Friday, February 17, 2017

Punk as F*ck: Why Midnight Oil may be the most important band there's ever been

There are a lot of bands who have had long and respectable careers based on principle and evolution. When asked who my ideal template is for a band's career, the one that always stands out most is the Australian monolith, Midnight Oil.


When The Oils (as they're affectionately called by their fans) started out in the late '70s, they hit the Australian club circuit hard, opened for the Ramones, and developed a strong cult following. The Oils quickly developed a reputation for being a no-bullshit punk rock act, notoriously (and heroically) stopping performances mid-set to announce that the promoter had not paid them and they would not play another note until the matter was resolved. Fearing riot from the packed-full room of young punks in the audience, promoters always made good on their end of the deal.

Eventually (and almost inevitably), major labels started sniffing around. The Oils, led by singer Peter Garrett and his recently-acquired law degree, tore up every contract that came their way, feeling the terms offered were not artist-friendly on a financial or creative level. Their first three records were released independently as a result. When The Oils ultimately did sign with a major label, it was on the conditions of: you don't tell us what to do, you don't tell us when to do things, and you don't tell us how to do it.

With the leverage of a dedicated fan base and the bargaining power of the education of the band itself, The Oils got exactly what they wanted and began to mount an international campaign to become of the most respected and exciting live attractions in the world. Not only that, they never shied away from political subject matter, and delivered it in a way that, in their own words, didn't exploit the victimization of the people they were helping give voice to.

And The Oils weren't just about singing about it; they held strongly that they should also act upon it, no exceptions. When the Exxon-Valdez spill happened in 1990, The Oils embarked on a covert operation to set up a stage in front of Exxon headquarters in New York. Next thing they knew, 20,000 people were there ready to rock, as the band erected a sign saying "Midnight Oil Makes You Dance, Exxon Oil Makes You Sick."

When the Sydney Olympics had their closing ceremonies in 2000, The Oils, as Australia's Beatles, were invited to perform. Having a long-standing history of working with the Aboriginal community in Australia, and recognizing that the Sydney Olympics were taking place on traditional Aboriginal land, The Oils hatched a plan: without telling anyone, at the last possible second, to a global-wide broadcast audience, they stripped into black outfits with the word "SORRY" across their chests, and blasted out "Beds Are Burning," an anthem denouncing colonialism.

The Oils commanded respect, and seemed to have no trouble maintaining it across the board. Strangely, unlike many other successful artists who are often told to "shut up and sing" when they infuse politics into their music, no such cries were ever made to The Oils. They were, and still are, held in the highest esteem and regard as artists, activists, and global citizens.

In 2002, The Oils released, in my opinion, their best album, Capricornia. It was supported by an international tour. The album, and tour, would prove to be their last, as Peter Garrett stepped down from the band to run for the Australian Labour Party. He won in 2004, and would eventually be appointed Minister for the Environment, Heritage, and The Arts. For the next eight years, Peter Garrett brought a refreshing sense of purpose and forward-thinking ethic to the high office.

It was assumed at that point that Midnight Oil would never record or tour again.

Garrett resigned in 2013, expressing no intention to seek re-election (which he could have easily gotten had he decided to run).

This past week, it was announced to the surprise of the world, that the Great Circle Tour 2017 would see The Oils making their return to the global stage. Needless to say, I'll be front and centre when they come to Toronto in May.

I can't think of a more noble and respectable career than the ones The Oils have had. I suspect many would be hard-pressed to find otherwise.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Eight Years To Life: What Will Barack Obama's Next Move(s) Be?

Photo by Joe Mac

This old photo was taken from the stage on November 6, 2012 at C’est What? in Toronto. An older post recounts the night in more specific detail, but for the context of the current musing: the band was dipping in and out of the back room watching the 2012 U.S election results trickle in. Barack Obama was seeking re-election against Republican Mitt Romney. I used a Sharpie to draw stars and stripes across my hands in solidarity with our friends to the south.

Photo by Joe Mac

By the time we were summonsed to take the stage, the official outcome had not yet been determined. Our opening number had me splatting out the lyrics to The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” as we segued into “She Leaves" (remember "She Leaves"?!?!). Immediately following the song’s final crash, I asked the audience to let me know if the identity of the next President was announced during our set and I would be doing my best to make out their faces beyond the blinding stage lights in my eyes.

