Okay…here’s the lowdown. We finished Demons before we headed off to Europe and it’s all set to be unleashed on the world through the website. The good news is that our current partners in North America and Europe are excited about it and want to release it through their distribution systems as well, but the bad news is that they have certain lead times that they need to adhere to and the earliest that they can get it in to their systems is February 15th. They strongly feel that if we release the album through our site three months before they do, it will take away a bit of the momentum that they would like to try and build up before its release. So we are following their wishes.
But we will be releasing the album (digitally and on CD and vinyl) through the site on Jan 15th, one month before the official release, and we will be starting a pre-sale on the album with all sorts of pre-sale incentives (including a seven-song bonus EP) in the next couple of weeks. Also, in the next few days, we will be making the album (and the seven song bonus EP) available, digitally, to our Clubhouse Subscription holders. Yes, we know that this isn’t exactly fair and that it favours those that can afford the subscription fee, but we, like every other band out there, are trying to figure out how to keep afloat in this crumbling business and, for now, the Clubhouse Subscription is a large part of our business model and we are trying to come up with some shameless ways of enticing those on the fence to leap off and buy the subscription. It’s not a perfect plan but we are floundering around in this new digital world just like the rest of you and we trying our best. In the meantime, we will continue to blog about the album and post music from it and hopefully keep you all interested until January 15th….ok, let the recriminations begin…..
We have finally received copies of Renmin Park on vinyl and its available now in the Junk Store. It is manufactured by the same people (Diverse Records) who did the excellent job on Trinity Revisited and its mastered by Peter Moore to ensure the audiophile quality. Add it to your Black Friday list today.
The best of Vic’s lyrics takes the listener on a journey filled with unfamiliar signposts, during the ride one is never quite sure where one is. There are puns, fictional characters, real characters, humorous asides, cries of anger, bouts of self loathing, joy, despair and, sometimes, resolution. Vic keeps the listener slightly off balance at all times, but more often than not, there is a moment in the song where it all falls together in a line or two that strikes deep into the heart of the matter, that crystalline moment that makes one pause and say, “now I know where I am, because I’ve been here before”. Sad Peter Pan is such a song. For the first couple of verses you might not be sure of what is being discussed, although you can’t help but smile at a line like, “I’m a reluctant rebel/I just want to be Aaron Neville/with a crown upon my head/and my denim shirt all soaked with sweat”. But when the last verse is delivered: “ I’m just pushing the paint around/on advice from your lying mouth/You touched me and then you ran/and left some Sad Peter Pan/all alone and awkward/but a transformation, I swear it will occur.” That hopeless, empty, lost feeling of The Jilted, the only recourse, the only defence, is that last desperate plea, “I’ll change…”. You look around and you know where you are.
We asked our good friend Henry Kucharzyk to add his sensibility to this track and Henry came up with a clarinet arrangement which dances delicately throughout:
Henry did an arrangement for another song as well, below is the arrangement by itself. Ten points if you can figure out what song it is (no cheating by looking at the song title):
We received some very sad news this past week about the death of Chris Lukaszewski, a very good and old friend of the band. He was a gentle and empathetic soul of which there are far too few these days.
Before there were any “official” llamas, there was Chris. Over the past fifteen years he appeared at many of our gigs around Southern Ontario and he always brought his camera and prints of the photos that he had taken at the previous gig. It wasn’t unusual for Chris to show up at a gig bearing gifts: snow-globes with pictures of each of us (that he had taken) encased inside; homemade Christmas ornaments; and one of his most imaginative gifts was a Scrabble board on which he glued all of the tiles, like it was a completed game, and every word was from one of our song titles. All of these gifts and more have been proudly displayed in our studio for the last ten years. Chris loved words. He once gave me a beautifully written children’s book, Black Sky River. The book centers on a childhood memory of watching the annual bird migration and of the town’s attempt to kill off the birds because they were deemed a nuisance, too noisy, too messy. Between each page he had inserted small slips of paper, and on each piece of paper he had typed a line from Small Swift Birds: the song, the narrative and the images danced along, hand-in-hand as you turned the pages. He told me his favourite line from the book was, “I miss the mystery, the wondering of things without beginnings, without end.” I can’t remember if I ever had the chance or took the time to properly thank him for his gift and to tell him how truly beautiful and inspiring I thought it was. But the greatest gift that Chris gave to us was his attention to our music. He listened and it, in turn, inspired him to create and, if you’re a musician, you really can’t ask for a better gift than that. He bought a ticket for this week’s Toronto show; we will be thinking of him as we play. He will be missed.
