Here’s a cool talk with Joe from punk rock / rock act THE STRANGLED, coming from the Canadian Newfoundland. Joe is currently based in Quebec, while Harry, the only other current member of the project, lives way out in Newfoundland.
In this interview below we discussed the far lands of Newfoundland, Canadian local scenes, their inspirations, the curse of the internet, the meaning of Polish word “napierdalaj!” and a lot more. We even had a little clash about the “punk rock vs. making money” issue and invented a new genre called “fun punk” ;)
THE STRANGLED are featured in recently released “International Punk Rock Superstars Vol. 6″ compilation, which can be checked out at this location.
Hello, guys! How’s the weather in Canada? [laughs] It’s getting really cold here in Warsaw.
Hey! It’s getting pretty cold here as well. It was -13 a couple days ago. That’s ok though, we’re not afraid of a little ice and snow! It helps get the creative juices flowing. That and beer, mostly.
Where exactly are you based now? What part of Newfoundland are you from?
Right now, I’m (Joe) in Montreal, Quebec. Harry is in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.
The band started in St. John’s, Newfoundland between another friend and I. I moved to Montreal to help spread the band’s music farther than the east coast of Canada. It’s really hard and expensive trying to tour from Newfoundland because it’s a very isolated and sparsely populated island in the Atlantic. We did a tour of eastern Canada with The Dead Peasant’s Revolt last year and it took almost 20 hours just to get off Newfoundland because we have to drive all the way across the island then get on a ferry.
Damn.. so how does music scene in a place like this look like? I mean all genres, styles, venues, crews, bands, labels, etc.
Surprisingly, there are an enormous amount of bands and musicians in St. John’s. With a population that is less than half a million you might expect a lot less. There aren’t a lot of record labels or financial support, unfortunately. Folk music and traditional Newfoundland music (which is Celtic in origin) are the most popular and receive the most financial interest. There is a strong and dedicated punk, alternative and rock scene that plays despite the lack of financial resources. A lot of these people are passionate musicians who write great music but, because of the time and money it takes to tour from there, go unheard by most people. The smallness of the music scene also leads to a lot of band member interchanging. Like, the original drummer for the band is now in the band VEGAS LOUNGE LIZARDS and TWO OCEANS. Harry is now part of BRAT ATTACK and various bands with members of the band MONSTERBATOR. Past members have been in the bands THE DRUNKS RULE THIS PLACE and THE ST. JOHN’S UKULELE ORCHESTRA. They’re all pretty different styles but we all played shows together in the same group of bars almost every weekend and sometimes all we would get out of it is free beer. I make it sound like that’s not a lot but beer is outrageously expensive in Newfoundland. It’s something around $24 for a dozen and we like to drink quite a bit.
Naaah, Norwegians would ward off that’s is damn cheap [laughs]. Yeah, but I get you.
How did you first fall in love with rock music? How did you get introduced to the genre, and then begin playing it?
Oh man, I guess I won’t be drinking too much if I ever make it out there!
My first love affair with rock music came in the form of Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly. When I was around five years old I saw a movie about Valens that lead to “the day the music died”. I was obsessed with rock music from that moment on. When I was a teenager I discovered Epitaph‘s Punk-O-Rama 2 and Fat Music For Fat People at the store. I bought them solely because they were like a dollar and had a lot of songs on them. I was like, “Wow, what a deal!”. Then I put them on and they were like nothing I ever heard before! NOFX, BAD RELIGION, LAGWAGON, RANCID… it all blew my mind. I met other kids in school that listened to the same bands and we finally went to my first show. It was ANTI-FLAG opening up for NO USE FOR A NAME in a small, filthy club in New York. The connection the bands had with the crowd was something I had never seen before. I really felt like I was a part of something special instead of just some kid in a crowd. I later saw RANCID at a much bigger venue and that’s when I decided this was something I needed to learn to be a part of. To me, it always seemed like people stopped going to shows the older they got. So I decided that there must come a time when you move from the floor to the stage or leave and I never want to leave.
How long has it been since you fell in love with it? Did you have a start in music before THE STRANGLED? What was it?
I think seeing RANCID in 1998 was when I fell in love with it, so that’s a pretty long time ago. I had a shitty, short lived hardcore band in high school around that same time. More recently, I had a band called OPTIONS in St. John’s with some friends. One of the songs I actually wrote with OPTIONS is on THE STRANGLED’s album. They went on to pursue being a chief and an acting career, respectively. I wanted to keep playing music and that’s when I started writing music for what would become THE STRANGLED.
By the way, I spent most of younger years growing up in New York and that’s when I saw RANCID. RANCID, like most bands, never has and probably never will play in Newfoundland.
And this actually sucks. I can’t image me being in a well-known punk band and not trying to take my passion and message literally anywhere in the world!