Following the live debut of the now-staple “Shattered Hearts,” I picked up the guitar and Devin drilled us into the shotgun drum into of “Boomerang," with only one song to follow. Halfway through the second verse, beyond the (fittingly red, white, and blue) stage lights, the hands waved, cell phones raised, pointing at their screens, accompanied by voices yelling and mouths mouthing the word “OBAMA” above the verse’s spacious refrain. Just as the second chorus dawned upon us, the tidal “Heeeeeeeey” was replaced by a bellowed “Ooooobaaaammaaaa!!!!” in the most joyous wail I could belt out. True to form as a National Geographer of the beast known as Paint, Joe Mac captured the exact moment my uvula was dangling vibratingly for all to see with his lens. I’ll always love that photo.

I remember watching Barack Obama’s inaugural election speech on a half-broken television set in East Vancouver when he was first elected President in 2008. After eight years of George W. Bush, the tragedies of 9/11, the war in Iraq, and the dramatic plummet of the American economy, Obama’s induction was not only necessary but welcome. His words struck a chord in a way that my grassroots half-dishevelment with the system of political change at the time were able to let their guard down and hear a certain magic that a head of state had seemingly not articulated in my lifetime, shy of the great Nelson Mandela. I will never forget hearing Barack Obama (while only partially seeing, as it was not only the picture on the television screen that was foggy, but my welling up eyes as well) so eloquently say,

I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation… This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change…. It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice. So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.

It was unfathomable to actually hear but exactly what I always felt, with a seemingly archaic idealism for 2008, the role of an elected representative was intended to be: to recognize her or his role as an extension of the people through dialogue and responsiveness, and to request (and remind) citizens that it is indeed up to all of us to the make changes we wish to see. A President isn’t Superman. All of our hands need to get dirty to get things accomplished. Obama's call-to-action reminds me of Bono’s assertion that being partisan interferes with progress when seeking meaningful change; that in order to move forward on issues and practices that will contribute to increased humanity, health, and harmony, we must be willing to work with everyone regardless of political stripes. An elected official who takes an ideological stance and refutes dialogue (Rob Ford comes to mind in the local context of Toronto) will be a barrier to progress. And this gentleman, the first Black President, was prepared to listen every step of the way and allow us (of which, as a Canadian, I generalize to global citizens) to lead the way. He may have been about to start driving the car, but he made it very clear that we would have to provide the directions. Whether or not we would, that would be the test (and ultimately the challenge).

The following day, I attended a Board of Directors meeting for the North ShoreRestorative Justice Society in North Vancouver, BC (on which I sat as a member as an extension of living in the community at the time and having a long history in my then-young -- hopefully still? -- life of fighting for truth and reconciliation at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels in Canada). One of the elder board members told a story of being a young Black man in America and not being served in a restaurant for reasons he didn't even need to expand upon. He broke into bittersweet tears when he said he could not believe that he had lived to see the day a Black man became President.

As we are, in 2016, now on the eve of the first woman taking the highest office in the United States (congratulations in advance, Hillary!), many lament that Barack Obama will no longer be with us -- as though him leaving office after the mandatory two-term maximum (implemented in 1951 as the 22nd Amendment to the United States Constitution) is somehow the end of his career and presence as a global and political citizen.

But this is hardly the end. Former Vice President Al Gore, in helping advance a major effort against climate change, said that he was able to be significantly more effective as a citizen activist without the confines of the political system to turn decisions into targeted action with specific, swift, tangible, and meaningful outcomes. Through this kind of lens, the advancements Barack Obama made within the structure of the Presidency were all the more gargantuan; in fact, we may be hard-pressed to find another President since Confederation (and even beyond that to George Washington) who was able to effectively ratify as many large-scale initiatives as he did from 2008-2016. Many on the cynical or dare I say nihilistic end may not feel it now, but Barack Obama’s legacy and work as President of the United States will be studied for centuries to come as the pinnacle of Presidential effectiveness.