Kevin got the bus moving last night but he didn’t exactly fix it. Throughout the night we made our way across Germany with only two operational gears, 45mph was our top speed, our scheduled six hour overnight drive turned into an eleven hour odyssey. We arrived in Turnhout at around 3:30pm, it was raining and already getting dark. From the little I saw of it, Turnhout looks like your typical Belgium town: neat, tidy and efficient with a healthy scattering of artefacts from its medieval history and plenty of looming reminders of its dark Catholic spine. I’ve always liked Belgium, there is mystery here, I think it is mystery stewed in death and blood, but it is mystery nonetheless.
The gig tonight was at a very nice modern theatre, a much needed respite from the insanity of the previous couple of days. It was a beautiful sounding stage and a very keen audience. We had a pretty good show, but I think we slowly lost steam as the night wore on. The double dose of Christiania and the Rolling Stone Weekender pretty much sapped the little energy that we had left. It turns out that Alan doesn’t have the Baltic Plague, but he does have strep-throat, so he is running on fumes and isn’t the bouncing energetic bundle of joy that is his norm. This has been a tough tour on us all, but especially on Jared and Tim, our crew. Road crews generally depend on a certain amount of cooperation and support from promoters and local crews to get the job done. It only takes a couple of disinterested promoters or a lazy local crew or two to make the life of a road crew miserable. Jared and Tim have had a couple of those on this run, along with all of the other pressures and stresses that come with being on the road (especially if that road takes you through Europe). They are both completely beat, but still maintain their sense of humour and still take pride in their work: they are the absolute best at what they do, we can’t thank them enough. Despite all of the drama, and the unbelievably bad weather, spirits have remained high throughout this tour. This has been a very tough, but strangely fun run. Europe never fails to entertain.
We thought we were through. The bus was loaded up and we only had a short fifty mile ride to the airport hotel in Brussels, nice and close to our flight home tomorrow. But…no, that wouldn’t be a fitting end to this adventure. The address that we had for the hotel was wrong as was the phone number. We drove around the airport in circles for a good forty-five minutes looking for this ghost hotel. Finally someone steered us in the right direction and we found it looming, like the Promised Land, attached to the terminal, but just like the Promised Land, we couldn’t quite reach it. As we drove up the airport road we were pulled over by the airport police, barely 100 yards from the hotel, apparently our bus, the piss-mobile, was too high to get underneath one of the overpasses. So we backed up and pulled out of the airport. In desperation Jared decided that he was going to run the half mile back to the hotel to try and get some help ferrying us and the gear to the hotel. About forty-five minutes later he arrived back at the bus in a car with a hotel employee. We followed the employee back to the hotel (but not before he stopped for gas) and he took us back on the same road from which we had just been turned away. A heated discussion took place in front of our 4 meter high bus, between Kevin and the hotel employee, with the both of them gesticulating wildly at a sign that read “maximum clearance 3.5 meters”. The argument was finally resolved, it was decided that the bus was shorter or the overpass was higher than posted and we finally arrived in our room at 2:30am, three and a half hours after we left the gig. And so it ends.
We fly home tomorrow, we have the Toronto show on Friday and then we begin our cold turkey attempt at staying off of the road for a year. I think deep down we know that we won’t succeed (we already have a couple of NYC one-offs scheduled), but the idea of getting at least some extended time off the road definitely has some appeal. We have finished Demons, it’s mixed, mastered and ready to go. There will be more news on the release plans in the next couple of weeks and there will be more blogs posted about the making of the album as well. And then we’ll start work on Volume 3, Sing In My Meadow…more news about its content is imminent. We’ll see some of you at the Toronto show…make sure to stay in touch through the website. Keep safe.
