by Interviews

Drummer and songwriter John Wright started Nomeansno with his brother Rob back in 1979. On Sep. 20, 2015, the influential band will be inducted into the Western Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Punknews staffer Keenan Novi caught up with Wright to talk about the hall of fame ceremony, the current status of Nomeansno and writing music for robots.

To start off, congratulations on your induction into the Western Canadian Music Hall of fame.
Thank you very much. It’s a somewhat unexpected considering some of the other bands that have been inducted in the past. But I guess some old school Nomeansno fans from back in the day have grown up and become involved with this and they wanted to get us in.

It’s interesting to receive this honor as you never had a lot of mainstream exposure.
Like I say, it’s all unexpected because we’ve never been associated with that side of music so much. I don’t think that this is some big industry event, but it certainly leans more towards that than we ever did as a band. There are a lot of people who have seen us over the years and they’ve all gone off and done this, that and the other thing. So you see Nomeansno fans popping up in strange places. We’ve been around for a long time and half the battle with a band is sticking around. After a while people go “Wow, they did it. They’re still here and making music.” Although we haven’t done much in the last two years, we’ve been on a hiatus more or less. But, yeah, if you just last long enough, people start to notice (laughs). When I was starting out just playing music and the whole punk rock thing was happening, there were all those bands that made you go “wow.” You’re influenced by them and they bring you a lot of energy and excitement. So, it’s flattering that people talk about how we’ve influenced others or inspired them to make music. It’s very gratifying.

It’s no small feat lasting as long as you have. The music industry has changed so much since you’ve started.
Yeah, it’s absolutely changed and nothing is the way it was, really. You know, when we were putting records out, that’s just what you did. You put out vinyl, you needed to find a label, get yourself into the distribution system, and get people working for you. It’s so different now. Labels are somewhat irrelevant; they’re more like promotional companies. So I can’t imagine what it would be right now to just start out. Like what would I be doing? What would my priorities be? I think, in the end, it’ll be the same as it always was. We never thought about the mainstream, we never thought about approaching major labels. It was, well, “we gotta make records and play shows.” Nothing has changed in that respect. You’ve just got to get in front of people and play.

Will you be performing at the awards ceremony?
We are going to perform. It’s a bit of a show, like an awards show, with quite a tight schedule. There’s a number of other acts that are playing. I saw the list and don’t recognize any of them, but we will play for 10-12 minutes, I think. We’ll try to get three songs in. We’re not playing as a full band, just to make life easier for everyone, including ourselves. We’re going to play unplugged. So Tom’s going to play acoustic guitar, I’m going to play the piano and Robbie’s just going to sing. It’ll be something a little different. We’ve never done that before.

With just 10-12 minutes to work with, it must be hard to figure out a setlist.
Yeah, like I said, we’re trying to do three songs. We want to do “Now,” “Going Nowhere” from Dance of the Headless Bourgeoisie, and “Dad.” A bit of a cross section. None of the epics, though (laughs).

Tom and I have been rehearsing. We haven’t gotten together with my brother yet. I’m up in a little town at the very end of the Pacific Coast Highway and Robbie is still in Vancouver and he’s got a young family. And that’s kind of one reason we’ve been on a hiatus. He’s focused on that and that’s what he wants to do. So he hasn’t really been wanting to tour much. Though we may still end up doing something.

It’s good to hear that you’re at least considering something.
We haven’t officially hung the skates up. In the meantime, I’ve gotten myself involved in another band, composed of robots: Compressorhead. The creators were big fans of Nomeansno and Hanson Brothers. Long story short, they built a drummer and another fella built a guitar player. They got together and they started programming some cover songs. They put out a video of the band covering “Ace of Spades” and it went viral on YouTube. Lemmy commented on it and they got something like a million and a half hits. So they’re getting calls to do stuff and another friend of theirs from Australia got involved and built a bass player. They became a three-piece instrumental band doing crowd karaoke, but they really wanted to get a singer, have original songs and do an album. They got a hold of me and asked if I’d be interested in writing an album for them. So I did and it’s turned out to be a really fun project that we’re still in the middle of. My job is to make them musical, because the idea isn’t to be robots that play like robots. They’re robots that want to be punk rockers and play that kind of music and not be robotic, so to speak (laughs). I’ve written most of the songs and we hope to get a record recorded by early next year, get a show together, and unveil it at some point.

That sounds very interesting, to say the least.
(laughs) It’s very strange.

I’m based in America where Canada isn’t necessarily thought of in terms of east and west. If a band is from Canada, they’re simply a “Canadian band.” Have you noticed any distinct differences between the east and west coast scenes?
Oh yeah, there are very distinct scenes, so to speak. You know, between Toronto and Winnipeg, there’s nothing. A big, vast expanse of very little. There’s always been a disconnect in Canada between east and west because of that. It’s not like America where you can move from one big city to the next, though it’s not all as dense as it is on the east coast. In Canada, once you leave Toronto and head west, there’s nothing. When you go over the great lakes, there’s very little there until you get to Winnipeg. Touring across Canada was, you hit Winnipeg and then there’s 30 hours of driving until your next show (laughs). So there are western-centric music scenes in a lot of genres. Then there’s Ontario and Toronto, which has its own thing. Quebec is an entirely different world altogether. The French culture has its own music scene with bands that are huge there, but you don’t even hear about them outside the province. So Canada is really divided up in many ways, culturally and musically. We had more in common with San Francisco and LA. Seattle and Portland were huge for us because we’re right there, so close to the west coast of America and the west coast punk rock scene in the '80s.

Are there any bands or artists that you’d like to see inducted into the hall of fame?
Well, I’m quite surprised that D.O.A. weren’t. I thought they’d be ahead of us in line. D.O.A. were a very groundbreaking band. They essentially coined the term hardcore and they have influenced all kinds of music. I mean we’ve had influence for sure. We had a whole different take on punk rock and our music is unique in that respect, but D.O.A. are the vanguards of an entire scene. They were so influential and Joe’s still plugging away, still doing it. So I’ve always had great respect for that band and we’ve played a lot with them. I recorded a few of their albums and played on one of their albums. So they would definitely be a band worthy of recognition on a lot of levels.

Joey is actually taking a shot at joining the Canadian parliament.
Yeah! (laughs) He ran for the nomination and lost to someone else. So he didn’t actually get to run in the provincial election. He’s always been socially active, very left of center.

It’s been almost 10 years since the last Nomeansno album. You’ve had a handful of EPs since then, but are there any recording plans?
Not really at the moment. As for the EPs, we wanted to put out four in a row. We got two of them done. There’s music for a third, but we kind of petered out there by 2013. But I’ve got an album's worth of material, apart from the robots. I’ve still been very active in writing and I would love to do another Nomeansno album, but like I said earlier, at the moment it’s just on the back burner until we figure out if and when we can do something.

Do your kids listen to The Hanson Brothers or Nomeansno at all?
I think occasionally and they enjoy it. At least that’s what they tell me (laughs). They’re both totally into music like typical teenagers. Though, my oldest son’s almost 20 now. They both love going to concerts and listening to music. My oldest son is more interested in what I’ve done now that he’s an adult. My other son is 15 so he’s obsessed with what 15-year-olds are obsessed with. But, yeah, I think it’s kind of fun for them. Their dad played in a punk rock band.

Definitely a unique experience.
I’m kind of an entertainer, but not like a rockstar, you know? They’re like “Why aren’t you rich?” Well, sorry. Didn’t work out that way (laughs).