Imagine, then, without the limitations of blanket Republican dissent on every proposal he champions, just how effective a human and political rights player Barack Obama will be capable of being in the years to come. Whilst his time as the most influential public servant in the world is coming to an end, his contributions to human progress have only just begun.

And I for one can only not wait to see what he does from here, but look forward to finding ways that I can gladly join the movement.
It's interesting how Democratic Presidents tend to continue their work as public servants or advocates in some capacity after they leave the Oval Office, but Republicans seem to retire to ranches and take up golfing. The volumes spoken about priorities is astounding.

Good luck at the polls tomorrow, friends to the south. The world will be watching!

Monday, February 29, 2016

There's something very peculiar going on here....

The band originally called Charlemagne, who was issued a cease and desist letter by the American singer-songwriter of the same name and subsequently changed their named to "The Arkells," is applying the "shoot first, look later" philosophy once again, perhaps?

Monday, January 25, 2016

It's Evolution, Baby....

A case for progressing throughout the course of one's life:

"The greatest feeling you can get in a gym or the most satisfying feeling you can get in the gym is the pump. Let’s say you train your biceps, blood is rushing in to your muscles and that’s what we call the pump. Your muscles get a really tight feeling like your skin is going to explode any minute and its really tight and its like someone is blowing air into your muscle and it just blows up and it feels different, it feels fantastic. It’s as satisfying to me as cumming is, you know, as in having sex with a woman and cumming. So can you believe how much I am in heaven? I am like getting the feeling of cumming in the gym; I’m getting the feeling of cumming at home; I’m getting the feeling of cumming backstage; when I pump up, when I pose out in front of 5000 people I get the same feeling, so I am cumming day and night. It’s terrific, right? So you know, I am in heaven."
- Arnold Schwarzenegger, 1977

"There are two doors. Behind Door Number One is a completely sealed room, with a regular, gasoline-fueled car. Behind Door Number Two is an identical, completely sealed room, with an electric car. Both engines are running full blast. 
I want you to pick a door to open, and enter the room and shut the door behind you. You have to stay in the room you choose for one hour. You cannot turn off the engine. You do not get a gas mask. 
I’m guessing you chose the Door Number Two, with the electric car, right? Door number one is a fatal choice – who would ever want to breathe those fumes? 
I just hope that you’ll join me in opening Door Number Two, to a smarter, cleaner, healthier, more profitable energy future.... 
I, personally, want a plan. I don’t want to be like the last horse and buggy salesman who was holding out as cars took over the roads. I don’t want to be the last investor in Blockbuster as Netflix emerged. That’s exactly what is going to happen to fossil fuels. 
A clean energy future is a wise investment, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either wrong, or lying. Either way, I wouldn’t take their investment advice. 
Renewable energy is great for the economy, and you don’t have to take my word for it. California has some of the most revolutionary environmental laws in the United States, we get 40% of our power from renewables, and we are 40% more energy efficient than the rest of the country. We were an early-adopter of a clean energy future...."
- Arnold Schwarzenegger, 2016

Keep on growing, folks!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Where Everybody Kn(ew) Your Name..... Goodbye Rancho Relaxo.

On August 29, 2015, the Toronto music community bids farewell to the one and only Rancho Relaxo. Affectionately known as "The Ranchole" (and verb-ified as "getting Rancholed" a.k.a. walking out the front door to see that the sun has come up), I cannot even begin to explain how much this little venue that could has meant to me personally and to Paint since our start in Toronto in 2009.

But rather than go through a sappy and sentimental summary of all the friendships, creative partnerships, jokes, and informal therapy that took place at the Ranch (needless since the relationships continue beyond the life of the box -- and also, that I promised myself I wouldn't cry), I thought it may be a good opportunity to run through some of the more memorable moments I've experienced on the Rancho Relaxo stage, in chronological order.

July 15, 2009:
An unknown-to-Toronto Vancouver ex-pat band named Paint gets granted its first show as a full band in its new home of Toronto. If not for Two Way Monologues promoter Dan Wolovick, Paint would not have had any ground to hit running in the Big Smoke. Back when I played guitar instead of just being an obnoxious dancing frontman. Here's a video playlist of that gig from the archives:

September 25, 2009:
Another super early Paint show in Toronto, on a bill with Fast Romantics, Secret Broadcast, and The Ascot Royals. Yes, this bill actually happened.

