Saturday, April 26, 2008

Influences on the Death Bed

When you’re in a band, people often ask you things like, “who do you sound like.” Many musicians scoff at this question for an important fact; influences in musical writing are often much more than simply inspiration. I know for fact I have listened to certain songs by another artist and said to myself, ‘I want to write a song like that.’ In addition, a lot of lyrics which are flushed out in the process can have some painful back stories. There are certain songs which some artists claim to not even think about what they’re singing anymore; they simply perform the song because it’s what the audience wants to hear.

With today being the day that Paper Street goes to that great concert hall in the sky, I thought I’d share some of my greatest influences for songwriting over the last 3 years. Some of these may end up being blatantly obvious, and some may catch you off guard. Some will likely even give you a cheap laugh or two.

It is undeniable that Danko Jones hasn’t had a thing or two to say about my music. Being a shitty guitarist, and a guy with a growl in his voice, one almost has to look up to music which involves primarily power chords, and vocals that could rip your face off. Even blatantly, the line “You know I love it when that shit goes, fuck YEAH” in the song Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop is nearly straight from Mr. Jones’ mouth.

While they haven’t been an inspiration in a while, Tool was unmistakable in some of Paper Street’s early work. It helped that Shaun was also obsessed, so that they bass lines were already leaning in that direction. Just listen to songs like Sylphid, Self Induced Innocence, and you’d be an idiot to miss the connection. There was even a live recording of Sylphid in which one of my verses sounded almost identical to Maynard.

Believe it or not, my writing went through a bit of a funk phase. This didn’t last very long before the boys vetoed it, and we have bands like Robertson, Slowcoaster, Wide Mouth Mason, and even a few Hip Hop artists like Everlast and the Swollen Members to blame. Many of these songs didn’t see the light of day, however if you listen closely, I broke little bits through in songs like Bluff, Go, and The Game.

Let’s all give a hand to Johnathan Cummins from Bionic. He is the soul reason the song Dance, Whiteboy exists. This song was written as a backlash to the, at times, moronic, diva-like, drug frenzy of the rock industry. I had seen a show where Cummins, railed off his ass, played his set, mocked the crowd, and then proceeded to smash a 40 year old vintage guitar. That’s right… entertain me… Dance, Whiteboy.

Women have seemed to have their fair share of inspiration… at least on my lyrics. Unfortunately, the bulk of the songwriting about women has been with some degree of scorn, so we can see how well my relationships have worked out. Hilarious little known fact; all 3 of my electric guitars are named after women who have broken my heart.

One of the positive love stories that came out in my music would be in a rock ballad which was seldom played. Treat me right was a song which started out of love for a woman, but changed upon the realization that the only true, reliable, love in my life was music. This may sound depressing, but I realized it as one of the most important discoveries I'd made about myself in years. “Yeah this music’s so good, she treats me so right, gives me everything I need.”

The lyrics in the song Kanli are about Dune. Yes, we are big fucking nerds, and I actually use the phrase, “find my golden path” in the song.

Black Whiskey Blues is as true to its’ name as possible. The main lyrical hook for that song, “See you at the bottom of a bottle, if I can still see at all” was written while practically hanging off the bar at Biftek. Hilariously enough, the lyrics for this song would flow out easier than anything else I’d ever written.

I’ve always had some form of insomnia. Most days it comes from worrying about things I have to get done. When I was much younger, I used to keep myself awake at night thinking about the concept of forever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and……. You get the idea. This infinite loop of existence inspired the song FFLT, with the concept that, heaven or hell, regardless; forever’s a fucking long time.

While Here’s to the Day has become a God damned anthem for this group, very few people know that it refers to an actual date. July 10th, 2006 was one of the worst days of my life. It involved the culmination of a number of rather severe events including but not limited to; the end of a relationship, a small mental breakdown, and the end of a business. I went home that day with bile in my mind, and wrote and drank, and wrote and drank... but stop me if you've heard this one before.

At this point, I’d tell you more, but the other stuff starts to get a little more personal. For those songs I prefer to just let you keep guessing. It’s always funny to hear people tell me who they think Strong Man is really about.


Monday, April 21, 2008

It's My Birthday and I'll Do What I Want to.

I'm one year older, and one less the wiser. Today, I don't feel like writing a lot, but I feel like giving a lot. As such, I'm not going to weave some magical tale of wonder for you, all I'm going to do is link you to some of my favorite musical moments on the internet. All I can say is, Happy Birthday to me, and this is my present to you.

If ever I feel down, all I need to do is listen to the Crowes. It helps that Letterman sounds like a dumbass, but in the end this song just makes me feel alive. I walked through the park today with my shoes off and let the sun beat down on my back. This song come on my headphones and I swear to God I stopped on spot, looked up and the sun and smiled.

Still one of the most amazing bands I've never seen live, Mutemath has energy to boot. Whenever I want to be inspired for a live show, or try to gain ideas on stage presence, I watch this video. There's something beautiful about just letting go. If you really want your mind to explode, watch this version.

Hi, my name is Jordan. I play a bit of guitar.

The first time I saw this video, I think I actually shed a couple tears. I've always appreciated Harper's music, but sometimes, the true test of a musician is not in knowing how to play, but in knowning how to bring the right people together, to create something amazing.

And most importantly, so it is saved for last, music is about your friends. I'm 26 years old, and lord knows I'd have never even made it close to this far without a little help.

-Sing today. In the shower, on the street, alone, or for someone... just sing.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mile High Club

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, good afternoon from 38,338 ft (According to Westjet LiveTV). I am en route back from Calgary (don’t ask) and I figured, I still have 2 hours of battery life, and 3 hours of flight time left; let’s blog. You’ll have to forgive me in advance if this post seems a little groggy; my schedule of the last 16 hours is less than ideal. I landed in Calgary at 11:45 last night, cabbed to my hotel, was in bed by 12:30am, up at 6am, at an interview by 7am, out the door by 10am, and back on a flight home at 11am. Don’t worry though, I’m still bloody well insane, so I’ll be at rugby by 6pm.

Maybe it’s just the thin air, or the fact that I wish I could find a cute stewardess to join the Mile High Club with, but today, I feel like talking about some funky white boys. We white men have been given a bad wrap, and today, I’m out to disprove preconceived misconceptions. Granted, we still can’t dance, jump, or rap (my theory is that Eminem is actually an albino black dude) however we still know how to throw down a beat, and give the people a little something to groove to.

One of my oldest proofs of this fact, is the raw, boundless soul of Superunloader. This is a band which I guarantee will never make it big, and in fact, even with our modern distribution methods, you’d be hard pressed to track down an album. Superunloader is a band of the 90s, which if we concede to stereotypes (yeah yeah, I know I’m supposed to be disproving those), is likely formed up of a bunch of suburban white kids who smoked too much weed and would sooner play guitar than go to class. Combining elements of funk, blues, and African influences, Superunloader creates a sound which to this day, I have been unable to find a just comparison to. Like any good band which refuses to be pigeon holed into a genre, the guys float from rock, to blues, to soul, to punk… but they do it in a way which keeps a core cohesion to their unmistakable sound.

Our next artist requires a scene to be set. It’s McGill engineering frosh, 2002. I am leading a group of maniacs, and our Saturday night party is to be held at the ever-missed Le Swimming. During the night, we had arranged a reduced cover deal for the engineers, since there was going to be some sort of funk band playing that night. When I arrived, and heard that it was a one man act, I remember feeling a little cheated. However, when Montreal’s Robertson took the stage, the cheating was in the fact that we’d paid so little for cover. After working with Kid Koala on the project Bullfrog, Robertson chose to go it alone and create his own groovy, driving, head bopping brand of funk. Laying a backdrop of beats provided by his friend Kid Koala, Robertson wowed audiences over by not only singing, and playing phenomenal guitar, but also keeping a running bass line going on organ foot pedals. I find it hard enough to walk and talk some days, let alone play 3 instruments at once. As though the novelty of this man wasn’t enough, his music is also infectiously catchy, gloriously danceable, and even a nice choice for bedroom activities. Don’t believe me?

Most of you know that I have become very disenfranchised with the modern indie movement. Incorporating unique chord structures, strange time signatures, and electronic sounds into your music is all well and good, but only if you’re still making good music. My issue is simply that too many of these bands use modern technology as a crutch, as opposed to an amplifier of their talent, which leaves them the equivalent of a musical cripple in my books. This is not the case with LA’s Honeycut. Call it creepy, call it weird, call it unsettling, but don’t ever call it crap. This band serves as a mile marker for technologically inclined bands to show what talented musicians can do with complex tools. The key seems to be, even while using complex instruments and gadgets, keep the music simple… at least to the ear. While Honeycut listens like the catchiest of pop you’ve ever heard, dig a little deeper and you can grow to appreciate the composition and layering of their bountiful music. Alternatively, Honeycut is a band which one can just kick back and get lost in; catchy hook after hook.

Lastly today, if I’m moving to the UK, then I’d better start championing a few Brits now and then. Enter Fink. Fink is what happens when you allow a poet to write music, and provide him with the talented support to tell a story worthy of his lyrics. Beautiful to every last drop, Fink’s songs run the gambit of love, racism, friendship, death, and blueberry pancakes; all the while providing a perfect musical backdrop to convey the appropriate emotion. The songs are of the type that every single person will take home a different message, feeling and experience from, however rest assured, there will be a message.

-Wear your heart on your sleeve, and wear a tank top.

