This Saturday Punknews.org, along with Beau's All Natural Brewing, Some Party, and Melanie Kaye PR, will throw our first event in Toronto, Ontario. The Hinterland Hoedown goes down at the Bovine Sex Club and will bring together St. Catharines vets The Lucky Ones, the reunited Toronto garage-punk group The Exploders, Montreal's eclectic Bolo Mojo, and celebrated singer-songwriter Jenn Fiorentino. I spoke to all four acts recently about their storied histories, latest records, upcoming projects and more.
Since first going viral on YouTube, where she amassed over six million views and tens of thousands of followers, Jenn's been touring her honest rock'n'roll through the United States and Eastern Canada. She's shared the stage with artists like Chris Cresswell, Austin Lucas, and Billy Pettinger and has become a popular fixture at Montréal’s annual Pouzza Fest.
Adam White: It's been a few years since your full length "From Darkness To Light" came out. You've been working on a new record called "Survive" recently. How's it coming along? You've been working with producer Derek Downham on the new material. Has the experience of making this record felt different than your last?
Jenn Fiorentino: The new record is done! I actually got the masters back in August, so it’s been finished for a while. I’ve just been a bit slow getting some other stuff ready for it, trying to brainstorm some ideas on how to release it. I also took some time to send it out to some record labels to see if anyone was interested, but never heard back from any of them, and I just don’t have the patience to wait on other people, I’d rather just release it myself. My brother’s fiancé is a graphic designer and knows a lot about video production, and she was kind enough to offer to help me with some stuff. I’m expecting to receive copies of my album in the mail this week, so I should finally be releasing new material in February!
Working with Derek was a treat, he’s an incredibly talented musician and producer, and I didn’t even have to hire anyone for session work since he can play pretty much any instrument he picks up, which made it an easier process since he produced the album as well, so he didn’t have to give directions to a bunch of different people in the studio. I’m extremely happy with how the album turned out, everyone who worked on it with me is really talented and it was a nice collaborative effort. For my last album I just took my material into a studio and recorded it with an engineer, and had a few studio musicians play on it. I didn’t have a producer, so I didn’t have much guidance compared to when I was recording Survive.
You've racked up a huge number of views with your series of acoustic covers of punk songs, is there any in particular that the reaction surprised you?
It all sort of surprised me at first haha. Being a musician I’m sort of introverted and self-conscious about my art, and when it comes to covering other people’s songs listeners can be especially critical. When I posted my first video it was a little scary, but the feedback I received was extremely positive and encouraged me to keep going with it, and now Youtube is my main source of promotion, which is nice because I can do it from the comfort of my home!
Have you heard any feedback from the bands you've covered?
Ya! Members of Propagandhi, Strike Anywhere, and Strung out have all sent me messages about my covers. Operation Ivy shared my cover of The Crowd a while back on their Facebook page; and a fan of mine informed me that A Wilhelm Scream gave me a shout-out at one of their concerts recently. Even Hayley Williams from Paramore shared my cover of “Purina Hall of Fame” on her Tumblr page a few years ago, that was rad! I have a lot of respect for all these artists so it means the world to me when they show respect for my art as well, it’s so cool.
From a songwriter's perspective, who's an artist that you're into these days that people should listen a little closer to?
Well, aside from the bands I cover on Youtube, some of my favourite artists include Ben Howard, Tove Lo, Broods, Santigold, Deftones, Barrington Levy, Matthew Good.. the list goes on and on! And no, you shouldn’t feel weird about straying from the punk genre; as much as I love punk, there are other styles of music out there! Don’t be close-minded!
Bolo Mojo's an eclectic bilingual punk rock band from Montreal with a wild set of influences ranging from the The New York Dolls to Alice Cooper, The Cramps and Ian Dury. Hot on the heels of their second EP "Happiness" the band's set to make their Toronto debut at the Hinterland Hoedown.
You've packed a ton of variation into your two EPs, so much so that I'm worried sharing any one song would be a disservice. How do you end up writing a collection like "Happiness"? Is that range something you set out to achieve, or does it just happen?
Julien Granger (drummer): It just happened. We enjoy listening to and writing all kinds of music. We had old songs we wanted to record and are always writing new material. We chose our six favourites, regardless of direction.
Your sound shows a ton of glam rock and proto-punk influence. Are there bands from that era that you're particularly tuned into? What's playing in the Bolo Mojo van?
We all listen to all kinds of stuff. I can't really name one band, but lots of bands from the 70s and early 80s for sure. In the van there would have to be lots of Phillip Catherine and black metal!
I've spoken to a few Francophone bands who sing exclusively in English, and they claimed that it felt like a better fit for rock'n'roll. You guys put out an equal number of songs in both languages. Do you find different challenges writing in French? What makes a song a better fit for one language or the other?
It really is more of a feeling for Johnny. He uses both languages to express different things. There is no plan, it really depends on where the song brings him.