View full photo album

July 8, 2011:
Tribute/vs. nights were some of the most fun shows at Rancho. Local bands would take on entire sets in homage to some of their favourite bands. We got to do a couple of these. One was a Pearl Jam/Nirvana night. As hard as it was to choose a side, always and forever (as though it was ever about anything other than embracing all the beauty), Paint did a Pearl Jam tribute set that was one of my most humbling shows. Videotape does exist:

June 16, 2012:
A night when the Toronto Star called us one of the best acts of North by Northeast, and when, before even starting our set (actually as we were changing the stage over from Dilly Dally), the festival-supplied guitar amp I was supposed to use for the two whole songs I now play guitar on, blew up into a stage-dousing waft of smoke, I threw the axe down and we just slayed -- improvising on the dual-guitar tunes on the fly to make them translate. Apparently it worked. I think this was also Devin Jannetta's first show as a full-fledged member of Paint.

View full photo album

July 31, 2012:
There was something in the water upstairs on this night. We played a benefit show for our friends in the Spur-of-the-Moment Shakespeare (curated by "Boomerang" and 11:11 star Victoria Urquhart) and we absolutely, completely, destroyed everyone in the room. I think this one goes down as one of the best Paint performances of our career.

View full photo album

September 7, 2012:
I got to be one of my heroes, just for one day. Well, three; this was the second of a trio of David Bowie tribute nights in the Thin White (or Brown in my case) Duke attire. Other bands did The Stooges.

View full photo album
It was also a night where founding Paint member from the Vancouver inception point, Paula McGlynn was in attendance, seeing the band she formed four years prior -- having just written the 11:11-featured song "Bonfire of Vanities" in a couple hours the day before. This was truly worlds colliding.

View full photo album

July 4, 2014:
Canada Day on Independence Day -- Toronto bands playing all Canadian covers on America's birthday. Another tribute night, oddly enough -- and one of the fondest stage memories of my life. I was part of a Toronto indie supergroup: a Neil Young & Crazy Horse tribute act called "Prisoners of Rock 'n' Roll" with members of The Rathburns, The Stormalongs, Another City, and A Northern Drawl. It was the loudest, most raucous stage affair I've been part of, at least since my punk days. And nothing more satisfying than pointing at audience members, yelling "You're just a fuckup!!!" (while playing "Fuckin' Up") and being able to hug them all after the show.

View full photo album

February 14, 2014 and March 3, 2015:
Speaking of something in the water.... I somehow managed to get laryngitis twice before shows at the Ranch, despite my constantly strict vocal health regimens. And both times, much to my surprise and delight, the lovely Rancho crowd rushed the stage and belted out the practically-female high notes that I'm famous (in a relative sense) for. Rancho Relaxo was not only a Cheers bar to many of us (I even had my own stool!), where everybody knows your name, but they also know the words to all your songs -- where else can an indie rocker feel like a stadium star?

View full photo album

View full photo album
You can catch me doing a little solo set (another rare occurrence) at the Ranch to open up the last show ever on the sweatiest stage in the greatest city in the world. August 29 is the date. RSVP here.

Cheers, Rancho. It's truly been a slice of life.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Did that Rathburn a Little?

Erik Kolomayz's bloody bass after The Rathburns' show on April 5, 2014.

I get a lot of credit for pulling no punches when it comes to performing. In 2011, for example, after making a polite mess of a hotel room and proceeding to drag all the poolside furniture into the pool to have a feast with the band in the middle of the water at 4am, I woke up with a left big toe the size and colour of an eggplant. I taped my my toes together with gaffer tape and crammed them into my shoe in the fire exit before going out on stage at the London Music Club (Don't believe me? Here's proof at 3:51).

"The show must go on -- and will go on with 100% commitment," is something Paint is no stranger to (no pun intended). Personal crises, deaths in the family, just channel it all out on stage. This is a business,. This is art. This is performance. This is about your audience, not you.