Anyway, do you find, as times go on, current things that inspire you, or are you more inspired by the past?
Yeah, I mean I can understand not being able to afford going somewhere to play but if you’re making some decent money then why not just go anywhere you can? It’s entirely possible that they don’t even know Newfoundland exists. Even some Canadians don’t know we’re out here.
As for writing, I find both the present and the past find their way into the songs. They’re really all over the place. Sometimes I write about a situation from the past in my current perspective and there are others I wrote where the feelings were still new and raw. I can only honestly write from what I think I know of the world around me and my perspective hasn’t changed much. Working a shitty job, being brokenhearted and pissed off about social injustice are all timeless subjects. Unfortunately I have no wisdom or answers to bestow upon anyone about any of these subjects just my own feelings about them and I hope people can find solace or inspiration in what I share.
Ok, but it’s easier now to share your message since you’re based in Montreal, right? How long has it been? How has it been different for THE STRANGLED since you moved?
I am extremely grateful for all the fans we’ve made since I moved here. I have been here for less than a year and it’s been pretty hard. I probably shouldn’t have moved to the only place in Canada that speaks predominantly French when I don’t know the language myself. The city is great though and hopefully I will be able to learn to communicate properly here. The other guys in The Strangled all have “real” jobs. Adam and Curtis, who played bass and guitar on the album, both recently bought homes in Newfoundland. Harry just finished school and got a job in the field he was studying. Fortunately, Harry is still afflicted with the dream of playing music around the world so he flies out when he can. I’ve had a hard time finding talented people to join the band here. It seems my kind of music is out of style. It seems everyone either wants to be the next ARCADE FIRE or is “too punk” to play anything that doesn’t sound like a CIRCLE JERKS cover. I’ll probably be doing some solo acoustic shows in the meantime but that doesn’t mean we won’t keep trying to get some people together to do a proper, full band tour.
Yeah, but do you really want to put a new steady pack of guys and create a proper band? Maybe it meant to be like that? I mean, sometimes it’s hard to keep it alive with ever-changing members.
I certainly don’t have anything against working with new people, even if it is only temporary. Cy from THE DEAD PEASANT’S REVOLT and THE BLACK MASK BRIGADE played bass and recorded a couple songs with us on our first EP, Straight To Ghost. I’m always willing to make new friends but it’s been a challenge to meet new people that are both as talented and dedicated as the guy’s I’ve been working with. It would be super cool if I could do something like OFF WITH THEIR HEADS and be anywhere near as successful as he is with getting his music out. Sometimes I have to wonder if it’s because I’m a dick or maybe my songs aren’t very good that I can’t find new band members but I doubt all the people I’ve worked with would have put up with that or wasted their time. At least I hope those aren’t the reasons…!
Ok. Let’s talk about the album for a while. It’s the only official release you’ve got, right?
I guess, technically our EP, Straight To Ghost, is our first official release. It was recorded by our friend Davey of BRAT ATTACK at his house in St. John’s. Three out of four of those songs were re-recorded for the full album. We recorded the album, Never Forget, about a year later in various locations throughout St. John’s using gear we had owned, borrowed or rented.
What were your influence and inspirations when writing and recording?
I’d say, musically, for me I was listening to a lot of THE SMOKING POPES, ALKALINE TRIO, BRAND NEW, NONE MORE BLACK and THE BOUNCING SOULS. I know Harry listens to ALKALINE TRIO, THE KILLERS and THE STROKES as well as SWINGIN’ UTTERS and SOCIAL DISTORTION a lot. Curtis and Adam both are big 70’s rock fans and I know NEIL YOUNG was played on more than one occasion. Everything we hear makes it in there consciously or not. None of us have ever recorded an album before so we did a lot of Googling and just doing whatever seemed to work but I definitely wanted it to have a big, full sound so all the songs have multiple guitar and vocal tracks.
Okay, and what were some non-musical influences on the new record?
Some of the songs, in some way, are kind of like a therapy for me. There are a couple songs about being down on yourself or not being able to simply enjoy life (Bummer, Disconnected.) There are a few songs about drinking alcohol for different reasons (Calendar Lines, Six Pints, Warm Beer and Long Goodbyes). There some more personal songs about growing apart from people that are close to you (The Forgetting, Shivers) and there are some angry songs about not being able to get far enough from some people (Old Knives, There’s No Crying In Baseball). They’re not all negative songs though. The song Downtown was inspired by the time Curtis (guitars) partied with me all night and drove me to the airport in the morning the first time I moved away from St. John’s for a while.
Do you miss Newfoundland?
I miss the people there. However, Montreal has some great people and is a hell of a lot of fun so I don’t spend much time dwelling on it.
