“You’re Wrong, You’re Wrong, You’re Wrong and YOU…You’re Way Off Base.”

Today I feel defeated by everything, that my world is too hopeless to blog about. Is it? Probably a little bit: the weather like my mood, overcast and blurry. But there should be something to write about, shouldn’t there? Shouldn’t I be excited about the future? Well, to be honest I am excited about it: about playing shows and having people hear the album, about getting back out there. But there seems so many obstacles, such an enormous shit storm hailing down over The Dears, over the entire music business. The cynicism is devouring people left, right and center…chewing them up and spitting them out.

The thing is, is that I can’t let go of the hope. I believe in music too much; I believe music is more powerful than money or success. Those things are intangible, unreachable and in some ways, they don’t even really exist. So, *deep breath* I say fuck it. Fuck the past, fuck today, fuck popularity and pretention. This is art. The Dears is art — again — and these songs are fierce and uncomfortable, just as they should be. After nearly a decade of struggling to fit in under a forced, false identity, I feel like maybe we are finally free to be, well, you and me.

Post Scriptum: Recognise the obtuse KITH reference from the title? As good and quotable as: “We need an exorcist in here and this time I mean it.”

iPod Rediscovery

On one of my drives I put the iPod on shuffle, mostly out of an impatience to decide what to listen to. Usually I prefer to listen to whole albums top to bottom – you know, the way they were created – but while driving, scrolling through hundreds of bands with a click wheel is not very practical or safe for anyone involved. So shuffle it was, and I was surprisingly struck by “Snowsuit Sound” by Sloan. BTW if you have never heard of Sloan then you evidently: 1) are not Canadian, and; 2) do not know anyone from Canada. I used to be a major Sloan fan, back in the 90’s when I co-hosted an all CanCon indie rock show on CKUT (I was so green that I asked Matt Murphy how it felt to be Chris Murphy’s brother during a live-to-air interview…later my friend Amanda B. told me: “Um, everyone in Halifax has the last name Murphy,”…I was so embarassed…actually I’m still embarassed). So my iPod Rediscovery is that I am still a major Sloan fan (narrowed to the Twice Removed and One Chord To Another era…you know, Canada’s first insular indie rock heyday).

One time, we got an email from a girl who said she had “rediscovered” The Dears while listening to her iPod on shuffle. We were among the tens of thousands of songs stored among 60 gigs or however much space, and somehow, we had made it, literally, through the shuffle. And so she fell in love.

Is the iPod shuffle completely random? I have heard that it is not, that the iPod uses some kind of algorithm to calculate the songs it will play, using such stats as which songs you have previously listened to, which songs you skipped, etc. Personally, I loathe this idea of an untrue random. While listening to my recently loaded iPod on shuffle, I had to skip The Beatles about a dozen times. Yes, they made a lot of records and for some reason I have everything they’ve recorded on there, but that doesn’t mean I want to listen to them all the time. Why should quantity override quality, or variety? What ding dong programmed that feature into the algorithm? Seriously. I would like to know.

I’m positive it’s been hotly debated, and a simple Googling would probably reveal the answers. But that would be too easy.

Anyhow, Sloan dudes, we’re all grown up and have kids and shit, and even though Murray tackled Chris Murphy into a pile of garbage in Kingston, ON when we were on tour together, we still love you.

From The Desk Of Rings

I don’t know why I am coming back to Ringo Starr; it’s not like I’m a huge fan or anything. In fact I haven’t even heard anything he’s written in the past, um, fifteen years? Perhaps I simply love it when we get real, unadulterated quotes from rock’n’roll personalities.

Ringo Starr has said that The Beatles’ musical ability wasn’t helped by screaming fans during their mid-sixties heyday. He says: “By 1965 we were turning into really bad musicians because we literally couldn’t hear ourselves over the screaming from the audience. I was going downhill as a musician, and so was everyone else in the band”.

