Music: An Interview with Rebel Few

Rebel Few band, Barry Martin, Chris Raposo, Jordan Malcolm, Mark Johnston

If music personified could show up to your house on the back of a motorcycle, kick down your door, burn your TOP-40 radio collection on your front lawn, and then flip you the bird as it left you jaw-dropped in the wake of its sonic existence… that music would be the music of Rebel Few.

Not quite 100% rock and roll, not quite 100% heavy metal – this underdog outlaw band of brothers hailing out of Cambridge, Ontario (Canada) IS 100% attitude… and you’ll feel that in your bones within the first seconds after you press play.

I had a chance to catch up with the entire band for an interview to see how things are going in the Rebel Few camp. We got to talking about the band and their name change from West Memphis Suicide and life in the ever-changing music business. We also went over how through it all, the band’s renegade attitude still remains the core for a group and fanbase that continuously say “no thanks” to following the trends so many others seek approval from.

This interview comes with a warning: the band and I have an extensive history of friendship and performing together… so in catching up, throughout this interview… there is laughter and lots of it.

Me: So we have a history between us – I already have a reasonably good idea of what you guys are all about. We’ve shared the stage many times in the past, and you guys were always one of my favorite bands not only to play with but also to stand in the audience and watch as well. However… let’s pretend that whoever reading this right now has never met you before or heard of Rebel Few. What’s Rebel Few all about? How did you guys get started? How long have you been doing this?

Barry: There’s probably a hundred answers to that one. I just found some old photos today of Chris (Raposo – vocals, lead guitar), and I starting out from 2005. That band was The Hang. Then West Memphis Suicide came along – probably in 2008. I think Adam (Shortreed – bass) joined West Memphis in 2013. Jordan, who we like to call “Young Buck Thunder” (Malcolm – drums), just joined us in Rebel Few recently.

Present lineup pictured above (Left to Right): Chris Raposo (Vocals, Guitars), Adam Shortreed (Bass), Jordan Malcolm (Drums), Barry Martin (Guitars)

Adam: Actually, I remember my first show with the band when we were West Memphis Suicide… and we changed our band name to Rebel Few mid-way through the show. We booked it as one band and ended it as another. I remember going into it being my first show and all, and Barry had made bets with all the guys in another band (Slik Toxik) that I was going to choke… so they were all up in the front row watching and waiting for me to do so *laughs*

Barry: If that’s not support, I don’t know what is *laughing*

*Laughing* That sounds like something Barry would do.

But actually, let’s talk a little bit about that. When I first met you guys, you were West Memphis Suicide, and you guys had a fairly decent following established already under that name, so what prompted the switch to Rebel Few?

Barry: Well, I know that you know how West Memphis Suicide went – a constant rotation of drummers. We had probably 9 different drummers in 8 years.

That’s right. Very much a Spinal Tap kind of thing happening *laughing*

Barry: Exactly. So when Paul (Oliver – former bass player) left the band Adam came in on bass, and Chris Spiers (former drummer) had become a regular member, we decided to change the name because we wanted a fresh start with something they could be a part of from the beginning. And then, you know, things took another left turn with members… so Spiers was out – Adam left for a while too, but now he’s back in, and we have YOUNG BUCK THUNDER here on drums now.

That makes sense. I always kind of wondered about that, because, going through a brand change essentially… it comes with fresh challenges, and fans don’t always like it too much.

I mean, I know you’re still playing the songs you wrote with West Memphis Suicide fairly regularly these days… at least the last time I was at one of your shows, it was a fairly even split between those songs and Rebel Few songs.

Barry: Yeah, we still play the old stuff.

Well, now I have to ask because I’m curious: I haven’t talked to a band yet that’s still active that’s gone through a massive change like that – you guys managed to change your “business name.” Most bands would cringe at the thought of having to get a new logo, website, merch, etc…. but also that as a band you need to get the message across to your fans that “okay, we’re a new band, but we’re still the same band” … so what’s that like? How did you guys deal with that?

