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Poor Young Things (Won’t) Let It Sleep Part 2

I sat down with the band to get their insights on moving to the city from Thunder Bay, working their way into the Toronto music scene and finally recording an EP I have been looking forward to owning since I first heard them play a year ago.

If you read my review of Let It Sleep yesterday, you already know just how much I love Poor Young Things new EP.

I sat down with the band over cheap drinks at Java House to get their insights on moving to the city from Thunder Bay, working their way into the Toronto music scene and finally recording an EP I have been looking forward to owning since I first heard them play a year ago.

I met up with them on what must have been the first cold day in Toronto all winter, and asked them about Let It Sleep before too much liquor took us off track and into topics like Diners Drive Ins and Dives, their house getting torn down and a failed attempt at a word association game.

I immediately had to ask about the difference between the music scene in their hometown compared to Toronto, a favorite question of mine for musicians not originating from the big smoke.

“Heavy metal is really big there,” Matt noted. “Compared to Toronto it’s non existent, even though Thunder Bay might do better than a lot of cities in Canada, it’s not comparable to Toronto. Toronto is the hub,” drummer Konrad Commisso continued. “You just need to be seen, you can’t really be seen in Thunder Bay.”

Guitarist Dave Grant pointed out the challenge of moving to a new city, after establishing a base back home. “Thunder Bay’s always been really good to us, fanbase wise. When we came to Toronto we lost all that, since we didn’t have many friends or family down here, so we actually started having a real following of people who aren’t your buddies, they’re your fans – though they turn into your buddies after a while.”

At one point, Poor Young Things were considering uprooting to Vancouver instead of Toronto, though no one in the band really seemed sure why they wanted to do that. “Growing up in Thunder Bay you’re always kind of taught that you have to hate Toronto,” noted Matt. Luckily, a friend intervened. “We talked to one of our buddies Jeff Heisholt, and he said ‘I think that’d be a mistake if you moved out there, you should come down to Toronto, that’s where everybody is, and I can help you guys a lot more than you will get out West'” Dave said. “To be honest, the people we’ve met down here have been some of the nicest people we’ve ever met and we’ve been all across Canada.”

Speaking of Jeff, Dave pointed out how vital he was in getting them on Bumstead’s radar. “Jeff produced the first demos, he brought them to Bumstead. They liked it, they came out to a few shows and we built a relationship from there,” he continued.

Having loved all of their material over the past year, I had to ask why they chose to start with an EP rather than an LP. “I think we could have done a full album but it probably wouldn’t have been as strong as we would have liked it to be, and now by the time we get around to writing a full album, we’re gonna have a lot more to choose from,” noted Matt. “We chose the six songs we had the tightest and most ready to go,” Konrad continued.

On the darker themes that weaved into the release, Konrad noted, “We never really start with any intent like ‘Oh this EP’s gonna be dark.’ I guess it just comes out that way.”

“The music’s always pretty driving, not necessarily dark, but the lyrics are. I always thought that was a good juxtaposition, writing wise, and,” Matt laughs “we’re just so sad all the time. It’s so cold in our house, and we’re getting kicked out.”

I ask him the question every songwriter hates, curious if the lyrics come from personal experiences or made up stories. “The Low Road is about… it’s tough talking about lyrics because you don’t want to say what it’s exactly about because it takes some of the fun out of it. The Low Road would be a relationship song. Hearts and Minds – I was just trying to write a song like Teenage Kicks, pretty much. Those guys are awesome.” Our mutual love for Teenage Kicks came up many times during the interview.

“The Americanist kinda worked on an Occupy Wall Street level, like a rising up of the youth. Blame It On The Good Times is about far too many Rolling Rock nights. I guess we do have kind of a dark sense of humour. Sometimes it’s stories, sometimes it’s real. I don’t think any of us really has it that bad, we were so lucky it’s like insane. We got signed to Bumstead a year after we moved to Toronto, I’ve got nothing to be sad about.”

