The Damn Truth Interview

The Damn Truth’s debut album Dear in the Headlights has huge sound. So huge in fact, that as a listener you can actually feel the epicness of their vision and this in turn connects you to the legendary status classic rock n roll has always held in your heart; big drums, a guitar that rips through chords and drips gold, psychedelic bass that turns your vision kaleidoscopic, and a voice that literally opens your mind. You can actually see the spinning colours when you close your eyes. ..As a consequence you feel a tremendous amount of nostalgia; probably a little too much nostalgia for The Damn Truth’s liking. I asked them what they thought about being called a revival band.

“We mind,” says Tom Shemer simply, and he’s only half kidding.

The drummer, Dave Traina, agrees. “What are you going to do about it? People are going to label you no matter what. You are what you do. You could be the most innovative band and people will find a way to tell you that you sound like something they’ve already heard.”

For any band, being told you sound like Janis Joplin fronting Black Sabbath is never a bad thing. It’s not the comparisons that itch, their sound has been likened to the greats of classic rock; it’s about respecting an album that they poured their hearts and souls into, an album that demanded they delve into the darker parts of themselves. Dear in the Headlights is the sum of their individual experiences as humans. For them, defending themselves against the revival claims is more about honouring the process and what came from it, than denying that they sound one way or the other.

Their experience in the studio was enlightening, to say the least. I asked them if they cared to comment on the correlation between music and madness. “Oh, ya. The line is a thin one, man,” says Lee-La, the singer. “I think it’s not only music though, it’s artistry; to be able to put yourself in that place where, you know- you’re doing this- you’re naked in front of the world. I try not to think about it otherwise I’ll get lost in that part of it. For me, it’s my healing. Whenever I’ve been down, anxious, angry, in pain, I would sit and write. I feel like if I’m not writing, I’m screaming. I would break things.”

Do good artists need to touch madness? Downtown’s lyrics would suggest there’s some truth to the notion; I feel so grand, my friends, they all say I’m crazy. I’m not crazy. “I don’t think it’s direct; that to be a successful artist you have to have something off-putting about you,” says Tom. “But to be in a band, and maintain your relationships; to do this four way marriage, and family, and the rest of the stuff that comes with it. That’s where the madness would probably come from. If madness were to accompany being artistic, it would definitely come from everything being thrown together, but trying to focus on only one thing.”

You don’t seem insane to me, I say. David Masse smiles, “You put four people into a room with amplification, and anything can happen.” He continues. “We work in a collaborative way, so her madness affects everything, his madness is affecting everything. On a day to day basis I think everyone has to deal with madness. That’s the nature of the beast.”

In fact, their grassroots approach to recording is something undeniably classic about them. “We use a really old school tape,” says Lee-La. “There’s a lot of things we really like to capture. We just record the four of us in a studio. Then afterwards we re-record the harmonies and layer them on top. That’s the core of it. That’s how they used to do it in the 60’s and 70’s. It’s really important for us because that’s how we work best. I love looking into these guys’ eyes and feeding off of them.”

“It’s true,” agrees Tom. “We do draw a lot from the past in terms of the way we work as a band. We don’t go into the studio and do drums, and then bass, and then fix it all up. We just play in a room. We’re a live band.”

You can really hear this on the track, I Want You(He’s a Lightweight.) The recording session even captures the light static on their amps, and Lee-La as she inhales. If you listen closely, you can even hear them pulling energy out of one another, all the way to the climatic finish which I know culminated in a Technicolor-group-head-bang. I know this because I participated in their particular brand of gypsy-love-dance party when I danced my face off at The Horseshoe when they played there for NXNE. “We just like to play as if technology isn’t there to save our ass,” says David.

Fun fact about The Damn Truth, they were actually a backup band for someone else before they broke free and went out on their own. That was where they first fell for one another, where their onstage presence was first formed, and it is a powerful presence at that. “You never know what to expect when you go on stage,” says Lee-La. “ You never know what the people are going to give you, what the band is going to give you; what each and every one of us is going through that certain day. Every day is a surprise. We love it. I always find different things to tap into, and the more we play, the deeper it’s gonna get.”

I like that they’re looking into the future. Even though I looked into the past when I first heard them, I have high hopes that the rock movement coming out of Montreal will be the next big wave in the Canadian music tide pool. Tom nods, “There are a lot of really great bands coming out of Montreal all the time,” and about their sound specifically, Tom says, “The rock crowd there right now is thirsty for it.”
Lee-La nods. “The Besnard Lakes are definitely doing something interesting. I like them! They’ve got a psychedelic tip to them I like that a whole lot.”

Psychedelic folk is another label that has been applied to them. “If there were to be a rock revival coming out of Montreal, that would be a great thing,” says David. “Reading about the Beatles back in the day and The Stones and Hendrix, and knowing they hung out together. These epic musicians all at the same place at the same time, it’s a great thing. If we could be a part of something like that, that would be awesome.”

If that’s the case, they must be having a hell of the time on the bus, I say. “We don’t have a bus. I was projecting into the future,” says David, then points. “That’s the bus right there.”

Is that what you guys drove in? The one with the duct tape? That’s spectacular! …Well, that’s all. I don’t have any more questions.

“You can’t leave it at duct tape,” says David.

All too correct, sir.

The Damn Truth’s sound will raise questions in your mind, but isn’t that what the best bands do? Notions about the cyclical nature of art and of innovation may not escape you, but that to me is the icing on the cake. Rarely does a band with such strong ties to the golden age of rock present themselves as the exception to the rule. Rarely does sound come at you presented as a conundrum: How does this music take me back and push me into the future at the same time? The chords make me want to lie out in the sun picking petals off of wild flowers, makes me want to spin in an open field as the sun rises up in the East, makes me want to dust off that velvet top hat and descend into a cavernous pub so I can melt into the music calling out to me. I’ll settle for a leather fringe vest and the front porch of my two-storey walk-up; summer BBQ throwing smoke into the air, and me tipping my hat to every single person who walks by nodding in appreciation of Dear in the Headlights which is blaring through the screened window. I’ll yell “The Damn Truth!” at them, they will slow to a halt, and together we will share a moment of deep music appreciation, because the songs tell us the good times are just around the corner. No other message is more rock n roll. No other message is more The Damn Truth.

Her Parents – Happy Birthday album review

Over the years, I have tried to dip into different genres of music that would stimulate different forms of thought in terms of energy and lyrics. From time to time, I would come across some music that I completely could not understand. I would have to confess that Her Parents newest album Happy Birthday was an absolute swing and miss. The rebel music that began to mix with punk rock early in the 90’s has evolved since that time, and screamo has came through those cracks. It’s not that I don’t see where Her Parents are coming from as musicians. I just can’t get caught up in a song and feel the energy of what is being put out.

The song progressions are one positive for the album. A couple of the songs have decent riffs to them when they aren’t matched up with with screaming lyrics. Lithuanian Mercedes is a song that sheds light on the project. Other than the one song on the album that I could put up with, it was pulling teeth for me to play it as background music. The song titles give the style of the music away. “Why Don’t You Go Fuck Yourself” and “Cunt Dinosaur” push the rebel style. I don’t mean to knock the screamo style and any expression of music but this piece is meant for a specific group. It’s unconventional to say the least. If you liked the Tony Hawk Pro Skater sound track, I would give this one a listen. If you would like to hear the lyrics of what you are listening to, keep moving onto other musical ventures.

The Cat Empire – Steal the Light album review

Not much needs to be said about The Cat Empire. As far as their status as group, they are undoubtedly an established force. Their latest work, Steal the Light is yet again a solid contribution. Released on May 17, it is the Australian squad’s sixth studio album. One thing the album is: fluidly cohesive. One thing the album is not: unworthy. All in all, Steal the Light should please the music lover in all, even if The Cat Empire’s brand of ska-rock is not necessarily your  preferred style.

