An Interview with Boys Who Say No - February 24, 2012
By Jamie Bertolini
In between sound checks, dinner, and a concert at Steam Whistle Brewery on February 24, I was able to sit down and chat with Luke Corriea Damude, Mike Lobel, Antonio Naranjo and Frank Cox-O’Connell of Boys Who Say No. This incredibly fun group of guys proved they’re just as entertaining in person as they are in their music.
Jamie: What got you into writing and producing Indie music?
Luke: I don’t know; we just all liked it. We all had been listening to rock music along the way, whatever kind of incarnation that might be. I think Indie is kind of a label that, because it’s a current thing, that’s what it’s called now. Like alternative in the 90s or rock and roll in the 60s.
Mike: Yeah, it’s just a new way of describing a new twist on a classic genre.
Frank: It’s the kind of music we listen to. We’re really big fans of the Indie music scene, the indie rock scene in Toronto. We’re really fans of hanging out at bars and watching rock shows and so I think that we started making music that was very much about that concert experience. Like that experience of being at, you know, Lee’s Palace, Sneaky Dee’s, or Rancho Relaxo in Toronto. That’s really where it came from for us, watching music and wanting to play the stuff. We’re fans. We’re big fans!
Jamie: What was it like recording your first full length CD, Contingencies?
Mike: It was exciting because we think a lot of the material is new but there were some old songs that I feel we wanted to lay to rest, so to speak, in an album and further ourselves in that process.
Luke: We’re on the tip for a lot of it. We produced and wrote and even tried to do a lot of the mixing ourselves before we started working with Dave. So it was really an amazing experience, a really educational experience, but also, like [Mike] said, it was maddening. I think we were too close to the process to have enough perspective and that’s why we brought somebody like Dave, who filled in to actually mix it and, at the end of the day, givw an outside hand. I can’t wait to do it again. It was great. We took over my parents’ cottage and we were up there making the music, and it just really felt special, like we were outsiders from reality for about a month. So it was really cool.
Jamie: So, you recorded it at a cottage?
Mike: We brought a studio to the country.
Antonio: Yeah we turned the cottage into a recording studio.
Luke: We had a lot of really good equipment, but yeah the venue was at the cottage.
Antonio: It wasn’t your traditional way to record a record.
Mike: It was also not your traditional way to behave at a cottage, because there was very little rest and relaxation. So it was very non-traditional in both senses of being at a cottage.
Frank: It was a very non-traditional cottage experience.
Mike: Yeah, we made a record at that cottage.
Antonio: We went crazy at that cottage!
Jamie: What are your favourite songs from your new CD?
Luke: That’s like...they’re all your siblings, or your children, or your cousins, and you can’t really choose your favourite.
Frank: Okay, if there was a fire and you can only save one song?
Mike: I find my favourite song changes, week to week or day to day.
Luke: It also depends: what song we like to play or what song we like to hear? I really like “Atonement” as a song but then I love playing “56K” live, so it really depends on the context or if you want to dance or cry or...
Frank: I was really excited with the song “Working Week,” just because it was a bit of an older song. Hearing it at the end of the recording process, I was super, super excited to hear the way it sounds on the record. Now I think it really got a new vice, even though maybe it didn’t – in terms of the nature of the song – change that much, but that’s one song I really get a kick out of listening to the way that it’s mixed.
Antonio: I really love “Punching Underwater” because it’s something we’ve never played on a live set and it’s so different and such a contrast to the rest of the record. It’s like, you take a breath, it breaks up the record really nicely and I think it’s just something that’s got this vibe that I think is different than what we play live and different from most of the record. But it fits so nicely in the middle.
Mike: I agree with you. I like that song particularly because I grew up listening to records where there was a lot of noise and chaos and it was big and rumpus, but then there were these gentle moments in between that allowed you to feel a little bit something...
Antonio: …Like a child.
Jamie: My favourite song, personally, is “56K”. Can you tell me a little about the song?
Luke: Yeah, it’s definitely one of the older songs that we have. It’s probably the oldest song that we put on this record, or one of the two oldest songs we’ve put on this record. We’ve been playing it for a while and it really stems directly out of our teen-hood in high school and stuff like that. We had a teacher named Nick Morgan who we all really looked up to, and he would make us mix tapes and we would e-mail with him, and the bandwidth was 56K. So there’s a lot about that energy.
