Ever young at heart, Calgary's Chixdiggit! is officially old. The beloved pop-punk act has reached the 25 year mark and they're celebrating with a cross-country tour, an ambitious new record (the Rush-riffing 2012 ) and even a beer brewed in their honour. Punknews managing editor Adam White caught up with Chixdiggit! frontman KJ Jansen to talk fatherhood, the Oilers, the struggles of touring and more. You can read or listen to the interview below.
Photo credit: Scott Cole
Thanks for chatting with me today. I've actually got sort of a sordid history of botched Chixdiggit! interviews that I'm trying to live down, so it means a lot that I can hopefully do this and do it right.
Okay, I've probably botched more Chixdiggit! interviews than you have, I think.
I'm sure you have. We sat down-- I want to say it was probably around when Pink Razors came out, either before or after. You, me, and Aubin who's the publisher at Punknews. We sat down in person at the -- there was a restaurant in Toronto called the Shanghai Cowgirl, you were playing a solo set at the Bovine right after that -- We sat down and we did an interview that in my mind was the greatest interview ever. We had one of those crappy little tape players that uses the tape from an answering machine. Afterwards we got home to transcribe it and when we turned it on, it just was hissing. Hissing and coffee cup clanking noises for about an hour. I felt bad.
[laughter] well I don't know why you would feel bad. Sometimes those things happen, you know. I probably bumped the machine or something. It was probably my fault at the end of the day.
You know what? If we didn't have a history of screwing those things up, then I would let you take the blame for that. But I don't know if I can do that. So what our readers probably really want to know more than anything at this point is how you're coping with the loss of Taylor Hall to the Devils.
That's a good question. Yeah, I was surprised by that trade. As you know, I'm an Oilers fan. But we did get a defenceman which is hard to get. I would have liked to have seen a little more come back, but that's the way it goes. You know, I've heard a couple players have spoken out since Vance Griffins and the former goalie and Oscar Klefbom, one of the current top defenseman, and they both said the same thing about Taylor Hall not really being the best guy for the job. So anyway, yeah. I mean it's a bummer, but I can also understand it.
See, I had to go back and check your Twitter history because the day when the trade happened where there was this massive collective outpouring of Oilers grief online and you were conspicuously silent. I was like "oh no, he's distraught!."
You know, it's sort of one of those things where I love the Oilers and I have since I was a little kid. But, you know what? I've got to say sometimes their fans really -- it's sort of that Sloan lyric that says, "It's not the band I hate. It's their fans" -- sometimes I kind of feel that way about Oilers fans. They're a little bit dramatic.
Now you live in Calgary these days, right?
So, are you in enemy territory at that point? Like do you have to hide this or are there plenty of Oilers people that are out in the open and proud of it?
Well, probably the only punk think I've done in my life is be an Oilers fan because I grew up in Calgary, but I was born in Edmonton. So, I just grew up an Oiler fan in Calgary during the 80s when the battle of Alberta was a thing. Yeah. So, there was some tough days I have to say.
So, we're of course chatting because it's the 25th anniversary of the band. And, I'm sure you've been asked a million times in recent interviews about the really early days so I'm going to try to avoid hitting you with "What was it like on Sub Pop?" questions because I think you've been through a bunch of those. I'm really more interested in what you're doing right now. In particular, how's life as a dad compared to life on the road?
I guess I've been a dad for almost seven years. We have two kids and we have a one year old boy right now. He's just starting to really move around so it's a lot of time and effort goes into just making sure he doesn't hurt himself because he's kind of fearless.
I saw the picture that you posted on Father's Day on Instagram and it mirrors what I'm going through. I've got -- well, not as old as you -- but I have a three year old girl and a one year old boy. I looked at that picture and thought, "Oh god, he's going through what I am."
Right. You know, it's great. I think that's why little kids are cute because I'm sure there would be no human race if it made little babies funny looking because you'd go crazy in the middle of the night. I'm sure some caveman would have left his kid in the forest and we wouldn't have made it to this point a long time ago. I jest, of course. I'm sure there's probably going to be some people upset about that comment [chuckles]. I love being a dad and having kids is just a totally different game. It's like being on tour. It's actually exactly like being on tour except you don't drive around all the time.
I find I still have to drive around all the time.
Well, you know a good point. You don't drive from city to city. You pretty much just drive around your own city all the time. You're right.
So when you guys are playing in Calgary, maybe your son's a little bit young for this, but has your daughter come to see you?
Actually, she just saw us play for the first time this summer because we don't play much in Calgary and most of the time when we play it's a bar show at midnight or whatever. So, we haven't -- in the last few years we've been kind of not as busy especially here in our own hometown. So yeah, at six and a half was the first time that she saw us play. She said she was very proud of me.