Barry: Well, the name of the band doesn’t really matter as much as long as the heart of the band is the same. With us, Raposo writes the bulk of the music and 100% of the lyrics, so wherever he goes, that music is going to sound the same.

I get that for sure. But how about the other end of things – the business side? I can just imagine the scenario of where you’ve got this passionate fanbase, but then maybe some of your fans who weren’t as connected to you for whatever reason only know who West Memphis Suicide are. Then all of a sudden, that band is now Rebel Few, and some of those fans might need some time to realize that its the same band. Even with the same core members… you’ve got a brand switch that sometimes just doesn’t connect the same way with some fans because of pre-existing attachments to the old one. A different name can really change things – for better or worse.

For example, I sometimes wonder how a band like Black Sabbath would have faired with a name change from the era when they were with Ozzy Osbourne and then the era after with Ronnie James Dio. When Sabbath split from Ozzy and brought in Dio, they probably could have just called the band “Heaven & Hell” from the start (an eventual name they gave that lineup), and fans maybe wouldn’t have constantly compared them so aggressively. It was the same band with a different singer– but the band and their sound changed a lot – enough to sound like two completely different ones.

Rebel Few band live on stage - Chris Raposo, Barry Martin, Adam Shortreed

In their case, they changed a sound and a singer but not a name… and in your case, you changed a name, but your music and lineup remain largely the same. I’m just curious to know how your fanbase reacted to the whole thing.

Barry: If there was any gripe with our fans, we didn’t really hear about it. It was never really a big problem for us to be honest.

Well that’s great, glad to hear it.

Jordan:  I think people become emotionally attached to “that band” the way it is they hear them when they become a fan. A case of “they know it that way, and they like it that way.” I think we’ve all been there. But this band – everything about it is actually pretty much the same as it was before – so maybe that’s why fans were so quick to accept the switch.

I mean, I did *laughs*.

So with the band essentially being the same – West Memphis Suicide is now Rebel Few – the name has changed, but the music’s the same, the attitude and everything else is still the same… how would you guys describe your music then? Your style and your niche? I know how I would personally describe it, but I want to hear how you do.

Barry: Well now I want to hear how you would describe it *laughing*

Let’s start with yours first and we’ll get to my description after.

Barry: Well, for me, I’ve always said that we were too heavy for the rock crowd, too rock for the metal crowd, and too old for the cool crowd… but it’s still decent music, and I think people grab onto it.

Honestly, I think you should take what you just said and put it on a t-shirt… I think it would sell *laughing*

Barry: Maybe when I get into the t-shirt game *laughs*

So you’d say you’re kind of like a rock-metal hybrid band then. I would agree. I personally know you guys are big Pantera fans: but you don’t sound like Pantera.  When I describe your music, to me, its got a very bluesy southern rock vibe stacked onto a heavy metal sound… but not in the way you usually hear heavy bands approach that type of genre-mash up. Going back to Pantera as a comparison, you guys don’t have Phil Anselmo’s harsh vocal stylings. Chris’ are much cleaner, and the lyrical content is different as well, which is actually, in my opinion, a significant part of your sound. I think I’ve always considered Rebel Few as a group of rock and roll underdogs with some heavy metal beefiness.

Barry: Absolutely. Like, Raposo, he can play anything, and he’s obviously a huge Dimebag Darrell fan, but if he came out just ripping off Dime’s riffs all the time, then we’d just be a Pantera knock-off band. I myself love Lynrd Skynrd and ZZ Top, and Adam, well, he clearly loves Taylor Swift and all the lighter stuff… and Jordan, well, he’s 25, so we don’t even know what kind of stuff he’s into.

While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about your full range of influences then. Who do you guys bring as influences to the table when you’re all working together and writing music? How does the process work for Rebel Few?

Chris: I think it’s a mix of everybody’s influences we bring to the table. Mine, since I was 12 years old, is Pantera. I mean, I’ve always been a guy that can like this song or that song by any artist, but I could listen to Pantera albums all day long and all night long. Barry’s got a broad spectrum – if you ever saw his house, he’s got an enormous wall of CDs… tonnes of them. He’s always bringing something different depending on what he’s been listening to at the time.