Sure, there’s no reason to cry, right? [smiles]
What’s next for yourself in the coming months?
[laughs] Yeah I’m sure I miss them more than they miss me. Anyway, I’ll be writing more songs and working on that with Harry. Might move to Toronto. Might do some solo acoustic shows or an acoustic tour if that is a realistic option. I can tell you there will definitely be more STRANGLED material made available in the next few months.
Do you guys get a lot of Canadian acts out there? Maybe I can fly out and do some shows. I can’t even imagine what the music scene is like there.
Any details about this new material you’re teasing for?
About the scene, it’s actually very strong. Check out my recent chat with Robert from Refuse Records, who’s been building it for 20 years now. Also, keep tracking my blog, there are tons of cool live videos documenting what’s going on here. Check out this interview – and scroll down to find the “here, here, here, here (…)” string of examples [smiles].
Last Friday LIFERUINER played a small club in Warsaw. They covered BLINK 182’s “Dammit” and it was a blast [smiles]. CANCER BATS and lots of other bands that represent different genres and style is dropping in from time to time.
Harry and I recorded a couple demos for songs that might end up on the next album before I left Newfoundland. There is also a song or two that we used to play at practice but never recorded. Some of these songs are heavier than what we’ve put out so far. There will definitely be an acoustic album or EP,.. probably before the next full band album. I feel like the “acoustic version of a song on our album” thing has been done to death by other bands but it sometimes comes out really cool. I hope to have a decent offering of brand new songs with it that might end up on the next album.
I will definitely spend a lot of time checking out those links! I love reading about local music scenes in other cities. It’s awesome to be able to have access to it through pages like this. It’s pages like this and other people who run venues and book shows that even make local scene possible. If it weren’t for people like you our music scenes would be pretty bleak.
Yeah, and the internet thing makes it all sooo easy, right? [laughs]. No, but seriously, except you I’m currently talking to guys from Shanghai, Serbia, Portugal, Germany, Dallas, Ireland and few other places. I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity.
The internet has been both a blessing and a curse on musicians. I know I wouldn’t have as many listeners if it weren’t for the fact that anyone connected can find my music. I think one of the best parts of being a musician is the opportunity to travel to wherever you can and that is certainly more likely now than ever.
And the curse part?
The curse is that musicians struggle to make ends meet. I know it’s never been easy for musicians in the underground music scene but even bigger bands deserve to get paid for the work they do. I don’t know how it is in other countries but in North America there is an overwhelming amount of people who think they deserve things for free. I was having a conversation the other day with someone who said that musicians should make money off their live shows. I asked if he has seen every band that he’s downloaded and he just blushed. That’s an absurd excuse to steal from people who may not have a lot of money to begin with. I think this is leading to the prevalence of people who have a privileged upbringing making uninspired, boring music. I believe working hard for something should lead to producing something more meaningful and inspiring. I also believe you should get paid for your hard work. I know some people try out albums before they download them and I think that’s fine. I also realize that there is nothing I can do to change the way things are now and new ways of musicians supporting themselves must be found. My biggest problem is with the concept that people deserve free art weather it be music, movies or images just because they have the ability to obtain it for free. I think devaluing art damages society everywhere.
Yeah, but punk was never about the money. Art has nothing to do with it. It’s been always about the message. Punk bands don’t care about the profit.
Actually, I’m going to have to disagree somewhat. Yes, for a lot of bands the message is important. I’d wager that THE QUEERS, THE GROOVIE GHOULIES or even THE MISFITS may not even have a “message”. Really, the how punk THE MISFITS are is questionable at best being that they were signed to a subsidiary of Warner Music and throw their logo on every imaginable object that can be sold in a mall. It depends on how you want to define punk. Is it punk to even define the term or is elitism un-punk? Bands that have dedicated their lives to their music like RANCID, LAGWAGON and others don’t always have a work option to fall back on. They have homes and families that rely on them and the income they make. Lars Friederikson is 41 years old and has been playing music for over 15 years. That doesn’t leave much to put on his resume and he certainly can’t raise a child in the States on a salary from a fast food restaurant. Tim Armstrong even produces music for other people. Music is, by definition in western culture, an art form weather you mean it to be or not as the creator or the consumer. A lot of musicians put more than just their hard earned money into the music they write and I think they deserve whatever kind of compensation they can get. Saying that a room full of sweaty kids is compensation for the message they are conveying isn’t quantifiable when you don’t even know if anyone “gets it’. I’d say there are probably thousands of BAD RELIGION fans who don’t understand what Greg Graffin is talking about and probably even more that didn’t bother to look up the words they don’t understand in the lyrics. Not only that but if your a band that wants to tour then you either have to have a job that pays great and offers a lot of vacation time, have some alternate source of income or live in squalor until you save enough to go on tour. Personally, I like taking a shower after work and I eat a vegetarian diet which is, somehow, not as cheap as eating meat. I live in an apartment that is just one room and a bathroom but it would take me a long time to save up the money alone to tour outside of Canada and still live in a way I’m comfortable. I don’t believe punk is a finite set of rules to live by. I think punk is doing what makes you happy and living your life your own way so long as you’re not fucking up someone else’s life in doing so. I would agree though that punk bands don’t start out playing that kind of music for financial gain. Once they have dedicated their entire existence to it then money is, unfortunately, an issue. This is why bands never tour to Newfoundland; they can’t make enough money to justify it. Sorry if that answer was all over the place! I tried to touch on everything you mentioned [laughs].