Did you have to put those globe-sized headphones on her to…
Yeah [chuckles]. It's funny, we got to the festival that we were playing and a couple people -- we had just stepped out of the car and there was a woman there who was like, "You've got to put headphones on these kids!" And it's like, "just give us a second, we just got out of the car!" Yeah, we had those headphones and they stayed on for the show because she knew that if the headphones came off, she had to go to bed. We were playing at midnight. We let her stay up late.
Every once in a while, you see someone that has a baby at the bar and they're wearing the headphones. The size of the cones on them is basically the size of the baby's head. I don't even know how they hold them up, but it's amazing whenever I see it.
But I'm glad people are doing that. And I'm glad to see more people at shows wearing ear plugs because a lot of friends of mine, who have been going to shows for a long time, are going deaf. So I think it's good to see that people are conscious of protecting their hearing.
I actually wanted to touch a little bit about what you were seeing as changes, and in particular with Calgary. Calgary, for me, has always been a little bit of a magical place from a musical standpoint. One of the first live bands that I had ever, on my own, went to a bar to go see was Huevos Rancheros. Then a couple weeks or a couple months later was you guys. I'm in Niagara Falls, so this was in St. Catharines at a club called The Fratt House that was there. Both of you guys played there within a few months of each other. This would have been '97 or '98 or something like that. All I knew was that whenever I went to see a rock and roll band, they seemed to be from Calgary or Vancouver. The Smugglers were in town just before that. Whenever I went to see a ska band, they were from Montreal. There was never anything good that was coming out of Toronto at the time. Toronto was a wasteland. All the ska was from the east, and all the rock and roll was from the west. So Calgary has always sort of been amazing to me from that standpoint, but I don't know if that all matches up with anyone's experience of it. But you've been in Calgary for your whole life basically, so you've seen the population boom. You've seen all the money coming in from all the oil and everything. So how different does Calgary feel, despite the fact that you're 20 years older at this point, from a music and arts standpoint compared to what it was?
Well, I think back when we started going to see shows and bands, the real arts capital of Alberta was Edmonton, and it still in a lot of ways is. But Calgary has definitely caught up. Back then, there was a lot more of like, I think bands just wanted to stay in Calgary and play. There were only a few bands that actually wanted to leave and go out. In the mid-90s, that kind of changed a little bit, and bands like Forbidden Dimension and Huevos. Like Huevos were kind of the pioneers of touring. They were the first band that we knew of that were traveling and playing music. And they were like our big brothers, so we wanted to do what they were doing. So that's why we started touring too. But I think now it seems like the bands here in town are supported more locally than they were then. I'm not saying we didn't get a lot of support but I think in general it's stronger now. And I think music or bands in general now, the people in them, the people that are younger than me, are a little bit more fearless and a little bit more ready to try different stuff. So yeah, it seems like things have kind of gotten a little bit more open and less defined by genre and what you're supposed to do, and that kind of thing?
I don't want to say kids these days, but yeah, I would say kids these days really are way more open to stuff and way more adventurous or something. They just seem like they're ready to try anything, which is really cool.
So does having kids of your own change your perspective on what kind of music you want to write at this point? I mean everything that you've put out has always been so irreverent and youthful, and now you're faced with all sorts of youth… but it's not necessarily your own.
I don't think anything's really changed with what we write about, or what I write about. I mean, I'm still the same person. I think I'm reminded more of childhood things by seeing how my daughter reacts to things. And she's around the age now -- like I was seven or eight when my sister started bringing home punk records. So I was exposed to it earlier, but I didn't really do anything about it until way later. But I think -- I'm watching her see a band for the first time or listen to a certain kind of music the first time. You know, she's never listened to the Ramones. She's seven. We've never played her the Ramones. We haven't gotten to that yet. But I'm looking forward to that. So I don't think it's changed anything, it's just brought certain things back, for sure.
Is there that temptation that you want to start giving them their education in what you consider to be canonically good music? Because I've definitely had that and I've had to back off on sitting her down and saying, "Okay. We're going to walk through every Clash record right now and figure out which of these works for you." I've definitely had little moments -- I'd been playing a New Pornographers record when she was two and a half and she would come in and dance around the room, and that was amazing. But I'm trying to not be the uncool dad and just force old-man music on my kid.
Yeah, I think your kids are going to figure it out and discover it. And it's going to be around the house, and they're going to see you wearing the t-shirts and all that anyway. I know our daughter is going to figure it out. I can tell already she knows what a good song is. She can understand melody and she's actually playing piano, she's learning piano right now. She's got a really good ear. So I think she's going to figure out what she likes by herself. I'm just not concerned about that. I think I want them to figure it out themselves.