To start the album off, “Brighter than Gold” sets the stage with dancey elements and groovy overtones. It is a great introduction to a generally energy-filled, ska-hoppin’ record. Moving on, “Wild Animals” is a catchy little number, utilizing hakuna-mutata-like bouncing rhythms and a distinct attention to ferality. With lyrics urging you to “[not] let them kill the wild animals inside of you,” it is hard not to agree with most of what The Cat Empire has to say. For an especially fun song, skip to track four, “Am I Wrong.” It is probably the most approachable song/anthem on the collection and should start to appear on popular outlets shortly. Especially with more sunshine the immediate future, this song will most likely appear on playlists filling the warm dusk air.

One of the more attractive elements of this album is the utilization of various tastes and traditions. One song, for instance “Don’t Throw Your Hands Up,” manifest notions of soul and funk while “Like A Drum” has a latin foundation. The variety renders Steal the Light a truly versatile and well-executed collection of tunes. Kudos go to the Australian jammers for their creativity and musical curiosity. Such an endeavor is quite rare amongst popular musical acts these days.

In the end, I can comfortably say that Steal the Light has earned its place. Each track is delivered with professionalism and it is apparent that The Cat Empire is especially particular to the mastering of their craft.

Thirty Seconds to Mars – Love Lust Faith and Dreams album review

Seventy-eight days before the release of Thirty Seconds to Mars fourth LP, Love Lust Faith and Dreams, a countdown and a blast off debuted the album’s first single “Up in the Air.”  Literally.  On March 1st the Falcon 9 rocket launched a copy of the song, along with precious scientific cargo and goods, to the International Space Station.

Once you’ve listened to the album this brand of fanfare makes sense.  It’s forty-four minutes of giant sound—guitars, keyboards, even a cello and a violin hoisted to astronomical crescendo through heavy, synthesized vibration. At times the amalgamation is reminiscent to the soundtrack of a high-budget science fiction film.  I closed my eyes and saw Darth Vader one minute into “Pyres of Varanasi.”

The album is broken up into four thematic parts.  Love includes “Birth” and “Conquistador” Lust begins with “Up in the Air” then goes to “City of Angels” to “The Race” and concludes with “End of All Days” Faith consists of “Pyres of Varanasi,” “Bright Lights,” and “Do or Die” Dreams is comprised of the final three tracks “Convergence,” “Northern Lights,” and “Depuis Le Début” Each section is introduced by a breathy, female voice.

For the first time on this album Jared Leto, who formed the band with his brother in 1998, took a leading role in production. The collaboration with renowned producer Steven Lilywhite is full of bold experimentation and seasoned cohesion.  All that booming, heavy, symphonic rock is measured and articulated carefully.  Lilywhite’s style is recognizable (think The Killers newest album), and combined with Leto’s enthusiasm for experimentation and larger than life resonance, the music is undeniably affecting.

From the ominous start at “Birth” to the bright strings and synthesized beats in “The Race” to the discernible pop of “Bright Lights” and through the dramatic up and downs of “Depuis Le Début” Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams is a twisty, stentorian ride.

Savages – Silence Yourself album review

Savages highly anticipated debut album Silence Yourself does not fail to impress us with raw post-punk energy, screaming guitars and vocalist Jehnny Beth’s howl. This collection of fast paced carnage feels like unchartered territory, a fresh look into the rock genre, despite the fact we’ve been here before. The effect may be due to an all girl line-up and that the drought for a worthy, fresh rock group has been severe. The release of this album aptly proves these four chicks are the real deal.

Savages have built anticipation with the release of two singles in June 2012, “Flying to Berlin” and the monster “Husbands.” After magnetic appearances at Cochella and SXSW this year, the group has gained high praise from critics and new fans alike. The band is made up by French singer Jehnny Beth (real name: Camille Berthomier) and three London natives: guitarist Gemma Thompson, bassist Alyse Hassan, and drummer Fay Milton. Jehnny, once an actress, was previous part of and indie duo called John & Jehn, and Fay has a background in garage rock. Silence Yourself was released on Jehnny’s own label, Pop Noire and Matador Records on May 6th this year.