Barry: That’s kind of how it goes. Whatever seems to be driving us at the time. Not necessarily one or two bands.

So you guys have been doing this for a while. What do you like most about doing this? For a living, I mean, as a paying gig –

Collectively: It’s paid?

Chris: Hold on, you’re saying it’s a paying gig? Who’s getting paid here *laughing*

*Laughing* Okay, well, SOMEBODY is getting paid in this business. Let me rephrase that: what do you guys like about it, money aside? Why do you do it?

Chris: In all honesty, for me, it’s about the connection you make with other people, many of whom you’ve never met before. The story I always bring up is being 2500 miles away from home, and Barry’s in the parking lot with his pants down around his ankles and a group of 20 people walk by, and they’re like “Oh my god – that’s Rebel Few” *laughing*

Barry: *Laughing* I was getting changed! I didn’t just have my pants down in the parking lot – I was getting ready to go on stage, and I was getting changed into my stage gear.

Adam: That’s his story and he’s sticking to it *laughs

Rebel Few bass player Adam Shortreed performing on stage

Chris: But, yeah, that connection – it’s what drives it all. Just after that incident, we went to play the show, and just being up on that stage and having all of these people in the audience sing our songs – it blew our minds. We looked up, and we were almost in tears up there, seeing this massive crowd of people do that. And then, after the show, people would come up to us and say, “this song helped me through this,” or “this song got me through that.” That’s what’s it all about – for me anyways.

The power of music.

Barry: Yeah. And for me, I’m also all about seeing the gig get put together and seeing it turn out well with people in the crowd. If I wasn’t playing guitar, I’d probably be a roadie of some sort– I just love the whole package of live music – I love gigs.

Adam: My favorite part of it all is when girls come up to me after the show and tell me I was awesome on drums.

Collectively: *laughter*

That’s a bass player comment if I’ve ever heard one *laughing*

So, as you might guess, this COVID 19 virus has been brought up in every interview I’ve done so far for the Creative Wealth Project because I started it after it forced everyone into lockdown – so I know things have been limited. That being said – what projects are you guys working on these days? What’s coming out?

Barry: Well, we’ve got a new album that seems like its been 20 years in the making.

Chinese Democracy part 2?

Barry: Something like that, yeah *laughs*

But we’ve got an album in the works, and we’re working on something today which I can’t divulge to you yet what that is.

Confidential? Consider me intrigued.

Barry: Well, the deal for me is, and I think these guys agree, is that with this whole COVID situation, if we record an album now, we might have to sit on it for a year before we can play any of it for the people. Between now and then, we might come up with other songs that are better than the ones on the album… so, we’re likely going to write, but wait to actually record.

That’s actually an interesting point. There’s been all this talk in the music industry right now about what bands should be doing with all of this forced downtime, given that nobody can go out on tour or perform live. As an industry in which most musicians make most of their income by performing (if they’re successful enough to do it today) – that’s a crappy problem to have. But the talk is that if you can’t go out and play, you should be writing some songs and recording an album.

Rebel few guitarist Barry Martin on stage in front of Rebel Few banner

Now on the surface that makes sense, but as you said, if you’re writing all these songs and you do just rush off to record an album, by the time you release it you might be sitting on two or three albums or just better stuff you could have recorded instead. Having extra songs ready is never a problem – but recording and releasing albums isn’t cheap – especially for an industry that is without a primary income for the foreseeable future.

Personally, I’ve been writing a lot of music during this lockdown, and I’ve got over 20 songs now that I’m sitting on… but I write new ones each week. But by the time I actually get to record any of them – who knows which ones will even make the cut? Something I wrote yesterday could be wholly cast aside in favor of something I write tomorrow.

Barry: Absolutely – you get the idea then.

Chris: We’ve done that with probably all of our songs right now – we keep writing new ones we like better.

