantly changing."
Also constantly changing is the release date of Smith's major label debut, The Cricket's Orchestra. An EP, The Cricket's Quartet, was released last fall by Sire (read all about it here) with the LP scheduled close behind, but it hasn't happened that way.
"My A&R guy quit and that's usually bad news for an artist if no one else at the label cares about them," says Smith. "Luckily the new president of Sire really digs what I'm doing and is keen to work with me. He just has a different approach with how to release the album."
After she moves into her new Halifax area home with husband Jason Mingo, Smith will head to LA to work on a few tracks with Greg Kurstin of The Bird and the Bee, who helmed Lily Allen's latest. "My A&R guy would like me to try recording a couple new tracks and see if they'd work on the album. Which I'm not opposed to, because this record is two years old. If I'm going to put this record out now and tour it for two years, I need something fresh. I'm really excited about that, because I'm a big fan."
The record's new release date is "before or by June." But before that: "I'm going on tour with kd lang!"
In other news, Smith's "Five More Minutes" got major placement in a late-season Grey's Anatomy last May, and she'll follow it up March 10 when the non-EP track "A Piece for You" appears in an episode of One Tree Hill, her second time with that series.
"I don't even have a record out and I've had three placements," she marvels. "And there's more in the works."
The Vinyl Cafe tour ends with a five-show stand at the Rebecca Cohn from March 8 to 11. Buy tickets here.