Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Frankie McQueen - Interviewed by Christine Leonard-Cripps

The most lovable douche bags around

Frankie McQueen grabs attention & doesn’t let go



Primed to celebrate its fourth anniversary as a band, the local rockers behind Frankie McQueen represent the latest wave of Calgary musicians to take up the torch of reverb and rebellion. Its status as an up-and-comer to watch was cemented in 2009, when Frankie captured the “Rockstar” crown at a radio-sponsored battle of the bands and walked away $200,000 richer. There was a catch, however — these grand prize winnings are earmarked for recording studio expenses. But still, it’s a hell of an allocated shot in the arm for a group of greenhorns that cut their teeth on the Wednesday wing-night pub scene.

“Connor (Muth, drummer) and Kelly (O’Keefe, bassist) started the band back in high school,” reports vocalist-guitarist Scotty Charles. “They had been jamming and trying out singers for a while and knew about my singing and playing abilities from seeing me perform in various talent shows and with my band Fang. They were heavily influenced by the old Calgary indie and garage bands (such as) Telly; at the time, and Rob Eight from Telly was a youth pastor who got all those boys playing together.”

“We all loved Telly’s song ‘Frankie McQueen,’” he continues. “And we asked if we could use it as our name. They gave us the thumbs-up and by the end of our first gig together the crowd, at the Nova music showcase, was chanting ‘Frankie! Frankie!’ In that moment, we knew we had something worth pursuing.”

Continuing to build Frankie McQueen’s momentum and character along with founding members O’Keefe and Muth, Charles helped to bring guitarist Scott Giffin to the fold during the recording of its debut EP. A late-night brainstorming session that precipitated music lessons and a fast friendship, the addition of Giffin strengthened the band’s sound as well as its sense of purpose.

“Scott and I hit it off right from the get-go,” explains Charles. “We just started jamming and the hard rockin’ ideas haven’t stopped coming since. Even though we have rather different musical tastes and backgrounds, we all mesh together very well onstage. As guitarists, Scott and I tend to go back and forth a lot, whether we’re working on a sexy ballad, a big bluesy number or a ripping-fast metal song, eventually one of us will ignite out of a jam and create something that becomes a song. There’s really no designated driver in Frankie McQueen — too many assholes trying to backseat drive. I’ve found the best thing you can do in that situation is get them to drink more beer and then let ’em steer the ship for a while.”

With a second EP in the works, it appears Frankie McQueen’s ship is indeed due to come in again. Parlaying their new take on an old sound into indie gold, the organic psych-rock foursome is eager to immortalize the evolution of the Frankie McQueen sound — now with the aid of esteemed producer Graham Sharkey.
Prone to performing with his eyes shut — only to open them and find himself halfway through a set — Charles relishes the otherworldly experience of sharing his audio art in a live setting. In fact, the group is known to perform without a formal “set list,” opting to go with the flow, sometimes recording the order of songs after the fact to be presented in their “natural” order the next time. This talent may well be Frankie McQueen’s greatest asset, as it allows the intuitive quartet to present a moment while remaining present in the moment.

“When we’re onstage we know that it’s our time to shine,” Charles explains of his band’s alter ego. “Frankie McQueen is the kinda guy who rolls into a joint and immediately captures everyone’s attention and completely takes over. He’s a leader, not a follower. He’s a total badass. When I’m talking about Frankie McQueen the man, I’m talking about the most lovable douche bag on the planet.”

by Christine Leonard

Originally published December 16, 2010 in Fast Forward Magazine.

Monday, 11 July 2016

The Fabulous Thunderbirds Interviewed by Christine Leonard-Cripps

Still Tuff Enuff
The legendary Thunderbirds remain 
Fabulous after all these years
Looking back on a career that spans 25 years, Kim Wilson couldn’t be happier with the view. As a co-founder of the seminal American blues outfit, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, the renowned singer and harmonica player has rubbed elbows with the elite of R&B, headlining music festivals around the world. It has been a long road from TFTB’s early days as the house band at a bar in Austin, TX, to opening for the likes of Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. Seeking out like-minded musicians with superior technical skills and a penchant for working the pocket, Wilson has successfully reconstructed the electro-blues juggernaut with Mike Keller stepping into the guitarist position formerly held by Jimmie Vaughn and Duke Robillard, Randy Bermudes on bass, and family-act Johnny and Jay Moeller sitting in on guitar and drums, respectively.