So concerning that idea – do you guys have a song bank then that you draw from? A collection of songs written you choose from when you’re finally ready to put something out? I ask because I know you guys used to play new songs on stage frequently – shows that wouldn’t necessarily be marketed as a single release party or whatnot – but if you happened to be in the crowd that day you’d get a taste of what’s been going on in the Rebel Few camp.

Chris: We still do that – when we get the chance.

Barry: We once played the song “Said and Done” live before we even had any lyrics – we played it as an instrumental. Just because we were excited to play it – I think we announced it along the lines of “sorry guys to drag you through this, but this song is called Whatever You Name It.”

You know, now that I think of it… I might have been in the crowd for that one.

Rebel Few singer guitar player Chris Raposo silhouette on stage with hair flying

You guys mentioned that Chris does most of the writing primarily – so how does your creative process work? How much of the songs are done before you bring them to the rest of the guys?

Chris: Honestly, it varies. Sometimes I’ll have a full idea to work with, and a lot of times, Barry will hit a riff, and we’ll jam on it for 10 minutes or so and start forming some different parts around that. Other times Jordan might drop a beat, and I’ll start playing a riff over top of that – when the group gets a good vibe going, things just take off from there sometimes. There’s no one way – one recipe – for the most part.

Barry: I just steal riffs from Lynryd Skynrd and try to change them, so they don’t sound like Skynrd… *laughs*.

*Laughing* I was recently watching a documentary on rock and metal music in the ’80s, and they were asking Ozzy Osbourne what they thought of people trying to rip off his music. His answer was, “oh, we’re all f#*^ing thieves, man. Don’t even say we’re not – we’ve been stealing each other’s music for a long time now.”

Chris: I remember seeing that interview!

Yeah – so that’s funny you said that.

Now, lyrically, I would describe your music as songs for the downtrodden. As a band, you guys have always been about the little guy standing up against oppression of all kinds. Your D.I.R.T.BAG motto… let’s talk about that because that is something that I think people should know about – it’s your attitude and your values – and that is a huge part of what makes your band who you are. So, what does “D.I.R.T.BAG” mean to you guys?

Chris: The D.I.R.T.BAG thing kind of stems from my childhood. I used to get “seconds” and hand-me-downs from where my Mom used to work. I never had a pair of jeans – I was always in track pants – you know, the kind where one leg would be shorter than the other sort of thing. And so I used to get picked on a lot. There was a lot of bullying going around, and kids used to say about me, “here comes the dirtbag.”

So later on in life, I wanted to take that thing that kind of hurt me that whole time, and flip it around and make it something that I’d become comfortable with and that people would want to be a part of. So that’s where that whole thing stemmed from. We took each of the letters and put something that really meant something to us into them – being driven, having integrity, being respectful, and having trust – just that whole brotherhood vibe, that community family vibe. And once we put it out there, everybody kind of identified with it and latched onto it. It was awesome actually – to see it all.

Rebel Few singer guitarist Chris Raposo playing a guitar solo with head back

I think that’s huge. And you know, even though we played I don’t know how many times together, I don’t think I’ve ever asked you that before. I knew what the letters stood for – but the fact that there’s a meaning behind them all, and it’s a big part of what you guys do – that’s really cool.

Leading in from that, and I can name some myself, but any favorite stories from the journey? Any fun stuff – I know we’ve already talked about pants down – but any highlights from the road?

Adam: I can specifically remember a time waking up in San Antonio with everybody on the phone trying to order… well, let’s just say… well, I’m not gonna say *laughs*

Barry: Say what, Adam? What happened in San Antonio? *laughing*

Adam: It was pizza. Just. Pizza. *laughing*

Barry: Seriously, though, I think that anybody who’s paid attention to the band, the Texas experience was a highlight. For me, anyways. But that’s a long story.

I know some of that one – you guys went down there and got to work with some of the Pantera folks – Sterling Winfield, who produced some of their work, and you guys met Vinnie Paul at his house – that had to be huge for you guys being the fans that you are.

Chris: It was off the charts.

