"111 songs" and what we have been up to:
In the last little while we have been asked the same few questions a whole bunch of times. We wrote this in the hope of answering them.
When we released our last record, we did this thing where our fans could buy the record and the cd and a shirt and some other stuff, and as part of the deal we would write them a custom song. The idea was the person would send us their name and where they were from and two facts about themselves, and a few months later we would send them a song we wrote for them. I think the whole bundle cost something like $65, so when you subtract the price of all the other items on their own, the custom song was about 5 bucks (still a major rip-off according to some). Well the orders started coming in quicker than we thought, and in a couple of days, when we had over 100 orders, we decided to stop taking any more.
A month or so later we started work on them. At first, it was mostly just one of us on our own in the back of the van or a couple of us at sound check messing around with some new riff. One guitar and an iphone recording and some throwaway lyrics...."Pete comes from some place and has a dog and la ti da ti da and wants to be a geologist but is probably failing school cause he la ti da di da di DAAAAAAA!" or something like that. Some of them were fun and we liked them, but most of them were kinda stupid. Or at least we thought so. After a while we really began to think we were doing a disservice to not only our fans but also ourselves. Here we are with the opportunity to make 111 songs and we are just humming away mindlessly while strumming a guitar. We started to say to each other: This is not how we write songs. When we write songs we try to do something different, at least something different from anything we have tried before. We try to do something that excites us, that makes us feel good, that makes us remember why we started playing in a band in the first place. And most of all we write songs that mean something to us. Here we are, stuck having to follow through on what was probably a stupid idea in the first place, but we said that we would do it, so now we have to. And it just so happened that we were going through one of the strangest and most difficult times that we had ever had to face together. And so, about a year ago, we started to write and record the 111 songs in earnest.
We printed out a separate page containing the name and facts for each person. We counted the pages and there were one hundred and eleven. We put them in a binder and on the front of the binder we wrote. "Hollerado, 111 Songs".
The two years since White Paint came out have been the best ever. We have had marriages and engagements, great new friends and great times with old friends. We did our first arena tour, and over 400 club dates and festivals across Canada, The United States and Europe. We have seen Royal Mountain Records (the label we started when no one besides ourselves wanted to release our first album) blossom with the remarkable success of our dear friends in Pup, Alvvays and Stella Ella Ola. We are so lucky to have had these experiences and to be able to continue to make music.
But, the past two years have also been tough. An independent band that must exist in a perpetual state of being on tour in order to make ends meet, faces a unique set of challenges. On top of these, in May of 2013, Menno and his wife Annie had their condo and everything inside it burn into nothing. In the Summer of 2014, Nixon was diagnosed with testicular cancer. It was a scary time for all of us, but Nick faced it bravely with his unshakable positivity and humor. Luckily it was caught early and the cancer (along with our favorite of his two balls) was removed in a successful surgery. And then there was the ever looming cloud of "111 songs" over our heads, a seemingly impossible task, a fear of failure that with we carried like the body of Sam McGee..... a task we had to finish to fulfill a promise once made. Along the way, we had dark nights together and alone. At times we dealt with these ups and downs in ways that were downright destructive, to our relationships, our band and ourselves. But we made it through to the other side. It took the support of each other, our families, our friends, and in the end, the 111 songs.
These songs are the sketchbook of the past two years of our lives. We recorded them in anyway we imagine... but most of them in our jam space with the help of our dear friend Nyles. Some of them are studio polished, but most of them we decided to leave the warts, the mistakes, the wrong notes, the first draft lyrics, the high out of our mind guitar solo that is in the wrong key, the friend who stopped in and did an out of time clap track. That is the kind of year it was, and that is what we want to represent on these recordings.
We were in the midst of a strange time, and we had to write these songs for ourselves, but we also realized the importance of not letting down the fans who had ordered these songs from us, over 2 years ago. All of the songs titles contain the name of the person its for, as well as the title of the song.
For example the first three are:
Bottomless Pit (Stephanie Green)
Firefly (Annie Murphy)
Sorry You're Alright (Evan From Grimsby)
A bunch of them are actually about the person who ordered the song. Firefly, for example is a song Menno wrote for his wife about their experience rebuilding from the fire. Some of the songs mention the person's name or the place they are from or even in one case their email address. Some of the songs are inspired by the facts that the person sent in, and how those facts made one of us think about an event in our own life. A couple times we just wanted to write some Christmas songs and we assigned them to the people who sent us facts that referred to Christmas.
Some days we would just get super hyper and someone would yell, "We have 111 songs to write!!!! WE CAN MAKE ANYTHING WE HAVE EVER WANTED TO MAKE!! The twelve second thrash song we always wanted to do? YES! The 8 minute cult-style humming drone we have joked about for years. WHY NOT?! Dean that weird industrial techno loop you showed me! GOGOGO Nick - remember how you always wanted to write a song in German???!! Let's do it!" One day we came in and tried to write a kids album. Other days we just we would look at each other and ask when will this ever end.
"111 songs" is about the length of 12 full length albums. We don't really expect anyone to listen to all of them, or even some of them. In fact, they really are just demos. Demos that we think present a snapshot of our lives over the last 2 years. In fact, on February 9 we will be going to New York City to start work on our third full length record that we intend to release this coming fall. That record will cull from the songs on the 111 Song Project. Some of them might be the same songs. Some of them might be kind of the same but be about something else. Some might just use a riff or a drum groove. That's how we like write songs. Whatever goes.
It's weird, but the last few months of playing together has felt like we were kids playing in Nick and Jake's parents driveway. It was like we had just discovered electric guitars. Like it was our first time smoking pot together and making up songs for a rock opera about jet fighters in the future. We have never been more grateful to be a part of this incredible adventure. So that's what we have been up to. Looking forward to whatever 2015 may bring.
Take it easy
-Menno, Nick, Dean, Jake