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Interview with Elephants And Stars
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
The first band I ever liked was Kiss but it wasn't until I heard bands like The Clash and the Sex Pistols and other bands of that ilk that made me think I wanted to be IN a band. Something about their music seemed inherently achievable to a 14 year old kid who wasn't a virtuoso guitarist (and still isn't, for that matter). So, all of my high school bands were really bad punk rock bands with really cool names like Creeping Jesus and Red Dye Number Nine. Great posters, terrible songs.
If I wasn't playing music, I would hope to be doing something creative. I dabble in graphic design and computer coding, so maybe something with that? I also like building things like decks, although I am somewhat of a neophyte. I like the idea of making something out of nothing.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I read a fair bit. And, like most people, I watch TV and movies. All of these can be very inspirational in different ways. Other people's work is always influential if it is good. For instance, a specific author's use of language can trigger all sorts of ideas. Sometimes a simple phrase can lead to all kinds of things. In fact, after we put out our next record we're going to release a double-vinyl of the first 4 EPs and I already have the collection name picked out. It’s from a fantastic phrase I read in a book about the history and production of the movie Goodfellas but I can’t spoil the title just yet.
How long has your band been around?
This band kicked around for a few years as a hack around project before deciding to get a little more serious about things, so I would say that this iteration of the band has been in place since 2019. Mike MacMillan (bass) and I have been in two other bands together previously – Soap Opera, and the First Time - in the early to mid 2000s.
It's On by The First Time (produced by Warne Livesey of Midnight Oil fame) was named Best Punk Record at the 2005 Toronto Independent Music Awards and had mainstream US radio play and TV network licensing for the singles "Goodbye Harlowe" and "New Day Dawning."
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
We generally say Hamilton and Toronto because we have members based in both cities. I think being from this area influenced our sound a great deal because there are so many great local bands from around here.
In Toronto you have Blue Rodeo, Lowest of the Low, Change of Heart, etc., and in Hamilton there is The Dirty Nil, The Killjoys, Teenage Head, etc., - all of whom we've likely borrowed from at some point. Plus, Toronto venues drew bands from around the country like Propagandhi and The Doughboys – all of whom I have seen multiple times. As an aside, I didn't get to see Propagandhi's most recent tour with Sulynn Hago on guitar which was a shame because I think she is amazing.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
It actually came from a book called The Moral Arc by Michael Shermer. It's in the introduction where he cites examples of things you can see vs what you can't see (elephants and stars being the former). I think it is a cool reference, although, if I am being honest, I think it is a stupid band name and I wish we would have spent a little more time being trying to come up with something better. At the time, though, we just wanted it settled so we didn't have to worry about it anymore.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
It actually just happened. We were asked to open for The Lowest of the Low in my hometown. LOTL are arguably my favourite band of all time, so it was a major honour to get to play with them. Especially since it was them, and not the booking agent, who invited us. That show was 20 years in the making for me and it’s definitely not just a band highlight, but a life highlight.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Bridgeworks in Hamilton is a great venue. That's where we opened for Lowest of the Low. There are a ton of venues I would love to play, although I tie-in most of them with the idea of playing with a specific band. Like I would love to open for Buffalo Tom at the Middle East in Boston, The Beaches at Danforth Music Hall in Toronto, Gaslight Anthem at The Stone Pony in New Jersey, Alkaline Trio at the Metro in Chicago, and Blue Rodeo at Massey Hall in Toronto.
Of course, I would want to play any venue that would have us opening for Against Me!, Jimmy Eat World or Superdrag.
In closing, I think we should also be the band to open the very final Kiss show wherever it is (Wembley? Madison Square Garden? lol) assuming they bring the original members back. I feel they owe it to me after all of their garbage I bought when I was a kid. I probably singlehandedly put Paul Stanley's kid through University.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
I did one of those Spotify deals where it takes the artists you play the most and makes a 3-day Festival with them. It turned out to be a pretty awesome lineup, although they had us playing the first night and I saw us more as a second night band. I have attached the graphic. This would be the coolest festival ever, all due respect to any others.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
My younger self was far too hard-headed to ever listen to anyone's advice, so that would have been a total wash out. In terms of other young bands who have enough sense to listen to someone, I would say to always make your art for art's sake. Make the music you want to make, not the music you think people want to hear.
