Tag Archives: Sonic Unyon

Oh What a Feebling: A CanRock Short Story Collection, Part 7

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The Lime Ridge Mall in Hamilton, Ontario

Previously:

Smile and Wave

The Drowned

Eating The Rich

Million Days

Birthday Boy

Fire In The Head

Between the fifth and sixth grade I changed schools and entered a full time gifted program. Ostensibly, I did this because I was such a bloody genius and I needed more of a challenge than my local school and teachers could offer, but that was maybe one per cent of the reasoning behind my final decision. In reality, I was being viciously bullied and I needed to get the fuck out.

As a result of this, I adopted a scorched earth approach to everything that I thought might have made me a target in the past. I started wearing jeans because someone once made fun of my stirrup pants (oh, the early ‘90s) at the old school and I thought maybe that was part of the problem. And I completely turned my back on all things science fiction-related because my Dune and Star Trek love really hadn’t gone over well at all.

While I missed comfortable pants, I actually found it easy enough quit sci-fi cold turkey. Whatever enjoyment I’d received from the genre was too heavily weighted with baggage. Space and science just felt like victimization. I felt vaguely sick when I even tried to watch or read that shit. And I soon fell in love with indie rock and had no room for any other entertainment in my life, anyway, so it was a relatively painless break.

In grade eight, our teacher included a science fiction unit in our language arts studies. The majority of the class – male geeks who were allowed to stay in at recess to play D&D – were thrilled. The brilliant burnouts and academic overachievers were either apathetic or somewhat game.

I was mortified.

I was viciously disappointed in our naive teacher for even suggesting such a thing. Surely she could tell how vulnerable we were as a small class of gifties in a normal school. Why on earth would she bait all of those potential bullies by making us visibly read and engage with science fiction?

When it came time to write our own sci-fi stories I did the only thing in my power to protect myself: I sort of made it about indie rock. And, um, Hamilton, Ontario.

I was really, really, really, really into the Killjoys and the Sonic Unyon bands at the time and their hometown had taken on almost mythic proportions in my mind. I loved Hamilton beyond all rationality. Like, I used to tag along on my family’s (strangely frequent, in retrospect) road trips to the Lime Ridge Mall just so I could be in Hamilton.

Which is how I ended up writing a (not terrible?) science fiction short story about people with bright hair getting killed and committing suicide a lot set at the Lime Ridge Mall and named after the band Smoother to defend my coolness.

I showed them.

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Gallows’ ‘Desolation Sounds’: Wade MacNeil Talks Occult, Alexisonfire, Sonic Unyon, More

Gallows

Gallows

Desolation Sounds, the fourth album from British heavy act Gallows, and their second with Canadian singer/occasional Alexisonfire member Wade MacNeil, very consciously moves the band away from their hardcore punk roots.

Sure the rage and the yelling and the menace are still there, but there are also decidedly-not-hxc topics like the occult and nods to gloomy death rock and goth acts like Killing Joke and Siouxsie And The Banshees. It all makes for a newer, more dynamic if less overtly face-smashy Gallows.

MacNeil talked to Risky Fuel about Desolation Sounds, the Dead Kennedys, what the recently revived Alexisonfire will be doing this summer and more. Read the conversation below:

Risky Fuel: I feel you’re kinda like the Hey Mon family from In Living Color, you got 17 jobs, mon. How many jobs do you actually have?

Wade MacNeil: Well, I’m singer of Gallows, I’m once again the guitar player of Alexisonfire, I’m a radio show host, I’m working on music for a film. I’m married, so that’s probably the one that takes the most time. The hustle.

With Desolation Sounds you’ve now officially sung on as many Gallows albums as (former Gallows singer) Frank Carter. Do you feel more comfortable, more entrenched now?

Yeah. I think the band before was so much about the circus of the band and not the music of the band and that’s something I wanted to have zero part in and let the music speak for itself. And for us I think it’s definitely the best Gallows record, not just of my two, I think it’s the best of all four. The other guys in the band all say that, too. And I don’t think it’s trying to be anything. I think it’s just a collection of all of our influences and us trying to challenge ourselves. And it’s a lot like a band trying to write their first record in a lot of ways, you’re not fencing yourself in, you’re just doing it because it doesn’t fucking matter. So it’s kind of nice to be at that point where when we were writing it we weren’t worrying about anything. Is that career suicide? Maybe. Are we happy? Very much so.