He adds: “Then, we only did 25 minutes on stage. Now thanks to Led Zeppelin and The Who, everybody has to do two hours”. – from CMU Daily

So anyhow, I can understand this. Back then they didn’t really have monitors, or PAs (a rock concert was actually just a concert), but I mean, they still rehearsed, didn’t they? But maybe not if they were on tour all the time. But waitasecond: 25 minutes on stage? Playing short sets is super frustrating. Sometimes The Dears would get to a show, and the promoters would tell us: “you have 30 minutes.” Generally the band would grumble: by about 20 minutes into a set we’ve just gotten comfortable on stage and after that point all of us just start to let loose up there. It’s that point of no return, that “runaway train with no brakes” feeling.

On the other end of the spectrum, the two-hour set doesn’t always work either: it’s all a matter of calling it as it’s happening, of doing what’s appropriate for the situation. And being comfortable: I feel Ringo’s 1965 Beatlemania-induced pain. It sucks when you can’t hear anything – especially the drums – but the show must go on, and I don’t think any one of those thousands of screaming teenagers noticed for a second that the musicians couldn’t hear each other. People don’t go to shows to find out about the technical problems, even though it can ruin the show for a musician.

I remember back when we toured with this Yamaha A4000 sampler connected to three controller keyboards via a flimsy MIDI network. That system would crash half the time and we would have to scramble to keep the show going while I troubleshot the cabling and, in the extreme situation, re-loaded the sampler. Now that sucked. We’ve since switched over to these super reliable Roland FantomX keyboards, so no more mid-show meltdowns. Now I can focus on other things, like playing a good show, which is much more fun for everyone involved.

Long, Long, Long

I was inspired to get my iPod up and running because I had this song suddenly stuck in my head, and the only way I know to remove a song is to listen to the original. The song was “Long, Long, Long” off the Beatles’ White Album.

This is my second iPod. My first one Murray bought for me years ago, and it eventually got stolen out of our car. So I’ve been iPod-less for about a year, which is OK because I don’t really listen to music anyhow. Since, however, I’ve been driving more, especially out to the South Shore to visit family, I’ve felt the urge in those commuter-like moments to listen to music. Except for certain shows on the CBC, the radio is entirely frustrating. I try CKUT, CISM, but usually can’t be held for more than one song.

I’ve had a new iPod sitting in its box for something like five months: each person in the band got one as a consolation prize for being a Polairs nominee. So why did I wait so long? This new, fancy iPod comes with new, fancy firmware that didn’t work with my ancient OS X. I had to breathe new life into my iBook G4 anyhow so I wiped it, upgraded the RAM and installed Tiger. Now it works like a charm but I don’t have iPhoto anymore which is annoying. How do I get that back without having to dish out for that useless suite of iLife programs?

At least the iPod works now. I have 160GB which I’m filling up with music I had backed up music from my previous iPod, and also with my photos. For variation, I’ve decided to turn to the Podcast, and now subscribe to episodes of CBC Radio 3 and DrownedInSound. Mainly I want to hear new music, get a sense of the musical climate out there.

Now I want to go on a road trip or something, just to have an excuse to explore the new things captured on my iPod…

…and I still haven’t listened to that Beatles’ song yet.

Best Veggie Burger

On our travels, we’ve had the pleasure (and excruciating pain) of discovering food the world over. When on tour, Murray and I feel a constant struggle to find vegetarian food that’s not: 1) coated in melted cheese, and 2) disgusting. There have been some triumphs (Excellent Sushi in Vancouver, BC, incredible curry soup and tea that tasted like the Earth at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Flat Whites with Johnny in Sydney, AUS), acceptable standards (Pret-A-Manger, Pizza Express in the UK), and surprising failures (revolting vegetarian restaurant in Bilbao, Spain).

The most universal quest, however, is the eternal search for the ultimate veggie burger. While in a pinch, you won’t be wronged by a veggie burger with cheese from Harvey’s (Murray asks for BBQ sauce on his), you can definitely do better. So oftentimes Murray and I will find ourselves wandering strange, international places, looking for something our stomachs might rely on. We’ve been cheated far too many times by England’s afterhours kebab shops…our own naivety, I suppose.

The best veggie burger we’ve ever tasted caught us by surprise in, of all places, Salt Lake City, UT. I think it was called Crown Burger. They had their own “special sauce” that killed it. We both ate two garden burgers and even though we were so incredibly full we ordered a bunch and brought them back to the tour bus for everyone else to try. Oh, we had milkshakes and fries, too. We totally pigged out that time.