So I've spent the past few days frantically searching Google while listening to your new record 2012 on repeat to unpack what you were doing on there lyrically. So this record, for anyone who hasn't heard it, is one giant song with a bunch of smaller movements, little mini songs that kind of bridge everything in between. And it plays out like a travelogue of the band's tours in 2012. Now, I've been chasing details to see how much of this stuff I could actually verify compared to how much was just lyrics. You've clearly done your homework on your own tour here, because I would go in and I think "Okay. Nimrodland. Nimrodland. That's not venue in Dusseldorf. But oh,…he's referring to the German band, The Nimrods. And then did they actually play with the Carbonites in Orangevale? Yes they did!" …and I'm going through all this stuff.
So kudos, it's a really cool concept to walk through a whole year of touring like that. Now obviously you also have this big funny Rush cover art that you've put together, so what came first? Did you set out to make something called 2012 for the sake of the joke and then go look to see what details happened in 2012, or were you intending to chronicle that particular year and then you happened to realize the symmetry with the Rush title?
Well there's a lot of stuff that went into this. Before we even did it, there were a lot of things that kind of happened. At the end of the year 2012, Mark O'Flaherty, who's the original guitar player, had sort of decided that he wasn't going to do it anymore. And so, we had had a conversation just about, "Well, let's take a break. We don't have to make any decisions."
I didn't want him to quit, but I knew at the time that it was probably the best thing for him. So I think we took six or eight months off, and I just had started writing, and I had a couple songs that happened to be -- the choruses of them happened to be about places we had played the year before. And then I noticed a few more kind of came along, and I had six or eight and so I thought, "You know what, if he quits, I'm going to write a song for him that talks about our last year of touring together." You know, a love song for your buddy. Then we decided it would be funny, because it's widely regarded that The Decline by NOFX is the greatest punk rock song of all time in a lot of people's minds. So we thought if we made our song one second longer than The Decline, then our song would be greater, so then we would then have the title of the greatest punk rock song of all time.
Right. Nobody can argue that. And then we started piecing all this together, and we were a few times The Decline in terms of length, so we had to start cutting stuff out and making it sort of [laughter] we had to cut a lot out. Then doing some research we saw that The Decline was the second longest song [after Crass' "Yes Sir, I Will" - ed], so we thought, "Hey, well let's go for the longest one." Then we wanted to fit it onto a side of a record. It's a lot of little things anyways. So that's kind of how it came out. Even when we recorded it in the studio, which we did it in one take. Not all the overdubs with the vocals and everything, but we did the bass, the drums, and the one guitar track in one take. So that was a huge thing for us because we can not even do a two minute song on one take normally. Then we were still too long so we still had to cut some out after that. So it's been a lot of making things go into the next part and have it make sense musically. Then making the length right. It was a lot of things. Then of course fact checking like you did, all the stuff in the song. There's a few facts that I'm sure are wrong.
So is it your intention that this is something you guys are going to play as a 20 minute block or are you going to chunk it up into bits?
We recorded the bed track about a year and a half ago. So we had it done basically about a year ago but we've just been not able to tour or do anything about it so it's kind of sat for awhile. But at the time we could play it no problem one go. So it's something that we could do although right now we probably couldn't. We've definitely done it many times before.
I feel it took 10 or 15 years for NOFX to sort of work up the balls to play The Decline live. That was just something that just didn't happen and then all of a sudden they started busting it out.
It'll probably be twice that for us then [chuckles].
So you mentioned Mark a minute ago. I just wanted to just come back to some band history stuff here. A lot of people have been in and out of Chixdiggit!, particularly in your rhythm section, over the past 25 years. A lot of them were in the band though for pretty long stints, and I know a few of them showed up in pictures at the anniversary show that you guys played. Do you keep touch with Mike and Dave and Jason at this point? Do you know where they are?
Yeah, of course. Like we all are busy and we don't hang out nearly as much as we used to, but yeah we definitely -- I talk to all those guys.
So Mike is a software guy at this point (this is Mike Eggermont, bass player).
That's right, and he's doing really well even despite our current economy. He's done really well for himself.
I saw he has a LinkedIn profile and a beard, so that looks very respectable.
So there you go. There's proof he's doing well. He's got a LinkedIn profile and a beard.
So: Dave Alcock. Is Sunday Sound still around?
No, it's not anymore, and he's working here, he works in television and he's doing great as well. And Jason works, he's an engineer.
There are so many punk rock guys that I've learned over the years are engineers. A handful of the Teenage Bottlerocket people I'm pretty sure are engineers.
Well I'm sure they are, yeah.
So on the record, you spend a good deal of the time talking about Germany before hopping back to western Canada and then into California. What immediately leaped out to me listening to this, and this has sort of always been the case with your band and with a lot of bands of similar backgrounds, is these Canadian references that pop up, and they jump out and stick in my head. The Canadian thing has always been a huge part of Chixdiggit!'s artwork and look. It's something that you've absolutely worn on your sleeve as you've gone out into the world. Was that a conscious artistic decision that you guys sat down and made at some point -- to tie the brand of Chixdiggit! so closely with Canada? How did that come about because not all Canadian bands do that? It's not a given that that's going to happen.
I think when we first started touring, we were doing a lot. When we first started really touring, we were doing a lot of time in the States. We would do eight months a year, and six and a half of that would be in the US. And so we were always like, "Hey, we're from Canada," and it kind of got to be a bit of a joke to our friends that would come to see us in these different places, that "We're from Canada, We're from Canada." So we started to kind of play it up a little bit, and I think it definitely came from that. So that's kind of where it came from. I remember Tom Bagley touched on that. On our first album cover, there's little Canadian flags here and there, and second album is Born on the First of July. And then From Scene to Shining Scene, that's a Canadian reference, too, or an American one [chuckles]. I'm not sure. Anyway, we love Canada. It's a great place to live and be from. And it's not a perfect country for sure, but it's given us a lot of things.
I feel that those kinds of references play so differently here in Canada than they would, at least, in the US or another country. We're so dominated by US cultural exports that a lot of the time when you're a kid and you find out that there's art being made, and it's being made by your people, your peers, it really resonates. It really matters. I'd never really seen it as a nationalism thing as much as it is a representation thing. When I was a young kid learning that punk rock was out there, it was from New York, or it was from California, or it was from London, or anything like that. The fact that I could -- again, this was the 90s so who knows what was going on in Toronto at the time -- We learned you could listen to the Planet Smashers out of Montreal, or you could listen to Chixdiggit! out of Calgary, the Smugglers out of Vancouver. It was like, "Holy shit, there's Canadians that are doing this!" That really mattered, at least to me.
That's cool, and it mattered to us. Bryce from the Smugglers was in a band in town called the Vindicators. That was one of the first bands I saw. They played my high school, and I saw them play with a band called the LI 150s, which is a legendary Calgary band, and another legendary band called the High Rollers. They were like a funk band, but really funny guys, and they could put on a really good show. They played my school, and that was the first time I thought, "I can do this. There are people in my town that are doing this." I didn't really know that much about Canadian music, just guys from my neighborhood doing it. I guess it's the same kind of thing. Those guys showed me that we could do it, at least that it was possible.
One of the things, speaking of Smugglers, that was pretty much neat for me about 2012 is that you name-check a whole ton of bands in there. You mention the Smugglers. You mention the Riff Randells. These are always bands that I've associated you with. You also mention Masked Intruder on here, which I think of as a young band you could argue has a pretty strong branch in the musical family tree back to what you guys have done. In a wider sense, that kind of pop punk that they play -- them and the aforementioned Teenage Bottlerocket -- it seems like in the past ten years or so, a lot of that's come into fashion - at least within the punk scene. What's your read on that? Do you see tall these young bands doing the kind of stuff that you were doing? Did you miss the money train?
Yeah, I don't know. I think there is no money train. No, I think in terms of fashion, I have no idea but I would say that there's a lot more bands that I'm hearing that I like, so I don't know if that means anything. But I don't know about popular opinion or anything.
Well, we're talking about popular opinion within the punk scene - which isn't really popular opinion anywhere I guess. But it feels like there's a lot more bands that are doing something I think is stylistically similar to what Chixdiggit! was doing and I feel underappreciated for doing, back in the 90s. So do you encounter these bands on the road? Are they telling you things like, "Hey, you influenced us."
Yeah, we've heard things like that from different bands. But I don't - I definitely don't - feel like we're underappreciated or anything. I don't feel like we're missing out or anybody's taking anything. I think people are realizing - people in some of the bands that you're talking about - that it's fun music to play. It's great music to make to have other people have fun, too, while they're watching you. So that's about it for me. I don't know--
So what bands are you seeing out there, that you're either playing with or seeing live or hearing, that you're impressed with these days?
They're not young bands. I don't think Masked Intruder is a young band, but I think they're a newer band. I like them a lot, and the Copyrights I like a lot. Sort of in our style, a band called The Manges from Italy, I love that band. I think they are underappreciated over here because, maybe, they're from Europe and don't get over here much. But I'm trying to think of who else, it's not very often new stuff makes it into my collection as well. That's important to know. Who else? Mean Jeans, I love Mean Jeans. I don't know, I like Andrew Jackson Jihad, or AJJ.
That's a tough question to answer.
It is, I know. It is hard sometimes to recall it, when actually someone puts you on the spot for it, too. You mentioned Europe, specifically the band out of Italy. When we talked, we mentioned Germany earlier here. I've always felt that you guys have a particular Europe thing. I don't know if it's just because I've been listening to 2012 and you talk so much about it, but you guys always seem to have big German tours that seem to go places that other bands - that I see that go over there to do a couple festival dates - don't seem to go. Is there a particular European thing that works for you? Does Chixdiggit play better over in Europe than they do here or what?
It's a very simple answer. The number one reason why we never play the United States is these cost-prohibitive work permits. We would have to join the Musicians Union - which doesn't do anything other than get you work permits to play in the United States. For me, we can go to Europe without any work permits and play and so that's basically the biggest thing. Europe's easy to go to because you don't have to go through all these months of bullshit just to go lose money there in the first place. You know what I mean? So you're not paying thousands of dollars to go to Europe just to get the work permits like you are in the United States. So that's a huge reason why we go to Europe a lot. And we've kept going there -- and it's also fun to play. They treat bands really well there. And there's a lot of things to do during the day. We're kind of tourists. So, I mean, it's a lot of non-rock and roll reasons why we go to Europe a lot.
That makes sense. That issue, I feel like, has been talked about and repeated from, I think, every Canadian band that I've talked to. It doesn't matter how many free trade agreements we have, it never seems to get better.
…and American musicians don't have to pay anything to come into Canada, yet we have to pay to go there. And look, I would love to play the States more but I just -- as a band, we almost can't afford to. It's cheaper to pay for five plane tickets than it is for one person's work permit. Five plane tickets a year than it is for one person's work permit to play in the States.
And I assume you don't have to pull any of the weird bullshit that bands play to get things like merch over the border, or anything like that?
Well, no. I mean, we just have it made there. We're actually making money for people there and they see that. We're not pulling a lot of money out of any of these places.
So, I guess we can't wrap this up here without mentioning the beer because I feel that Melanie [Kaye] would be really disappointed if I didn't. So Ottawa's Big Rig Brewery, they put together a Chixdiggit! beer. It's going to be on sale at a bunch of the upcoming shows in Ontario, at the very least. We've seen a bunch of bands do stuff like this lately, where they're doing some collaboration with craft brewers. It makes sense given how hot the craft brewing scene is now. But how much input does one have into having a beer made in your name? How did this come about?
I think, for us, I don't know about how the other bands did it, Melanie was talking with Big Rig about doing something and she mentioned that she was working with me. It kind of came out of that. So she really set the whole thing up, and it's been great. I spent a day in Toronto -- this is the research and all the development aspect of it -- I went to Toronto and tried all this different beer for a day and then--
That sounds horrible.
Yeah, I know. It was terrible. And then they said, "What do you like? What do you want it to taste like?" And then this and this. That's just pretty much it. And whereas I know like Johnny Hanson from the Hanson Brothers, I mean, he spent years honing his craft in Germany learning how to make smoked beer. Well, I spent an afternoon getting drunk with these guys from Big Rig [chuckles]. So there's, I think, different levels of what went into making the beer. So that was my commitment, it's like, "Yeah, I like to drink this. It tastes good."
You both ended up with beer in the end so I guess you really have to argue who's made a better use of their time.
Well, I mean, but he got to spend all his time in Germany learning this ancient craft. But you're right, either way, you win.
So one last thing here is that there has been some mention - and I'm not quite sure how much of this stuff is out there in the world right now - of you doing some solo stuff. What's the status on this
Yeah, I did some touring in Europe with Kepi [Ghoulie] and I did some touring out West here with Joey Cape and the One Week Records guys. And yeah, it's just something I'm kind of doing for fun right now. I mean, I haven't worked on any songs specifically for that or anything. It's just something that I've kind of been dipping my toe into for the last two years. So eventually I'll do something.
Well, if you're going to be like any other punk frontman that's done this, you're going to have to get yourself a banjo, a flannel shirt, and a beard.
Well, I have all those things, they just haven't left the house yet, except the beard. I have grown a beard, a three or four-day beard in the past, which I think is enough to get you by at an acoustic show. But yeah, the other stuff I've already got. I've got a banjo and lots of flannel shirts.
Well, looks like you're there.
Chixdiggit! - Chupacabras (1998)
Chixdiggit! surprises groom at wedding in Italy (2016)