Their songwriting process is fairly standard, with Matt taking on most of the writing duties, but he notes the importance of working on a song with bassist Scott Burke, “I usually give my lyrics to Scott, for quality control.”

“It’s kind of odd colaborating with Matt. It seems we come up with our best stuff when we’re not in the same room working on a song together. Sometimes I’ll come with a half written song and idea or vica versa. We’ve tried writing something at the same time but we usually hit a road block. It works best if we both know the direction of the song, split up and each write our own thing. Then we come together and agree on what works best and bounce ideas around,” Scott said.

When I brought up shifting away from their previous incarnation, Konrad noted, “We’ve been a band for five years, but a lot of that has just been learning your instrument in the garage. In Thunder Bay there’s not much to do except play hockey, drink and maybe pick up an instrument and make a band. A lot of that five years of being Money Honey wasn’t us at our most professional.” Matt added, “Money Honey also shifted too, we started with heavier rock and roll, and then turned into that kinda country twang.”

When asked about abandoning their Money Honey EP songs, they noted the typical growing pains every band goes through. “I don’t think any band who sits back and listens to the very first thing they ever recorded is like ‘Oh that’s gold.’ It’s like you’re looking at your school photos coming up,” Konrad continued.

I regularly bring up how much I miss “Heavy Sound” in their set whenever I hang out with them, and this time was no different, asking if they had any plans to rerecord it under the new name. “We could just write a better slow song,” noted Matt. Konrad pointed out how their set is always changing, “It’s hard to know what kind of catalog you’re gonna keep cause you’re always striving to make the best 40 minute set that anyone can see in the big city, the best songs that display what your band embodies to people. You’re always kinda crafting that, it’s like pottery spinning around. You’re wearing that down to get to what you feel best describes you as a band.”

On working with Jon Drew, they all had nothing but kind words. “Jon is a very interesting guy, really laid back and easy to work with. You don’t really feel any pressure when you’re recording, which is awesome because all eyes are on you, and it’s easy to psych yourself out. The ideas he had were really good, he would make minor adjustments that would really take the song to high levels of awesomeness,” noted guitarist Michael Kondakow.

Since they managed to land Jon Drew on their first release, I asked who else they would love to work with. Dave went big, pointing to Rolling Stones producer Jack Douglas. Mike chose Stephen Jenkins, noting “I just love Third Eye Blind and I think it would be unreal to work with someone who has written so many good songs.” At the top of Scott’s list: “Gus Van Go. He’s made some great albums, like The Stills and Hollerado, and I think we would be on the same page musically.”

On their best moments so far in the city: “First meeting with Bumstead, getting offered the record deal. Calling my parents and telling them I just got offered a record deal was definitely the best. The signing was pretty great too,” notes Dave. “My best moments have probably been all the parties we’ve had and all the people we’ve met,” said Matt. They all noted live music as a big one, Konrad highlighting seeing Arkells play The Ballroom at the MuchMusic Video Awards after party.

To close things up I tied it back to the theme of the EP, asking if there is anything that could ever break them up. “I think we’d be lost without each other,” Dave said. I am inclined to agree.

If you are in Toronto tonight, you should definitely come to their release show at the Horseshoe Tavern, doors at 9pm, 7$. Buy the EP when you get there, it’s well worth it. 

 

Lisa

Poor Young Things (Won’t) Let It Sleep Part 1

Poor Young Things long awaited debut EP Let It Sleep was released through Bumstead Records last month.  My borderline obsessive love for their music is well documented -

Poor Young Things long awaited debut EP Let It Sleep was released through Bumstead Records last month.

My borderline obsessive love for their music is well documented – I think I’ve only missed one of their many many Toronto shows since my friend first invited me to see them play at the Horseshoe last February, so it should be no surprise that it tops my list of favorite EPs ever.

They have about 12 songs they regularly play at shows, so when I saw the track list for Let It Sleep I was excited to see their 6 best songs made the cut.

It opens with their newest song  “The Low Road”, which, upon hearing the chorus “How long will we pay for this, we’re on the town making memories but we still got concrete stuck in our teeth.. one more step and I’m gone” immediately took me somewhere unexpected from my favorite Thunder Bay imports.

I’ll admit I listen to PYT because their songs make me incredibly happy. It’s not the kind of stuff I play to to get reflective or be taken to some other world. I love them so much because there is something joyous about their sound that makes me grateful to be experiencing whatever good things are currently happening in my life – but “The Low Road” proves they have the ability to seamlessly do both light and dark. Those darker themes reoccur throughout the EP, as each song seems strategically placed to take you up and down from those low places to the brighter ones I originally loved them for – seamlessly representing the roller coaster they’ve been on since moving to the city. I am speaking lyrically though, to be clear. Melodically they never fall into somber notes, so you will feel good every time you hear their songs.

“The Low Road” may be about a relationship on the rocks, but that line in the chorus highly connects to the driving theme behind Let It Sleep, which would appear to be that they have been through a lot together as a band over the past 5+ years and they won’t give up. I’d say getting signed to Bumstead and recording with Jon Drew after less than a year in the city probably signified the beginning of their hard work paying off, and they’ve definitely earned it.

The next track, “Blame It On The Good Times”, is my very biased favorite, and not just because songwriter Matt Fratpietro used “turn the record over” in the lyrics (which almost made me spit my drink across the table the first time I heard them play it last April during their Supermarket residency). This song is exactly what I mean when I say their music is joyful. I don’t think it is possible to listen to it and be anything but euphoric. My favorite memories of 2011 include every time I heard “Blame It On The Good Times” live in some little dive bar. It is that kind of song and the perfect choice for their first single.

Listen to that guitar line, goddamn, incredible.

“Hearts and Minds” comes next, swinging us away from the good times again to explore the less than fun parts of life. “I know you wanna be me, don’t aim so low, you’ll hurt yourself” is definitely the darkest lyric they’ve ever written – it’s also my favorite because of how much it stands out. I am immediately taken to so many situations I’ve witnessed/experienced when hearing that line. When I first heard it live I was shocked by it, as this was their first track that seemed to be heading in this new direction, but they pulled it off seamlessly. I was blown away. I should also note the fantastic job producer Jon Drew did with it, making it a rare track I think I actually prefer on the album to live, because of the gorgeous tape echo like distortion on a small section of the vocals.

“Reckless Young” is another favorite that I watched them literally develop and transform during their residency at Supermarket, so I’ve been fully in love with this one for a long time now. At its heart it is a live song meant for singing along and audience participation, so it’s hard to capture that unique unpolished sound I strongly associate with it, without employing a Phil Spector wall of sound recording process- but yet it still works. When I want to dance around and sing like a fool in my apartment, this is the song I put on. It’s also the perfect road song, as there is nothing better than screaming “these days are dangerous fun” to liven up a boring drive.

‘The Americanist” is the slowest track on the EP, which means for a long time it was my favorite song, because Poor Young Things rarely write down-tempo tunes. I find this unfortunate because Matt’s voice has that Joe Cocker grit to it that was designed for slow burners. Few bands have frontmen good enough to sing at that level, and I wish they would take advantage of it more. (Their ultimate slow song “Heavy Sound,” recorded back when they called themselves Money Honey, is still my favorite thing they’ve ever recorded for this exact reason.)

The perfectly placed “Let It Sleep” finishes off the record on an upbeat note, taking any hesitation or doubts they’ve had or others have had in them and throwing it out the window. “Get that shit out of your head, watch the bodies hit the floor while you’re waiting around patiently” basically says it all. Poor Young Things may actually be poor – having to live together in a house up in no man’s land (North York) in order to afford to live in the GTA, they may have to eat Mr. Noodles more than any human ever should – but they will not quit, they are here to stay and are happy to wait for their turn while lesser bands fall apart at the seams.

No, they are not going anywhere, except on tour with The Trews, another hard earned achievement.

 Come back tomorrow to read Part 2, my interview with the band.

If you are in Toronto tomorrow night, there is only one place you should be, and that is at their release show at the Horseshoe Tavern. I will be there front and center, as I have been at their shows for the past twelve months, and I hope to see all of you there. 

 

Lisa

The Sweet Mack at The Bovine

 

A few weeks back I attended a show at The Bovine that I had been looking forward to for months. Three of the best upcoming bands I’ve came across this year came together to play a show, which meant for once I could see a local show that only included bands I enjoy – no escaping to the patio necessary. Having already reviewed Attagirl – the opening band, and Poor Young Things – the headliners, I took this opportunity to highlight the second act, The Sweet Mack, or The Sweet Rack, as some like to call them.

I had seen them a couple times previously, briefly at The Horseshoe for a super early set that I missed most of, and a second time at The Supermarket where they played a fantastic headlining set that had a large group of girls going crazy on the dance floor – and their album The First Cut had been in rotation on my mp3 player for a while – so I knew I was in for a great night of pop rock melodies and booty shaking.

They began their set with the track that opens The First Cut, a tune that I love which immediately set the mood for their performance – “Twisted”. It is a song that gets you dancing even when you don’t feel like it as there really is no other choice, especially when hearing it live.

The sweet pop tune “Over Achiever” came next, and singer Mattie Leon hilariously pointed out that the song is about an unattractive guy getting with a hot girl – something that happens all too often in the music industry. The call and response “Ohh baby” vocals in the tune make it a must play at live shows, and it has some of the funkiest guitar melodies around.

Another high energy favorite followed with “Shades of Grey” and the crowd seemed to start to loosen up at this point. This was a bit of a sausage fest show (which seems to be the case at every Bovine show I’ve been to, just the nature of that place possibly) which meant there wasn’t as much dancing as they are probably used to getting back from the crowd – and you could tell the lack of audience energy set them off their game just a little bit.

Next they pulled out a couple new tunes with “Gloria” and “Ivory Coast” that have me excited for their upcoming album, and then it was time for my favorite track with “Landslide”. Watch them perform it on Balcony TV if you don’t already know its greatness:

“919” followed, and this song always seems to inspire a strong reaction with its singalong harmonies, pulsing drums and 70s funk sound. This was the point where the crowd really got into it, and any hangups about looking like a dorky white boy dancing were put aside because of the hypnotic guitars and innuendo filled lyrics. “You shake so hard I could die” is right.

Pulling out a cover is standard for local shows and they made a great choice with “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” as their second last song. If you can get me to live in the moment and not automatically picture that scene in one of my favorite films of all time The Big Chill – that means you’ve successfully covered a hard to cover song – and they most definitely pulled it off. A more CCR than Marvin Gaye take on the track, everyone was having a blast singing along and it was an easy high point of the show.

They ended the night beautifully with “Stray”, a rare song in their catalog that leans more rock than pop. The badass guitar tune about a guy trying to convince his girl he didn’t cheat gave the crowd a chance to wipe off some of the sweat they had built up through the set.  This slow burner is the kind of song that I could see in a movie, maybe because it paints such a vivid picture in my head to the point where I get lost in the did he/didn’t he aspect of the story. The sex in the melody always leads me to believe he did. That guitar line is far from innocent.

Although that was the end of their set, they weren’t quite done yet – joining Poor Young Things on stage to close the night out with an energetic cover of the Sam Roberts song “Detroit ’67” that apparently suffered from an out of tune guitar. They all looked to be having such a great time on stage that any problems with the cover didn’t register to my ears, since I was having far too much fun watching them play it. It was the perfect way to close a great night of live music and I’m looking forward to them teaming up again to play a show on December 8th at The Dakota Tavern.