From the sublime, to the surreal, to the ridiculously surreal: this seems to be the arc of this week’s narrative. We woke up in the parking lot of a low budget resort-hotel on the shores of the Baltic Sea. I haven’t had a chance to do any Googling but this place had a distinct Eastern Bloc feel about it, very bare bones and hard edged. But I think we are too close to Hamburg for this area to have been in the East so perhaps this is just the way the German hoi polloi enjoy their vacation time. Today was Day 2 of The Rolling Stone Weekender Festival. A two day event that brings dozens of bands to this odd little enclave and spreads them over three stages; one main stage under a huge temporary tent, a second stage in a low ceilinged convention room inside the shopping complex that is part of the resort and a third stage (which is where we played) inside an odd little room, next to the mini-putt. The promoter made all of the right sounds in apologising for putting us on the smallest stage, saying that we were so late to confirm the gig that ours was the last slot available. Not only were we scheduled for one of the smallest stages that we have ever played, but we also had the much coveted 12:30am slot. So when I woke up in the parking lot at 8:30am this morning, I only had sixteen hours to go before show time. It was a tedious day, but not a bad place to be marooned. We had a couple of rooms in the hotel that we used, so we could escape our multi-wheeled urinal; there was a beach and a boardwalk to stroll along if you could handle the bone chilling winds peeling off of the Baltic; there was this odd little retail mall with a bakery, restaurant, pub and vendors in stalls selling vinyl and other indie-rock wares; there was a wireless internet room in which the network was down all day; a cafeteria which served up some very good food and, of course, starting at 5:30pm there was live music. I saw the Black Keys; John Hiatt; Tindersticks; Blittzen Trapper and an assortment of other bands that I had never heard of and will probably never hear from again.
The biggest drama of the day was supplied by Al who has contracted the Baltic Plague and was bedridden all day with a very high fever. It was touch and go, right up until gig time, whether he would be able to perform. The last thing that we wanted to do after a day of waiting around was to do an acoustic set, we needed to get some ya-ya’s out. But he rallied right before show time and did the show semi-comatose, sitting in chair. We had a jam-packed little venue to play to and they seemed to enjoy the set. On stage it was a little difficult from a sound perspective, but we did our best. We were the last band to finish playing at the Festival so when it came to load out the gear, most of the local crew had disappeared and the key to the small cargo truck that had carried the gear to the venue was nowhere to be found. It was a long load-out for Tim and Jared. When we finally got rolling at around 3am, we pulled out of the parking lot, drove for about 100 meters, there was a loud crunching noise down below, the bus rolled to stop and the interior of the bus went completely dark. We all simultaneously broke out into howls of laughter: there just wasn’t anything else one could do. The final turn of the screw was that all of the gear had to be loaded out of the bus (it is travelling in the bus bays), because Kevin had to get to the transmission which was accessed through a panel in the bottom of the cargo bay. Fortunately he was able to fix the problem, and once the gear was re-loaded, off we went on our little “Carry On Touring” adventure.
I’ve always felt that Copenhagen had a slightly seamy, dark vibe to it. There is an underbelly that isn’t always apparent to the tourists gawking at the Little Mermaid or strolling through the Tivoli Gardens. Today we spent our day deep within its bowels, in Christiania: a very surreal day.