From the opening bass line of “Shut Up,” Savages deliver their art with conviction. They have a bad-ass attitude that fits the music entirely too well, creating a nice pocket of creative space that is explored throughout the album. Jehnny’s vocal delivery ranges from a wavering vibrato snarl, to a blood curdling scream with the occasional ear-piercing yelp. “I Am Here” builds in tempo until Jehnny reaches a desperate falsetto plea. Heavy guitar is proudly displayed, expertly produced and larger than life. The sound of the drums throughout the album give an encompassing room effect nearly as impressive as the first time experiencing surround sound.

“She Will” is lyrically bold, speaking of a sexually dominant woman: “she will enter the bed, she will kiss like a man… you will get used to it.” It is the second most intense song next to “Husbands,” which is re-released for the album with a different recording of the song. Speeding guitar bass and drums amplify the songs progression until the train flys off the tracks in a sudden stop finish.  The group only slows down for a few tunes, namely “Waiting for a Sign,” “Dead Nature,” and the closer “Marshall Dear.” The last repeats the album title and actually comes off as an operatic and dynamic ballad, complete with pub-piano and saxophone, showing a rarely seen side of the group.

The bottom line is that on Silence Yourself, Savages show us they really know how to rock. In a relatively flat scene, finally the guitars have true grit. Grungy, deep rolling bass lines and viciously pounded drums fill the lows. No tempo is too fast. No note too high. Vocal prowess, expert instrumentation and an obvious tightness amongst the groups four members leaves no question as to why so many heads have turned their direction.

Deluxe – Daniel EP review

The music that they make seems to be doing what it can to battle the bare-bones web presence of French band Deluxe. Signed to French label Chinese Man Records, you will quickly fall in love with their fun sound. The mix of jazz, funk and hip-hop feels very current, and laced with samples, swingy melodies and catchy beats, you’ll find that their music is at once original and easy to listen to.

The five-piece outfit just released a four song EP following their 2011 effort, “Polishing Peanuts,” and ahead of a record set to come out in September. It consists of the title track, “Daniel,” the catchy and unapologetically feminine “Bleed On” and “Pretty Flaws,” which is also remixed as the fourth track. All in all, it’s an enjoyable 15 minutes or so. But, in addition to that, it’s demonstrative of the band’s impressive range.

“Daniel” features the British-born MC Youthstar, who is arguably best part of the track. He provides the introduction, as well as primary rap verse, welcoming listeners to “the Deluxe Family Show.”

That’s not to say that the verse and soulful chorus from the band’s vocalist Liliboy are not worth hearing as well. It’s easy to see where comparisons to Amy Winehouse could be made—except Winehouse couldn’t rap. The juxtaposition between the two gives the song dimension. The track is catchy and danceable, and with a piano introduction like that, it wouldn’t be surprising if they opened their album with it as well.

Next up is “Bleed On,” a soulful and upbeat song that laments the female affliction of PMS, among other issues. True to the group’s character, it has a fun introduction, catchy chorus and killer horn interlude that makes it impossible to forget. It’s clear from the subject matter that they’ve got a sense of humor, but don’t worry guys: the song demonstrates musical prowess more than it exposes you to gross girl problems.

Last is “Pretty Flaws,” an understated and slow track with an R&B feeling. It builds to something really beautiful by the end, and even holds up when remixed by Chinese Man—who added a dubstep beat and a few dozen samples but didn’t change the tempo much. The softness enables the listener to really understand the underlying talent here. The song is just pretty, without the carnival of background noises the group is typically known for, and it works just fine.

Deluxe has a busy summer ahead of them, playing a number of European festivals in preparation for the release of their first full-length album. If these three songs are any indication, we should be excited for what’s to come in the fall.