When all is said and done, The Sweet Mack make upbeat dancey pop rock songs that lose some of their life live if the crowd lacks ladies willing to shake it -which happened to be the case this night – but the songs remained killer anyhow and I always know I am going to leave in a good mood anytime I see them play. If you have yet to hear The First Cut or see them live, you should probably get on that as soon as you can.

Lisa

The Sheepdogs at Toronto Festival of Beer

As most Canadian music fans had hoped and anyone at Bonnaroo for their showdown could have easily predicted, The Sheepdogs won the Rolling Stone magazine cover contest.

Toronto Beer Fest marks the third time I’ve seen them in three months. In June I drove down to Nashville for Bonnaroo to support them, in July I stood in a line outside The Bovine for two hours to see them play the EdgeFest after party, and Sunday they played BeerFest.

It is interesting to see how things have changed for them post cover. That is to say, not much has changed about them – they still look and sound like they just walked out of 1973 – but they are no longer the guys I first met at a local show, who could walk into a room full of music fans and have no one know who they are. They are in the midst of rapid, well deserved fame that they worked hard for after touring for years and putting out three full albums independently.

I read an article recently that I expect to find more of in the coming weeks, about how they do not live up to the hype. I feel the need to address this because there is a lot of what might come across as jealousy or bitterness about a band like them making it big internationally from some within the Canadian music scene.

The Sheepdogs won because they are exactly what Rolling Stone was searching for and in desperate need of. If you were following their number of Facebook likes and Twitter shares during the voting, you would see they came nowhere near the numbers their competition was pulling in, but that didn’t matter for a few reasons 1) they had almost all of Canada on their side 2) they look like everything Rolling Stone represented when people still gave a shit about Rolling Stone and 3) the whole vote for beards campaign was a perfect example of good marketing. Even if they didn’t pull the most votes, they were obviously going to win (that’s not to say they didn’t, as far as I know they did!).

A lot of bands that are still grinding away playing music around Canada dreaming of making it internationally may not want The Sheepdogs representing the Canadian music scene to the rest of the world because they are such a shameless throwback. If you do not love classic rock you likely wont be a Sheepdogs fan. That is a fact. They are 100% classic southern rock and they go all the way with it, from the long shaggy hair to the bandanas and the bell bottoms. Some may call that a gimmick, and as someone who generally hates gimmicks in music I understand that frustration, but it is who they have been since day one and it is who they are on and off stage, so it feels genuine. This is the kind of music they love so this is the kind of music they create, and they do it well. Although the sound may be nostalgic they are not ripping off the bands they remind you of, the songs are original and catchy and everything a classic rock throwback should be. There are a million bands capturing the sound that is happening now, so I enjoy that The Sheepdogs are able to bring some of the past into the future without being a cheesy cover band.

The set at BeerFest was incredible, easily the best I’ve seen from them. The joy that they made the cover was palpable throughout the entire audience. People held up their copy of Rolling Stone proudly during the performance, hoping to get it signed.

“We’re turning this into Toronto BeardFest” said lead singer Ewan Currie.

Best of all was when the rain started to pour down and no one left. It actually made the experience that much more exciting and communal. All these people huddled together to hear this band, dripping wet, filled with pride singing along to the tunes. It is the kind of experience that has to make the band feel incredible, even moreso than having the entire audience at Bonnaroo cheering for them when their competition was onstage. Those moments of pure happiness and pride for music happen so rarely, and I think everyone in the Canadian music scene needs to be proud that hardworking talented musicians will now be able to make a living doing what they do best.

There was a perfect moment towards the end of the set where they played the single that gave them the cover, “I Don’t Know”, and like clockwork it stopped raining and the sun came out again.

To say they were the headliners of the day would be an understatement. The Trews were billed as the headliner before The Sheepdogs won the cover, and when they took the stage after The Sheepdogs they joked about it saying “We were once on the cover of Pulse Magazine” (a small Niagara region publication).