Barry: Absolutely. It was surreal. You know, seeing all of the home videos that they used to feature… and then seeing the guys who were in those home videos and becoming friends with some of those guys. Even after having maybe too much to drink in their kitchen – and having those guys still friendly with you afterward… it was awesome.*laughs*

See, that’s really cool – getting to meet some of the guys that inspired you. And from what I’ve heard you say before, it sounds like they were down to earth – the same kind of guys as you probably thought they would be. They say don’t meet your heroes… but sometimes it just works out, so that’s pretty awesome.

Barry: Definitely. But I guess that also depends who your heroes are too.

Adam: I can say from personal experience that nobody wants to meet me *laughs*

You’re right Adam. I never did *laughs*

Collectively: *laughter*

So this last question can be related to either starting a band musically or the business side of the industry. I say that because I’m sure you guys know as well as anybody else that there’s a lot of BS that comes with the music industry if you’re not careful about it. There are a lot of times artists with some hindsight wish they did things a little differently to save themselves some problems – so any advice for anyone getting started in the music industry?

Barry: Quit being lazy. Play as many shows as you can, but work hard at getting people out to those shows. Don’t just think you are going to show up, and there will be thousands of people there just eager to buy your stuff. That doesn’t happen.

Jordan: If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t make you better.

Barry: Also – never listen to drummers.

Adam: Try to join a band that’s already doing okay.

*Collective laughter*

Rebel Few members on stage at Hard Luck Bar - Barry Martin, Chris Raposo, Adam Shortreed

Chris: Do it for the right reasons. I think if you do that, then you’re always going to be successful no matter what level you reach. If you’re doing it because you love it and to vibe with it and share in having people dig what you’re doing – you’re on the right path.

Barry: Actually, lending to Chris’ points of doing it for the right reasons and doing it because you love it – Chris drove for about 4 and a half hours to be here today to jam. Even though there are no shows or anything specific on the immediate horizon. That’s dedication.

All excellent points. Now I have to bring this up because when we used to play gigs together, you guys used to do something that my band and I started to notice you did really well. Whenever you guys seemed to do new shows in the same areas, you’d always have new merch available – a new t-shirt design or whatever, and even though a lot of people in the audience were the same people who came to your last show… you always seemed to clean up at the merch table.

I know YOU didn’t say it… but I definitely wish my band did that back in the Creekwater Junkies days.

Barry: Well, we’re not stupid you know *laughs*.

*Laughing* Well I think that’s all I have for you guys today – by the looks of it you’ve got some jamming to do. Thanks again for taking the time for an interview, it was great to catch up, and I can’t wait to hear the new stuff once you’re able to get back on stage and in a studio!

Barry: Anytime Mitch, great talking with you.

Be sure to check out more from Rebel Few on Spotify, Youtube and Facebook (linked below)… give them a like and a share if you dig what they do – these guys wave the flag of supporting independent music – so go do it!

Don’t forget to also share and follow The Creative Wealth Project for more interviews and tips on how you can grow in your creative field!

Hot Lips - band photo

Music: An Interview With Hot Lips’ Keith Heppler

Hot Lips band photo shoot
Keith Heppler, Karli Forget, Alex Black

Whoever said you absolutely need guitars to make some noise in the rock n’ roll scene obviously hasn’t listened to Hot Lips before.

A power trio hailing from Toronto, Canada, the band brings a unique brand of electro-grunge rock that drips of a dark, mysterious sexiness with every brooding note.

Likening them to the type of synthesized thunder you’d expect to hear playing in seedy underground clubs (like the ones featured in films like XXX), I was ecstatic to sit down with Hot Lips’ drummer Keith Heppler and explore their music. We got to talking about many facets of the music business and, of course, the waves the band has been making across Canada and internationally with their aggressive industrial sound.

Me: Hi Keith, thanks for joining me today.

Keith: Hey Mitch, no problem, glad to tune in for a chat.

So let us just jump right in then. Pretending that anyone reading this article right now has never heard of you before, can you tell us about Hot Lips as a band? How you guys got started, how long have you guys been doing this together?