There’s something to be said for going out on your shield and doing exactly what you want.

Yeah, absolutely. To be honest I wouldn’t know how to do it any other way. I’d never get into a room and go, “Let’s write a pop record.” Like, getting into a room with some creative people and writing music, that makes sense to me and finding what you get inspired by, what you get excited about, that’s it. Not trying to… I don’t feel anyone’s gonna have success sitting down trying to write what they think people want to hear

I’ve always considered Gallows an artistically ambitious band. Not so much like Fucked Up where they’re trying to create, like, “flute hardcore” or whatever, but more like a hardcore version of The Who. Were there specific things you wanted to do with this record?

I don’t really think so. This started like “here are the influences that are kind of soaking in” and I think maybe because we weren’t trying to do something specific. I think a lot of the more goth and death rock stuff that Lags (Gallows’ Laurent Barnard) and I like a lot really found its way in there. Which hasn’t really found its way into a lot of other Gallows stuff. Or would have had no place in any of my other bands, but that’s music I’ve always really really liked. And I think maybe just it’s kind of how bleak we’ve made the aesthetic of the band since I started and the way we present everything it seemed like now it kind of made sense to go down that road.

I think what’s interesting, what I’m really proud of is the songs that aren’t really that aggressive, they still have this overbearing tension to them and I feel like they fill the same vibe of this dark kind of feeling even though they’re not full-on hardcore songs.

You guys have been talking about the goth influence on the new record, acts like Siouxsie And The Banshees. But I heard something else from that same era on the song “Desolation Sounds” — a guitar part that reminded me of Dead Kennedy’s “Holiday In Cambodia.” How much mining of your old records did you guys do?

It’s all kind of mixed in there. DK records and stuff, those are the records that had more of an affect on me in high school than most of my teachers did. So they’re totally ingrained in my brain. But I think the punk of that era was a lot more undefined because there weren’t boundaries yet. So a band like DK, there’s tons of weird synth stuff in those songs and it wasn’t problematic and they were playing with bands like The Screamers and Suicide or whoever because it wasn’t segregated to the point where now, like honestly Gallows can go play some fest in Germany where all the bands play hard breakdowns and they all fucking wear streetwear and all the singers have tattoos on their faces and beards. And it’s like so fucking finite. That could be a show. That could be a show for a thousand people there for that specific shit. But I don’t know. I don’t feel particularly embraced by that scene. I don’t fucking give a shit about that shit.

I’m an adult. I like punk music. I like hardcore music. Obviously the community of it was very, very important to me when I was very young, and it’s where all my friends are actually from. But as far as the community aspect to it now? I don’t know, I’m too old.

The song “93/93” has some very specific occult references. I found this pretty interesting because it’s usually the territory of classic rock and heavy metal bands, not really the domain of “hardcore” bands. It almost feels intentional to separate yourselves from that hardcore box.

Yeah, and definitely I think there’s a lot of that stuff in the lyrics. There’s a lot of esoteric stuff in the lyrics that’s deep in there if people want to dig into it. That’s why I like “93/93,” it’s right up there in the song title with a cursory glance but if people are interested in that stuff and are interested in what we’re trying to say, they can dig a lot deeper into that. And I just think it’s very fascinating, especially spending a lot of time in London, that’s really the cultural hub of where all that really happened. There’s a bunch of great old bookstores that have these volumes. (Aleister) Crowley was there and a lot of characters… And there’s a lot of that in London. I think it’s really, really fascinating and yes, you soak up all these things. Obviously I was very interested in things like that.

Things like that show you’re more than just a standard hardcore band.

There’s a lot of people that wish we were still just a hardcore band. They wish we’d just do that.

We talked a bit about using your record collection for inspiration. On the album there’s some very specific late-1990s Sonic Unyon Records vibes. Like Shallow, North Dakota-influence, that only you could have brought to the band.

Yeah, they definitely wouldn’t understand that reference point, but they had their own bands like that. Like a band like Kittens, you can listen to them and in London they were going to see Iron Monkey and similar sounding types of groups.

