If you're not familiar with Fifth Hour Hero, you will be. This Quebecois four-piece has been on the road throughout 2003 supporting a string of amazing releases and showcasing their passionate and exhilarating songs. I spoke with vocalist / guitarists Genevieve Tremblay and Olivier Maguire in late February while on their winter tour:
You're a week into your tour with Strike Anywhere. How's it going so far? Olivier: Really good!
Olivier: We met them in Europe. We played three shows with them over there and we didn‚??t really know them before that, but we‚??re getting along really well with those guys. Awesome people.
Have you met up with F-Minus or Silverstein yet? Genevieve: No, not yet. I think in a week we‚??re going to meet with Silverstein, but for now it‚??s just us and Strike Anywhere.
Olivier: We‚??ve met the Silverstein guys before, they‚??ve come and played Quebec a few times and we saw them then.
Last year you were on the road with Against Me!. Between them and Strike Anywhere these are two of the most talked about punk bands in recent years. With all of these high profile shows does it seem like you're getting more attention? Genevieve: Well we have good comments after every show but I don‚??t think we could go and play a whole US tour by ourselves next month and do super-well.
Olivier: Because before we joined the Strike Anywhere tour we played New York City. We had a few shows by ourselves and they weren‚??t huge shows. I mean there were a few people who knew us and knew of the show because they saw us with Against Me!, but it‚??s not like we draw lots of people already.
Genevieve: It‚??s a good beginning.
Definitely. Your last full length had its fair share of commentary on relationships, but also on social issues. Now you‚??re on tour with a band like Strike Anywhere. Do you consider yourself a political band? Olivier: We‚??re not really a political band, I would say we‚??re more socially aware. It‚??s not like political, in-your-face lyrics. It‚??s more like social comments.
Can a band balance both the personal and the political? The Weakerthans have managed to do it and I think you guys have done a great job so far, but there must be a risk of being labeled one way or the other. Genevieve: I think a lot of bands have done it. Billy Bragg has done it pretty well. It‚??s really hard to stay political, to write only political lyrics.
Olivier: I would say that politics are really complex and to talk about political subjects in only one song, I feel that it‚??s limited. I don‚??t think that it‚??s easy to talk about political subjects in a large way and be honest with the subject. I don‚??t know how to say it but‚?¶
I see what you‚??re saying. The last time I saw you guys play you joked that you were "Freedom Canadians." With the recent political climate in the US do you find that crowds react differently because of your culture? Olivier: Yeah, yeah they do. But we‚??re making jokes about it all the time and they get it. They talk to us about hockey teams but they don‚??t know much about our culture. They do know that Conan O‚??Brian said that stuff about French Canadians.
Genevieve: When we were talking to them about if they knew about Jean Chr√©tien and who he was, nobody knew at that time. He was our Prime Minister!
Olivier: …and they‚??re asking us if we‚??re close to Winnipeg and if we‚??ve ever heard of Propagandhi. It‚??s a general thing. I‚??m sure a lot of the kids do know about Canada, but a lot of them don‚??t! (laughs)
Most of what we hear from the province comes from Montreal. What's the scene like in Quebec City? Genevieve: It‚??s pretty quiet.
Olivier: It‚??s really small, a small tourist city. It‚??s mostly younger kids going to shows, not like in Montreal where you‚??ll see older people. But Quebec‚??s a small tourist town so when you‚??re over twenty you get your job and you‚??re going somewhere else.
Genevieve: It‚??s nothing compared to Montreal, they have a way bigger scene.
We don‚??t see many bands coming out of there that get the kind of attention Fifth Hour Hero has received. Olivier: Born Dead Icons, do you know of them? They were from Quebec City and they‚??re doing pretty well.
Genevieve: But they moved to Montreal!
Despite being from Quebec your lyrics are mostly in English, do you ever write in French? Olivier: No, we never have, I did with my old band. When you grow up listening to music in English it sounds weird otherwise. Some bands have done it pretty well but we just don‚??t feel comfortable doing it.
So what‚??s the writing process like for the band? Genevieve: It depends. It‚??s different for every song. Olivier and I work on the lyric parts.
Olivier: Sometimes we write the music and Gen will add lyrics after because she‚??s better than me at doing that, but sometimes I‚??ll come up with the music and the lyrics on my own. We‚??ve been through all the processes you could think of. For the new EP each one of us wrote music and lyrics (separately), but for the album we just wrote the music to a bunch of songs and added lyrics later.
Does one way feel more comfortable than the other? Genevieve: I think that we all prefer the EP. It sounds different than the full length. It has more energy.
Olivier: For the album we ended up with six or seven songs without vocals. So we had to go back and put vocals over six songs and at the end we were all confused and didn‚??t know where to go. But with new EP everything was done and we just had to put it together. It was much easier than that pain in the ass!
So the EP was released last November. How do you feel the reception has been so far? Genevieve: Really good! I think we‚??re getting good reviews and it sells well at shows. People are telling us it‚??s their favorite that we‚??ve done so far.
So how long was this recorded after Scattered Sentences? [review] Olivier: It was actually‚?¶ what two?
Genevieve: Three years ago!
Olivier: Yeah three years, because it took a long time before the album came out. We had to do two mixes of it. The first one sounded really weird and we had to go back and do another.
Genevieve: We had trouble with the layout, it took a long time to do it. At the end when it was out we weren't even playing songs from it anymore. We were done with it.