“I love this band,” reports an enthusiastic Wilson. “Things are running so smoothly and every single one of the guys is on such an even keel that we are able to improvise everything we do on stage, right down to the set list. We’ve struggled with that balance in the past. It’s a fine line. You don’t want to kill yourself, but you’ve got to have the desire to do it. When we were kids we were anaesthetized and didn’t feel it as much, but you don’t get to see much of the cities you’re touring when your head is stuck in the toilet. I was a wild man back then, now my head’s clearer and I can accomplish a lot more. There’s no limit to our creativity.”


Describing their fabulous sound as an “American hybrid,” the Thunderbirds get their biggest kicks out of bringing their bombastic blues-on-fire antics to audiences in a live concert atmosphere. Pulling out all the stops when he hits the stage, Wilson’s powerhouse performances bring crowds to their feet, with his soulful vocals and harmonica chops that summon the strength of a full-blown horn section. While he has cut back on his 250-gig-a-year schedule, Wilson is always open to new artistic ventures, finding that his talents as a lifelong bluesman are still very much in demand.

“I’ve been so fortunate to get to do a lot of these things,” he says. “Over the years I’ve played on more than 200 CDs. I find it very gratifying to be able to bring friends into the studio who are little-known but possess immense talent. Some of them are the last of their kind. There are really only a handful of true blues musicians left in the world today, so if you hear someone playing harmonica in the background on some record, check the liner notes — it’s probably me.”

  • The Fabulous Thunderbirds join Woodstock rockers Canned Heat, blues-rock institution Savoy Brown and more at the Calgary International Blues Festival, August 7 to 10.

by Christine Leonard


Orignally published August 7, 2008 in FastForward Magazine.

Nardwuar Interviewed by Christine Leonard-Cripps

Dispatches from the Nard Nest

The Human Serviette offers up old interviews


‘Doot doola doot doo’ — Hark, I hear the call of Canada’s favourite guerrilla interviewer, Nardwuar the Human Serviette 


Armed with a camera, microphone and that unmistakably grating voice, Canada’s own plaid-clad menace, Nardwuar the Human Serviette, cut his teeth on college radio and community access television in the ’80s. Steadily building a reputation for meticulously researched yet strangely awkward interviews, Nardwuar has had exclusive and revealing videotaped encounters with some of the biggest names in music. Known for stunning his unwitting prey with rapid-fire questions, he has a special penchant for steering the subject towards Canada, often referencing obscure facts.

A history major who wrote his thesis on the Kennedy assassination, Nardwuar has painstakingly archived his own journalistic trials and tribulations for posterity. This winter, he’s treating his fans to a dual dose of his zany antics in the form of Welcome to My Castle!, a double-DVD compilation of early exploits, and a full-length musical CD by his fun-loving pop-punk ensemble The Evaporators.

The new DVDs delve into Nardwuar’s past, from high school to 1999. “The earliest clip is from when some friends and I got dressed up to go trick-or-treating one Halloween and rented a video camera to tape the whole thing,” he explains. “We went to Jim Pattison’s house. He’s the guy who brought Expo ’86 to town. He’s like the Donald Trump of Vancouver. He actually invited us all in and gave us a tour of his mansion! It’s wild to reflect on it because now he’s a billionaire!”

Welcome to My Castle! offers hilarious tidbits, including clips featuring Bob “Gilligan” Denver, and one of Nardwuar’s personal favourites, Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees. The dual discs feature five and a half hours of interviews with a dizzying array of famous and now infamous players, ranging from Ron Jeremy to former president Gerald Ford.

Not content to merely reminisce, Nardwuar continues to record and release his own original music with his bands The Evaporators and Thee Goblins. Taking inspiration from the people and landscape around him, he unflaggingly demonstrates his affection for his hometown and Canada in general on The Evaporators’ new Gassy Jack and Other Tales.