Mike: Those were the days that you couldn’t get an internet connection.
Luke: Yeah, it was all dial-up.
Mike: 56 kilobytes per second was the top internet connection you could get back in those days.
Luke: But yeah, it was just about that energy that you have when you’re a kid. When I thought of the lyrics for the song, it was like I was surrounded by a bunch of kids. They were having an event and I was working at the event and they were all teenagers, and just you could almost feel this electricity, this anxiety – excited anxiety, they don’t really know what they’re doing. They’re all talking to their friends and being cool, kind of clumsy, so that’s what the song’s about.
Jamie: Do you have any other shows or tours planned in the future?
Luke: Yes we are playing in Toronto on April 7th at the Horseshoe and then we’re playing April 13th in Toronto with Japanther. That’s going to mark the beginning of our tour with them in the west coast, we’re doing mostly the United States but we’re going to be playing in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary. Oh, and London, Ontario, but then the rest is all in the States.
Jamie: What would be your dream venue to play at?
Frank: Maybe our old high school auditorium.
Antonio: Growing up in Toronto and seeing some of the best concerts I’ve ever been to, I think Massey Hall. What an amazing room that is.
Frank: But we also have a pretty great time playing in kitchens. This great gallery, an artist-run centre that had terrible sound and was kind of, in terms of a music venue, a terrible place to play, but we had the most fun we’ve ever had there. So the good ones sneak up on you.
Jamie: You were saying you play in kitchens?
Frank: Yeah we play kitchen parties.
Mike: You know, the thing about playing kitchens is – or the thing about just generally playing venues – is the biggest, most revered venues are not necessarily the best show that you’ll ever play. I think, instead of choosing a venue, I would choose the people, the vibe, and the success rate. I would choose based on the success of the shows. We’ve played in all kinds of places.
Frank: Yeah, you never know where a good show will be, they sneak up on you.
Mike: So, ladies and gentlemen, if you call us, we will play your kitchen.
Luke: Yeah, we’ll probably play your kitchen.
Jamie: In your album, Contingencies, you use a number of different instruments. Are there more you would like to add or plan on adding in the future?
Luke: Well we had a really talented musician, Michael Lewis Johnston, and he played trumpet, flugalhorn, stuff like that. I think that was really awesome and I think for certain gigs it would be great to actually incorporate that into the live show.
Frank: We used to be able to play kitchens a lot easier, like two drums and a little ukulele, guitar and bass. Now, you know, the pedal boards are getting a bit intense.
Mike: We have a big appetite…
Frank: So I would say, personally, just for set-up time, I would encourage us to not add any more instruments and start to streamline things a little. Maybe we can become a folk band again, for the sake of sound checking.
Mike: You know Frank’s been pushing that for a long time.
Luke: Yeah, Frank’s pushing that.
Antonio: The three of us keep bringing in new equipment everyday.
Frank: I walk into rehearsal and I’m like, “No! No! C’mon really?! Another keyboard? Oh guys, you’re killing me here!”
Luke: We haven’t had the heart to tell him we bought a drum machine last week.
Luke: No, we didn’t.
Jamie: Why so many different instruments?
Frank: I think we’re very song driven. We really write based on the song.
Luke: And also when we started we used a lot more banjo and ukulele. That was more part of our sound, so it’s in the room already and we kind of experimented with it. But some of the songs like “Worn Out” are written on banjo. “Working week” was written on a baritone banjo, then transcribed to a guitar. It’s also because they were written in that way that it’s like oh, now that we’re making it we might as well incorporate the things that we use regularly.
Mike: I got to disagree with you though, Frank. I think that using so many instruments as we do has led to the sort of diversity of sound – the tonality of the record. I think that the instruments really do influence the writing. Like the ukulele; when you pick it up, there’s a very specific tonality that a ukulele has. I feel like it wants to be used in a certain way and we use it in those ways. That’s why we have differences among the songs on the record, there are a lot of different tonalities.
Jamie: What’s next?
Luke: Well we’re doing this tour, and I think just trying to write new material, play live shows.
Mike: Boys Who Say No 2.
Luke: Yeah, maybe do another record. But I think the primary focus is touring and writing.