The Boxer Rebellion – Promises album review

The Boxer Rebellion have released only four albums across the span of their twelve year career but Promises, the most recent release by the London-based alternative rock band, is by far their most accessible release. With a new found expansive, arena rock  sound that is reminiscent of U2 or Coldplay, the Boxer Rebellion show remarkable restraint when it is called for and yet manage to reach the crescendoing peaks they aspire to several times throughout the album. “Diamonds”, the album opening track is a glossy, well polished and depressing pop tune that is indisputably one of the standouts for the album. Following tracks have difficulty reaching the same level of pop catchiness as “Diamonds” but show distinct strength and the majority are at the very least, listenable.

For fans of vast ethereal rock like Jonsi, Sigur Ros, or the first six tracks of Promises, the album takes a distinctly jarring turn on the seventh track and arguably the standout track on the album, “New York”. Pounding tribal drums assault listeners over a delicately understated keyboard part, swelling to a huge climactic finish that serves as the bridge to the back half of the album. Undeniably different from tracks one through six, the second half of Promises holds tracks that could deceive more than a nary listener that the two sides were in fact different bands.

“Safe House” is a blast of concentrated rock, clashing cymbals, bombastic guitars and wailing singer and all. When the four members fall into sync in an amplified bliss that carries listeners along a wild ride and it is extremely evident that the band paid great attention to even the most minute detail on Promises. Where the album especially excels is in it’s role as a studio album that tries its damnedest to capture the feel of a live show, fireworks exploding above the stage and the arena echoing with the last chorus. Comparisons to U2 are inevitable considering the ample prowess that the band demonstrates at controlling an explosion of sound and emotion. “Dreams”, the second to last track on the album carries a feel that can only be described as epic. Through the combination of the polished English rhythm section of bassist Adam Harrison and drummer Piers Hewitt, an indisputably atmospheric feel is created that seems to carry the reverberating guitar of Australian Todd Howe and the yearning voice of Tennessee native and lead singer Nathan Nicholson across some vast, imperceptible gap to comfort listeners.

As a whole the album is strong and although it may take a few listens, it is absolutely worth the experience. The Boxer Rebellion have created yet another album with great commercial and artistic merit. Don’t be surprised if the currently independent band is soon a name you become familiar with.

Bear Mountain – XO album review

Opening up with a Chilly Gonzales- inspired tropical percussive assortment filled with maracas, cow-bell, and other various sounds that one may hear in their mind when thinking of the Caribbean on ‘Two Step’, which is followed by pleasantly droning synths and catchy vocal cheers, it becomes clear that Bear Mountain is a group whom it can sometimes be a little tricky to exactly pinpoint and properly classify.  At one point in this opening track, there is even a dubstep bass-wobble interlude while chiming, crystal-like shimmering plays over top and although this rambunctious concoction of sound may sound a little overwhelming and incongruent, the end result is an adventurous and brave experiment through the avant-garde of musical exploration.

XO is this Vancouver-based quartet’s first full-length album, and although it is short, at only seven tracks and clocking in at around half an hour, it contains a ton of depth and seemingly never ending layers of sound, sample and live instrumental alike, while also varying greatly in song structure and composition while still retaining overarching themes and feelings of wanderlust, joy, discovery, and celebration.

The group compares their music to that of Ray Lamontagne and Damien Rice, both of which can be heard without looking too far in but also never really sticking it in your face as these sensibilities, while present, are skillfully entwined with their own unique sound. Bear Mountain has crafted a really neat electronic album with catchy and contagious dance qualities without sacrificing any of the faults that may be seen in dance music like repetition and shallowness. Synthesizers beep, blop, shine, and fuzz along with beats that can lull anyone into a head-bobbing trance, all while being integrated with a tribal vibe that will make you feel as though you just stumbled upon an Amazonian rave treasure.

On ‘Congo’, the group meticulously loops pleasurably fun vocal samples atop a really interesting mix of bongo tapping, analogue synth tickling, and even some electric guitar. What Bear Mountain shine at is their ability to construct and deconstruct tracks as they continuously strip down and add upon their songs at just the right moments, making sure everything hits right yet also making sure never to have anything sound too rushed or forced. With ‘Sing’, the group again shows just how well they are able to craft their songs as they continually work upon backbone bass lines and percussion while always allowing their shimmery, psychedelic front to keep the sparks going and your body grooving along, never letting a song go stale.