“The new CD is all about Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada,” Nardwuar explains. “It’s an homage to the city, and there are all kinds of allusions to the Vancouver pioneers. We have a song about float planes, because those seem to be everywhere. We have a song about E.J. Hughes, who was a great Canadian painter who died in Nanaimo. We have a couple of songs about Saint Roch and navigating the West Coast. We even have a song about the sasquatch.”
Whether by default or design, Nardwuar has evolved into a professional celebrity interviewer; awarding him the unique position of an artist who is able to profile other artists and find out what makes them tick (or tick them off).

“I think that publicists these days are really good at warning their bands that ‘OK, this guy Nardwuar is a freak and there’s nobody like him,’” he says with a laugh. “But sometimes they forget. They leave the door open. Most of [the interviewees] probably forget about me the minute the interview wraps, although I was recently at a show and The Mighty Thor came up to me and said ‘Snoop Dog says hi!’”

Due to the combination of his dentist-drill-like interrogation methods, his ultra-nerdy appearance and his mild-mannered aura, Nardwuar has inevitably become the target of abuse by some of his interviewees. Sebastian Bach and Quiet Riot both reportedly destroyed his interview tapes. He’s been repeatedly robbed by Snoop Dog, mouthed-off by A Simple Plan, and Alice Cooper hung up on him mid-sentence. Despite this blatant mistreatment, Nardwuar has persevered over the years, earning both cult-status among music aficionados and the grudging respect of his would-be peers.

“The first time I interviewed Courtney Love, she scared the shit out of me,” he admits. “I wanted nothing to do with her ever again! But on another occasion, I won her friendship by buying her cigarettes, and she smuggled me backstage at a Nirvana concert. Not only that, but she also helped me to interview Kurt Cobain by helping along the conversation when he was only going to give me one-word answers. For example, I said to him, ‘So, Kurt, I hear that you’ve been surfing,’ and he’d just say ‘No.’ And she’d be like ‘C’mon Kurt, didn’t you dig clams at the beach that one time?’”
Nardwuar is all too willing to drop his notorious all-tartan wardrobe in the name of shameless self-promotion. He dares to bare his sasquatch-like chest hair inside the case of his new DVD, and has even produced an exclusive sliding pen that sees the usual curvaceous bikinied girl replaced with his hirsute form.

“Kelly Rowland once said she’d fly to Vancouver to watch if I ever got my chest shaved,” he recalls. “But I’d never shave my chest, not even for Beyonce! The Spice Girls are in Vancouver right now. I don’t think they’ll be talking to me, though. Which is unfortunate. I’ll talk to anybody — the formula remains the same. You go down the list and once you’ve gotten your answers, get the hell out. And by that I mean don’t stand around grinning like an idiot, like I did after I slipped into a press conference and asked Gorbachev which world leader wore the biggest pants. I should have headed for the door before anyone noticed I wasn’t supposed to be there.”

by Christine Leonard

Originally published December 6, 2007 in FastForward Magazine.

The Real Tuesday Weld : Stephen Coates Interviewed by Christine Leonard

The Clerkenwell Kid

All you other Tuesday Welds are just imitating



‘I immersed myself in four months of monastic study in the mountains of Spain. 
I didn’t find enlightenment, so I came down again’ — Stephen Coates 

Still waters may run deep, but it is the invisible current of the long-dry riverbeds beneath Clerkenwell, London that floods the senses and dreams of Stephen Coates. A musician by divine intervention rather than derivation, Coates is the intellectual and creative power behind The Real Tuesday Weld, a past-meets-present portal between musical eras and ideas. A master of sonic manipulation and timing, Coates uses a 1960s-style French cabaret backdrop to display his cut-and-paste reimagining of the British big band sound he grew up with. A place out of time, the spirit of Clerkenwell haunts each track as clarinets and oboes weave quirky-yet-catchy melodies around grainy, tin can vocals that recall the days when radio was the people’s medium of choice.

“My work is filtered against the background of Clerkenwell, the old neighbourhood where I live,” says Coates of one of his greatest sources of musical inspiration. “The city is an ancient and living thing that has cycles much like our own. I feel like I’m living in a process rather than a place. We are embedded in the past even as we send tentacles poking into the future. That’s what my music represents and what I tried to communicate with my early EPs and my first LP, At the House of the Clerkenwell Kid. I really love 1940s British jazz and the ’60s jazz chanteuse movement. I wanted to sample that sound and cook it up with some electronic minimalism to give it a new flavour.”