We founded in late 2016. I met Karli (Forgèt – vocals, synthesizers) through a Craig’s list ad. She had some demos that she posted online that I really liked, and I had already known Alex (Black – bass, vocals). Alex had previously tour managed for another band I was in, so when Karli and I started jamming, we were tossing out names, and I suggested we jam with Alex. When we did, we just kind of knew that that was the right line up. So the three of us have been going as this trio ever since.

So Hot Lips is based in Toronto, right? Everybody’s from Toronto?

Yeah, we’re all located right downtown Toronto.

Keith Heppler playing drums
Keith Heppler (Photo Credit: Dylan Weller)

When listening to Hot Lips, I found myself picking out many different notes of different things in your sound. The first thing I noticed was that Karli’s voice at times kind of has a little bit of a Pretty Reckless sort of thing going on –  just maybe tones in her voice that remind me of Taylor Momsen’s take on rock music – but I wouldn’t describe that as your band’s sound. I’m hearing notes of maybe a little bit of a tamer version of Rob Zombie, a little bit of Nine Inch Nails, and while I never really listened to their style of music as much as others, a little bit of Garbage too.

Garbage and Nine Inch Nails are significant influences on us. There’s also a band called IAMX, which is Chris Corner’s (of the Sneaker Pimps) solo project that we’re also really into. But really, each of us has our own different influences. Alex is really into stuff like Rob Zombie and Nine Inch Nails, whereas I’m really into stuff like Nirvana and Fugazi. I also really like bands like At the Drive-In. Karli is really influenced by stuff like Garbage and The Sneaker Pimps and even some trip-hop type of stuff. So when you throw all of that together, we’re what you get.

That’s cool because I was going to ask you how you actually describe your music to other people regarding your style or niche. For me, it’s got that grunginess to it but also an industrial kind of sound.

We call it electro-grunge. It’s really 90’s influenced but with a little bit of an industrial and electronic vibe sprinkled on top.

Electro-grunge… that works! It really makes sense, too, because one of the first things I noticed when I looked up your band was that you don’t have a guitar player. Especially in this type of music and the fact that you’re a trio – that’s exceptionally rare to see.

No, and that was one thing that we thought about when we started. We wanted to try to do something different. All of us had come from the traditional two guitars, a bass, and drums kind of band arrangement before this. Personally speaking, I’m always a massive fan of bands that don’t sound like anything else. A band like Primus is a good example – when I hear something like that, I just love it. So when we started Hot Lips, we really wanted to hold songwriting as our most important focus, but we wanted to try to do it a bit unconventionally.

So taking the guitar out was a purposeful decision. I find that particularly neat because it actually is just so different than what’s out there in any contemporary style of music that’s not directly on the pop or hip-hop charts.

Yeah! And the joke is whenever people ask us why don’t we have a guitar player, we ask them, “have you ever met a guitar player?”

*Laughs* As a guitar player myself, I find that quite funny.

*Laughs

So you touched on some primary influences to your band’s work – would you say that when you all came together, that it was a conscious decision to take those influences and make your sound? Or was that just kind of how it came out?

A little bit of both, I think. Without really speaking about it, I think we inherently wanted to do something a little bit on the heavier side. We’re all fans of loud, aggressive music. But I don’t know if we ever really talked about it. As we started writing and playing shows and touring, we got to know each other pretty well and discover each others’ influences. There’s a lot of down-time on the road, and so you have a lot of time to share music with each other. We’d often get caught playing Youtube roulette – like, “oh, have you seen this video?” “no, but have you seen this one?” – and that just kept going until eventually all of our influences rubbed off on each other.

Hot Lips Band
Keith Heppler, Alex Black, Karli Forget
From left to right: Keith Heppler, Alex Black, Karli Forgèt

So how does your creative process work then? Do you guys all write? Do you have one primary writer?

Karli’s our primary writer. It’s actually interesting because when I first met her, I knew her from around the scene – but she was another drummer. This is the first band she’s ever sang in or played anything but drums in. So when I first met her for this band, we were talking, and she told me, “I don’t even have a keyboard,” and I just remember saying, “it doesn’t matter, we’ll get one, we’ll figure it out.”

