(L to R: Ryan Taylor, Danny Lindsey, Andrew Emon, Brent Fagan, Spencer Linton)
A lot can happen in ten years.
Does Big City Nights bear any resemblance to the band it was a decade ago?
Man, you’re so right. A lot can definitely happen.
When I think about who I was at 19
I usually end up wincing at the .... embarrassing memories.
We’re all very different now and so is the band:
the only thing that has remained constant is our recording method,
which is to track the songs as quickly as possible to get that “new song” magic,
and to use the bare minimum of microphones.
Everything else has changed.
Back in 2005 there weren’t any permanent members
because I couldn’t get anyone to commit full-time.
The first song we ever recorded is called “Mathematics”
with Brandon Fleet on guitar and vocals and Mitchell Syrnyk on drums
(they play in a band called Sleep For The Nightlife that I used to play in as well).
Our current drummer James started playing with the band in September 2005
(we did an EP called Teenage Lust that had a Neil Young cover on it, “Don’t Cry No Tears”)
but he didn’t join permanently until 2007, so ten years ago
the recordings were usually done with whoever was in the room at the time.
One night James and I were heading to a warehouse in Brampton to record stuff
and we ran into a local show promoter at the Beer Store who called himself Brentertainment.
He came along and recorded three or four songs with us that night, then we never saw him again.
The same thing happened in 2009 with a guy named Mike.
He met up with us at the Rehearsal Factory, played drums on “Reena,”
and we never, ever saw or heard from him again.
I wonder about those guys sometimes and where they are.
So back then it was a lot more ad-hoc.
We still record songs quickly without a lot of rehearsal or planning beforehand,
but the membership is now set in stone.
Another thing we used to do back then that makes me wince
was brag about how much we could drink…on the records.
It was pretty juvenile and immature.
All my heroes at the time (Robert Pollard, Jack Kerouac, etc)
were drunks so I mimicked their behavior.
I had the silly notion that it was profoundly cool to drink,
so a lot of the songs were about drinking and you can hear the bottles
clanking around on the floor while we recorded.
Our first album was called Born to Bar Band and the songs pointedly romanticized alcohol.
I thought it made us seem interesting and worldly.
I have since realized that that’s a pretty lame way to view the world.
We still drink while we record stuff, but we don’t sing about it anymore or brag about it.
If you can’t enjoy yourself playing music sober,
you probably/definitely have a substance abuse problem.
How does it feel to prepare and release a two disc retrospective?
Have there been surprises on this trip down memory lane?
It feels fantastic but also a little bittersweet.
It’s like finding your old high school yearbook and flipping through the pages and going
“Ohhh yeah, I remember that fuckin guy!”
I’m a really nostalgic person.
I can’t help it, even though I know that nostalgia can be a dangerous thing.
It selectively remembers things for you so that you romanticize and exaggerate past experiences.
Too much nostalgia can hold you hostage in the warehouse of your own memories,
but it’s healthy in small doses, so it’s been cool
to go back and listen to songs we made a decade ago
and remember the silly jokes we made while recording them.
And there have been a few surprises, yeah.
I hadn’t listened to “Mathematics” in years and forgot about that totally badass,
jazzy guitar lead at the very beginning (that’s Brandon Fleet playing, not me).
A similar thing happened with “Vegetable Bros,” which is on the first disc.
I wrote that song after watching Deliverance for the first time (amazing movie)
cuz I wanted to ripoff the creepy banjo vibe.
But I totally forgot about that whistling part, which makes the whole thing creepier.
That’s James doing the whistling. His whistle is our secret weapon.
He even has a throat whistle he busts out sometimes,
but I’ve never been able to convince him to record it.
Another surprise was on “Hell Song” from the second disc.
I asked David Contin (The Flying Museum Band) over to my apartment to help me sing it,
but I’d completely forgotten about that insanely low vocal line he does right around.
It’s totally fucking awesome. I love that guy.
I’m happy that we have a best-of compilation
because it’ll be an easier way to get people who haven’t heard us to check out the band,
instead of saying “here’s eighteen albums. Good luck.”
Basically my favourite thing to do is make records.
Back in high school I had a fake band in my head called Bozer
and during class I’d write out fake track listings for fake albums.
Bozer had something like thirty “records,” starting in 2001
and going all the way to 2025 or something.
So I always wanted to be in a band that makes a lot of albums,
but I didn’t realize that doing things like this can kind of alienate people.
It’s a lot easier to check out a band that has a three-song EP streaming
than a band that has a billion songs.
How does music fit into your life?
Are your creative endeavors very compartmentalized,
or do the films, books and albums you work on inform one another?
There’s definitely some overlap, but music is such a joyous,
communal celebration that it’s definitely my favourite of those three activities.
I’ve been trying to finish a novel since January 2009 called All the Quiet Hours,
and I’m finally almost finished (it’ll be done this year),
but writing is such a lonely, solitary activity.