Translating his abiding love of visual art, film and literature into musical form, Stephen Coates paired his talents with those of writer and long-time friend Glen Duncan to create a unique audio soundscape to accompany live readings of one of Duncan’s novels, I, Lucifer. As fate would have it, what was to be a one-night-only piece of multimedia performance art grew in popularity and scope to comprise The Real Tuesday Weld’s second full-length release. Released to great public and critical acclaim in 2002, I, Lucifer the album featured the runaway hit “Bathtime in Clerkenwell,” a nonsensical and nostalgic romp that appears on several film soundtracks and was even used during an episode of Malcolm in the Middle. Being thrust into the international spotlight has been an interesting experience for Coates whose biography reads like something from a Somerset Maugham novel. Walking the razor’s edge between life and art, he continues to pursue enlightenment through entertainment by tuning his personal listening device to a higher frequency.

“I have to confess that I practiced Buddhism for quite a long time.”
Coates confides. “I left the Royal College of Art and immersed myself in four months of monastic study at a monastery in the mountains of Spain. I didn’t find enlightenment, so I came down again. Actually, my new album, The London Book of the Dead, is modelled after the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which is a guide to help the soul move between lives and intermediate states of being. I understand that Americans like big portions, so there are 16 tracks that follow a chronological path — childhood, adolescence, adulthood, parenthood, death and rebirth all over again. There’s wonder and optimism, but it’s balanced with cynicism at the same time. I felt it was appropriate because upon my return to London I experienced birth and death firsthand. I unexpectedly became a father and my own father died a week later. It put me into a real psychic spin, an unhappy whirlwind that had me pinned between birth and death.”

Tapping into his innermost thoughts during this difficult time, Coates utilized his mental discipline and love of art to channel his emotions through a musical conduit. He studied Jung and Hillman, and apparently had a shamanistic vision while camping in Wales, where actress Tuesday Weld and jazz legend Al Bowlly (who died in 1941) instructed him to become a musician. A genuine “go with the flow” attitude emerged as he began to form auspicious friendships and connections with random artists, musicians and authors who entered his circle of influence. As with his alarmingly successful experiment with Duncan in 2004, each of these seemingly random meetings became a catalyst for yet another series of projects and connections.

“I went into a strange place and began to study dreams,” he explains. “I started to take them seriously. I had no big plan; I was just making choices based on instinct. I still had fears, but I was in such an intense state that it didn’t matter. I’ve been very fortunate. I’m not sure what else I would do if this music thing hadn’t worked out.”

by Christine Leonard

Originally published October 18, 2007 in FastForward Magazine.

Pennywise Interview

Punk Rock Karma

Pennywise use their powers for good


Stalwart punk rockers Pennywise, who have been pounding out their 
melodic hardcore for almost 20 years, join Rise Against in 
Calgary and Edmonton for the charity-driven Jingle Bell Rock tour


When it comes to the pursuit of money, Pennywise have always remained true to their name. From the California ensemble’s formative years in the late ’80s, when there was never enough of the green stuff to go around, through to their current status as a group of legendary proportions, Pennywise has maintained an unfaltering sense of artistic direction while keeping an eye on the coffers. Now, after writing hundreds of songs and blowing thousands of minds, these stalwart punk rockers are more than willing to repay some of their good fortune.

“When we got the call, we didn’t have to think twice,” says bassist Randy Bradbury of his band’s decision to join Rise Against for Union Events’ annual Jingle Bell Rock charity tour. “We’ve always been involved with doing shows for charities. In fact, we just filled a sports arena for a concert we did in L.A. where all the profits went to charities of our own choosing. It’s important to us to help out these organizations, and anytime we can associate with someone who’s doing some good, we’re always happy to do our part.”

Having recorded some eight studio albums, most recently 2005’s The Fuse, Pennywise are constantly working on new material, and three years of downtime between recording sessions has given the lads plenty of time to amass new material. Bassist Bradbury (who replaced original bassist Jason Thirsk after his 1996 suicide) and fellow band members Fletcher Dragge (guitar), Jim Lindberg (vocals) and Byron McMackin (drums) are in the process of whittling down the new track list, employing a time-honoured test to decide which tunes make the final cut.