Olivier: Now we‚??ve started playing songs off of it a little bit, we‚??re doing three songs from it. It took so long that we felt that we wanted to play something else.
So when did No Idea come into the picture? Were they behind the album from the start? Olivier: Yeah. We did the split with Gunmoll first and from there we decided all the upcoming stuff would be on No Idea.
You've certainly had a huge output recently. In the past two years you've released splits with Gunmoll, The Sainte Catherines and now No Choice. Is that one out yet? Olivier: It‚??s out in Europe and we‚??re supposed to get the American version tomorrow.
Genevieve: And we then have one with The Sainte Catherines.
That‚??s a 7" on 1-2-3-4 Go right? How did these pairings come about? Genevieve: The Sainte Catherines are really good friends of ours. We‚??ve known them for 3 or 4 years. We‚??ve toured with them before. It seemed like a normal thing to do a split with them.
Olivier: Both our upcoming shows in Quebec will be with them.
Genevieve: We get along very well with them. Gunmoll we met on tour.
Olivier: I would say that Jon from Gunmoll actually got us on No Idea. We were playing with them in Gainesville and he played our first EP at the office. Var liked it and asked us if we‚??d like to do stuff with them.
Derron from Gunmoll even mastered your album. Genevieve: Yeah. With No Choice it was Var‚??s idea so we could get a little bit of exposure in Europe and the European band could get more exposure over here.
You guys just got back from Europe. How do you like it over there? Olivier: We just got back from there. It was amazing.
Genevieve: We toured for six weeks and the response was really good!
Did you find the crowds different in each country? Genevieve: More receptive, I would say. Like over here if you‚??re not really known then people might not come to the show, but in Europe it‚??s really different. Most of the time we were headlining and people were coming out and enjoying it.
Olivier: Sometimes even if we were the only band on the bill, they would come just to check us out and know what‚??s up. And there were older people there, which was really surprising.
Genevieve: Like 30 to 40 year olds
Olivier: We got to stay with people in their 50s!
So how was traveling? Genevieve: It was good. We had a driver there so we didn‚??t have to bother with that.
Olivier: We were lazy. We were just in the back of the van sleeping or looking around at castles. It was a lot of fun.
So how are things with No Idea? Olivier: Really good. It‚??s more of a friendship thing. It‚??s really cool. Right now we‚??re talking to you from the No Idea office and it feels like home.
Genevieve: We don‚??t feel any pressure or anything from our label.
Olivier: It's just "do whatever, whenever".
Genevieve: It‚??s a really good relationship.
Olivier: If we have questions or anything we can just ask the big guy.
Let me guess, Var and Tony are sitting there in the room shaking their heads. Olivier: (laughter) They‚??re not in the room!
The most frequent comparisons I see for Fifth Hour Hero in reviews is with Discount and Rainer Maria. What do you think of these? Genevieve: Discount I can see, I admit. But Rainer Maria?
Olivier: I was never into Rainer Maria and I don‚??t know how they sound. I downloaded one song from them off your website once, it was really good. I liked it, but…
Genevieve: I‚??ve never listened to Rainer Maria before. I‚??ve listened to Discount and I really like the way she (Alison Mosshart) sings so of course it‚??s probably influenced me.
I was looking on your website and it says the band name came from a song by The Jam, "Just Who Is the 5 O'clock Hero." What music from that era do you consider influential? Olivier: The Clash would be the main one. We‚??re listening to a lot of music from that era: Stiff Little Fingers, Buzzcocks, The Jam. They‚??re all bands that we‚??re really into.
So after the tour with Strike Anywhere what‚??s your plan for the 2004. Genevieve: We‚??re going to record at the end of the summer probably.
Olivier: Since we did a bunch of splits and a seven-inch we want to do a new album. The songs from the Scattered Sentences album are two or three years old so we want to do a new one. As soon as we get home we‚??re going to write and record.
You‚??ve had a lot of releases in the last year with the album, the EP and the splits. Is it important to have a steady output like that? Olivier: Yeah it‚??s important, but actually we didn‚??t really think about it that way at the time. When we did splits it was because we had songs and we got offers. It just kind of happened this way but at the same time it‚??s cool that it did. It keeps the name going around and since we were touring gave us new stuff to bring to people. Since the album was written a while back it was refreshing to play something new. Learning from our mistakes we knew it was going to take a few years to put out whatever we were recording (as a full length), so it was better this way.
Are there things from the first album that you would change? Olivier: It was a hard process.
Genevieve: The recording session took so long. Sometimes it gets harder when you‚??re listening to the same song forever.
Olivier: I was listening to it recently and it‚??s a pretty good album, but it got on our nerves because the process was way too long. But we still like it.
Are you setting a deadline for how long you‚??ll spend on the new one? Olivier: We‚??re recording in Gainesville so we won‚??t be able to spend three months in the studio.
Genevieve: For the first one we recorded in Quebec City so there was no deadline. We could keep going back to change stuff.
Olivier: Whenever we were tired we could just say "ok we‚??re leaving and coming back tomorrow."
Genevieve: That‚??s why it took forever.
Olivier: Some days we were just in there for two hours and would end up going back home. It wasn‚??t a good way to work. We did it in a weird way.
So it will be better to work under some pressure this time? Olivier: Yeah, we need a little bit of pressure!