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Interview with Desert Island Big Band
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I remember watching a classmate of mine rip a guitar solo in the school gym when I was in fourth grade or so, and I wanted so badly to be up there doing… whatever THAT was. A couple years later my parents asked if I wanted my uncle’s old guitar that he had found while cleaning out the basement. Between that classmate and the constant air-guitarring to the radio my mom had instilled in me since the age of two, it’s a no-brainer how I ended up here.
If not music, I believe I would have gotten into writing or film. There have been periods in my life where I have stepped right up to the lip of either profession, only to be won over by music in the end.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I am an audio engineer, and search constantly for creative new avenues in recording or mixing. I get very excited when I discover a new technique or kooky new idea and often write music so I have the excuse to try them out. Audio production and musicianship is a very symbiotic relationship — one hand tends to feed the other.
How long has your band been around?
I started writing as DIBB in late 2019, putting my first single out shortly thereafter, but it wasn’t until March/April of 2020 that I really started giving it a go.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I live in Ottawa, Canada. It’s a city with a chip on its shoulder. With Toronto and Montreal relatively close by, a lot of big touring acts will skip it —despite being the nation’s capital — which I think has seeped into the culture of the local music scene. There are two distinct factions — the “you need to leave to find success” crowd, and the “I love this goddamn city with my heart and soul” crowd. While I don’t particularly identify with one or the other, I did start touring as soon as I had the excuse to…
How did you come up with your name and what does it mean to you?
It’s a cheap pun that came to me on the way to the bathroom one day. It’s got a ring to it and that’s about it haha.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
When I released the music video for “Six-Shooter,” I put on a variety show. Burlesque dancers, light shows, door prizes — the whole deal. It lent a certain flavour to the night that you don’t get with your average three-band bill — and watching the young boys squirm at the dancers was it’s own treat.
In really early DIBB days (pre-pandemic) I played some weird shows as well — a combo electric/acoustic set where I jumped between playing a kick drum and using heavy vocal effects, an acoustic set at some hidden, high-class whiskey bar in Montreal, and I played Charlottetown, PEI, once just to make some gas money.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Live On Elgin in Ottawa will have my heart forever. The staff and the sound are always so great there, and I’m always looking for an excuse to go back.
I’d love to play Europe soon. I’ve only ever experienced North American audiences, and want to see how different audiences around the world consume art — particularly mine.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
St Vincent, Beck, and The Kills.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting started and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
Everyone is going to tell you the “right way” to do things. Listen to them, learn what they’re trying to teach you, then do what you want anyway. This includes me with this statement.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
Make more enemies. Being liked by people you don’t align with is empty currency.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
“Playboys & Dishes” was a big one for me. It came from such a vulnerable place that I wasn’t sure I wanted to share it with anybody. What I forgot was that nobody cares as much about your life as you do, and I found solace in that. Strength, even.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
I think “M” would be the answer to both. I wrote it distinctly trying to emulate some of Jamie Hince’s playing on “Baby Says,” and it goes over well in the Ottawa scene, which is where I’ve performed the most. That being said, the stuff I’m working on right now has some of the most fun guitar parts I’ve ever written on it.
What is your creative process, and what inspires you to write your music?
Experimentation seems to be the only constant. If I have a technique — be it writing, recording, whatever — that I want to try, I seem to be able to write something to use it for. Through the Lemon Trilogy I also discovered a love of world-building. By creating a life around the music it deepened the entire experience, eventually inspiring the novel I published earlier this year.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I hop around a lot, but most of the music I’ve released for DIBB has been very self-reflective. I’m moving away from that now, but so far it’s been a cathartic experience that, if I’ve done my job right, should resonate with the right people.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
I have one last single I’m putting out that was written during the pandemic — an “existential lullaby,” as a friend so aptly put it. It’s a dark, heady song that I’ve brought Jess Pepin back in on (she directed the music video for “Six-Shooter”) as creative director. I’m working towards either an EP or an album in 2023, and maybe something even bigger than that.
How can your fans best keep up to date with you, any socials you want people to check out?
My website (desertislandbigband.com) is always the place to go for the important stuff, but if you like a bit more interaction Instagram (@desertislandbigband) is where you’ll get all the updates.