“We like to throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks,” says Bradbury with a chuckle. “There’s a lot to sort through and Jim has been writing like crazy, but I wouldn’t say the chances of this being a double-CD [as rumoured] are very good. We’ve always been very methodical about how we work. We want people to hear our music and give it as much exposure as possible, but at the same time, we don’t want to make any bad decisions or misrepresent ourselves. We want our albums to last. It’s a long, slow road to invest in them properly to make sure we’ll be staying around, rather than just jumping on the fast train like so many artists who are here today and gone tomorrow.”


Pennywise have consistently used their voice to speak out on the issues they feel are important. Whether it’s using cleverly derisive lyrics to malign authority figures or waxing melodic in tribute to a fallen comrade, the band’s reputation for telling it like it is, free from outside influence, has made them a touchstone for admirers of the true punk rock spirit.

“We’re really lucky to have a lot of control over the way this band is run on a day-to-day basis,” Bradbury says. “It’s important to us to keep it that way, and that goes back to the beginning of the band. These guys had it going on before I arrived on the scene, and they were already on an indie label. With the new album, I don’t think we have to take a step back from that.

“Epitaph has always given us artistic freedom. Most recently, we’ve been speaking with MySpace.com Records about a new deal. They are a widely known name, and they like what we do. They know our image and they want us to keep working just like we have been all of these years. We’ve realized all along that we want people to be able to hear our music, and now we’ve found a way to do that through MySpace… We feel that nothing is going to change, except that it will be a bigger release and bring more exposure to the band. We’re still working out the details, but the album will be available traditionally for purchase in music stores. I know if I like a band, I still want to have the disc in my hands and all the lyrics and cover art that goes along with it.”


Thrilled by the prospect of a rapidly expanding international listenership, Pennywise love to stir the melting pot. Like their contemporaries Black Flag, the Descendents and Bad Religion, they get their kicks from throwing a healthy dose of socio-political satire into their intelli-punk anthems. And while they may be a popular choice of kick-ass background music for extreme sports heroes, Pennywise are perhaps best known for lacing their raucous, mosh-pit-inducing performances with revolutionary tunes such as “My Own Country,” “Victim of Reality,” “Fight Till You Die” and many more.

“We know that no matter what we do, we’re always going to sound like Pennywise,” Bradbury acknowledges. “We always find a way to throw in a new dimension without changing too much. The idea is to use traditional elements in unexpected ways to expand the boundaries. Lyrically, we tend to project our perspective on whatever’s going on in the world, so you can pretty much guess what topics we’ll be addressing in the coming album. When we perform live, we try to give people a nice cross-section of our work, which is getting harder to do!”



by Christine Leonard

Originally published December 20, 2007 in FastForward Magazine.

Matt Costa Interviewed by Christine Leonard-Cripps

Living on the Edge

Former skater Matt Costa finds new thrills


“I don't believe everything I see/ and if you don't like the movie, then quit acting,” sings Matt Costa on “Mr. Pitiful,” the track that opens his latest full-length album, Unfamiliar Faces. A fitting sentiment for a multitalented individual whose own life has unfolded like something out of a Hollywood script. Considered a local hero around his old stomping grounds in Huntington Beach, California, Costa originally made a name for himself as a passionate and innovative pro skateboarder who loved good music and big tricks. His pro dream came to an abrupt end five years ago, though, when he shattered his leg.

“There’s nothing quite like that thrill you get when you’re leaning over a ledge just to see what it would be like if you fell — and then you fall,” says Costa of his former risk-assessment tactics. “Kind of like the time I was in San Antonio celebrating the Fourth of July with some friends. It was the perfect American scenario, with fireworks shot off as a train rolled by in the night. I was so drunk on tequila that I went right over the rail of my friend’s balcony. I landed face first in an agave cactus; it probably saved me from breaking my neck. If I was a cat with nine lives, I would have lost one just then.”

Music became Matt’s solace during the painful 18-month recovery that followed his accident as he channelled his energy into songwriting, singing and playing his guitar. His tentative demo, a homemade four-track recording, soon began circulating the So Cal music scene, eventually coming to the attention of No Doubt guitarist Tom Dumant, and subsequently surfer-cum-mellow-rock god Jack Johnson. Signed to Johnson’s Brushfire label on the strength of his beautiful folk-rock sound, Costa released his debut Songs We Sing in 2005 to critical acclaim and began touring widely with artists including Modest Mouse, Pinback, Gomez, Built to Spill and, most recently, Oasis.