But I must say, I walk out of every venue with my tail between my legs anytime I see a little Toronto band called The Rathburns.

My first interaction with The Rathburns, before they were even a band, was working with singer Frances at a record store. We shared an affinity for obscure Neil Young albums, and I always used to creep up behind her and smell her perfume -- which she was aware I was doing, but how could I not? Even after a sweaty slugfest on stage, she still smells spectacular.

Then all of a sudden, from out of nowhere, she was fronting this band (I didn't even show she sang at all, let alone wailed like a banshee and kicked the shit out of anything within a 10-foot radius), and the band just seemed to be coming out of the flood gates running.

I first saw The Rathburns live at the Horseshoe Tavern sometime last year, and before their set I see this dude roaming around the merch area with his arm in a sling, carrying a giant vial of prescription painkillers in his functional hand, popping these fuckers like candy. A few minutes later I see him on stage setting up the bass rig, and I'm thinking, "Seriously? Who's making the injured friend be a roadie!?!" He then carefully removed the sling, strapped on the P-Bass, and turns out he's Erik, the bass player in the fucking band.

The performance was one of zero restraint, by anyone in the quartet. Especially Erik. Complete sonic and physical annihilation.

I left the show and texted Jordan (Shepherdson, Paint guitarist) raving about what I just experienced, and how we had to play with them. So, we invited them to join a couple shows with us, including our Capsulated DVD release. We bonded pretty effortlessly, needless to say.

Cut to this weekend at the Rivoli, on the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death. The Rathburns took the stage on a bill with our friends in Secret Broadcast (who released their Adam Kasper-produced album Filthy Souls) and the Ascot Royals, who were stellar as always in their own right.

But as though they weren't "fuck you" enough already, halfway through The Rathburns' set, I saw Erik jerk his right hand away from his bass for a moment and squirm a little. Next thing we all knew, the song had ended, and his hand was a swathing mess of red. This wasn't a paper cut -- he was fucking pouring blood.

So what does he do?

He licks some of the blood off his fingers, smears the rest all over his face, walks up to Frances, smears blood on her face, they keep fucking playing.

I'm always confident that Paint can hold its own in any situation, and we do. And I almost never say this about another band, so take this to heart: The Rathburns are a band that makes me just want to pack up my shit and go home.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Kurt Cobain Was My Elvis

(Rather than be a downer on this rather unpleasant anniversary, I thought I'd open this entry with a Kurt Cobain moment that always makes me laugh)
In April 2011, on the last day of tracking Paint's Where We Are Today record, producer Ian Smith and I went to see the Pixies on the Doolittle tour at the Centre in the Square in Kitchener. Before the show we caught up with a friend of Ian's named Norman Blake. Yes, that Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub. With the charisma of a wise elder and the kinetic energy and animation of a hyperactive child, Norman recounted the time Frank Black tracked him down at a Teenage Fanclub show in Scotland during the Pixies' 1993 supporting run on U2's ZOO TV Tour, confiding in him that at the end of the tour he was going to break up the Pixies.

Norman then made the most convincing case for a reunion tour I've heard: he pointed out that the Pixies weren't as appreciated while they were a band the first time around as they came to be after the fact, and that touring now was more a victory lap where Frank, Joey Santiago, Kim Deal, and David Lovering could actually perform for audiences who loved them, and experience just how influential their music and legacy have become firsthand.

A big part of The Pixies' filtering into mainstream consciousness came when Kurt Cobain claimed that all he was trying to do with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was rip off the Pixies -- and extended to working with producer Steve Albini, who recorded the Pixies' Surfer Rosa, on Nirvana's abrasive masterpiece In Utero. Of course, as bashful as he is, Norman didn't bring up the fact that Kurt Cobain had also cited Teenage Fanclub as one of the world's best bands.

So there I am in the Pixies' dressing room after the show sitting with Frank Black and Norman Blake, catching up on life, their families, and travels -- and it dawns upon me that I'm with the two guys Kurt Cobain cited as his biggest influences. This is music history right here. Never mind (no pun intended), for a moment, what Nirvana did; in the beginning, there was Teenage Fanclub and the Pixies.

