Introducing: Canadian experimental folk rockers WHOOP-SZO – advocates for indigenous peoples’ cultural identity

6 mins read

London, Ontario’s experimental folk / psych / art rock regionalists WHOOP-SZO help create the modern Canadian alt music movement that’s way beyond music alone. These guys seem to be the recipient of many whispers, as they have become equal parts artists, activists and social workers. Supporting the indigenous communities of Canada, they have found ways to turn wishes and complains into a sustained campaign of environmental and social activism. We have caught up with them to discuss their reasons and dive into their latest record Citizen’s Ban(ne)d Radio (Out Of Sound Records). See the full interview below.

Renowned for their cross-genre exp erimentalism, unabashedly unique, WHOOP-SZO is a wild fusion of folk, metal, pop, grunge, and even classical musical stylings. Though radically diverse in tone, WHOOPSZO has crafted their many sounds well, and are able to create immersive musical tapestries that evoke deep emotions while conveying troubling stories of civil unrest via layered harmonies, churning guitar, gritty synth, and a whole psychedelic plethora of other noise.

WHOOP szo! band

Hey guys! How are you how’s Ontario this time of the year?

Weather is nice. it’s either temperate sunshine or thunderstorms. Both are very welcome.

Alright, so you’ve just returned from another trek. How were these shows?

Our shows just keep getting better and better. Slowing down a little bit as we get organized for a big 2018. We’re also expecting some new life in the bands; Kirsten is pregnant and due in August, and Adam is also having a baby in early October.

Wow, welcome to the club, haha. So how has touring changed for you guys since you first shows with WHOOP-SZO?

Venues consistently change, as in they are always closing down. Rising rents and a general disinterest in the arts seem to be the culprit. Scenes change quite a lot as well. 2 or 3 years and there would appear to be a turnover, so if communities aren’t working to develop and support new bands, the scenes dry up for a little while. It all comes back around though.

WHOOP SZO record

Can you walk us through the timeline of Citizen’s Ban(ne)d Radio?

CB Radio is a collection, but also a bit of a journey. When we were first putting it together it felt like a compilation of demo’s and sound experiments, but once each track went side by side, it worked into a fairly cohesive mess. It opens up with a track to get you going, out on the highway, not knowing what’s ahead. It falls into a slip stream and pulls you out with syncopated, doom-filled riffs and follows up with a folky serenade. There are beats, and a cover song by our favourite band Elevator. There is a soundtrack experiment and little bit of an electro-folk outro.

Personally, what makes it an exceptionally special release?

The packaging and art really tie it all together. We’ve released it in every possible medium from poster and cassette to cd and vinyl. Of course, most listener’s hear it digitally, but if you check out the beautiful screen printing, I think you’ll be apt to delete your spotify app and start your own vinyl collection.

How does touring help you guys shape your recordings?

Oh, for us touring and recording have become two entirely different beasts. it’s hard to do one and the other in the same space. That said, we know how we want to sound live, and it sure helps to keep things tight. Recording is just an entirely different experience.

What is your sense of some of the most amazing places you’ve visited so far? What do you think are the most interesting aspects of music scenes you’’ve experienced outside your hometown?

It’s generally the small town vibes that get us. We’ve had a couple big shows recently, but we’re still attracted to connecting to those smaller towns, where there seems to be or it just feels like there is more of a connection to the land and surroundings. The disenfranchisement and such. In Canada, the best music comes out of the small towns.

How important is regional identity to your work?

I guess we consider ourselves regionalists as we work really hard to build and support our own community. Sometimes it feels a bit forced. We do hunker into some other towns and spaces that give us the very real connection to land, and water. It’s important to highlight what is around you. In London, there is a lot of poverty and this is the work that some of us find ourselves in outside of music. It’s very real and harsh. We want to know the truth of our community, and work and help those with the most need. It helps us to find out who we are, reminds us of our fortunes, learns us of our mistakes and helps us grow

I’m curious about the Out of Sound Outreach Initiatives program and other activities like workshops on Solidarity Through Art. What were the reasons for you to get involved? Do you still develop these initiatives?

Yes! More and more we are working on this type of stuff. We’re in the planing stages of our next big project and hope we can set it up at home so it can be more continuous. As an Anishinabek man, I feel a great responsibility to be a part of the reclamation of identity for Indigenous people. We’re scattered and varied but with a shared history that is so dark and scary. When you know this history, it sits in the front of your brain or gets suppressed to the very pit of your stomach. It’s in you and if you’ve taken some care of yourself, and found the supports… well, you can’t help but want to do that for other people. Especially the kids.

You recently touched on the subject of the inequality of male/female and white/non-white artists in the music industry. Why is such a determined approach important?

It is simply time to get out of the dark ages. Making assumptions about something you hear or about a particular individual may be very far off. In this instance you’re referencing they could have easily read our press release to know we are exactly not that. Even when the language is attempting to be subversive you should be careful. We’re not the PC police, but we feel we represent ourselves fairly well. Our band was started by one female and one male who identifies as Indigenous. Our work has always been about asserting that identity. Not much else to say on that really.

Have you experienced any challenges in your appeals regarding the role of women in independent music scene?

For the most part things have been good for us. That said, early in our career we would get on the stage and hear the usual “rock out with your cock out comments” directed at the females who were playing in the band. It immediately makes the show a battle rather than a celebration. We were naive because there was equality in our band, we have strong female role models, in music and out so it was a bit shocking. Now though, we’re less surprised. It’s so empowering to be in support of these women and we’re happy the imbalance is being addressed. There’s lots to do, especially in the back end of the industry, but we’re co-managed with a female and we’re working with people that understand our values.

Ok, so lastly, can you recommend some local female bands and artists from your closest neighbourhood?



Finally, you teased some collaborative recordings earlier this year. Apart from Citizen’s Ban(ne)d Radio, do you have more records lined up for the coming months?

We’re working on a split record right now due for November. It’s a cheesy cover song. We’re also working on a bit of a literature project for Kirsten with some of her songs.

WHOOP-SZO 2017 Summer Tour Dates:


06/17 Ottawa, ON – St Alban’s Church
06/18 Montreal, QC – Poisson Noir
06/21 Thunder Bay, ON – Apollo
06/23 Calgary, AB – CJSW 90.9fm live to air (Sled Island)
06/23 Calgary, AB – Local 510 (Sled Island)
06/24 Calgary, AB – Sloth Records (in-store) (Sled Island)
06/26 Calgary, AB – TBA – Sled Island(unofficial)
06/27 TBA
06/28 Lethbridge, AB – Attainable Records
06/29 Nelson, BC – The Royal
06/30 Abbotsford, BC – Brother’s Billiards & Bowl
07/01 Vancouver, BC – Red Gate
07/02 Victoria, BC – Intrepid Theatre
07/03 TBA
07/04 Kelowna, BC – Fernando’s
07/05 Edmonton, AB – Almanac
07/06 Saskatoon, SK – Sound and Silence
07/07 Winnipeg, MB – Yes Wave
07/31 Sackville, NB – Thunder & Lighting (SappyFest)
08/04 Halifax, NS – Radstorm
08/06 Fredericton, NB – The Capital Complex (Shifty Bits)
08/11 Saint John, NB – TBA
08/12 Montreal, QC – Shifty Montreal
08/17 Peterborough, ON – The Spill
08/18 Toronto, ON – TBA
08/19 Montreal, QC – Divan Orange
08/20 London, ON – TBA

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