A lot of the time it’s not fun at all.
Self-doubt creeps in and it’s hard to get motivated.
So the only way writing overlaps with the music stuff is the titles.
A lot of the times I’ll use the same title for both a song and a story.
We have an album called Yawns Beyond and I also used that title for a short story
about two guys who rob a grocery store
(I submitted it to the Toronto Star Short Story Contest but I never heard back...;-)
“Sleep Kilometres” is another one that’s both a short story and a song.
Same thing with “Let’s Go To Hell.”
The movies we make for fun but there’s definitely overlap there too.
The song “Miss Me Baby” was featured prominently
in a mockumentary we made back in 2011 called Sudbury ’96
and the song “Former Building” is the theme song
to yet another mockumentary we’re trying to finish
about a Christian rock band called Give Us This Day
So yeah, for me, all these creative activities inform one another,
but music is definitely my favourite:
and I hold no delusions about my very meager talent
when it comes to each of them.
Who's in the band now? Who has come and gone over the years?
The band now is Ryan Taylor on bass and vocals,
James Chernoff on drums and vocals
and myself on guitar and vocals.
Reena Taylor, Ryan’s wife-but-then-girlfriend,
played keyboard at some shows in 2009...
doesn’t play live with us anymore, though she still sings on the records.
We had a second guitar player for most of 2009,
our buddy Stefan Kupych who plays in The Flying Museum Band,
but he’s a really busy guy and it was a lot to ask of him to learn all our old songs
so he stopped playing with us toward the end of that year.
My ex-girlfriend Jessica Fisher sang on a lot of stuff, probably over fifteen songs.
But aside from Stefan and Reena, we’ve had no other major members
but we’ve had a shitload of guest vocalists and friends play on the albums.
Here’s a partial list of players with their main band in brackets:
Russell Holley and David Contin (The Flying Museum Band)
Darcy McMann (The Beekeeper’s Society)
Brent Fagan and Spencer Linton (Fidelity Friends)
Brandon Fleet and Mitchell Syrnyk (Sleep for the Nightlife)
Eric Lister (The Violent Light)
Jamie Harvey (Wild Waters)
Courtney Vanderploeg (The Golden Years)
Carey Linton (The Circus, Cosmonaut)
Mike Mikocic (Meeko Cheech)
and, last but not least, Omri Horowitz.
Omri is probably our #1 fan, the most supportive guy I’ve ever met
who has his own project called Li-on Grevier
and has a song called “Apple” that is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard.
He recorded the string parts in my bedroom while I was at work
...I’m glad to be glancingly associated with its production.
How have your goals and aspirations as a musician changed since the beginning of big city nights?
Back then I practiced guitar a lot.
I was obsessed. I wanted to be a shredder.
Then one day I just hit a wall and realized I couldn’t play very fast,
so I stopped practicing guitar and focused on learning how to play other things,
piano and drums mostly. I also worked on singing better, which sort of worked, but not really.
Nowadays I use the guitar solely to write songs, not to improve my paltry abilit(ies).
I love the instrument but it’s no longer an obsession for me:
I’d rather listen to a good song than a great guitar solo.
I also nursed the sick delusion back then
that we’d be able to do the band for a living someday,
touring and selling t-shirts and whatnot.
The decline of physical album sales notwithstanding,
I’ve realized that we’re not really the types of band that “makes it.”:
We don’t practice much
(maybe two actual practices a year…though this calendar year we haven’t rehearsed even once),
we can be a little sloppy live,
we put out way too much material for anyone to keep up with,
and we don’t have a lot of industry contacts
cuz obtaining said contacts usually requires
a lot of ass kissing and sucking up to unpleasant people
and starting a Sonicbids account to throw money at behemoth festivals
like NXNE and Pop Montreal
in the hopes that they’ll deign to let us play.
I’m not against bands that try that route, but it’s not for us.
We’re a basement group. Born to Bar Band.
While it would be cool to have a few more people listening,
I like things the way they are.
Like I said, all I’ve ever wanted to do was make albums with a band,
and that’s all we do.
Our current aspiration is to make a really meticulous album someday,
something with a lot of sonic texture and depth like a Flaming Lips record or something,
but still recorded in a house or jam space.
I’d love that album to have a bunch of thirty-second sound collages,
bits of dialogue from movies we love,
surf rock instrumentals, some orchestral synth stuff,
songs recorded over the phone, etc,
interspersed with fully fleshed out pop songs,
and tied together sorta like Songs for the Deaf,
with fake radio DJs making jokes and announcements.
Some people think that the DJ skits on that
Queens of the Stone Age record wear thin really fast
but I’ve always loved them and would really like to make an album
that’s all over the place musically...but tethered together by a series of phantom radio stations.
Not an original idea, I admit,
but we’re not a very original band.
We’re more like parrots.
We don’t have a lot of patience,
but I think we can make this album sometime soon.
That’s the goal. It’ll be our own Sgt Peppers.