My cultural awakening to music, which was discussed in a previous journal entry called "On Freddie Mercury and the Empowerment of Indians (From India)," came from the likes of Living Colour (as a person of colour facing a dominantly white playing field of rock 'n' roll) but my punk aesthetic and grassroots awakening to music -- the idea that it's a medium accessible to anyone with something to say regardless of your accessibility to formal training -- came solely, and entirely, from Nirvana. Some of the first songs I attempted to learn on guitar were Nirvana songs. I still can't play them properly.

I was lucky. I hit my formative years during a stitch in time when mainstream radio was being infiltrated by underground music; when Nevermind knocked Michael Jackson's Dangerous out of the number one spot on the Billboard 200 chart. I didn't realize at the time that this was out of the ordinary; that the pop charts were no place for the destructive beauty of punk rock or anything remotely imaginative. But I came to expect -- and on more inspired days, demand -- that popular music not pander to patronizing notions that the audience is beneath its own intelligence, but has the capability to challenge the audience with art that appreciates and gives credit to the intelligence it has (harking back on my paraphrasing of Morrissey shared in Paint: Where The Fans Are Alright). Even though Nirvana on Top of the Pops may have been the exception to the rule, it set a standard for me right from the start that better was possible, and to strive for nothing less.

Instead of seeing The Beebs pacifying me on TV as a kid, I got my mind (and ears) blown by performances like this:

Being in grade school when Nirvana made their assault into mainstream society may have been what it felt like when the Beatles came out -- except Nirvana had two decades of anger and alienation built up over what had happened to music since the Beatles broke up. It all just poured out through their music in its dissonant ragged glory. And we all heard it. We needed to. It lifted us. It gave us hope. It spoke to us. It spoke for us. But it also gave us all the tools and the will to want to speak. Louder.

As Eddie Vedder so eloquently put all of our thoughts into words from the stage on April 8th, 1994, the day the news broke that Kurt Cobain had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head three days prior:
"Sometimes people elevate you whether you like it or not. And it's real easy to fall. I don't think any of us would be in this room here tonight if it weren't for Kurt Cobain."
I'm sure I speak for many when I say: Kurt Cobain was my Elvis.

Today, on the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death, I'm left, despite this entry, with nothing to say but make a little room for kindness. Choose your words carefully because they can be weapons. Hug a stranger.

Or just crank "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter" as loud as you can.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

For Once Night Only...

(Yes, the title of this blog is a pun and not a typo)

From time to time, an idea can come to you under the influence that surprisingly does become something tangible and worthwhile.

During a particularly difficult time two or so years ago, I spent many a night at a particular watering hole in my neighbourhood in Toronto with Tamara Saringer, quite possibly the most classy lady I am lucky to know. We learned of our shared affinities for music and red wine, and she caught a few Paint shows. We found some enjoyment singing songs from the film Once by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová over a bottle or three of wine on summer nights on her balcony. It was never planned, but a few glasses in, Tamara, a fabulous trained pianist, would gravitate to the piano and we'd just start spontaneously singing these songs. The lyrics connected with a lot of what was going on for me, and our voices seemed to mesh. It was something completely unlike the music I play with Paint, but similar in its immediacy and directness. We'd often sit back after a tune, take another sip of red, look at each other and say, "One of these days, we should perform this stuff live."

So Paint went off and toured, and toured some more, and Tamara went and composed the music score for Kill, Sister, Kill, which received gracious critical acclaim at Toronto Fringe 2013. When some smoke cleared and I sat down to work on Paint's 2013 itinerary, Tamara and I decided it was time to get off our laurels (which were hardly resting!), book a date, and make it happen. Thankfully, the rest of Paint agreed to take part.

We wanted to do it in the fall, particularly in October. The colours of Glen and Markéta's songs were orange, maroon, burnt and rustic, it didn't feel right to do this any other month of the year. So that was settled. And the venue, well, we had a few options, and the back room and stage at The Rivoli just had the right amount of history, energy, and intimacy. Even more of a treat, to choose artists to join the bill who we wouldn't normally get the chance to share the stage with due to the more "acoustic" (though deceptively not-so-simple) approach we were taking to the songs. So it was the highly admirable Justine Dube, The Old Salts (featuring our old friend Darren Eedens), and my dear Piper Hayes (who also performed a few miracles at Fringe this year). And to invite the lovely Brenna-Hardy Kavanagh to play violin with us, any excuse to share the stage with someone I admire.