Christiania is a community that grew up around an abandoned army base, a few minutes walking distance from the center of Copenhagen. When the army moved out in the 1970’s the squatters and self-labelled anarchists moved in. It’s gone through many changes over the past few decades and the community has fallen in and out of favour with the local governments and the “straight” citizenry, but today it is a thriving community (it seems to be run much like a housing co-op) with its own restaurants and schools and hardware store and all the mod-cons that your average anarchist comes to crave as he or she grows older. It also has its very own thriving hashish market…and this is where the sleazy underbelly begins to expose itself. When I say “hashish market” I don’t mean that there are a bunch of guys standing around with their hands in their pockets whispering surreptitiously to passersby. This is a full blown market with stalls set up so that the consumer can see the various bricks of hashish for sale, as well as jars of various strains of marijuana and all of the necessary accoutrements for your smoking pleasure. The market has a heavy atmosphere with lots of tough young punks looking on with lots of ill tempered dogs in hand. Large signs everywhere scream of a “no photography” policy. There are oil drum fires every dozen feet or so, so that the goods can be quickly disposed of when the police make one of their fairly regular raids on the compound. We were told by the locals that this area is run by the Hells Angels and it certainly has that feel to it. It seems that drugs have always been the Achilles heel for this community. Back in the late 70’s when the police would pick up a junkie they would simply dump him or her in Christiania because the heroin problem was so rampant in the community that they figured it was easiest to corral them all in one location. Today they have been able to establish a “THC only” policy within the community, but it’s the market that gives this place a bit of a freak show vibe. The general aesthetic is also a bit Mad Max-ish. It kind of has that post-apocalyptic vibe with lots of open fires, strung lights, large iron works, odd-ish sculptures created from found materials, graffiti on every possible surface and lots of facial hair and dreadlocks.
We played in one of the communities’ venues, a low ceiling, narrow, pit of a club. The promoter never showed up and there was a general who-gives-a-fuck vibe to the day. Despite that, the people who worked at the venue were very nice and as helpful as they could be and the show was sold-out. It was a standing gig, with people crammed up against our foot high stage. So we tried to crank it up a bit and blow through the bodies. We had fun and I think most of the audience did too.
Pete, Jared, Tim and I fuelled ourselves for our long day of travel with a classic English breakfast. Greasy eggs, beans, fried mushrooms, wilted buttered toast, limp bacon and a rasher (kind of a fried potato cake). All that was missing was the blood pudding. A disgusting way to start the day, but necessary for your unapologetic English pub crawler. The bus left directly after the gig last night with all of our gear and excess baggage. Kevin was heading for the coast to catch a 5am ferry which would take him 14 hours across the North Sea to Norway and then another five hour drive thru Norway to Stockholm. The idea was that the bus would get to the gig on Thursday just in time for load-in at 3pm. Knowing the vagaries of European travel we were wondering when we would actually see our equipment again. While Kevin was bobbing away on the North Sea, we all piled into a cattle car disguised as an SAS jetliner and flew to Stockholm. We arrived, around 9pm, a little later than projected, because of snow (fuck, it’s back). After checking in to our rock-n-roll hotel (“check in and rock out”), we all headed out to a steakhouse (including our token vegetarian, Tim) to drown our pain in good old fashion blood. A few thousand Kroner later we retired to our rooms to enjoy the rest of our “day off”.
This is a great city. I have always loved it and whenever I return (which is way too infrequent) I fall in love with it all over again. It is urbane and sophisticated and very beautiful…just like its citizens. Yes, I have Swedish envy. Yah, I know they pay a lot of taxes, but man they have a great society, funny how that works. After tossing and turning all night, trying to digest the lump of flesh in my belly, I spent the day recovering by taking a long brisk walk in the cold Swedish air. I walked the perimeter, explored the old city, relaxed in a couple of cafe’s and explored a phenomenal used instrument store with some beautiful old guitars, I didn’t even bother to look at any prices and it wasn’t raining, it was a good day. As semi-expected the bus didn’t show up until close to 6pm. So we repeated our Manchester drill and did the setup and soundcheck in 90 minutes…ate some Swedish meatballs (no shit, and they were tasty)…and then we were on stage. After three nights of performing in reverb chambers, we found ourselves in a small theatre on a completely dry stage. It was very disconcerting. I felt that we were a little off tonight. It wasn’t a terrible night and there were many good moments, but I felt like we never picked up steam. After the show we climbed back in to our disgustingly putrid smelling bus. The heater was fixed in London and now all of the smells have taken on distinct personalities and have completely taken over the bus…we are the intruders. Together we head to Copenhagen.