“Not bad, hey?” says Matt Costa of his current tour mates. “I’m going to have to bring all of my muscle to the stage to stand up with these guys. But seriously, it’s an amazing feeling to be performing at this level. I don’t have much time every night, so I try to keep things concise. I’m constantly writing new material, but I also realize that, like anything, there’s comfort in repetition. It’s a form of mediation. For better or for worse, we humans are creatures of habit and we’re all doomed to repeat ourselves. I think that repetition often brings clarity. Like with skateboarding, I don’t think of it as practice — every time is the real thing. Every time counts.”

Making every moment count, Costa now finds his thrills performing in front of sold-out crowds, wowing audiences at festivals such as Lollapalooza, Coachella, Sasquatch, Austin City Limits and Bonnaroo. An amazingly adept observer of everyday minutia, he continues to find inspiration in common objects and ordinary interactions.

“I appreciate the harmony found in simple things,” says Costa, whose tune “Lullaby” was tapped by Johnson for the Curious George soundtrack. “My memories of listening to music as a kid are one of my greatest sources of joy. Sitting down at the piano, I still get so excited about the sound of music.”


by Christine Leonard

Originally published August 28, 2008 in FastForward Magazine.

Against Me! Interview

Anti~Everything!!!

Punk rockers Against Me! catch a new wave

More than a few eyebrows were raised in the music industry when confrontational rebel rockers Against Me! launched their most recent record, New Wave. Snatching the torch of rebellion back from the failing hands of the emo generation, the ever-ambitious eternal cowboys launched a full-fledged punk-roots-revival that embraced the genre’s most literate and intense qualities. Spin magazine called it the best album of 2007, and indie-popper Ben Lee was inspired to do a tribute cover of the entire recording

Since forming in Naples, Florida in 1997, the band has kept its focus on growing as musicians while maintaining an awareness of global issues. According to the group’s bassist, Andrew Seward, Against Me! is constantly reassessing their situation and the way they go about the business of being a band.

“When it comes right down to it, we’re more about surviving than being anti-everything,” Seward says as he relaxes in his backyard in Gainesville, Florida. “People make a lot of assumptions about us. They expect us to be difficult and inflexible, but nothing could be further from the truth. We’ve always been a band that believes in evolving. It’s not that we don’t know what to do; it’s more of a reluctance to be pigeonholed. We’re just trying to figure out what’s best.”

Appealing to the ears of a musically oversaturated public is one thing, but maintaining their status as artists is another. Striving to strike a balance between conscience and commercialism has become an all-consuming obsession for the fiery quartet, which has gone through seven record labels in the course of a decade. Their 2004 documentary DVD, We’re Never Going Home, followed the band as they toured the U.S. while courting million-dollar contract offers from the likes of Universal Records. They never signed.

When they did finally settle on Sire Records in 2005, Seward, along with lead vocalist and guitarist Tom Gabel, guitarist-singer James Bowman and drummer Warren Oakes, stated that their decision was largely influenced by the opportunity it provided them to collaborate with producer Butch Vig, who had worked on Nirvana’s Nevermind.

The band also has a reputation for refusing to take any shit, choosing to roll with the punches when circumstances change unexpectedly. When their third album, Searching for a Former Clarity, leaked to the Internet in advance of its release, the band didn’t whine. They plowed ahead and borrowed the song titles that their fans had bestowed upon the stolen tunes. The incident did help the band realize that people’s attitudes towards music are changing, though.

“Music has become disposable.” Seward reports. “No one buys CDs anymore. They’re irrelevant. Personally, I consider myself a collector — I would rather buy an actual vinyl record than download one of my favourite artist’s works. For instance, our friends in the band Torche just released an album called Meanderthal, and it has the coolest artwork. I really appreciate that; I view art and comics as part of the complete package.

“Of course, technology can’t duplicate the experience of seeing a band live,” he continues. “It is by far the most fun you’ll ever have. Our live show is our strongest asset. Once that goes, we’re fucked.”

by Christine Leonard

Originally Published September 11, 2008 in FastForward Magazine.