The Artist Life (21 mai 2008)

Entrevue de Cath avec Dean Richards

Originaire de Toronto, la formation THE ARTIST LIFE débutera la semaine prochaine une tournée d'un mois à travers les privinces de l'Est canadien en compagnie des punk rockers du Michigan THE SWELLERS . Le chanteur/guitariste Dean Richards réponds à nos questions histoire de dresser un portrait de la jeune formation ontarienne. THE ARTIST LIFE commencent à faire de plus en plus de bruit depuis la parution de leur EP Living l'été dernier et ont développé un son intéressant qui plaira aux fans de LOVED ONES et THE DRAFT. Le groupe est en prestation au Lambi le 3 juin avec THE SWELLERS .

[CATH] How would you describe this band in seven words or less?

[DEAN] Hmm… how about ‘punk rock’?

[CATH] Can you elaborate on the band name? I'm rather curious.

[DEAN] The name came from Ian. We had been playing guitar together for some time, writing songs, and we decided we wanted to get more serious with the band. We were both quite poor at the time; Ian was a struggling actor living in a rough area of Toronto, and I was a student, equally as broke. The name is a reflection of the struggles and sacrifices we’ve made to become artists I guess?

[CATH] TAL came together in 2005. What were you all up to before then, and how did TAL come into being?

[DEAN] I met Ian while on tour with MONEEN and THE FULLBLAST. He was the newest addition to the BLAST and my band from PEI, DREAMS AMONG STARS, were breaking up and had jumped on the East Coast leg of the MONEEN/FULLBLAST tour to do our “farewell” shows. Shortly after that tour I moved to Toronto to continue school and I met back up with Ian. We started hanging out, knew we loved the same kind of music and thought it would be a lot of fun to start a band together… so we did! Prior to THE FULLBLAST, Ian was part of JERSEY as well. I met Chuck as I used to put on punk-rock and metal shows in PEI and book tours for bands coming through from Ontario or anywhere else in Canada. So Chuck was playing with AT THE MERCY OF INSPIRATION at the time. I did the show for them, then we drank beers in his van listening to his old band JUDE THE OBSCURE. We bro’d down pretty hard. We met Jake after we had been playing with fill-ins for some time. We knew Jake through some mutual friends and as soon as he started coming out to practices we knew he was the guy for the band.

[CATH] People are comparing you left and right with FOO FIGHTERS, THE DRAFT. In my opinion, it's rather difficult not to draw comparisons to THE LOVED ONES. What are some of your musical and personal influences?

[DEAN] Our influences vary across the band, but it’s safe to say this band started out of a love for HOT WATER MUSIC. From there we all love RANCID, Ian adores THE CLASH, I really like the THE REPLACEMENTS and THE SMITHS, Chuck loves METALLICA and AGAINST ME!. Ian and I used to hang out at a lot of open mics – Ian would often play RYAN ADAMS songs there. So it varies, but we all have a common ground I guess… which is that straightforward, beard-growin’, throat-tearin’ punk rock.

[CATH] What made you want to pick up an instrument and start a band? What is your earliest memory that relates to music in some way or another?

[DEAN] Hmm… I picked up an instrument to start playing after all my friends knew how to play guitar better than me so I was given the bass for nothing other than lack of talent. My earliest memories of music are being about nine years old and sneaking into my older brother’s bedroom while he was out and listening to his BAD RELIGION and DEAD KENNEDYS tapes. He’d always bust me and kick my ass when he got home.

[CATH] It's been roughly a year since you were in the studio recording the songs for the Living EP. What has the past year been like?

[DEAN] The past year we have been through a lot. I’ve been about an hour outside of Toronto finishing my Bachelor of Education degree at Trent University. So that meant A LOT of driving back-and-forth between shows. It meant the band’s been a lot tighter on cash having to pay for that extra $20 at each show for my personal travelling. So those have been some challenges, but at the same time I feel like my school has never really held us back. We worked really hard this past year and I think we’ve developed a strong enough support system in Southern Ontario to start playing across the country and to start working even harder now that I’m done school and we’ve all committed to this band full-time, 100%.

[CATH] You've gone through a few lineup changes, including founding member Chris Danner leaving and forming TO THE LIONS, and have gone through at least two bass players. Have these changes resulted in the songwriting respnsibilities shifting towards Ian and yourself?

[DEAN] These member changes have made for challenges, however Ian and I have always been the primary song-writers. It was actually Ian and I who wrote and recorded the Living EP. Our good friend Dave Palmer played bass on the record, but Ian and I did the rest of the instruments. So yes the challenges have been difficult, but our friends have always been there for us to help us out when we needed them. We’ve just powered on and I can’t think of a situation where we’ve gone “Oh shit, we really lost out on that opportunity because we’re missing *this* player.” We’ve taken every opportunity that’s come our way and fortunately we’ve had a friend there to help us out each time.

