The swamp monster awakened! An interview with THE GREAT SABATINI

13 mins read
THE GREAT SABATINI from Montréal, Québec have recently released their new album entitled “Dog Years” through Solar Flare Records, and it really struck me by its muddy feel, raw production and addicting diversity. I sat down with the creators of this moody, yet soulful rattling to serve them a proper presentation and unveil a bit more of their story. The delicious results are available below.
Started back in May, our lengthy discussion finally made its way online, so make sure to give it a read. Check out the official press release and scr for “Dog Years” and scroll down to read the full interview.

It was recorded, mixed and mastered by Sean Pearson (Cursed, Shallow North Dakota), and uses a raw, un-polished approach to capture a band with years of accumulated experience touring, writing and recording together. The aim was to create a hi fi document with all of their lo fi sensibilities, grit and live energy intact.

Having said that, the weight of every riff, the conviction behind every note, is the thread used to sew it all together. Every tune should represent the balance of precision playing and sonic pummel which they strive for. They want to move people. Not just the heshers who worship the almighty riff, but the folks out there with ears tuned to different marriages of sound.

Hey guys! What’s up? I’m really glad we can talk a bit about your new release and hopefully a lot more :) First off, who the hell is that bloody monster in the front cover of your new album? Is that a haunted clone of Elmo?

His name is Grimm. He’s kinda like an imaginary friend of ours who actually managed to show up in the “real world” for a minute.


Hmmm. He’s kind of disburbing, just like the rest of characters from your latest music video for the track “Munera”. Can you tell us more about this picture?

The Munera video contains some imagery that pertains to the band in various strange ways. I don’t want to reveal too much. We wanted it to seem like a dream, after which the dreamer wakes up somewhere different than where he fell asleep. The loose concept is that following ones dreams blindly can lead you to places you never intended to go.

I guess it’s determined that these places aren’t too friendly, huh? :) I was hoping a sequel for the video might offer more psychedelia and could turn things around, but you’ve decided to put out a regular band video for your newest clip promoting the track “Guest Of Honor”. Can you tell us more about the practice space? Also, are there more music videos for new songs in the works?

Yeah, we actually shot the ” Guest Of Honor” video before the “Munera” video. We normally store our gear and jam in a room I rent in Montreal, but we had our stuff in Cambridge (near Toronto) at our drummer Steve’s jam room so we decided to shoot a quick and simple performance video for that song, cos it feels really quick and simple, stripped down and bare. I think the album contains a lot of different feels and moods, so it made sense to give a different kind of look into our world with this one.

Ok, so here you are, on the verge of releasing the full length. How does it feel to finally have it out?

It feels great to finally have this record out into the world. We put a great deal of work into our records, and it can be pretty rewarding just having the final results in our hands exactly as we envisioned it. It also feels good getting positive feedback on it. So far, folks seem to be liking it.

Was it hard to put it together? Can you say something of discipline and the writing process? Comparing to your previous sessions, how different was it this time?

For us, it is a lot of hard work putting together an album from start to finish, particularly because it’s all done independently. But we really enjoy the process so working hard on it comes easy to us. The more records we make, the more disciplined and focused we get. We have a method that works for us, and we get better at applying it, but I also feel like we try to find ways to challenge this process as we go, in order to not get too comfortable. I feel like our best work has been done under a bit of pressure, and maybe we’re good at self applying just the right amount of this pressure so we can get the songs and the recordings to a better place every time.

To have it done independently in 2014 – breaking down all stages of the process, what does it actually mean?

Well, it means that every single stage of the process is laboured over by us. We wrote and arranged the songs. We demo the songs, I create most of the art work and do the layouts for the lp/cd/cassettes. We don’t really work with producers… More like we find the right people to capture the sounds, and work with them to get the record sounding just right. This time around, Sean Pearson handled the tracking, mixing AND mastering, but it wasn’t like he was making arrangement decisions or toying with the sound… We chose him because we felt he had specific strengths based on records we’d heard that he worked on.

Basically, we have control over every aspect of the final product, which really validates all the hard work we put in in the end… Its not like some suit has veto rights on the album artwork or something like that. The fact that a few different labels were interested in working together with us AFTER the album was done was another form of validation. I guess we must be doing something right. But the folks we’re working with in any capacity (Solar Flare, No List) are independent, smaller labels too who understand hard work and the value which we attach to this most personal form of expression. It doesn’t need to be stepped on to make it more commercially viable… Nobody involved stands to make any substantial profits, at least not at this point in the game. It’s all about the pure love of music and being connected to the diy spirit of underground music.


With the constant surge of interest in vinyl records in mind, I understand that there ARE plans to release the new album on vinyl, right? :)

Yep, the new record will be available on yellow vinyl here in Canada, and standard black and clear red from Solar Flare in Europe and the U.S. for us, vinyl is a really fun format and it’s pretty essential to get music out on vinyl in this day and age. Who knows how long this fad may last, but we’ve been into vinyl since we were kids and it’s pretty cool that a new generation of kids who didn’t grow up around this format are discovering how cool it is.

How consciously do you approach your writing a full length in a different way to composing for an EP?

There isn’t really a conscious assertion to focus on one format or another… We have writing sessions when we aren’t touring or focused on a release, and when we feel we have enough for a full length, or maybe that a small batch of songs might work well together in an ep format, then we just take it from there. Having said that, when we feel that we know for sure that we want to release a full length, or an ep (or both, as we did with matterhorn/the royal we) then the focus becomes making songs that work well together in some way. It hasn’t been just a collection of current material assembled into a record since we made Sad Parade of Yesterdays. We try to focus on stuff that works together in whatever way we’re fixated on at the time… For example, songs from Dog Years were put together from a larger group of songs, and chosen for certain strengths they all shared, or would contribute to the whole album.

Are there a lot of unreleased songs left from the sessions? Can we expect another release sometime soon?

There is a lot of material from that sweep of creativity that we are working on right now, actually. It’s probably a short album’s worth of material, and some of it is quite different than what we’re known for. There’s some droning type of stuff and sound collage bits we’re working on as well as proper TGS kinda songs. I think we’re gonna try to split that material up at first and use it for some very limited run splits and/or a single, and then, further down the line, compile it back together as one piece. But that’s all still a tentative idea.


Ok guys. You are about to hit the North American roads again. Tell me more about this trek. Are you teaming up with someone for it?

I’m in the van right now, actually, on our way to a British Colombia to play in Vancouver. The tour has been good so far. We’ll be dipping into the states soon and doing some shows mostly on the western side of the country before heading back into Canada to do some fest stuff and head home. No tour mates this time, we’re good at doing the lone wolf stuff but we hope to hit the states in the fall with another band but plans are still being hatched.

Any cool people, bands or venues you’ve run into so far?

Heading out on tour is usually a big reunion of friends and bands who we love, especially in Canada. So far we got to hang out with the KEN MODE crew in Winnipeg, and see some excellent bands like DEAD RANCH, THE WEIR and SPARKY. There’ll be a ton of hangouts and awesome bands to see during the next 2 weeks. It’s my favourite part of touring really… We don’t always get to see these people so it feels great to be with friends that normally we’re only talking to via Facebook or what have you.

By the way touring, do you tend to put a different spin on your songs when playing them out live? What differences can we expect with this new material?

Most of the time our songs translate pretty well into a live setting without too much trouble. Sometimes we’ll add a loose bridge between songs that will morph from show to show as we improvise it , but mostly we try to be faithful to the records, in a way. We’ve been doing “pitchfork Pete” on this tour and we simply can’t emulate the vocals exactly as they were done on the record, but that doesn’t matter too much. Making records is, after all, a totally separate animal from playing live. When you see us live, it’s much more immediate and visceral, and nuances that you can catch on the record get thrown out the window.

Ha! I wish I could judge it for myself. Any plans to hit European roads later this year?

We plan to hot Europe in early spring 2015. It’ll be our 2nd time overseas.

How do you remember the first time? What countries did you travel to?

Our first time in Europe was amazing. For us to jump into that scenario with absolutely nobody knowing who we were, it amazes me that it worked out as well as it did. There were, of course, some bad shows, but travelling through the continent itself was a huge thing for us. And, some of the shows were incredible. We played in 11 countries total… Switzerland, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia and Italy. We’d like to hit some different places perhaps on the next trip overseas.

Defintitely! Be sure to go up north and see at least some of the Scandinavian countries. Poland invites you, as well :)

Ok guys, considering touring and developing this band, can you tell something about the history of THE GREAT SABATINI so far? How would you compare your current condition to the “old times” when you actually started this band? Do you sometimes stop and think about that?

We don’t usually stop long enough to examine what we’ve done too much. It doesn’t feel like so long since we were in the studio making Sad Parade Of Yesterdays, but when I hear the band on the early recordings, and think about how we’ve become accustomed to the road, I can see the growth. Steve and I were talking tonight and we spoke briefly about the amount of music we’ve managed to write and record over the last 6 years, and it does seem like we’ve got a lot of stuff for any newcomer to dive into, if they were so inclined. That feels nice, but we don’t dwell on it. We’re always moving towards some new goal.

We weren’t exactly new to doing the band thing when we started TGS, but we’ve experienced a lot together and hopefully, when people hear our newest record or see us on tour, they’re getting something powerful out of it… the accumulation of our years of experience together. If not, then we might as well put our instruments down.


At what age did you know you were going to follow a rock/metal musician profession?

I was 17 or 18 when I knew for sure that music was what I was going to pursue as a calling or profession. I’ll let you know if and when we actually start making any money, haha.

Haha, and that’s what I wanted to know! God damn it, and I was bloody sure I am actually interviewing rock stars ;) No, but seriously is it that bad? No chance to live off it?

We all have regular jobs which pay our bills… we’ve worked hard enough with this band that it manages to pay for itself, but none of it comes back on us at this point. Maybe if we all quit our jobs and went on tour forever we MIGHT be able to eventually earn a living but some of my friends who do this already are just barely making ends meet even though they’re getting a lot of attention and being put on bigger tours. You really have to sweat it out for years and sacrifice a lot in your personal life in order to maybe make a living from it. Playing aggressive music, which exists on the fringes of mainstream culture’s attentions, just isn’t a solid means to achieve financial independence. We, and everyone else I know who plays this kind of music, even the really business savy, ambitious ones, play this kind of music for the pure love and honesty of it, as a form of expression.

Is it partly because of the digital era we live in? Do you believe it was way easier back in the 90s, 80s or even earlier?

Maybe. I still think that most people in indie bands back in the day still had to have crappy day jobs to keep their bills paid. And those old bands still had to work their asses off to get paid. Perhaps the internet and the ease with which people can get music has driven down the value of it or the appreciation for art in general. Maybe people take it for granted, and maybe that has taken money out of our pockets. But even if we were selling a lot of records, and filling a lot of halls, there’d be a guy sitting behind a desk taking his share before we see a cent, just like there always has been. It’s nothing new… And the digital era has given us as much as it has perhaps taken away. People just about anywhere in the world can listen to or buy our music thanks to the internet, and it’s made touring so much easier than it must have been in the 80’s or early 90’s. It’s even easier to tour now than it was in 2008, when we started.

In the end, I still think that if someone plays abrasive music, it has to be for the love of that music. All of the best art is made with no regard for the financial rewards, I hope, and usually there isn’t much to be had. If you consider the amount of bands playing weird, heavy music for no money while THE MELVINS were signed to Altlantic records, it kinda lowers the average income for weird, heavy bands. For every MELVINS or BUTTHOLE SURFERS or SOUNDGARDEN back in the 90’s, there were a hundred awesome indie bands not making anything at all.

What’s the ratio of the profit being made out of touring to the money that can come from record sales? Does it still matter if you make your downloads and records available for free? Is it still worth the fight?

I wouldn’t make everything free. We’ve tried testing the waters a bit in the past by making one of our e.p’s free (The Royal We) and another “pay what you can” (Sunday School e.p.) to see if it would generate attention to the band. It surely didn’t hurt, but we also have other recordings for sale in various formats, as well as shirts and posters for sale online and on our merch table. It isn’t an exact science in our experience. I couldn’t tell you what the ratio of tour profits vs. record sales is exactly… also, record sales are tied into the tour “profits”. We don’t make much money from guarantees at this point, relative to merch sales. We generate capital on the road by selling merch, and mostly, the money we get paid to play gets spent on gas. Sometimes there’s a bit leftover, but gas is so expensive, in Canada particularly, that driving a van or mini van while towing a trailer gets costly. But the more we do this, the more records we manage to sell, and the more folks hear about us in general. I think touring, as well as releasing a couple of freebies online, have both helped us. But bands need to make money touring around. If I have to leave my actual paying day-job for weeks at a time, that’s a loss of income, but the band itself makes money from selling shit. Not very much, but enough to replenish the stock, or to hit the studio from time to time. Our “napoleon Sodomite” 7″ was the first project we took on that was entirely funded, from beginning to end, by tour proceeds. We proved that with enough hard work and discipline, we wouldn’t have to rely on a label or even our own personal finances to put out a record. We couldn’t have done that if we made everything we do available for free. I’m going to assume that if we continue building an audience, the pay scale just might increase… but it’s not like there’s a pre-determined guideline for the amount of work put into being in a band relative to the pay scale. In the last 6 years we’ve put in way more work than some bands or artists that make millions of dollars for being musicians. But it’s not a pissing contest… again, we do what we do because it is it’s own reward. We love music.

Yup. And that brings a nice closure to our little debate, don’t you think? :)

Guys, many thanks for your time. It was a pleasure talking to you. I wish all the best for the coming months and have an amazing time this summer!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks so much, Karol. It was a total pleasure getting to do this interview with you. And thanks you for your support.

THE GREAT SABATINI official website
[email protected]
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