Amidst a very busy time for Paint (with being artists-in-residence at C'est What? every Tuesday this month, preparing a music videos compilation DVD for November release, more time on the road, an IndieGogo campaign to raise funds for our next EP, and shooting a film to go along with the EP), we may seem insane for then learning an entire collection of songs for a one-night-only production with a guest pianist and violinist.

But when has anything good ever come from playing it safe?

See you next Wednesday!
The Old Salts, Piper Hayes, Paint (performing songs from Once), and Justin Dube
The Rivoli, 334 Queen St. W., Toronto
Wednesday, October 23
Doors 9pm, $10, 19+

Monday, July 29, 2013

Behind Every Band....

Well, not every band... but Paint has been lucky enough to have had some generous consulting and advising support from Matt Hughes since 2011 (during which time you may have noticed through some transition that damn near everything about us has gotten better). Matt's moving to Scotland to continue his journey into the business end of the music industry, and whilst 21st century communications mean that nothing changes really, it's probably a fitting time to acknowledge Matt's role in pulling me out right from the onset of the most difficult musical and personal times of my life. I'm forever indebted to the love, support, understanding, patience, wisdom, and insight he's given me and this band. Good luck in Scotland, my friend!

Friday, July 05, 2013

On Freddie Mercury and the Empowerment of Indians (from India)

This entry is in two parts: 1. The Preface; and 2. The Point. If you're tight for time and just want The Point, by all means scroll down to "The Point," no offence will be taken. But for those with a bit more time wanting a 360 view on the thought process that ultimately leads to The Point, then by all means indulge in The Preface. Happy reading! 

"There's always someone, somewhere, with a big nose, who knows. And who trips you up and laughs then you fall."
- Morrissey

"Don't ask me why I play this music -- it's my culture, so naturally I use it."
- Will Calhoun


We played a show once at The Drake in Toronto opening for a great up-and-coming band from France called Revolver. Everything about the night was a blast, especially when our amazing former drummer Andre Dey MacGyvered together a detached tailpipe of his car with a rope on the northeast corner of Queen and Bathurst which allowed us to get to soundcheck just in the nick of time.

Over pre-show dinner in Barrie the following night (oddly enough opening for Shortwave, where Paint's drummer Devin Jannetta came from after Andre sadly had to return to Saskatchewan), we stumbled upon a series of Tweets from someone who was in the audience at the Drake and spent the duration of our set on a rather venemous (and un-tagged) tirade of hate against us. The first irony (of many, in a non-Alanis way, I hope) is that The Drake Underground is a pretty poor reception zone, so he must have been upstairs the entire time not actually watching our set. But every element of our music, our set, and us personally seemed to bother this bloke, even when we came around after our set to greet members of the audience -- which is all fine and dandy, everyone is entitled to an opinion, and we're happy he hated us instead of being on-the-fence (love/hate is the only measure of success for a band as far as we're concerned).

Where I took issue was here: his self-proclaimed title in his Twitter bio was "rock 'n' roll Ph.D." -- now, granted he was wearing a sweater-vest to back up the claim but think about the audacity of that self-imposed distinction. Especially when we closed with a cover of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?" which I introduced as "an Elvis Costello song." This offended Dr. Rock 'n' Roll so much that he Tweeted: "It's a Nick Lowe song for fuck's sakes!"

Actually, Dr. R'n'R.... whilst Nick Lowe did in fact write the song, he wrote it while playing in his band Brinsley Schwarz. So it's not an Elvis Costello song, nor a Nick Lowe song. It's a fucking Brinsley Schwarz song. You probably didn't consider that the singer of Paint has worked in record stores since he was a teenager and played in bands since he was 12.