[CATH] Do you feel this lineup is the one for TAL?

[DEAN] Absolutely. I’ve never felt stronger with three other guys in any other band I’ve been in and I’m sure the rest of the guys would say the same thing. We’ve actually been writing a bunch of new stuff and the process has gone much better than I had anticipated. The dynamic we have together has me really excited.

[CATH] The songs on Living, and even a few of your demos, show some solid and much more cohesive songwriting than your earlier material. Did you ever feel like there was a point where things clicked?

[DEAN] Yes there was. I think there was a shift when we realized we wanted to focus more on the band as a serious project and no longer as a fun side-project. At that point, and I think this was when it was pretty much Ian and I in the band, we wanted the songs to have more structure. So we spent a long time pre-proing and re-writing songs before going in to do Living. So I think what you’re hearing is a more structured approach to song-writing. We wanted the songs to be memorable and as strong as they could be, so we made sure to have that in mind with each song.

[CATH] In your own words, what do your lyrics deal with?

[DEAN] Well I wrote a lot of the lyrics on Living. Much of the stuff I wrote dealt with a near-loss I had with a family member battling cancer. It was a really rough time for me and my family so all I could do was write about it and try and channel that negative energy into positive. Ian also wrote lyrics from an outside perspective on what I was going through. And I did the same with him as he went through some personal stuff. Other lyrics came from frustration with either myself and how I dealt with a situation or a certain period in my life, and other songs like Piss Test deal with how fucked up the American military-industrial complex is and how scary it is.

[CATH] There seems to be extra care in crafting these lyrics. How important is it for you to have something meaningful to say, in an environment where music is more and more presented as just another commodity available for consumption?

[DEAN] I think it’s something very important, and I’m glad you brought this up. To us our music is a very personal thing, but at the same time we hope that people listening to it can relate in some way. I mean, if you listen to bands like HOT WATER MUSIC, you’ll never hear more honest lyrics than that. I think we embrace the integrity in the song-writing of bands like HWM and try to give fans and listeners something that’s “real” in that sense. I guess it also helps that I’m an English teacher and have a real love for the language. I also like to write songs that have a cohesive kind of story to them. It’s my form of creative writing.

[CATH] Do you ever feel the message – whatever it may be – gets lost?

[DEAN] I think it can be. I hope it isn’t. I guess it depends on the kind of listener. If the audience is someone who is committed to the band and feels a connection with the band, they’re going to appreciate the writing. I think if you hear a song at 1am, drunk and on a dance floor while hitting on chicks, the message really isn’t the same.

[CATH] The lyrics to all the songs are printed inside the EP sleeve, which is something that is less common than it might have been only a few years ago. How important is it for you to make this available to everyone?

[DEAN] I think that’s something very important for the reasons stated above; you want your fan to be able to either sing along or make that connection with the songs. Without the lyrics, as meaningful as they are, I think you run the risk of losing the message.

[CATH] Your debut EP has been available free of charge for download through your website since last summer - something that we see more and more these days. What made you want to go in that direction?

[DEAN] For us the decision was pretty simple. We were a very new band at the time (and still are to many people), therefore we thought, “What is the best way to build fans and get as many people into the band as possible, without any barriers?” We said, “Hey, we need people to get into this stuff, so let’s just make it as easy and accessible as possible.” So that’s what we did. That and we’d spent literally every dime we had on the recording and even pressing it on our own was just not financially possible. I think had we pressed 1,000 copies we’d be lucky to have sold half that many at shows by now. Instead, we know there are almost 10,000 people with our record, somewhere, who have gotten it that way – directly from us.

[CATH] How do you feel about a record/CD as a physical object? What would your reaction be like if tomorrow everyone stopped manufacturing them and everything went digital?

[DEAN] I think part of me would be sad. I can’t say why but when I have a record in my hand I just feel closer to it. I think we’re all still uncomfortable with this whole ‘technological revolution’ in a way and I think I may just be scared that it can all disappear in an instant. When you have a CD or a record on vinyl, that fear isn’t there.

[CATH] What other strategies have proven to be most efficient in spreading the word about the band?

[DEAN] It really helps when our friends in other bands more popular than us, talk about our band to other bands. I think we’ve found that has helped a lot. I know the video being in rotation on Much Music has helped, and I think Myspace is also a great tool too. But I do find that when friends of ours either put a bulletin post up on their space or if they talk to other people about us we get some really positive outcomes from time to time. We’re lucky to have the friends we have.

