It’s about time we skip on back to the Northeast for a Badass Band. This time some fresh, raw, atypical indie tunes from Toronto, Canada via Badass Band 88, Newsmen.
Newsmen brought themselves to my attention a few months back and as soon as I started working my way through their album ‘Wild Histories’, as well as their new tunes (which will be discussed further in a minute), I knew they had the Badass Band ‘it’ factor. They claim to be Toronto’s “Piano-Pounders” and their piano driven rock n roll definitely solidifies that claim. Their tunes are simple, catchy, and infectious. Between their atypical indie structure, smart lyrics, killer harmonies, and perfect balance of upbeat keys and hard guitar riffs/rhythms, these guys have something to offer any music lover.
Their newest releases, “Grand Tracadie” and “Covehead” exemplify a more pronounced maturing of the basic characteristics I outlined above. With “Grand Tracadie” specifically, the key tones have taken a more experimental route. The harmonies are stronger, and the guitar/rhythm sections are really the powerful force behind the lyrics in the chorus, “When the old die and I understand, the thoughtful sit beside but never play, their grands.” The track, “Covehead” is a slightly more psychedelic tune. The lyrics in this track at first listen are light hearted and mildly humorous. But when listened to a little more closely (maybe I’m only speaking to fellow literary nerds) they take on a deeper meaning. It’s a song that you can listen to just as a simple, killer sounding song and be okay with that, or you can take the time to really listen and appreciate the deeper meaning constructed within it. Once you get to the climax, when the lyrics,” Explain the past. That element building us in our skeletons. Its melting down my hands.” are beaten into you, you have to know that there is something more to it that these gents have cleverly masked.
All in all, these guys construct tunes that are smart, riotous and fun to listen to. I can only assume their live show backs up what you hear listening to the albums. Those of you in Toronto, they have a show coming up THIS THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 13th at Izakaya Sushi House at 9pm. Get out there and check ’em out, we’d love to hear a report back!
Newsmen consists of Andrew Fitzpatrick [Piano/Vocals], Sean Fitzpatrick [Guitar/Vocals], Justin Rivet [Bass/Vocals], and Matt Frewen [Drums] and the gents were gracious enough to provide BBB with an interview, so read on to find out who brings the thunder from down under, why their name is a nod to a muppet, and how they, “won’t make you look cool, but we’ll be your favorite band if you let us.”
When and why did each of you start playing?
A: I was five when I started piano. I was jealous of Sean and our sister, who are both older than me and had already begun to play instruments. Fast forward eighteen years and one music degree later, jealousy is still very much a thing, but at least I’m a better piano player than Sean.
J: In grade three I learned recorder and graduated to tenor saxophone in grade seven. I picked up guitar when I was fourteen ‘cause it was cooler than the recorder. I wanted to be the next Angus Young. I play bass now ‘cause I like to bring the thunder from down under. My loins, not Australia.
S: I started playing piano when I was six, and hated it forever. Then quit around the age of twelve when I picked up guitar. I played trumpet for a while and stopped. Guitar was the only instrument that stuck – and it’s a good thing it did, ‘cause I like being in a band.
M: Had a weird obsession with Travis Barker as a kid. Grade 7 I was picked to play the triangle, and they had a drum kit so I played that for hours on end. Turns out I can do the pat your head rub your belly routine.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up? How does that differ from what you listen to now?
S: The first cassette I ever bought was 18 ‘til I Die by Bryan Adams. I was seven and I haven’t lived it down since. It differs from most things I listen to now. When I was a teenager I listened to a lot of emo and punk – I still like a lot of it. Hot Water Music, Against Me!, and Osker are awesome. Now I listen to a lot of different music, but I draw inspiration from local Toronto bands like Gay, the Dirty Nil, Pup, Teenanger, and Hollerado. There are so many musicians in the city that are great.
J: I used to listen to Aqua, Chumbawumba, Presidents of the United States of America, and The Offspring. Learning the guitar really got me into classic rock bands like AC/DC and Zep, which is pretty much what I listen to now, as well as Muse (much to my bandmates’ dismay), Cage the Elephant, and the steady beeping of my lab equipment.
A: Best of U2: 1980-2000, or something like that, was the first record I ever bought (“Beautiful Day” was on it!), the second record I bought was Semisonic’s Feeling Strangely Fine. When I came to my senses, Sean got me into a lot of the punk music that he was listening to as a teenager. By the time I turned 20, I discovered music that really agreed with my sensibilities, like Talking Heads, St. Vincent, Arcade Fire, The National, Mac DeMarco, and Ty Segall. I’m just drawn to interesting songwriting.