I don’t know if it’s a thing that happens where you are but it’s something I’ve heard a lot at shows (especially ANTI-FLAG shows) where one of the band members starts talking about something on their mind and an audience member shouts “shut up and play”. With ANTI-FLAG in particular it is often an anecdote about the message of the next song. Besides being rude as hell, why listen to their songs if you don’t care about the message? The first time I saw them they definitely didn’t have a lot of money. More recently they were on a major label. With what they earned with them they were able to bring their message to more people and invest that money in the future of the band. Making money as a band isn’t about mansions and fancy cars, it’s about putting food on the table and giving all your time and effort to something you’re passionate about.
Yeah, THE MISFITS were mostly for fun, but there was a bunch of other amazing bands with message, right next to them. BLACK FLAG, CIRCLE JERKS, THE ADOLESCENTS, VERBAL ABUSE, MINOR THREAT, BAD BRAINS, GOVERNMENT ISSUE, GANG GREEN, NEGATIVE FX, SS DECONTROL, etc. I guess it’s really true when you say that it depends on how you want to define punk. There are lots of people dedicated to their message and not focused on the music itself and at the same time working hard to have a comfortable life, very similar to the one you’re talking about. You can simply do both, spread the message, play in a punk band, and at the same time pursue a PhD, develop in a regular job, etc. A hybrid of both would be a dream come true, i.e. producing music, managing it and staying real, without all these plastic mainstream shit we’re surrounded by.
Oh, and no, your answer wasn’t all over the place. I truly appreciate it.
About the ANTI-FLAG thing, yeah, I’ve seen a lot of it. In Poland they shout “Napierdalaj!” which is a vulgar way to say “bring it on”, “come on”, “start playing”, etc. [laughs]. Oh, and the story you brought up is probably on of the reasons why many punks have given up on them.
Anyway, I believe it’s a complex matter that can’t be treated properly in a short chit-chat, don’t you think? We won’t fight over it, right? [smiles]
So, you’re on the fun side of punk rock? [laughs]
I really appreciate getting to have discourse about things like this. While I don’t think any dividing lines should be drawn in punk and hardcore (except maybe to exclude racist music) I also don’t think we should be afraid of disagreeing with each other. People seem to think that the way to live with people who have different views is to not bring it up. I think it’s important to discuss these things and keep an open mind. It certainly is a complex matter and I’m open to discussing it anytime you like in the future!
It certainly was not my intent to fight! [smiles]
The music I write has been described as “fun rock” in the past. I guess you can call it that, I’ve certainly expressed more personal views in this interview than I have in some of my songs but it’s not because it was a conscious decision. My songs are more about personal politics. For instance, Calendar Lines is more of a “look at yourself and what you’re doing to yourself. If you’re stretching yourself thin between work and play then maybe you need to change something” than just a song about having fun. I try not to be preachy in my lyrics. I like to encourage thought. Even though I have strong opinions I don’t believe my opinions are the only ones that should be considered. So, yeah, fun punk [laughs].
Some might say it’s a contradiction. Funk punk from depression Newfoundland? No way! [laughs]
Ok, no jokes. What inspires to write lyrics like this?
I’ve been told I write depressing lyrics. I’ve also been told I write fun music. I think fun punk is more necessary in a depressing place than anywhere else! It’s not good to just sit and brood in your depression and troubles. I hope the music is as much a release for other people as it is for me. Just because things are bad doesn’t mean we should have a hopeless view of the world. All the songs are about my real life circumstances or people I knew. I guess the lyrics reflect my negative view of life and the music represents how I try to stay positive thought it all, I guess. that sounds corny… I don’t know, [laughs].
Okay, my friend. Before I let you go, what else should we know about you?
I’ve got to leave some secrets to be uncovered… [smiles] I love to argue as long as people can be respectful, so hit up our facebook page and check out our website where you can find links to download all our music for free. Thanks for this interview and I hope we can chat again; maybe I’ll even make it out to Warsaw!
Hopefully! Many thanks for your time, dude! Have a good one! All the best for Christmas and 2013!