I’m not even going to get into the lyrics. That’s a whole other story. Suffice it to say the themes range from young love to love lost, existential crises, and where we go when we’re not here anymore. But musically I can pinpoint what influenced the writing on our forthcoming debut, “Live Wires, Black Sheep”, much more easily:
The Velvet Underground & Nico – “I’m Waiting For The Man” (1967):
What can you even say about the influence the Velvets have? They made pedalling on two chords and building dynamics slowly over the course of, like, thirty-two bars or whatever really, really satisfying. And adding thirds to a traditional rock ‘n’ roll guitar riff. Jonathan Richman captured their vibe so well on his eponymously-titled song about them on 1992’s “I, Jonathan”. A thread is beginning to develop.
The Modern Lovers – “Roadrunner” (1976):
I mean, this tune is like in the DNA of so much rock ‘n’ roll since. But unlike a lot of the nihilistic attitude that came with subsequent punk bands that may have been influenced by the Modern Lovers, these guys, under the leadership of Jonathan Richman, maintain a playfulness and a joy of being alive. There is something so effortless about this tune musically–the delivery, everything. I aspire to write something so simple, evocative and feel-good. The best I could do is steal the sixties ending!
Buzzcocks – “Lipstick” (1978) / Magazine – “Shot By Both Sides” (1978):
When I first moved from Toronto to Burnaby at sixteen my best friend was the local public library. Whomever was responsible for buying music had excellent taste and I absorbed everything I could get my hands on. I got into Miles Davis, Tom Waits, Public Enemy, and a slew of other disparate artists. I had a Buzzcocks album I got in a cutout bin (1996’s “All Set”) but really fell in love with them when I borrowed (and, like everything else at the time) dubbed “Singles Going Steady” onto a cassette that was permanently in my walkman. I loved the moody, minor, ascending guitar line in “Lipstick” and years later heard “Shot By Both Sides” by Magazine, realizing that when Devoto left the Buzzcocks to form his new group he used parts of that song to create a new one. I think I like “Lipstick” better though.
Iggy Pop – “Five Foot One” (1979):
I love how this goes from major to minor and has a lot of double stops. Scott Thurston plays guitar on this record (on a Melody Maker, I believe–which is what I played exclusively on our record) and was produced by James Williamson (another huge guitar influence on me for his playing on The Stooges’ “Raw Power”). Did you know Thurston ended up joining Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame both with them and the Stooges?! What a wild career.
Meat Puppets – “Plateau” (1984):
Like most people in my generation, I first heard of the Meat Puppets by watching Nirvana Unplugged on tv. It’s so moody and evocative, and has the spirit of punk while being so centred around the acoustic. Learning later that they were from Arizona– and seeing Arizona with my own eyes–paints even more vivid a picture when I listen to this.
Public Image Ltd. – “Bags” (1986):
I first heard this when I was about fourteen. I had just gotten into old-school punk and would absorb anything I could get my hands on that was related, and that my friends (or their parents) might’ve had at home. There are probably better tunes on here (like “Rise”, for instance) but I really loved listening to the space between the bass notes and the clattery drums on this one. They’re almost childlike but huge, and the bass gives it a lilt that’s perfect for walking.
Supergrass – “Caught By The Fuzz” (1995):
It’s funny that the punk revival of the 1990s never mentions Supergrass. At least I don’t think it does. I realize they were far too varied to be lumped in with those bands but when I hear this tune I think they were far more deserving of carrying the mantle of the Buzzcocks than the Bay Area bands of the time. I love how the drummer is playing fills almost on the edge of collapse, just like Buzzcocks. I love a powerful band that sounds like their amps are gonna blow while playing poppy songs with clever melodies and harmonies.
Belle & Sebastian – “I Fought In A War” (2000):
I remember hearing this in a listening booth at the Virgin Megastore in Union Square in Manhattan in 2000. I loved the simple, minor chord change that just repeats over and over, kind of like a mid-sixties Bob Dylan song. And I’m a sucker for arpeggiated electric twelve-string and solos that reprise the vocal melody in a lower register.
Ancient Shapes – “Another Century of Ice” (2018):
Daniel Romano is brilliant. I can’t even keep up with him! He’s a real artist with a prolific creative output. We live in a time when bands are concerned with creating and uploading “content” to keep their “brand” alive. That talk makes me wanna barf! This guy is the real deal. And I love the breadth of music he creates. His band Ancient Shapes has this total Dylan-fronting-a-punk-band vibe come to life. Funny he ended up rerecording “Infidels” as if Dylan backed by the Plugz on Letterman in ’84 turned into a real thing. And it has my beloved double-stops on the guitar!
King Tuff – “Circuits In The Sand” (2018):
This song makes me think about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going. When we’re gone we leave behind–in the best possible scenario–a legacy in the form of children or songs or paintings or memories that loved ones will have of us. Worst case is all the junk we leave behind. Will future archeologists look upon our smartphones at all the same way we look at the artifacts left by ancient cultures? I doubt it. On another note, I wrote a song on the album, “Goodbye”, about my first heartbreak well over a decade ago. I never did anything with it, and when the band heard it and asked to resurrect it I heard this song which has a very similar chord progression. Don’t sue me, King Tuff. I have proof of using these changes ages ago!
Parquet Courts – “Wide Awake” (2018):
This is just fun. I sometimes can’t decide whether I love guitar or bass better. And I love space and a danceable beat and percussion. We have a tune called “Young Love” that goes into similar territory but then almost goes from a Prince-y vibe to, like, Faith No More. And why not?