It’s interesting how you and the other Gallows guys could have grown up continents apart, but still gravitated towards similar sounding music. It’s, like, you find your people in the long run.

Very much so. I think it’s just the way we grew up. And that’s the one great thing about the band and touring, it’s that the show is the constant. We always have these really interesting experiences. The cultures are so different, sometimes you can’t speak with people because of the language barrier and have food that you’ve never had before and you get lost in these cities. Then the show part is full of people there that bought Black Flag records when they were 14 and they skateboarded in high school and those few things that they did when they were younger, maybe they question life… I think a lot of people have a similar experiences.

It’s been five years since Alexisonfire became, well, whatever you want to call it, mostly inactive. Since then (Dallas Green’s) City And Colour has gotten huge, you’re in an international band in Gallows, I saw George (Pettit’s) new band Dead Tired and they’re great. Could it be argued this was good for everyone?

It could be made. That argument certainly could be made, but it just needed to happen. And I’m happy that there are things that have happened that have made it cool again. And made (Alexisonfire) exciting again and we’re all really at this point we don’t know what’s going to happen. And that’s really exciting. We’ve got all these shows this summer and we’re all really looking forward to it.

How do you treat Alexisonfire now? Is it, “Well, if someone offers us something cool and we’re all available…?”

I think that’s what we’re going to do at this point. I didn’t break all my gear at the last show because I thought we’d ever do something again. The last fucking show. I had very much put it to bed. Someone said to me the other day, “Oh, your band’s getting back together” and I was like, it took me a second because I don’t think of it being a band anymore. But I need to start playing the guitar and start making it a band again soon. Yeah, we’ll see what happens. It’s exciting that the future is unwritten for that band again.

It was always very good being on stage together and being in the room together writing and being creative. Unfortunately, like every other band all that fucking same shit, behind-the-music stuff happened to us. But luckily at least we were able to, like, in some weird way start to get past all of it.

Well, the Davies brothers in The Kinks would do shows where they wouldn’t talk to, or even see each other before shows.

Yeah, but right now there’s nothing like that. It’s all good. We’re all really excited. I think George has said breaking up is the best thing that could’ve been for the five of us for being friends. So yeah, I think it’s coming back in a really positive way and I can’t wait to play.

Are there going to be any more Alexisonfire surprises? Like, suddenly, “Here’s a new album!”

Right now there’s no more surprises. That’s it for now. But two months ago we were broken up, so who fuckin’ knows?

For more Gallows information go here.

For more Alexisonfire information go here.

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Hayden: From His Bedroom To The World

Hayden

Hayden

Strip Kurt Cobain of his grunge, leaving him with only MTV Unplugged and you’ll be close. Tear away Morrissey’s protective glam and you circle even nearer. It’s in this dark, acoustic half-light that you’ll find him — the poster boy for high school journal keepers everywhere — with a guitar and a song. He’s Hayden and he’s the loneliest boy in Canada.

The world has changed for Hayden. No longer is he the indie kid wailing forlorn tales out of his parents’ basement. His new album, The Closer I Get, breathes of polished, yet simple musicianship. Now on a major label (Universal in Canada, Outpost in the U.S.), Hayden’s sound is bigger, as is his budget, but he seems just as sad as ever.

The Biggest Change

“I never want it to feel like its my job,” says Hayden from across the table at Toronto’s Gypsy Co-op. His hair is sprouted and a little messy, no longer the easily identifiable closely cropped mane. Bundled up in what looks like three shirts under a sweater, he answers all his questions slowly, carefully. His casual pursuit has become his livelihood, and that’s made him wary. It’s the biggest change in Hayden’s life and he doesn’t want to lose the spirit of the music he’s created.

“The music going from something I did in my spare time as a hobby to trying to keep that element of it in my life,” Hayden says. “But it’s actually my career now, too. That’s a pretty huge change.”

We’ve been doing some amicable verbally jostling for the better part of a half-hour at this point — Hayden plays his cards extremely close to the vest — so to obtain this admission amounts to a minor victory.

I Don’t Wanna Talk About It

Hayden doesn’t discuss what he writes about. You’d think someone who bares their soul with every song might be willing to share the ideas while separated from their guitar. But that’s not the case.