M: Alexisonfire self titled, but just about anything where the drummer is just on go mode! I got into the whole technical side of things but something about raw energy just kept my head bobbing around, and that’s still true now.
Which musicians do you admire? Why?
J: I really like Matt Bellamy of Muse. He’s got a lot of virtuosity – he’s classically trained and doesn’t shy away from it, but he’s also not a douche about it. Definitely David Bowie too, he just did whatever the fuck he wanted and didn’t care.
A: I’m heavily indebted to what Ben Folds did in the 90s. I don’t know what’s happened with him these days, but his first two albums are second to none. David Byrne has been big for me recently. He focuses on performance and the amount of thought that goes into his live shows is enviable. We could all stand to learn a lot from him.
S: I tend to admire musicians from album to album, rather than as celebrities. I would have loved to meet Tom Gabel (now Laura Jane Grace) when he was making As the Eternal Cowboy or Tim Kasher when he was writing The Ugly Organ. In terms of consistency I’d love to pick Sufjan Stevens’ brain. Or figure out how Tom Verlaine wrote Marquee Moon.
M: Talented people that have fun for everyone else. We try and have the same attitude, share the stage share the music sort of thing. Watching an act play the hits just doesn’t appeal to me, even if people don’t know the music yet we hope they’re compelled to get into it with us. Tap your feet, bob along, dance, air guitar, whatever!
How did you guys meet?
A: Sean and I met when I was born. We didn’t like each other right away, but patched things up in high school when we discovered a shared love of punk rock. We’ve been writing music together since I was 13. When I went away to university, I met Justin through one of my friends, who he was dating at the time. He’s still dating her. Matt and I were in the same music faculty and both ended up in Toronto after graduation. We put the whole thing together without much discussion in January 2013 and we’ve been playing together for the past year.
Why the name Newsmen?
S: Andrew and I have gone through so many horrible band names since we started our first band way back in 2004. One day we discovered a Muppet that went by the name “The Newsman.” Early on, I was writing a lot of songs with stories taken from the backpages of newspapers (personal interest stories, classifieds, stuff like that), so we thought that balance of goofiness and seriousness was appropriate.
Describe your show visually & musically for those who have never been.
J: Loud. The good kind of loud. It’s very high energy. We don’t stop moving.
A: There’s a lot of shouting, but we also try and keep things melodic. Our music isn’t intentionally abrasive like hardcore punk or noise rock. We know our songs are very melody-oriented, but we bring that punk-rock intensity to our performances.
S: We’ve found that audiences really respond to us when we look like we’re having the time of our lives. We have a lot of fun with each other onstage, joking around between and during songs, so we try to make every audience we play to feel as engaged and energetic as we do onstage.
M: What Justin said.
How does your creative process typically work?
A: Sean and I typically spend a few weeks writing a song or two. Sean will bring me some lyrics he’s written and then I’ll write some preliminary chords and melodies on the piano. He’ll then bring me some melodies he’s thought up for the guitar. They often don’t match at all and we end up fighting. Usually the songs go through about two or three drafts and fights before we bring them to Justin and Matt.
S: Matt has a good ear and will usually tell us to change very specific chords in the progressions, just to make things a bit different, a bit weirder usually. Rhythmically, he’ll put a beat to a song right away, but then he’ll chisel away at it ‘til it’s perfect. Justin takes more time, he’ll internalize our songs, and take them home to think them over. He always comes back with the missing piece of the song. He’s so good at creating bass riffs that none of us mortals would have thought up. So, writing for us is a slow process, but it’s worth it. Every song we come up with is something we’re proud of.
What do you think you biggest break or greatest opportunity has been in your career so far?
J: We’ve had the opportunity to play with some awesome local bands and we’ve established some relationships with a few local promoters that we really value.
S: We’re just starting out, so opportunities to be interviewed by you and getting written up on various other sites is a big deal for us. To be honest, it’s just great to know that people are actually listening.
What has been the biggest challenge for you so far?
A: It sounds cliché, but the biggest challenge for a band at our level is standing out among the seemingly countless bands in Toronto. Everybody here seems to be in a band. There’s a lot of talent in the city, both discovered and undiscovered, so the difficulty is always going to be sticking out from the crowd.
M: Also, it’s difficult sometimes to keep your sound innovative while keeping the instrumental line-up small. There’s so much technology out there nowadays, you can make so many interesting sounds it’s easy to get carried away with toys. But there’s so much innovation that can be done with chords, song structures, melodies, etc. That being said, the Toronto scene is so welcoming to whatever you bring to the stage and people generally appreciate good music, whatever your band sounds like.
What are you working on now?