[CATH] In the EP sleeve, you say feel free to burn, rip, send, email or share ''Living' and its entire package with everyone. How do you feel about Creative Commons licensing and Copyleft?

[DEAN] I think Copyleft is interesting. I think it may be more useful in like an electro or DJ scene than it would in punk rock since you have so many versions of songs going around. I think we put that in the EP sleeve for the same reason we put the record up online in the first place – we want people to know about our band. The more people that know about it or hear it or like it means they’re more likely to come to a show, buy some merch, or even buy a record if we ever put one on a shelf.

[CATH] There is obvious potential for mainstream success for this band, and people are slowly but surely taking notice; You recently won the Edge 102 Punk-O-Rama Upcoming Band award; How do you define success for THE ARTIST LIFE ?

[DEAN] I think I would consider THE ARTIST LIFE successful if we were able to be a band full-time I guess? We wouldn’t have to work shitty jobs that we hate (not that I hate my job, I actually love it) and we could just be a band 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I think I’d be very happy doing that, as would the rest of the guys.

[CATH] Your video for Waiting Room reveals an affiliation with Stereo Dynamite/EMI (although your MySpace still says 'no label'?). On what level are you involved with these people?

[DEAN] We are only involved with Stereo Dynamite in that our manager, who runs Riot Rock Management, also runs Stereo Dynamite Recordings. So I think to save some ‘run-around’ he submitted the video through that in order to save some head-aches.

[CATH] You have an acoustic version of These Saturdays. Some people say that a song can only be truly great if it also sounds great unplugged. What do you think makes a song 'great'?

[DEAN] I agree. Unless a song sounds great stripped-down, on its own, it won’t sound great any other way. As far as according to me what makes a song great – I’d have to say that it has to be memorable, the lyrics have to mean something and be decently-written, and it should make me feel something. I think a song is great if it can give me goosebumps. I listened to The Most Miserable Life by POLAR BEAR CLUB this weekend… that song gives me goosebumps every time.

[CATH] Do you plan on releasing any stripped down, acoustic material in the future, or doing any acoustic gigs?

[DEAN] We don’t have any plans to release anything acoustically any time soon, but that’s not to rule it out of the question. And we play the occasional acoustic gig but to be honest I much rather play full-out with my guitar plugged in. A lot of the acoustic stuff is just too awkward.

[CATH] You've probably grown up in a scene that was rather different than what it is today, with respect to ethics, the business side of things, people's attitudes, etc. etc.. I think the negative aspects have been talked about over and over - what are some of the more positive outcomes, as you see them from an individual or from a band perspective?

[DEAN] Hmm… something positive about today’s music scene? I think in a lot of ways the support from within is still very much there. I mean most of my friends are all in bands and they are great dudes and we support one another 100%. I think in spite of all the shit-talking and the bitterness and all the other bullshit, if you surround yourself with people who support one another and who are good people, you’re in good shape.

[CATH] What do you wish there was more of?

[DEAN] I wish there were more musicians and guys in bands just enjoying being in a band instead of being upset or frustrated with their position within or in front of a certain institution, whether that be a label or other sector of the industry. I think bands would have a lot more fun if they just forgot about that stuff and just enjoyed being with their friends in front of kids every night.

[CATH] What's the most valuable lesson you've learned from previous musical projects, and applied to this band?

[DEAN] I’ve learned how important it is to have your shit together. Just in terms of book-keeping and spending money and all that other stuff. I mean we’ve all been in positions where we haven’t had that in mind and you learn pretty quick from your mistakes. I’ve also learned how important it is to keep your van well-maintained.

[CATH] What would you do if you weren't in TAL?

[DEAN] I would probably be teaching high school (like I do now) and playing and writing my own songs. Which would suck cause Ian’s a much better singer than me!

[CATH] What are you up to this summer? Any festivals lined up, or other touring plans?

[DEAN] Well after THE SWELLERS tour we’re trying to get on some summer fests. Nothing’s been confirmed yet. But you can just expect us to keep touring and keep playing as much as possible. We’d love to get out across Canada a couple times before the summer’s over.

[CATH] When can we expect a full length record from you guys?

[DEAN] We would like to start recording the new record by the end of the year. We have a ton of new stuff that we’re just starting to demo now and we’re really excited about it. You may even hear a new song or two on the tour!

[CATH] Are there any up and coming bands from your area that we should be on the lookout for?


Merci à Dean d'avoir pris le temps de répondre à nos questions. Ne manquez pas THE ARTIST LIFE et THE SWELLERS le 3 juin au Lambi!

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