Raz Mataz Magazine (RMM): Tell me about the band.
Brandon Shantz: We’re a three-piece. It’s kind of folk rock-n-roll with some late-90s rock influences. I’m the singer and songwriter, Steve Witt plays bass, and Jason Turriff plays the drums. As for how it all started… I did a trip out to California and was hitchhiking around there for a bit, then I came back to Montreal and Steve wanted to start a band. So pretty normal I guess.
RMM: Tell me about your songwriting style, what inspires your lyrics, and what environments you find conducive to musical creativity.
BS: I really like stories in songs. Some of my favourite songwriters are Tom Waits and Neil Young. I get a lot of inspiration from authors as well, like Charles Bukowski, Henry Miller, [Earnest] Hemingway. I get a lot of inspiration from seedy bars, crappy parts of town. You’re living there for a couple months and not doing too much writing, and then you kind of hole up for a week and these things just start coming to you – characters that you meet. And then you synthesize it down into stories.
RMM: What’s your personal musical background?
BS: I took a couple bass lessons when I was young, and pretty much started writing songs immediately. Lyrics didn’t start coming until I was 17 or 18; I’m 27 now. But I used to listen to a lot of punk rock, so the music always came first. It still generally does. I get a lot of inspiration from dreams. If I don’t have anything going on, I’ll sleep for, you know, 15 or 16 hours (laughs) and just get really strange, quasi-lucid dreams where you’re really determined to stay asleep and see what kind of creatures are lurking around your brain.
RMM: What about bringing your ideas to the band? Do you approach them with completed songs, or let them evolve as a group?
BS: It works best if I have the hooks together, the architecture. I really like the three-piece because everyone has their specific role and is able to do their own thing. You get a lot more power that way, and there’s more pressure to be creative because those limitations are there. Having unlimited resources can kind of kill creativity. Boundaries and creativity go together.
I’m also working on this symphonic project. I was working on cruise ships a couple years ago and got a guy to do a string quarter arrangement for one of my songs, which gave me a taste for all the dimensions and the textures that you can do with that format. I put an ad on Craig’s List for an arranger, thinking it would be pretty simple, and it’s kind of ballooned into a much bigger thing – string quintet, horn quintet, stand-up bass, a bunch of weird percussion, some electronic stuff. The instrument count is around 19 I think.
RMM: So this is a recording project?
BS: Yeah. Hopefully within the month it will all be finished.
RMM: What’s your balance between writing, recording, and playing shows?
BS: We’re booking a tour right now for Eastern Canada. It’s not too much different than 95% of other bands in Toronto – you gotta work, then you have a couple times a week when you can practice with your band.
RMM: What are your plans for balancing the recording project and the band?
BS: It wouldn’t really be practical to play a gig with [the artists from the recording project]. So I’m just going to try to get that out there and share it with as many people as I can. This project is a solo thing; I don’t even really know all the musicians that are coming in to play. Hollis and the Widows is a different story. They satisfy two very different sides.
RMM: And what are the plans for Hollis and the Widows?
BS: We’re going to do a 7-inch [record]. Steve is very against pressing CDs and doing a full-length. I’m in favour of doing a full-length so we can just get it down and then do more. I think we’ll probably end up doing a full-length and end up touring that in late summer and hopefully through the fall.
RMM: What’s your recording setup? Are you recording at home?
BS: We’ve done everything live off the floor. We do the home studio thing, because the price of gear is going down, and Steve and Jason have a lot of engineering experience under their belts, so the recording they’ve done has turned out really well. We might go into a professional studio this summer to do the full-length. But home studios are more comfortable, I think. It’s usually just you and your buddies.
RMM: Cliché question: three “desert island” records?
BS: (Laughs). The reason I laugh is because the first album that came to mind is On The Beach by Neil Young. Definitely a top album for me. It’s, of course, hard to boil it down to three… Rain Dogs by Tom Waits, and Relationship of Command by At The Drive-In. But all three of those albums, you know, I’ve listened to them to death, and they’re really imprinted on my heart.
RMM: Tell me about your gear.
BS: I have an Aria Pro electric guitar. I’m not really a gear head, although I think I’ll buy a bunch of pedals this summer because I’m kind of sick of just overdrive. I’m playing through a vintage Music Man tube head. I have a Fender Jazz Deluxe bass, which is probably my favourite instrument in my arsenal. I have a Martin auditorium-body RG-14, which has a really gorgeous sound. And a Guild classical guitar.
RMM: What can we expect for the show on Friday?
BS: It will probably be reasonably loud, tipsy, and good times. Good times, great oldies. We take music really seriously and have a lot of respect for different musicians. We don’t see music as a competition. We’re very sincere about what we do and we hope that people enjoy the music and hopefully appreciate that we’re trying to do something dynamic and original. And hopefully they can dance to it.