The odds of “making it” are slim to none, so at the end of it all, all you will likely have is your work so it should be something you're proud of. Also, don't let rejection define you. No band is for everyone and there will be people who aren't into what you are doing. Remember almost every record label passed on the Beatles.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
Musically, it would either be On The Table from our latest record Last Chance Power Drive or maybe Ceasefire from our previous one Dreamland. I really like the way both of those choruses turned out. But in terms of the lyrics, which really usually play the biggest role in how much a song means to you, I would say probably End This Life from Recovery or Car's Running from Dreamland. Both of them tackle pretty serious and very personal topics.
There are a few songs that we're currently working on for the next record which as also very personal. Most often times, I tend to write more observational stuff as opposed to deeply personal, so when I do come up with the latter, it stands out a little more. I think the song A Lifetime was the first time I tried being personally revealing?
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
We're probably a pretty frustrating band to like in that regard in so far as we tend to create set lists based more on what we feel like playing as opposed to what people may want to hear. I had someone message me before our last show and they asked:
'Are you going to play X?'
and I was like: 'Nope.'
'Are you going to play Y?'
'How about Z?'
Luckily, we really like playing Another Bullet which we get asked for a fair bit. But mostly we just play whatever our newest stuff is.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
I tend to come up with pretty complete songs, in terms of the arrangement and structure, melody and most of the words. I record them and send them to the rest of the guys along with the chords/structure written out for them. Beyond that, everyone is invited to come up with ideas for their own parts.
Adam (lead guitar) and I will discuss a vibe we want to go for and will often communicate that in terms other bands. I might say 'try something that The Cure might play' or 'go for a 70s style wash pedal here'.
The most direction I'd ever give Vaughn (keyboards) might be a sound like 'Let's try a piano on this one' or 'how about something synth-y like The Cars or Fountains of Wayne or something old school sounding like Deep Purple or Public Animal.' From there we all just arm wrestle over stuff like the tempo or if we can snip a part here or there.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I don't know that I have specific messages per se, but I definitely like the idea of trying to present a thought or an idea in a new or interesting way. Maybe make something think about something in a way that they hadn't before.
I absolutely hate songs with bad lyrics. I can't stand when artists like Bon Jovi just regurgitate the same trite cliches over and over again. It makes the words meaningless. Like when someone sings “I'd move the sun and the stars for you” it makes my skin crawl. You can't move them, so why bring it up? Of “What if God was one of us” - I mean, I thinks its being deep but it is just such a stupid, inherently-meaningless suggestion. Like those stoner morons who ask things like 'what if this is all a dream?' I mean, give me a break.
Another one is someone will sing about how they would “give you their soul” like they are giving up their seat on the bus. That stuff drives me crazy. Drivel.
Conversely, I don't like when lyrics get too smirky either. That always kind of bugged me about Fountains of Wayne. They wrote such great melodies, but I don't think they ever conveyed a true feeling in their entire career. They seemed more interested in winking at the audience with their clever little turns of phrase.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
Sure. Whenever you are trying to create art by committee, you are going to see things differently. Our process is also very inclusive in terms of encouraging people to bring ideas or make suggestions. That stuff never really gets too heated.
We tend to disagree more about social and political things which can be more problematic because I have always seen bands as inherently political entities. Maybe its that my formative years were dominated by bands like the Clash and the Dead Kennedys and I also gravitate to overtly rebellious political bands like Against Me!, Rise Against or Lowest of the Low.
(Other founding member) Mike and I are both very progressive and I'm pretty dismissive of the notion of conservative politics in music. Like I can't take The Ramones seriously as a punk rock band when their lead guitarist was overtly Republican and supportive or Reaganism and The Gulf Wars.
I mean, Kid Rock? Please. Give me a fucking break. The guy makes a career appropriating black culture and then sides against Black Lives Matter? It's just all very fake and false. It's pandering to a certain segment of the public. That's not art, it's shilling. It's just embarrassing.
Rock music is rebellious at it's core, and punk rock is even more so. I mean, really, all art should be at least a little subversive even if not overtly so. You can't call yourself a rebel while you are kissing up to authoritarian rule.
Luckily, we can often times avoid conflict by just concentrating on the music. And, so long as I am the one writing the lyrics and or doing the interviews, I think it's mostly a non issue.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
We are hoping to work this record for a little longer and take on a few good opening slots but before long we are planning to record again. We have a crop of new songs ready to go and have been in touch with a few producers, all of whom we'd like to record with including Steve Chaley (US Girls, Young Gov), Patrick Pentland (Sloan), Ron Hawkins (Lowest of the Low) and of course Ian Blurton who produced our last 2 records.
We've even reached out and to Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!) about potentially doing a couple of songs in her new studio. That would be pretty crazy to imagine, but you never know.