Friday, April 11, 2008

My name is Shane, and I have an addiction

Alright, I have to level with you; I have a fucking problem. I suppose I should be thankful that I’m not addicted to smack, or some meth head in a gutter… but I’m hooked all the same. I am at the very mercy and call of music. You know all those questions people ask to find out if they’re addicted? Things like, “do you find you need SUBSTANCE to get going in the morning?”, or “do you ever use SUBSTANCE alone?” Show me the fucking 12 steps to get off music.
Nah, screw that, I like my addiction. However, it is a little silly.
First, I have to apologize for not posting sooner. As many of you know, I am going to be moving to the UK in around 3 weeks, and after finding this news out at the end of March, I effectively went into panic mode. I started selling off my life (, tying up loose ends, and FREAKING OUT about everything. As such, Shananigans was neglected.

This move though, gives a perfect insight into my addiction. Upon choosing to move and subsequently sell my life away… I vowed to buy nothing. I would be keeping my Gibson, my Marshall, and my CD collection and shipping them to Manitoba. Now, even after vowing to buy nothing, I’ve still managed to purchase 9 new freaking CDs in the last 3 weeks. I swear I try to stop myself, but it just kind of happens. Today alone I bought 4 new albums. Let me break it down:

I initially went to HMV to buy the much anticipated Black Keys album. I have to admit, I was a bit weary of the album when I heard it was to be produced by Danger Mouse. What I’ve always loved about the keys is the grit, grind, 2 piece, stripped down blues, and I was very concerned about hearing an overproduced album. My fears would be justified, as when I threw it on for the all important first listen, I found that the album had lost the basement, dirty blues sound. I would describe Attack & Release like average sex. It’s sex, so it’s damned well amazing, but you’ve had better. I know I’ll grow to love this album, as I do their entire collection, I guess I am just sad to see a band whom I respected for their simplicity, go and make things all complicated. Still, they make up for it a bit with one of the most original and hilarious videos I’ve ever seen.

Now, when I grabbed Attack & Release, it was one of the 2 for $25, so obviously, it would be financially foolish for me to not pick up The Sword’s new album. If you missed these guitar shredding monolith’s first release Age of Winters, and consider yourself even a minor Sabbath fan… for the love of God, go pick it up. Their 2nd release, Gods of the Earth, suffers the same softmore syndrome which plagues so many bands. It simply can’t hold up against their first. I got exactly what I expected from the sword; epic guitar riffs, spaced out, chuggy movements, pounding drum sections, and Ozzy-reminiscent vocals. However, unlike the first album, I didn’t find myself jumping out of my chair, grabbing a broom and doing ‘stage dive to power slides’ off my bed, and subsequently skinning my knees. Gods of the Earth is a hell of a sight better than a lot of the modern bands trying to cash in on the Classic rock revival (read: Airborne), but it’s also a mere drop in the ocean of rock that was Age of Winters.

Now, I’m pretty much ready to leave HMV, but of course that plan went to shit when I saw that Danko Jones’ new album, Never too Loud, was only $10. You would have done the same thing in my position, so don’t judge. In addition, if I want to buy a CD, which I know won’t disappoint, I know where to go. Danko is a rock staple, however this time around, I have to give the man credit. While traditionally, Danko albums are a fusion of simple power chords, driven rhythm section, and in your face vocals (don’t worry, all those things are there), this album also adds a bit of much appreciated songwriting complexity. I’m not saying Jones went off and became the next Bach, but there are subtle fills, breaks, harmonies, and layers in the songs, previously missing, which make a nice change. If you’d believe it, there is even an acoustic song called Take Me Home. I promise he’s not going soft though, because the following track on the CD is called Let’s Get Undressed. The only negative point I have to bring out about this album is that the mix needs more bass. Not even necessarily bass guitar, but simply more low end to make me really feel the sex coming through the speakers.

Ok, so at this point, all of my musical purchases are totally justified. As such, as an addict, I’m totally allowed to splurge a little bit when I found out that Reznor has done it again. Nine Inch Nails have just released an instrumental double disc under the name Ghosts I-IV. I’m currently little over half way through the first disc, but already, my mind is completely blown. While Reznor is obviously known for his huge sway on the Industrial genre, his anti-establishment lyrics, and his hard, driving electronic metal, many of us often forget that he is a musical genius. Ghosts is your reminder, nay, your wake up call to that fact. Blending piano, strings, choral harmonies, full brass sections, electric guitar, bass, more electronic drum than you can shake a penis at, and other instruments which I don’t even know the name of, Ghosts listens like a soundtrack to the greatest movie ever written. Very seldom can an album take you through such a wide array of emotions, bringing you from the verge of tears, to being ready to rip someone’s head off.

As a side note, please be aware that my band, Paper Street, will be having out last show ever on Saturday, April 26th at Café Chaos. See here for more details.