I took a whole bunch of pictures during the day that you can see below, featuring The Sheepdogs, Poor Young Things, The Trews, beer, food and other random fun. It was a great day and I have to thank TO Beer Festival’s social media team for being so kind to my friends and I. It is a very well organized festival, and the stream of free food and drinks in the media lounge made the experience that much more awesome. I ate as much as I drank – meatball sliders, ice cream, peameal bacon sandwiches, fried hot dogs, cheese burgers, veggie burgers, mac and cheese, brownies, grilled cheese – we tried it all. Also, I came out of BeerFest with a beer I will drink anytime, any day – Fruli Strawberry beer is incredible.

Start from the bottom last photo and hit the previous button to see them in order.

Lisa

Attagirl at The Hideout

Thursday night I went to The Hideout to check out a band very new to the Toronto scene, Attagirl. I caught them once before at Clinton’s last month, rounding out the same line up they played with for this show (Poor Young Things and Salty Radio).

When I first heard them at Clinton’s having no idea who they were, I was impressed. Their name bothered me a bit, as ‘attagirl’ always struck me as that uncomfortable phrase creepy uncles say to little girls, but I can easily get past a name if the music is good, and it is. Real good. No surprise considering it includes former members of the now defunct Stop Drop, which went on to produce another great band – Topanga.

They unfortunately got the short end of the stick again, playing last just as they did at Clinton’s despite it being another show Salty Radio put on, billing themselves as the headlining act. Pro tip: headliners go last, ALWAYS, because it is a douche move to ask a new band to play with you when your whole audience leaves after you play. I overheard one of the SR guys getting mad at the Attagirl dudes for not playing until 2am, as apparently that was the deal SR worked up with the bar in order to get paid a certain amount that night. FYI Salts, new bands don’t have 200 songs to play.

Hopefully next time Salty will realize it’s their job to play til 2am, and it’s a joke to ask that of a band you left without an audience to play to. I’d advise other bands to avoid playing with Salty Radio at all costs unless you want to be associated with an act that is going to have a hard time getting any respect in the Toronto music scene. (Not just because of their shady dealings with other bands, but because the music is legitimately bad – lacks melody and they can’t sing).

Attagirl didn’t hit the stage until almost 1am and on a weeknight when you are a new band, that is bullshit. But there was a good group of us that waited out the cringe worthy Salty set for them to play, and despite the unbearable heat at The Hideout (apparently the A/C was busted, every band was noticeably dripping sweat all over the stage)  they put on a good show.

The simple line up of a guitarist (Dan Cohen), bassist (Aaron Zack) and drummer (Eddy Kingsley) gives them a strong lo-fi sort of Pavement-y sound that I love. They only have three songs recorded right now (which you should listen to on their link above), but I was singing along to all of them when they came up as they’ve been on repeat since first watching them play. “Yossarian” is a perfect singalong tune that made for a great start to the show, and the catchy love song “Sleep A Little” was just as fantastic. But the highlight of the night for me was definitely hearing them play my favorite track, the melodic break up tune “Something To Believe In”.

The thing I might love most about this band is that they have a drummer who sings lead on some of the songs. If you know me you probably know of my love for Sloan’s Andrew Scott, the first singing drummer I ever witnessed (watching MuchMusic play “500 Up” as a 7 year old). It always seems like such an impossible thing to hit the drums while singing without having it sound messed up, so seeing Attagirl achieve this so spectacularly automatically put them on my good list.

They played a bunch of songs to a small crowd that was definitely into it, in rank heat, dripping of sweat under crazy lights, and still managed to sound great. It was so hot and loud that Eddy’s glass of water literally exploded next to him. In a less than ideal situation they pulled off a memorable set, and their group dynamic seems to have improved considerably since the first time I saw them. They all seem more comfortable together and comfortable on stage. I’m looking forward to hearing more from Attagirl, and have no doubt they will make a mark in Toronto as they develop their sound further.

Lisa