“I don’t really like to talk about the lyrics much,” he says. “The main reason is I want to hear what other people’s interpretation of my songs are. I mean, if some thing’s obvious to me — and I would think pretty straight forward — it’s still amazing to hear what people think something’s about. I love to hear what people think my songs are about.”

“Memphis,” from the new album, is pretty obvious. Not veiled behind a wall of metaphor, or hiding any cryptic message, it’s a strange sort of Elvis tribute. However, trying to figure out “Bullet,” the most poignant and disturbing song on The Closer I Get, is a different story. A humourist might speculate he has a gambling problem from the line, “I found a bullet outside my door/I think it was me it was intended for.” Then again, Hayden doesn’t sing the line with much humour.

“Ah, it doesn’t matter,” he says, brushing off a request to explain it. “There’s a lot of songs that I listen to that I’d hate to know what they’re about. Songs I’m really, really into. I remember hearing a rumour about ‘In The Air Tonight’ by Phil Collins. You know that song? I remember hearing a rumour… It was about him watching someone drowning and the person who was supposed to save the guy didn’t save him or something.

“Every time I hear it I focus on that story and I miss that great drum solo.”

Drums And Wires, Optigon Illusions

The Closer I Get is markedly different from Hayden’s previous albums, Everything I Long For and Moving Careful. The songs are still down-hearted, stripped down and decidedly Hayden. There’s just that something, like the music is operating on some extra level.

“Well, I think a lot of it [the earlier sound] had to do with just going from a four-track,” he explains, “which basically limited how many instruments I could put on each song. I’m kinda glad I did that, because it made me aware of only putting what I needed onto a song. So it would be like an acoustic guitar, a vocal, a harmony and then there would be one more space for what I though was really needed onto a song.

“You know, I loved doing that at the time — and I’ll probably go back to doing that —  but this time around I had the opportunity to have 24 tracks. So with 20 new tracks you could definitely fit drums [in]. I was into inventing with drums and different drummers, just seeing what that would do to the song.”

The drums are there, so is an organ or two, a harmonica, and even an infectious guitar riff on the first single, “The Hazards Of Sitting Beneath Palm Trees.” Perhaps one of Hayden’s best works, “Hazards” is that half-inch more inclusive-sounding song which could hook new listeners. It’s a more complete, more layered song than most of what he’s done before, and it truly shows a growth above and beyond the usual — which sometimes amounted to simple whining with an acoustic guitar.

“The reason why there’s a lot of different layers of instruments and music is because of how I went about recording it,” says Hayden. “A lot of the times I had the drums and the main instrument, whether it be the bass line or the guitar line… in each situation I tried to set up instruments all over the studio to play back to the drums and just play on different things. And I’d figure out which instrument sounded better.

Hayden hopped around to record this one: Out of the basement, he took full advantage of the resources available to him. His experimentations with organ alone put Hayden beyond any Gen X/Neil Young comparisons. He also recorded in Seattle, Toronto and Bearsville, New York with different producers, studios and equipment. It’s obvious this approach has helped.

“When I was working in Seattle, one of the reasons I was into working with a particular guy there – his name is Steve Fisk – was because he had mentioned his large vintage keyboard collection,” says Hayden. “And if we worked in Seattle he would be able to use all that stuff.”

It’s pretty obvious he enjoyed tooling around with all the equipment. When we discuss the gear, it’s one of the rare moments Hayden springs to attention during our conversation. Experimenting with exotic instruments isn’t exactly the wildest of all possible innovations; Still, some of the choices were less obvious than a harmonica.

“A theremin, a mellotron,” says Hayden. “It’s not to say that these instruments aren’t showing up in various recordings right now, but it’s fun for me to be able to experiment on them. Rhodes piano, optigon – which is this thing that Sears sold – it’s like this , it was marketed to people who, even if you couldn’t play music you’d be able to play this instrument. Like that’s how they sold it.”

“The bongo sound on ‘Hazards,’ that was done with an optigon,” he says.

I Say Pencil, You Say…
Psychologists use ink blots; in the world of rock reporting, the preferred method is word associate. It’s simple, easy to read and kinda fun. It’s also a slightly deceptive way of gaining some insight into a person’s character. When I ask Hayden whether he wants to do some associating, I get a half-playful “Oh no,” but plod along, oblivious.

