Over the course of their 23-year career, leather clad Japanese trio Guitar Wolf have managed to release 23 consistently grimy punk rock albums (including one which claims to be the loudest ever recorded), toured the world 10 times over, and starred in a cult horror film where they battle zombies from outer space. The band plays a unique, over-the-top brand of punk which they call “Jet Rock ‘n’ Roll”, a sound inspired by ’70s power chord punk played at excessively loud volume. Guitar Wolf has a reputation for playing some of the wildest shows in Japan, but now they’re touring North America with a few Canadian dates, playing Toronto and Montreal earlier this week and Vancouver next Wednesday, May 25. Prior to the start of the tour, I was scheduled to catch up with band in Nagoya, Japan, only to have that meeting fall apart following the Great East Japan Earthquake. Thanks to the magic of the internet, I was still able to get in touch with Seiji, leader of the pack.

Guitar Wolf – Jet Generation

Aleks: How would you describe the music of Guitar Wolf?

Seiji: Motorcycles, leather jackets, space, and SEX.

Aleks: Where have you drawn influence from?

Seiji: Bruce Lee and Elvis. I just wanted to do cool action like them on stage.

Aleks: Were there any bands like Guitar Wolf in Japan when you started out?

Seiji: There was no such band like us!

Aleks: Were you well received by audiences in Japan back when you first began playing?

Seiji: We were too crazy. Not a lot of people came to see us when we started the band.

Aleks: Your first record, Wolf Rock!, is very lo-fi, very raw. I read that it was recorded mostly in a basement with almost no recording equipment. Is that true?

Seiji: It was recorded in a practice studio. Most of the songs were recorded with a 4-track cassette tape and for some songs we even used a Walkman.

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— , May 19, 2011    Comments Off on Guitar Wolf

Photograph by Nick Helderman

As a fan of one-person music projects and guitars layered with lyrics of love, Montreal-based Miracle Fortress dovetailed perfectly into my music collection. The summer of 2007 was bathed in the melodies of Five Roses, a beautifully dense album which made it on our list of top 20 Canadian albums from the aughts. When Van Pelt returned to Toronto in March for Canadian Music Week, the difference was striking. Accompanied by a drummer and effect lighting, he provided a danceable live preview of Was I the Wave?, his second full-length, released on April 26 by Secret City Records. I recently spoke with Graham over a static-ridden Skype connection about his new album and old influences.

Miracle Fortress – Raw Spectacle
Miracle Fortress – Maybe Lately

Sabrina: It’s exciting that you have some new material coming out; we haven’t heard from Miracle Fortress in a couple of years. In the hiatus, you have been doing a lot of touring and recording with Think About Life. What’s the future looking like for that band?

Graham Van Pelt: We’ve been working on a new record; we’re in the recording phase now, just getting some songs mixed. The group has been writing pretty steadily for a couple of years since Family.

Sabrina: I read that you deliberately avoided any influence of music from after 1980 while recording Five Roses. Immediately upon listening to Was I the Wave? it seems like you have turned full circle on that quest.

Graham: Wouldn’t a full circle mean that I’m still the same?

Sabrina: This is true. I guess I should say a semi-circle. Do you feel like it was an active decision to change your approach?

Graham: It definitely was not an active choice to focus on any particular era. I started adding different elements and sounds into the music, especially drums and drum patterns. It ended up leading things into new territories. But there wasn’t any real premeditation about where I wanted to arrive. It’s always a goal of mine to explore something else every time I work on a piece of music. I just keep myself occupied by finding new challenges and combinations. A lot of it is just experimenting: setting up a bunch of gear up and not really knowing what you’re going to do. Let the experiment progress, and in the end if there’s a germ for a song then you’re pretty lucky. I take it from there.

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— , May 14, 2011    1 Comment

All Photographs by Vanessa Heins

When last we spoke to the Rural Alberta Advantage, Canada’s premier suppliers of hard-driving indie folk and small-town nostalgia, they were a friendly, fresh-faced band with the glow of recently signing with Saddle Creek for their debut album. Recently at South by Southwest, they were a friendly, fresh-faced band with the glow of recently dropping their outstanding sophomore album. They look good in glow. Ca Va Cool’s Josh Penslar joined forces with Mathew Katz of Colorado’s KDNK Radio in an alley behind Home Slice Pizza in Austin, Texas to talk with the trio about their SXSW experiences, being Canadian in the States, the proper relation between Texas and Alberta, and what covers the band is secretly prepared to play if you ask nicely. 

The Rural Alberta Advantage – Stamp
The Rural Alberta Advantage – Eye of the Tiger

Ca Va Cool: How’s the festival been so far? Exhausting at all? 