Montreal’s probably most renown veggie burger is the pinto burger from La Paryse. While strictly not a veggie burger but a bean burger, the combination of cheese and the nutty-beany taste of the patty kills. Aux Vivres has a pretty good tempeh burger, but I find it a little on the dry side…better to go for a sandwich on chapati. Mondo Fritz had a good veggie burger, but they recently closed down all of a sudden (due to the endless third-world war/construction zone Blvd. St. Laurent became over the summer?).

This journey is not over. The search continues.

University: Not Fun Anymore?

I read an article yesterday that said Canada’s university pubs are closing because students are drinking less. They opt instead for coffee shops or juice bars, or I don’t know, reading or jogging or something healthy. Anyhow, not too long ago in my University Lament, I mentioned how drinking was intrinsic to my academic career. I thought that was standard, a universal norm? But then I read this article and it made me sad…not because students aren’t drinking, but because this artcile mentioned that Edmonton’s Power Plant was closing.

The Dears’ first few cross-Canada tours took us through a lot of these college bars, and I can understand why some of them might be closing: Student Unions would pay out really high guarantees to bands (versus local promoters who don’t take those risks), which was great for us, but didn’t seem sustainable for the university. Students haven’t stopped getting wasted – they just go off campus, because campus pubs probably have to abide by too many Student Union rules to be fun. The Power Plant was an exception: we played there a few times, and it was always the most looked-forward to stop on a tour. Big stage, big room, soundcheck in natural light (!), great treatment, and nice staff, things that go a long way after you’ve been sitting in a van for eight hours.

University bars closing is a natural progression. I remember going to Reggie’s at Concordia where they had cheap, crappy pitchers of beer, and I even remember drinking there once while some students performed “Death of a Salesman.” That was weird. Nothing stays the same, and universities are evolving organisms that have to change with their students.

Musician’s Brains are More Organised

I read an article today about a study of brain activity while listening: Brain ‘closes eyes’ to hear music. They state that musician’s “years of training had provided [them with] a distinct advantage in the way their brains were organised.” At best it’s mildly interesting, but it confirms some suspicions I had about hearing.

Afflicted with a small, constant ringing in my ears (a delightful “Tinnitus Lite” which I attribute to standing so close to a crash ride on stage for so many years), I had asked my doctor for a hearing test. They mainly tested my hearing in a soundproof room using pure tones at varying volumes and pitches. Afterwards the audiologist told me I had the hearing of a 10-year-old, with a couple dips at 1.5KHz in one ear and 4KHz in the other. Also she was able to isolate some of the frequencies of my tinnitus – described usually as a complex combination of notes. I found these results surprising, considering my line of work, but later I realised that the method of testing resulted in a biased outcome for musicians.

During the test I was finding that at some of the lower volumes, I would close my eyes and listen hard. Being in the studio or on stage we are conditioned to listen attentively, to distinguish between different sounds; so I could better hear my voice or keyboards in the mess of other extremely lound goings on. So testing my hearing using tones is a bit of a joke; of course I could hear things other people don’t usually listen for.

So this article today confirms my suspicions, that I probably have suffered some hearing loss, but that music has forced me to become a more careful, compensatory listener.

Torq’s San Francisco in 45 Minutes

The first time I had ever been to San Francisco was when we went on tour with Stars in 2004. Saturday March 6, 2004, to be precise. In fact this tour was before I had a digital camera, and since I love you all so much I actually rephotographed some analogue pics for you. Anyhow, we had a show at Cafe Du Nord that night, and were very excited to be in San Fran. Its one of the few really beautiful, historical American cities that has it all: natural beauty, cultural relevance, and sights to be seen at every turn. We didn’t have much time, only the moments between soundcheck and the early doors. We wanted to do it all and didn’t know where to begin. That’s when Torq swooped in, proclaiming: “I’ll give you a tour. How much time do we have? 45 minutes? Perfect.” Here’s how it went down:

The touring party consisted of me, Murray, Rob and Torquil. We started at the Phoenix Hotel (THE hipster place to stay, though I have since befriended many a kind, beltless crackhead in the neighbourhood). We walked briskly through to Chinatown where I bought some hangers for the RV closet (yeah, we toured in an RV). Then, Torq ordered us to hop onto a moving cable car. I was like: “What are you crazy? Why is the street rumbling so much? Oh, cables.” So we did it and were suitably exhilarated for the two stops we rode before hopping off. I remember a nice square park and lots of hills. I think at this point Torq instructed us to walk up this big hill while he went to get the world’s best pastry or call Moya or do something like that. So we walked up this punishingly steep hill to Cort Tower, checked our watches and took the elevator ride to the top. We could see the whole city, and the bay along with Alcatraz and Golden Gate. After a few touristy snapshots we headed back down the hill to where Torq was waiting.


We walked back along another street to a really old bar. It looked like something out of the Old West, and I guess it really was. Torq rattled off a few facts about the place while we had a beer. We were amazed and impressed by both the fact that the old wooden bar hadn’t burned down in 200 years, and that Torq knew so much about the city. So anyway we had to run, stopped in a few shops where Murray and Torq had an impromptu jam on a tiny toy piano in the street in front of a music store. Insert laffs.


We hurried back on foot and that was that. Just enough time to grab a clean shirt from the RV, a piece of sweaty cheese from the rider, a tall, icy vodka soda, and jump right on stage.


Earlier this week there was a hail storm. Thunder and lightning struck simlutaneously, and then the fire trucks could be heard pulling out of the station. The weather has been strange: grey and cloudy then a moment later, bright blue and sunny. And last night it was cold. I stepped outside to place some recyclables in the green bin, and the air tasted of it. That dry metallic, wintery taste, letting me know that Montreal’s short summer is nearly over. I imagined the countdown to heavy snow, which is usually early November, though we’ve had snowy Hallow’eens before. I reviewed my wardrobe and realised the frustration of living a season at home (versus a season on tour). At home I just want comfortable, glorified pyjamas. On tour I have to wear real clothes from the moment I get up. Do I have a winter coat? Oh, yes I have that one from H&M…but will it get me through a Montreal winter? I will have to get a cashmere, cardigan sweater…or better yet, a black, cashmere vest. It’s the piece I’ve been missing. It’s time for a trip to NYC and a visit to Uniqlo. But who makes a cardigan, sweater vest? I always know so specifically what piece of clothing I need, and never find it. Then I give up and move on and two years later they are everywhere. Like I predicted the vest on girls making a comeback. Amanda and I fantasized about our clothing line, “Vest by Vest,” on tour years ago. Anyhow, it’s all just speculation, the weather, fashion, life…

Hillside Festival: Some Thoughts

I am the worst blogger ever. Well maybe not the worst but I have some pretty half assed moments. Like I’m in the car driving back from Hillside, writing this blog on my Blackberry, and looking through my pics for something to post. All I have from Saturday is a movie clip of Neptune playing with a whirly rainbow thing. Cute but not suitable.

Hillside is like Canada’s Glastonbury but one thirtieth the size. Literally, if Glasto is 150,000 then Hillside is 5,000. But each have a similar vibe: nature, camping, hippies, hipsters, gruppies, grupsters, etc. They are all there. Murray guest guitared with Jade, which made Neptune want to rush the stage a few times. She was saying: “Jade…singing?” all afternoon. Then we hung about, ate vegetarian catering, saw a bunch of people, chased Neptune around, drank beer and sat in the sun.

Our show was, as many of our last few shows have been, a bit weird. We haven’t rehearsed and I’m losing the songs a little. Saturday before the gig I had so much nervous energy it was troubling. I couldn’t shake it, so I drank a bunch of wine which kind of got me through it. Not my greatest show ever, but overall it was fine. I was so much just in my own bubble trying to keep it together that I have no idea what went on up there. Anyway, you will be able to relive my insular keyboardmanship on CBC Radio 3 who were there and recorded the whole darn thing (check out my trance-like expression in that pic!). They also spoke with Murray whilst he was receiving a reiki massage backstage. Yup, that’s our lives when we’re cruelly torn away from the Food Network.