Clearly the Dr.'s misled elitism has overlooked the finer elements of live music performance. If on the rare occasion that we include a cover in our set, what am I supposed to do on stage, Dr.? Go through the entire etymological history of a song to stroke my musical history wang and please some Pitchfork-reading jackass (as I jokingly did the next time we played the Drake and covered "Leavin' Here" -- saying, "This song was originally written by Motown trio Holland-Dozier-Holland and performed by Eddie Holland, then by The Birds -- but not the "Byrds" with a "Y," the "Birds" with an "I," the English R&B band that Ronnie Wood played in before he joined the Rolling Stones -- then by The Who, then Motorhead, then Pearl Jam... so, you can say this is a cover whoever suits your personal politics!"), or am I just gonna blurt out the shortest and most recognizable intro possible and break into the song -- because, you know, that's why people are there to see us...?

I would have been happy to have an in-depth and respectful conversation with Dr. Rock 'n' Roll after the show but surely his ears only hearing the inner workings of his sphincter.

The point (of The Preface) is, when it comes to music, even for a self-proclaimed "rock 'n' roll Ph.D.," there is always someone who knows more than you.


With that Henry Rollins-esque sidebar out of the way, here is the actual point of this journal. As someone who does have a lot of useless rock 'n' roll knowledge floating around in his ether, but always acknowledgesthe never-ending abyss of the unknown and to-be-known, I had the audacity this past week to actually say, "How did I not know that?!?"...because it was a fact that, frankly, should have been one of the most significant that I've ever learned about life and music, which surely would have accelerated the path of my existence much earlier in life had I known it as a boy. But better now than never.

Freddie Mercury's parents were both Gujurati (from Gujarat, a state in the northeastern region of India, just south of Punjab, where my parents and entire genealogy hails from). Mercury was born in Zanzibar (now Tanzania) and lived in India until he was 17 years old. There's nothing white about him aside from his post-colonial education. Hell, he's more Brown than I am, as I was born and grew up between Vancouver and Toronto, Canada.

The kicker in all this is that my development into a singer/frontman has been a long and painstaking process, often tied up with issues of internal and external racism, growing up formatively in Kelowna, BC, where even the dirt is white. Then to Surrey, BC, where Brown kids shoot each other like it's going out of style while the police turn a blind eye. And then to the Downtown Eastside Vancouver, one of the only places in the world that white people are allowed to legitimately sing the blues -- just imagine what it's like if you aren't white!

Growing up that way, you'll get a crash course in the darker side of race relations from a young age. Getting kicked out of sports leagues for beating the crap out of white kids who called me a "Paki" over and over again, eventually finding a home amongst the outcast kids who listened to punk rock, but all the while still only seeing white men on TV in music videos. The American rock band Living Colour was a massive influence on me: they rocked harder, played better, looked better, wrote better songs, and sold more records than anyone out there. And they were all black! Not quite like me, but enough to make me want to pick up a guitar and join a band. But being a sideman of colour in a band was always more comforting than stepping in front of it. Because I still believed out front was no place for a Paki.

Eventually I started singing, but in awful funk/folk bands that I believed were "culturally appropriate" for a non-white singer, avoiding the rock 'n' roll that I loved so much, even though my education, grassroots awareness, and involvement in anti-racism efforts became severely acute as I became an adult. But I continued to be a sideman in multiple bands to avoid the racism I so openly fought against but had internalized so deep.

At last, at some point, I just said "Fuck this!" -- dropping the guitar and putting myself out front. I have Andre Dey to thank for this, fittingly enough, a black man, who saw what I was capable of doing without the anchor of an instrument hanging off me. And I never looked back. Though I still remained plagued by the underlying doubt of, "Will they ever take am Indian front man -- IN A UK-INFLUENCED ROCK 'N' ROLL BAND -- seriously?"

Putting aside the 400-year rape by the British of Indian culture, language, history, and geography (of course UK music is going to influence a Brown man)... let's look at the fact that the greatest rock 'n' roll frontman of all-time was Indian. Through and through. There was nothing white about Freddie Mercury. Not even the rock 'n' roll.

Now, I am in no way saying my talents are anywhere near Freddie Mercury's -- no one's are! But I'll be damned if I ever, ever think an Indian has no business fronting a rock 'n' roll band again. And anyone out there who's also Indian should feel exactly the same way.

Sat Sri Akaal,
Robb Johannes