Seemingly carrying the torch where Caribou left off, Bear Mountain makes a great introductory step into the experimental/dance electronic scene with XO and although its length may feel a little unsatisfactory, let’s just hope there’s much more to come.

Young Wonder – Show Your Teeth review

The talented electro-pop duo, Young Wonder (Rachel Koeman and Ian Ring) from Ireland have music lovers literally showing their teeth, grinning, after listening to their new EP, “Show Your Teeth”. Listeners are delightfully blessed with ultra unique tracks that come nothing short of producing sound wave influenced endorphins. With similar sounds to Bjork, a refined mix of heavy bass and unforgettable vocals, “Show Your Teeth”, is an Ep that one won’t regret taking the time to soak in.

The EP opens with a dreamy intro that sets the tone of the entire six track album. Echoing vocals, warm textures and deep percussions simply create a spiritual connection between universe and music. The song leaves one completely curious of what is to come. After some necessary satisfaction to one’s inner music loving child, the well produced and impactful EP closes with the very upbeat song, “Bullet”. The exotic rhythmic track, plus the distinct downbeats guides one soul to do nothing but dance.

A mere preview of what Young Wonder has to offer. “Show Your Teeth”, leaves listeners in anticipation of what is to come next from this hit making duple. Do yourself a favor and purchase this work of art ASAP. Happy Listening, Music Enthusiasts!

Is Tropical – I’m Leaving album review

Electropop is something I could take or leave. Sometimes it can be really, really good. But there’s so much of it out there that the good tends to be diluted by the so-so or mediocre. Additionally, electropop lacks a certain complexity or unpredictability that really turns me on musically. So in general, the genre just doesn’t ring my bell. But I do try to approach it with an open mind when it crosses my path. Usually. I usually try.

Is Tropical are a rare example of when I was unable to approach an album free of any preconceived notions. The problem started when I was looking at some background information on the trio from London. I quickly learned that they were signed to the record label Kitsuné. I remember thinking, “Wait, I thought Kitsuné was fashion…” Turns out I was right and wrong. The company is both a clothing label and a record label. To me, that just seems kind of… gimmicky. And that’s how I was feeling going into this. I wondered if there was any substance to IS TROPICAL’s latest album, I’m Leaving. Or was it all a ploy to make more money?

I will say this: I’m Leaving isn’t bad. It’s definitely worthy of the dance halls it will inevitably fill. The poppy beats and playful synths will get you moving. Almost every track on the album is catchy and upbeat. The opening track, “Lover’s Cave,” even has a little edge to it that makes it something more than pop. The song “Lillith” has the same effect.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of depth to the album. After a while, the saccharine melodies and thumping rhythms wear thin. Though the notes and lyrics change, it just feels like more of the same. I’d find myself tuning the music out and letting my thoughts wander about halfway through the album. I just couldn’t stay engaged. I also noticed a slight resemblance to Vampire Weekend a few different times throughout I’m Leaving. And while I actually truly enjoy Vampire Weekend, I’m not interested in imitations of the band.

The most surprising track on the album is the last one, “Yellow Teeth,” which is just over seven minutes long and seems to be about a werewolf. The tempo is slower and the harmonies are sweeter than everything else on the album. It’s more contained than the rest of the songs on I’m Leaving and it just comes off as more thoughtful.

Is Tropical were actually a pleasant surprise for me. Due to my own prejudices with electropop and the idea that this album was released by a clothing line slash record label, I was prepared for some hastily assembled crap that would leave me unsatisfied. What I found instead was an okay album with a few shining moments sprinkled in. I’m still skeptical about Kitsuné and their record label; I don’t think I understand how IS TROPICAL’s music really ties in with Kitsuné’s fashion. But I suppose musical commercialism is a thing that happens now, and maybe we should all get used to it.