"Sometimes I wish for insta-success," says Ketamines' Paul Lawton. "But I honestly believe that what I've been working at and building will last longer."
The musicians who make up Ketamines have been on their grind a while, participating in a musical chairs-esque rotating cast of characters in the Lethbridge scene. "James Leroy, the other Ketamine, and I were in grind bands in the '90s," says Lawton. "We were in Alberta's first emo band too. Do this long enough and you can try every terrible kind of band!"
Ketamines are many things, but to any self-respecting garage fan, it would be sacrilege to call them terrible. It's some top-shelf psychedelic shit. Thank god for knowing the ropes. "I've failed so long at this that I know how not to approach things," says Lawton. "Who wouldn't want an easy exit to cash and fame? Me, probably. I'd be miserable because I 'didn't earn it.'"
Speaking of cash and fame, the decision to move from Lethbridge to Toronto wasn't made lightly for these longtime Albertans. The plan is to avoid an endless Calgary-Edmonton-Vancouver touring loop and open up a more lucrative eastern Canadian market. "I tried to make it work there," says Lawton of Lethbridge. "I tried to convince myself and others that geography doesn't matter. But it so totally does."
Still, hometown pride runs deep. "I got really down after playing Toronto shows for the last six months," he says. "I miss the small town thing where people acknowledge each other."
Keeping busy helps. Ketamines' new seven-inch singles series sees the band releasing four records on four Canadian labels (Pleasence and Hosehead in Toronto, Leaning Trees in Saskatoon and Ketamines' own Mammoth Cave Recording Co.), one every two months beginning June 1.
If the lifelong commitment to bands and running a label didn't tip you off, Lawton is a big Canadian music fan. But this spring's hilarious dust-up over Lawton's blog Slagging Off had a lot of folks wondering otherwise. Sure, the blog's subhead is "Death to the Canadian Music Industry" but that's a damn sight different than "Death to Canadian Music." Offering honest reviews of Canadian bands---more often than not, they weren't glowing---longer reads about FACTOR and involved arguments with Dan Mangan, the blog understandably took off like wildfire (be honest, you're Googling it right now).
"That blog got pegged as me being 'mean' and 'negative' but I did that whole thing because I love Canadian music so much and I feel sad about the state that it's in," says Lawton. "Even some of my best friends---Aaron (Levin) from Weird Canada is still really angry about the blog. He's very vocal about it."
Lawton breaks it down to two camps. "One school says: everyone is good. Everyone is worth it. Encourage everything! I think: stop diluting. Stop pretending. There are so many people looking for the shortcut and I don't respect that.
"Like what is the difference between Sloan and The Trews? I'd say to the average listener they are both the same thing, but one of those bands is pure simulacrum. Though Sloan is actually simulacrum of old Sloan. Maybe there are better Halifax examples that I can use to infuriate your readers."
The blog started as an outlet for Lawton, and he was surprised it went viral at all. Slagging Off was all at once a pressure valve being released---a collective sigh of relief for the sheer honesty of it all---and a firestorm of pissed-off bands sputtering at his insolence.
Still, despite the odd tweet or rude comment---and a stencil of his face that's been appearing in downtown Winnipeg with the words QUIET YOU underneath---little has changed for Lawton, his record label or his band.
"What I learned out of this whole experience is that you can say whatever you want and nothing will happen," he says. "Like, I think I'm blacklisted from Exclaim! now, but...oh well?" --Stephanie Johns
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