S: We’re planning to record and release another single in early 2014 with eyes on another release later in the year. We’re definitely working on playing festivals and touring a bit in the coming year and, as always, tons of Toronto shows.
Why should people listen to your band? What makes you unique? If your band had a slogan, what would it be?
S: We’re playing music that a lot of people seem scared to play. Our instrumental line-up and how we use it is really unique in Toronto’s scene. A lot of bands have pianos actually, but we use ours like another band would use a lead guitar. Andrew is our Rivers Cuomo. We’re never satisfied with the piano (or guitar, for that matter) just power-chording along with nothing to do or say. Same goes for our vocals (we never rock scat) and rhythm section.
A: We try very hard. We won’t make you look cool, but we’ll be your favorite band if you let us. We throw many different ideas into our music, so there’s a lot of stuff for listeners to mull over.
J: Plus, we’ve got a piano.
A: Our slogan would be: “We have a piano.”
Any plans to get down and play in the states?
A: We’ve applied to festivals, most unsuccessfully. But we’re going to keep trying! We’re going to be organizing some tours in 2014, and we’d love to come to the States if Sean manages to get his papers in order.
S: I don’t have a passport. And I think I’ll get got if I try and sneak into America.
A: I’ve got your six, bro.
If you had the opportunity to change something about the music industry, what would it be?
J: Music seems to be treated with a disposable attitude, now. There used to be more longevity in music. Although there is some rise in it in recent months, I wish people appreciated buying physical media more.
M: Yes, that’s true of physical media, but I think artistically, I’d love to see more music focusing on important causes. It’s hard work making art but when the song is done, it gives an artist the chance to say, well anything. That opportunity is usually taken for granted by both the artist and the listener.
S: There definitely seems to be a push toward more meaningless songs. I mean, since music is so easily accessible and disposable nowadays, there seems to be a contingent of people in the industry who insist on making music that’s also forgettable. It would be great to see mainstream and indie rock and pop moving in directions that require a bit more attention. There are too many artists who are content with making music that’s catchy the first time you hear it, but has little to sink your teeth into once you get a few listens deep.
A: I think, for us, modifications don’t necessarily need to be focused on industrial change in the sense of the physical production of goods, business decisions or physical vs digital. The new landscape of the music industry should encourage people to think more freely, in a creative sense. This increased availability of media can encourage artists to make whatever they want. It would be great to see more institutions (labels, publishing companies, etc.) embracing the same ideas.
One song you never get tired of.
S: “I Came as a Rat” by Modest Mouse. I heard it when I was 12 and still love it.
A: “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces” by Ben Folds Five. Best way to begin an album.
J: The theme from Ghostbusters. The music video is so terrifically terrible.
M: “Music Sounds Better with You,” by Star Dust. Oh baby!
What is the best live show you have ever gone to?
S: I saw Against Me! play The Opera House in Toronto when I was 17. It was amazing. Everyone in the crowd was on the stage when they played “We Laugh at Danger” and I got a permanent scar from a crowdsurfer’s mammoth watch. Ruined my shirt, but it was totally worth it.
J: Bonnaroo. Pearl Jam. ’08.
A: Josh Ritter. Saw him at The Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto. It was a 19+ show and I was 17. None of my friends got in. Mine was the only fake I.D. that worked. It was my first solo concert-going experience. He’s just a fantastic performer – he made everyone in the crowd just as excited as he was.
M: Rush at Sarnia Bayfest 2010!
Favorite things to do NOT musically related.
J: Video games.
A: Cooking. And running. My favourite food group is cheese. So I gotta burn that stuff off.
S: I love movies and reading. I’m a very lazy man, so my favorite things don’t involve much physical activity. I went to opera once. I didn’t much care for it.
M: Pondering the world. I tried that internet thing once, it was alright.
If you could be a fictional character, who would you be?
A: Mayor McCheese. I could eat my own head.
S: Philip Marlowe, ‘cause I could shoot Mayor McCheese (he gave me too much guff) and make it look like an accident but then solve the mystery only to realize that I did it.
J: Poochy the Rockin’ Dog.
M: Goku from DBZ, but only when he goes super saiyan!
What kind of jobs did you have before (or currently) you were in the music industry?
A: We were all in school for a while. I currently work in an office. Computers. Please don’t ask any more questions about the computer I do.
J: I was a bingo caller.
S: I worked in a coffee shop, but it was too much pressure. So it closed.
M: I managed a Go kart track once. Nothing like Mario kart.
If you ran Badass Bands Blog, what is one band you would feature? (Exempting yourselves of course.)
S: You should feature a band from Newmarket, Ontario called Triple Arcade. We played with them recently and are big fans of them. They’re really great musicians and super friendly guys.
FIND NEWSMEN HERE: