Largely influenced by the folk and country records, ex-frontman of a punk rock band and now a singer/songwriter from Toronto, Stan Simon, created an interesting solo act that made use of finger style guitar, melodic harmonica and lyrics that were raw and visceral, often singing of personal matters such as sickness, heartbreak and his experiences living in the 4th most populous city in North America! I am greatly honored to give you my interview with an artist who embraces the feeling of composing and reaching for more sophistication in his musicianship.
In 2013, Simon recorded and released “Escaping The Madhouse”, engineered by Dennis Patterson (15 years at CBC, Big Smoke Audio, mastered Grammy nominated Guarneri Quartet). Musicians who performed on this record include Benjamin Reinhartz (Dilly Dally, Beliefs), Craig Saltz (Midday Swim) and Drew Jurecka (Jill Barber). After the release of “Escaping The Madhouse”, Simon toured across the east coast of Canada, hitting every major city along the way. While in Halifax, he was chosen as The Scene Magazine’s “pick of the week” for his show at The Company House saying that his “folk stylings aren’t just cowboys and dust trails but with some relaxing melodies and quiet vocals to boot”. Upon his return, NYC blog SYFFAL gave “Escaping The Madhouse” a positive review saying “Simon has managed to capture everything that is haunting about feeling haunted” and that his debut album was “heart breakingly gorgeous”.
In February of 2014, Simon was announced as a semi-finalist in the International Songwriting Competition from over 20,000 applicants worldwide for “My Drunk Heart”. It was then that he decided that he needed to join forces with a band and broaden his live show. Simon recruited Zach Bines (Weaves), Max Trefler (The Mohrs) and Will Hunter (Formalists).
In June of 2014, Stan Simon & The Hotel Bible was officially formed and began working on a sophomore album with Josh Korody (Wish, Beliefs) at Candle Recording Studio, in Toronto.
They went on to perform at Indie Week 2014 and released their first single “The Desert Line” receiving positive reviews including Exclaim! magazine who called the song “a crunchy salt-of-the-earth rocker that’s flecked with dusty harmonica and contains a slightly violent narrative”.
Often compared to artists like Johnny Cash and Neko Case, Stan Simon & The Hotel Bible attempts to make their listeners feel like part of a scene in a film, adhering to a dark theatrical tone shaped from traditional genres. Their sophomore album is scheduled for release in 2015.
Hey Stan! What’s up man? How’s Toronto? Are you among those shocked as heating bills doubled in harsh winter this year?
Hi Karol, thanks for having me. Toronto is busy hive of people and cars going to God knows where every day. Our harsh winters as of late hasn’t given any calm to this madness but at times I find myself appreciating it. You can only know calm once you’ve met madness.
I love Toronto but I don’t love heating bills.
Perfectly understood, Stan :)
With influences including Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Johnny Cash, and early Thom Yorke (that would be my shot – I hear his early 90s timbre in your tracks), you’re an aberration to IDIOTEQ readers :) Have you ever been in a punk scene? What’s your view on the movement?
I actually get the Thom Yorke comment quite a bit. I think I’m starting to hear it myself!
The first band I ever played in was a punk band when I was much younger. A few years later I sang for a hardcore band called COURTESY BLUSH that actually toured, which was huge for a 20 year old kid learning about this whole music thing. During this time I was developing a repertoire of music suited for a singer/songwriter that never made it into the band, which was okay because I was being introduced to so many new things and having the time of my life.
Playing in these bands opened my ears to the punk scene and movement and I felt a strong kinship with it. I started to listen to THE DEAD KENNEDY’S, BAD BRAINS and THE CLASH and a whole new world exploded in front of my eyes. It was quite amazing.
To me it is about the promotion of individual freedom and it helped allow myself to be creative, political and to release aggression in a positive way.
Ok, so here we are, listening to your new single, “The Desert Line”, coming from your upcoming sophomore record. How are you proud of this new effort and what does it mean to you personally?
This has been a slightly new direction I’ve gone in. My first record, Escaping The Madhouse, had a softer touch and in the past few years I’ve been so enthralled with western movies and their soundtracks that I wanted to put my own heavier version out there. I really respect the music of Ennio Morricone and it’s been a huge influence in what I’m trying to do.
I generally think of music with a setting in mind and how my life might fit in as if it were the beginning of a movie.
There’s nothing quite like hearing the finished recorded product. There is a tonne of work that goes into it and it’s extremely fulfilling.
It is a song about a robbery at a bar that takes place on a deserted highway. Is it a true story?
If it was a true story I might have to look out my window at night in case the cops come kicking in the door. Either that or I probably wouldn’t even be here.
The song is meant to be theatrical but is parallel with my feeling that I’m always on the run in my life. Things that try to hold me back and take control of my future chase me. I suppose the unfortunate part about it all is that I don’t think I can make it last too long. The running. Eventually I’ll get caught, killed, or captured but for now I’ll keep going until I run out of road.
That Desert Line is a setting for this thought and a coloring of this feeling.
How did you like the final effect of the production? How do you compare your newest tunes to your first compositions?
We started recording a brand new batch of tunes at Candle Recording Studio, in Toronto. There seems to be something in that room that gets captured in each recording. To me, we got a raw and rootsy sound that I love and strive for. The recording process this time was different than my last album, ‘Escaping The Madhouse’ where the last song called “The Firing Line” needed a drummer and instead of hiring a drummer I played brushes on a shoebox and put a mic in my guitar case and stomped on it for a bass drum. For the most part I had to hire a lot of people, which isn’t bad but it gets expensive.
This time around has been different because I have a band now. People who I can rely on to record the song as its intended to be heard. Not to mention that we could finish multiple songs in a day since everyone was there and ready.
My newest songs are definitely heavier and have more attitude. The idea was to think of each new song as a setting or the beginning of a movie. A scene or happening. There are more pieces to every song. Maybe I watch too many Westerns.
My last record was much more eclectic as I was still searching for a song. I’m not sure I’ll ever find it. If you’re a lover of music than you love music period. As a songwriter there are so many places to go and visit. It’s so hard to focus on one.
Interesting. As a child, what was the soundtrack of your life like? When did you first realize that folk and classic rock was the type of music you wanted to perform?
I grew up listening to THE BEATLES, CCR, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan and Neil Young. My older sister was getting into different music before I entered high school and dumped all her NIRVANA, PEARL JAM, ALICE IN CHAINS and SOUNDGARDEN records on me. I think I literally found them on my bedroom floor one afternoon. It was as if the sky had exploded in front of me and this entirely new world was pulsating with sound and raw energy. Just before this I was listening to WHITE ZOMBIE after hearing their tunes on a video game I was playing. I think it was on Atari. They freaked me out.
I still listen to all these bands today but it was just before I started this project that folk and country western music really spoke to me. Marty Robbins, Tex Ritter, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Charlie Feathers, Hank Williams, Ennio Morricone, you name it!
Folk music for the story telling and nakedness that is so pure and country western for much of the same but adding in a setting or persona that I love watching in western movies and translating into music.
I’m playing in Nashville, TN on the 18th of March and then heading down to Austin, TX on a huge road trip and I’m sure all these artist will be blaring in the car. I’ll make sure to turn down as I approach the border.
Ha! Awesome! Are you taking your own recordings on the road? By the way, who’s helping you out with the whole touring and live band experience?
Yeah, I generally put a whole bunch in my guitar case, backpack and leave some with my fiancé. You never know!
rented a car for this trip and I played in Tennessee last night. Quite a long drive from Toronto but well worth it! We love Nashville very much and have some friends down there, which is good.
I booked this myself. At the moment I’m still an independent artist and would like to explore options with labels. Now that I have half my sophomore record done I’ll likely be looking into some.
Do you collaborate with other musicians a lot? What is it about collaboration that you enjoy so much?
Always. Not usually when I write though. I tend to be a solitary writer. At night behind a closed door without a sound in the air, except when I play. That’s me. I find it easier to hear my thoughts and get a feel for what I want out of a given idea. Kind of like cooking.
However, there are people that move in and out of my live lineup, which is great because I get to add to my rolodex of musicians and its generally good to jam with new people. Time and again, they tend to put a new spin on my songs and I’m very easy with that. I’m not the type to say that my songs have to be played exactly as they sound on the record. There’s no fun in a dictatorship despite what some people may believe.
I wouldn’t mind writing music with someone that I gel with, a producer, a fellow musician or someone that can simply talk ideas with me. You can be surprised about the places you can go whether in your own head in your silent hour or with someone that comes from a totally different world of ideas helping to blossom your own.
Ok, so what else Stan? Do you have anything coming up in the future that your fans might want to hear about?
I’m working on my sophomore record that will hopefully be done by the years end. There are so many songs I have that I can’t think of anything else to do with them besides record and sing them!
Half of the record is done and I’ve released one song so far, “The Desert Line” that you can hear on my website.
Once this record is done, I plan to travel and take my tunes to the road. Maybe the sky.
I’ve also toyed with the idea of moving to a new city to see what it can offer me. Nashville is one city that comes to mind. My fiancé and I have an affinity towards the south.
One thing is for sure is that I don’t stay quiet. You’ll hear when I have a new song, record or showcase.
What is your next goal as a musician?
To be honest… learn the piano.
Other than that, finish this record and sculpt my songwriting into something that really speaks to people. We all have a message to share and each one may be different than the other but each of us has one. In this insane, crazy, mad, destructive world we live in music is my message and I think we can all use a little more love.
Ok, one more curiosity before we close this interview. You mentioned that your parents are from Warsaw. Can you expound a bit more about that? What’s the story?
Thanks very much for having me, Karol. This has been great!
My dad is from Warsaw and my mom is from a smaller town called Bielawa. I think they’re 4 hours apart. My dad played drums in a band back in Poland and I grew up with a drum set but was never good at playing it. Then I got a guitar and that was that!
They both left Poland when they were 17 or 18 and lived in Rome for almost a year. However, they met here in Toronto after taking the exact same path, which is amazing to me. Both my parents instilled a great deal of music to me when I was a kid. They still have the same record player which is quite a good one. It sure beats mine!
I went to Warsaw in 2009 on my own and loved it. I also went to Krakow and felt an obvious connection to Poland while I was there. I saw a private Chopin concert in both cities. Chopin’s music has quite an effect on me and I’d like to think has influenced my music in some sort of way. So, I had to check out those concerts!
I would love to come back and play some shows in Poland. Gdansk and Zakopane are two places I would love to visit but I’d definitely come back to Warsaw and Krakow and have a few bottles of Zywiec.
Nice! Great story! Be sure to let me know about your visit, I’ll show you a coupole of decent tap bars with a proper beer that will beer that will knock your tongue off, haha!
Thanks again for the chat. Take care man!