Sonic Youth’s Goo vs. Neil Young’s Harvest? “Neil Young.”

Basement vs. big studio? “It depends. It depends what state I’m in and how I’m feeling.”

Slide guitar vs. harmonica? “Harmonica.”

High school sweetheart or supermodel? “Oh god. I don’t think I could handle a supermodel. I don’t really have a high school sweetheart either. How about a high school sweet heart who became a supermodel? Although we broke up before she became a supermodel.”

Youthful naiveté or all-knowing wisdom? “I don’t know. Somewhere in-between.”

Check The Music, Not The Label

Hayden is getting to play with all the funky instruments because of his newly-elevated status as a member of the Universal Music family. Obviously, with a major label signing, there’s money to indulge a bit more musically than before.

Unfortunately, along with the financial rewards, there’s been some controversy. As usual, when any big indie star jumps to a major, cries of “sellout”  ring out fast and furious. Exclaim, a free alternative monthly, was critical of Hayden. Heck, even Chart put its two cents in.

The root of the problem is the perception that Hayden is abandoning Sonic Unyon, the label/distributor that was responsible for getting Moving Careful and Everything I Long For out across Canada. Sonic Unyon is continuing to distribute those albums, but the immediate impression is that Hayden left the label in the lurch. He says the truth is somewhat different.

“My feelings are that I was never signed to Sonic Unyon,” he says. “I was signed to Hardwood Records — which is my own label — and they distributed it. And I think they’re great guys and I’m still working with them. It’s just a decision had to be made about this particular record and this particular record isn’t coming out on Sonic Unyon.”

On a callous level, there’s still no shortage of indie pop pricks who’ll scream “sellout” with the new album. On a more intimate level, there’s thousands of kids out there who may feel they’ve lost their Hayden — you know, the one who was sad in his bedroom just like them; the one who only wanted to sing their lives.

“Well, I would hope that those people out there respected my music for the music, not which company I released my music on,” says Hayden.

“That they would still appreciate my music because they like my music,” he adds, somewhat irked by even having to address the subject.

“I would like to think that people who bought my first record wouldn’t care. There’s definitely no need for a back-and-forth thing: You know, Sonic Unyon saying something, me saying something, because we’re working together,” he says.  “I would hate to think that anyone would not like my music because of what company it’s on.”

Hayden

Hayden

You May Say He’s A Dreamer

Fleetwood Mac is playing on the speakers over our heads; It perks Hayden up again.

“I like this song,” he says.

“I was more into Stevie Nicks’ solo work,” I reply. Then, like the suspiciously spot-on soothsayer he is, Hayden says, “You mean you had a crush on her?”

He cut straight to the truth.

Only moments earlier Hayden was swirling the cubes around in his iced tea. Not bored, but obviously not into explaining himself either. The realization hits that he’s a dreamer. It explains the sad songs and the subtle melancholy; the music is his way of expressing it.

As quick as the revelation comes, it also explains why everyone can relate to at least something of what Hayden says. He’s creating the soundtracks for all the lonely bedroom rock stars, for the people who find that the DJ says nothing to them about their lives.

“I wasn’t the most outgoing kid,” Hayden says. “Although I remember a few days – there was a few days I was pretty outgoing. I had a good week one in a while…

“I tend to forget about most what went on in high school. The one major memory — something that got me through my high school years — was being in a band.

“That got me through a lot.”

…But He’s Not The Only One

Hayden apparently helps others get through things, too.

“People say really nice things,” says Hayden of those who write to him.

“Sometimes people, relating to what I’m talking about, say they’ve experienced similar things. Or I’ve helped them get through a certain period in their life. You know, that kind of thing’s amazing,” he says.

Then, exhibiting his dry humour, he adds, “You know the stuff: my loss in the bowling tournament.”

Sometimes cryptic, sometimes aloof, Hayden is at best tough to figure out. You could probably dodge and weave with him for hours and still not get him to open up. But there is a way figure him out, and it’s Hayden himself who actually tells you how.

“It’s in the record,” he says. “All those hidden messages.”

This story originally appeared in the June 1998 issue #96 of Chart Magazine.

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