Amy Cole: I dunno, we’ve been good. Yesterday we played our shows and we went back to the house we’re staying in and went to bed at an extremely reasonable hour. I think it was 11 PM. [Laughs] We’re really boring. But it was good for us, because now we’re energized for the rest of the fest. We had a long drive the previous day, so now I think we’re ready to really experience things. 

CVC: Where were you guys coming from? 

Amy: Atlanta. 

CVC: That’s a big one. So I hear you’ve played South By before. How does this year compare? 

Paul Banwatt: I mean, we’re veterans, you know? We’ve been around the block. For example, we call it ‘South By’. We don’t feel like we have to… 

Amy: I just say South. 

Paul: Sometimes we’re just like S-X. 

Amy: You know what I mean. 

Paul: Every year is fun here. Our first year was definitely special cause we came down and got signed. So every year after that is a bit of a disappointment because we can never top that experience. But it’s still really fun and everyone keeps coming out to our shows. We’re playing like six shows, so the fact that there’s people there at every single one, that’s crazy. 

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— , March 31, 2011    Comments Off on The Rural Alberta Advantage

Photograph by Max Weiland

A lot has changed for the Radio Dept. since we interviewed them in 2009. Last year, they delivered their long-awaited third album Clinging to a Scheme, which managed to surpass even absurd expectations, eventually becoming one of our favourite albums of 2010. This January, they released the career-spanning singles compilation Passive Aggressive, which illustrates the Swedish band creating some of the most accomplished pop music of the past decade, all while never compromising their seemingly impossible to realize musical principles, or as Labrador Records head Johan Angergård puts it, remaining “indie as fuck.”

I caught up with the trio during their stay in Toronto near the start of their first North American tour to discuss their sprawling obsession with pop, passive aggressive tendencies when dealing with press, and their insistence on having complete control of all releases. At the height of their popularity, I found the Radio Dept. constantly looking forward, restless to record, and tirelessly designing ways to piss off any expectations with their next, as yet untitled, album.

Daniel: Where does the band record?

Johan Duncanson: At home. At my apartment, Martin’s apartment, or we borrow a rehearsal space sometimes. We’re very mobile; it’s just a PC really. We have this small guitar amp that I also use live as a pre-amp that we plug everything into. We were interviewed by a Swedish magazine a couple of years ago called Studio, which is a magazine for sound engineers and people like that. They wanted to look at our studio. We warned them that they’re not going to be impressed, but they wanted to come anyways.

Martin Larsson: To our “studio” [Laughs].

Johan: When they walked into that room in my apartment they were taken aback that there wasn’t anything there. It was just a guitar, an amp, and a toy keyboard. He was asking a lot about the vocals. We actually told them all the way to the apartment that there was nothing, that we don’t have anything. They said “no, we’ve seen small studios, it’s cool,” then they were like…

Martin: …”what?” [Laughs]

Johan: It’s just a matter of taste nowadays, because if you know where you want to go with your music, you can get there because it’s becoming easier and easier to record at home.

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— , February 14, 2011    1 Comment

All Photographs by Jon Bergmann

Back in November, I caught up with José Gonzalez before his band Junip’s show at Lee’s Palace in Toronto. Coming in from Montreal that day, we sat down to chat while the band took a break from sound-checking and rehearsals to grab burritos in the Annex. During our conversation, we discussed working with Junip compared to solo work, the progressive politics of Sweden and their impact on the arts, how good the band is at air guitar, and a bevy of other topics.

The delicate and comfortable sensation of his music transferred to their live show, which I caught following our interview and featured an all-Junip setlist encompassing their Fields album as well as an assortment of unreleased material.

Junip – Always
Junip – Rope and Summit

Sal: Where are you coming into town from?

José Gonzalez: We just came from Montreal, started in Philadelphia and went up north. It was a smaller venue. We had troubles at the border, so we arrived late. But it all turned out alright.

Sal: Swedish bands are usually at the top of our suspicion list at borders. How long have you been on the road now with Junip?

José: We did a tour for a month in Europe and just started this 25-day Canada/US tour.

Sal: Have you been touring North America much in the past few years?

José: Solo, yes. I’ve been here many times. Since 2008 we’ve mostly been working on this new Junip album. I’ve been doing very few shows. I did have some shows lined up in Canada that we had to cancel.

Sal: What was the process like working on this record given that you’ve known Tobias and Elias for so long, and started playing together 11 years ago? I hear some of the material has been in the works for a while.

José: Well, it’s more like the band has been around for about 12 years, but the music is all new. We started setting up recording gear in a rehearsal place and recorded hours and hours of jamming.

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— , February 11, 2011    5 Comments