I'm always amazed at how much cool music's produced in the Quebec scene that we never hear about in the rest of Canada. Who in the Quebec rock scene, Francophone or otherwise, should people get hip to?
Bands like Les Ghouls (Keith Kouna), WD-40, Les Hotesses d'Hillaires, Fred Fortin, Grimskunk, Vilain Pingouin. Plume Latraverse is great!
The Hinterland Hoedown show will be your first in the Toronto area. What are your plans after this? Is there touring in the future?
Hopefully there will be more touring. We want to play New York, maybe this fall. We also have friends in Buffalo so that is another place we would like to play. And of course lots of shows in and around Montreal!
The classic Toronto garage punk act is back, and after all these years they're still raunchy, loud, and out of control. The Exploders have bailed together a caustic mix of 70s punk, 60s garage rock, and back-to-basics 50s rock'n'roll with a little surf and blues thrown in for good measure.
I've yet to see it documented anywhere online, so let's set the record straight: whatever happened to the Exploders?
Craig "Classy" Daniels (guitarist): Kind of a classic case of making a pretty great second record (for almost no money in a makeshift studio thanks to friends like Eric's Trip/Elevator leader Rick White, who produced/engineered it) and stalling out the release by getting caught up label hunting right at a time when labels were getting more conservative with money (ie. the whole downloading thing, etc). Shopping it to a lot of "maybes" was pretty exhausting. Also, we'd had a couple of line-ups and the band had changed a bit, maybe gotten a bit more heavy and that fact, especially looking back at what was happening in music in general, went against the emerging indie rock wave that was gathering steam. Being heavier was at odds with the more melodic "family band" vibe that was happening. That was one of just a few factors, and others included band members getting into other careers, family situations, life-type stuff. Add to that the fact we lost almost all out momentum and ultimately felt like maybe we'd had our day. A few years later after we broke up, an artist friend Michael Comeau (Regal Beast zine, Hellberta comics) released a limited run of the second album later with hand-screen printed recycled LP covers and a cool custom printed CD inside a wild printed fold-out CD envelope. I think I was on tour with The Leather Uppers at the time and missed the launch, which bummed me out!!
So much of the press surrounding your original run focused on your raunchy stage show, with everyone dwelling on the 70s porn gear that was a part of it. Do you think a band like the Exploders could show up on the scene with that look today?
That kinda got put on us by local press… a couple of us had moustaches but our overall look and vibe was more a love letter to bands like the Dictators and other early 70's proto-punks and freak rockers like Sir Lord Baltimore or Tiger B Smith. Maybe the movie Boogie Nights had just come out and porno chic was on people's minds?
The leather vests with the Exploders "E" on the back was just a classic unified band/gang look.. .More "Warriors" than John Holmes if you ask me. We still dress the same on stage and people like it! I have a hairy chest and enjoy showing it off in the name of rock.
Are people getting too sensitive now?
Maybe… but I'd be surprised if someone was offended by any of our lyrics or image. I feel the sexuality of the band is pretty much in a fun Cramps fetish vibe…There are songs celebrating wigs and hotpants but no victimizing or violent imagery. Basically it's real rock and roll about the things that matter.
What are you listening to these days? The Schizophonics from San Diego are a trio from San Diego that have a fuzz-fueled grage punk MC5 high energy show where the singer/guitar player Pat Beers does somersaults, James Brown spins and splits all while playing face melting solos. The songs are great and they have a killer new album out on Sympathy For The Record Industry. I also listen to a lot of classic Crypt and Norton-type vintage rock and roll but while I've been answering these questions I've been listening to space rockers Hawkwind, power poppers The Shoes and weird sunshine pop from The Three Ring Circus.
Are you still plugged into what's going on in the garage rock scene?
Totally. I don't make it out as much as I used to, but I'm aware of most current psych/garage stuff and if something does it for me, I'll check it out.
Toronto's seen this rash of venue closures over the past few years (although the El Mocambo, where you guys played quite a bit, seems bound to return). How different do things feel these days? Everything I read, and I'm not in Toronto myself, makes it sound pretty grim for live music in the city.
There are still lots of places to play… Some close, some open. Baby G, Duggan's Brewery, and mega-ish-club The Rec Room are all newer places I've seen bands that are filling the demand. I recall when there were only a handful of places in Toronto (ie The Rivoli, Cameron House, Cabana Room, Lee's) for rock/punk/garage bands to play. I know the city has grown a lot, but I still feel like there is proportionally so many more places to see bands than when I was coming up.
The Lucky Ones
I met Steve Stumble in the basement of the Merchant Ale House in St. Catharines to chat about The Lucky One's new album of booze-soaked, bare-knuckled punk rock Better Late Than Never. We ended up recording over two hours of conversation over however many pints fit into that span. This is just a small slice of that conversation.
Adam White: The reason I wanted to come in and talk to you in person instead of doing a dumb email thing is that you've been a "guy in the crowd" I've recognized for…
Steve Stumble (lead singer): Forever?
Forever! But I've never sat down and talked to you.
I was going to say. How the hell do we not know each other? Mel said "Oh you must know Adam, you live in the same area" and I was like "I have no idea who he is!"
It makes sense to me because I think I'm just the right age that my relationship with the Niagara scene is completely backwards. I'm just young enough but just old enough that I missed all these key eras.
I remember when I was just discovering music. It was probably 1995 so I'd be 13 at the time.
Just a little on the fringe there…
I remember we saw posters all over the place for the Sick Boys and Revenge of the Egg People, all these bands that you were involved with in one way or the other. Then right when I left and went to university in 2000, Alexisonfire happened. Then when I got back from that Alexisonfire was done. So that whole era when the scene blew up, I wasn't here.
That was when the S.C.E.N.E. music festival really started to take off too. It went from 95 to 2000, and then there wasn't one in 2001, and then me and Joel (Carriere of Dine Alone) brought it back in 2002. Those first couple years after that were just fucking insane. They boomed. The scene around here was just crazy.
Yeah it was strange coming back here when I did. When I finished school and came back home to Niagara Falls I was really bummed because I didn't know where to see shows. Even the places I went to see shows in St. Catharines as a teenager weren't there anymore. The Hideaway was closed, the Fratt House and Mindbomb were closed. So I wasn't even sure what was going on, and it took me a few years before I looped in with Timur and Erik (of IndoorShoes) and started going to shows locally.
See that's been the biggest problem for probably the last 15 years is there's no real home-base venue. There's just a bar. Now that we've got the Warehouse Music Hall open it seems to be starting all over again, but that was a huge, huge problem.
It was always a pain in the ass working with bars. People don't want to pay for good sound or you have a good night and they charge you a fortune for the room. It was impossible to make it work and make enough money to keep it going.
So I'm going to rewind here and do a Damian Abraham thing. What got you into punk?
Oh fuck. That's a good question
I always remember that my older sister would come home with mix cassettes that her best friend's brother would make, or whatever. Or I'd go over to my buddy Sean's house and his brother would make these mixtapes for us too and the stuff we'd always like on it was the punk rock stuff for some reason. I liked it from that.
When we first started playing our guitar player Paul's stepdad was in the old Jerry's Alley punk scene from back in the day. So we'd have these live tapes from that era of Niagara's original punk band the Unknowns. We missed them, half the guys were dead by then, but it was a big thing for us.
[I should not here that a lot of that material was collected by Steve on his Stumble Records label and released as the record Reknown: Live In A Niagara Dive a few years ago.]
I remember sneaking into Jerry's Alley when I was 15 or 16 years old. I wasn't supposed to be in there. And I remember one of the first bands I ever saw live was the Wetspots from Hamilton (all those guys actually just played with us at our album release party). …And I was just mind-blown. I was like "What's going on? This is just awesome!" So it just kind of went from there and I fell in love with it.
What year did you start playing?
I think was tarted playing the Sick Boys in 92. 92 or 93ish.
See that's an interesting time in the 90s because it was pre blow up. It's pre Green Day, pre Rancid, pre Offspring.
Well it's kind of funny because we were out playing. I think it was the Wetspots and the Problem Children, and maybe the Ripcordz were still playing then. And everyone kept saying "oh the punk scene's going to explode, don't worry, don't worry"
And yeah it exploded, In California, and nothing happened here! So it was like… Fuck!
So there's a lot of great bands from here that got left behind because they wern't from friggin' California. Even the shit bands form California were doing good.
So before you got the Lucky Ones together you had stopped playing for 10 years. What got you back?
Pretty much Robbie. I wasn't planning on playing anymore and I said if I was to ever play in a band again, I wanted to play with Robbie. I don't know why, it's just that Robbie got being in a band.
It's always been the bane of all the bands I was ever in. We'd have this great product, this great show, and nobody would ever want to go do anything with it. So it's like "why the fuck am I doing this?"
One of the things that's all over the record, is "punk." Not as a genre, but as a topic. You're singing about punk. It feels like there's so many bands that are, by all the boxes you want to tick, nominally punk bands, but they'll never say it. They shy away from it. You don't. What is it about punk that makes you embrace it like that?
I don't know man. It's just consuming. It's everything from the fashion to the music to the lifestyle to the attitude. Everything. It's a way of life. I don't know how to exactly describe it.
See one of my biggest problems with punk rock right now is people telling everyone what to fucking do. It drives me fucking mental. Something I used to love about the punk scene was that ever kind of freak on the fucking planet got together and it was no big deal. Now everything's so segregated into subgroups.
Better Late Than Never has some songs on it that don't shy away from getting crass and joking around with some material people might find offensive. Is there a line?
I've just got a bad sense of humour. I'm a huge Toy Dolls fan so I love all the goofiness of just stupid lyrics and taking the piss out of people. Funny shit but not in a mean way.
You can RSVP for the Hinterland Hoedown at Facebook. Tickets are $10 at the door. This is a 19+ show.