The day started miserably, but ended magnificently. There is no heat on this bus, it smells like mould and piss, the bunks are the size of “cozy coffins” and the lounge is just about tall enough for a Hobbit. It’s a miserable vehicle. We hit stop-and-go rush hour traffic outside of London at about 6am and that is what we did for two hours, stopped and go’ed. Not the best for sleeping. When we finally got to where we were supposed to be, a parking lot near the gig, the bus got stuck in the narrow entrance and our driver, Kevin, had to attempt to free himself but raising and lowering the suspension, which inside of our coffins, sounded a lot like one would imagine it sounded like in the hull of the Titanic as it ran up against the iceberg. Definitely not the best for sleeping. Abandoning ship seemed to be the best alternative but it was 8am, cold and pouring rain. As I said, the day started miserably.
Fortunately, Jared, our tour manager, is resourceful and responsible beyond his years and spent the next three hours in the rain securing a spot for the bus right next to the Stage door entrance, which made getting in and out of the venue and loading the equipment a lot easier in the continuing rain showers. I abandoned ship at one point to do an interview at the BBC (which was strike free today) and the rest of the Hobbits, alternately, wandered around and tried to catch up on their sleep. The gig tonight was at Union Chapel which is exactly that, a chapel. It’s a beautiful, but deteriorating old building, but it has a certain charm and a history of live music. Backstage it smells an awful lot like the bus and is perhaps a few degrees colder. I know now why all of those Kings and Queens were such miserable cusses: living in those castles and palaces they were forever chilled and no doubt they had the same sewage issues that seem to plague modern day London. In any case the whole day evaporated once we stepped on-stage. It was a sold out show, with a very enthused and excited audience and we played a very good set. One can put up with a lot discomfort and inconvenience if at the end of it all you get the type of lift and buzz that this type of night delivers. As I said, it ended magnificently.
We drove through the night across the moors, encountering hellhounds, werewolves, the ghost of Robert Bruce, snow and gale force winds. It was the winds that stopped us for a couple of hours. These double-deckers are a little susceptible to high winds. When it felt like we were being pushed over on to two wheels we knew it was time to give it a rest, as they say. We woke up outside of the venue, the Gorton Monastery, located somewhere on the outskirts of Manchester, which in turn is located somewhere on the outskirts of somewhere else that you’d rather be….if you know what I mean? A thick, impenetrable, dirty grey sky allowed only a rumour of sunlight, the rain and the wind blew across the housing estates that surrounded us and on through the bus. A freakin’ miserable day. The music of hometown heroes, Joy Division, seemed positively cheery when put up against this environment.
The Monastery was built in the late 19th century by the Franciscans and was at one time a hub for the surrounding community. But over the course of a hundred years the community evolved (or devolved) and the Franciscan Brothers disappeared and the building fell into disrepair and was eventually abandoned, pillaged and vandalised. Over the past decade there has been a concerted effort to bring it back. Apparently we are a part of that effort in that we are the first rock band to perform in the building (it even says so on their Wikipedia entry). It seems like a good idea on paper, but buildings like this weren’t designed for bass guitar and a kick drum. A 60 foot high vaulted ceiling with stone pillars and stone floors are not a soundman’s friend. On top of all this the room had been double booked (there was a Coroner’s Inquest going on all day) so we weren’t able to get access to the venue until 5:30 which gave us 90 minutes to set up and tame the sound demons. Despite all this, we had a decent night. It was difficult on stage but as the night progressed we adapted and settled in. I’m not sure what it sounded like out front but Jared said that he had quite a few people come up to him and compliment him on the sound and one fellow who came up to him and said that it sounded “simply appalling” (Jared, being a native of Boston, wasn’t sure whether that was better or worse than somebody coming up and saying that it “sucked”). In any case playing Me and the Devil and then Good Friday (“two thousand years ago/Jesus was left there hanging”) with Margo standing directly underneath an enormous flown crucifix was worth all the effort.