But from the start, Karli’s always been the primary songwriter. Alex and I just kind of help with the arrangements. We might suggest to make a chorus twice as long, or try different parts out in different places, or have an idea for a bridge… but usually, Karli will send us a pretty fully formed demo of a song with her playing bass, drums – the whole deal. But she’s pretty cool, she’ll have us put our own spin on it.

That’s cool. I’m always interested in, especially with the diverse style of music out there, how creative processes are so different all the time. Even myself in this isolation phase, I’m writing all sorts of new music, and I’m trying to do it differently than I ever have before. I’ve always been in metal or rock bands, but now I’m sitting down with an acoustic guitar and taking an attitude like “let’s just see what comes out this way.” When I hit the studio with the music eventually, I’m aware that it’s not just going to be me singing with an acoustic guitar, but by writing songs so bare, I’m really curious to see what other people come up with when they hear them so stripped.

Yeah absolutely.

So as a pre-emptive question to the next question, I want to ask: how long have you personally been doing the band thing?

I’ve been playing in bands since I was 14 years old. So… awhile *laughs*.

So what is it then about doing music or creative type of work that you like most?

Oh, man. Everything. I like it all. I love the challenge of trying to get better all the time, I like the camaraderie of being in a band, I like playing live, I like improving in the studio, I like traveling, I love meeting people. I’ve always kind of thought that making an album was like putting up a flyer for a show – I’ve always thought of it that way. Playing live is 100%, my favorite thing. I like everything about it.

Speaking of live performances, I saw in the press release you sent me that you guys had a tour that’s been postponed.

Yeah, just like everybody else right now.

So, pursuing creative work for a living then, and that right there is a good example, are there a lot of challenges you find that come with it?

Of course. I mean, it’s a gig economy, so there are always going to be challenges. Right now, in particular, is a tough time for everyone, and it’s going to be interesting to see how the industry adapts and reacts to it. I don’t want to get into COVID-19 too much, but it’s definitely an interesting time, and I’m just trying to look at it like another challenge to overcome. It would be easy to throw my hands up in the air and say, “we’re not going to play for another 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 months” and then just sit around and wait for it to pass… but instead, I like to think we can just figure out how to deal with it.

I’m sure you can relate to this – but the industry we grew up in has always been in a state of flux. I started playing in bands the year Napster launched… so I grew up watching Much Music and seeing the old model of business alive and well. However, when it came time for my own personal application of everything I’d been watching, my experience was completely different.

For example, at one time, success in the music industry used to be about iTunes and getting an iTunes exclusive. Then streaming came along. MTV was trying to hold on to the music video market, and then that went out the window because Youtube took over. Music videos used to have big budgets – now you’re shooting a video in your sister-in-law’s wine cellar.

My point is that it’s really still the industry I grew up dealing with – it’s always been in a state of flux. There are always challenges you need to pivot around and adapt with – this COVID virus is just a little more extreme one. It’s still a bummer though: I do not deny that. When I look at my phone, I see notifications of where I was supposed to be right now – last night I should have been playing in Cincinnati. I really should turn off those notifications *laughs*

Hot Lips Band Performing
Alex Black, Karli Forget, Keith Heppler

You make an excellent point – the music industry has definitely been in a state of constant change. Thinking back about it now, my own personal band experience was kind of similar in the sense that we were trying to do things in an old way when the music industry was already going somewhere else.

The model we grew up seeing.

Exactly. And not to mention the challenges that come from being in Canada – I’m sure when you guys tour the States, you quickly see the difference – you can play in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York twice and New Jersey and yet you haven’t traveled really at all. Then there’s trying to tour this giant landmass.

*Laughing* Definitely. Have you ever done a tour that starts in Vancouver? You have to drive all the way out there with no shows on the way, and then you just work your way back. I’ve done a few of those. If you take the Lake Superior route, you’re driving 8-10 hours per day and still playing shows the same day with no days off.

But then you go down south into the States, and it’s great – you can tour California for like 3 weeks – just one state.

*Laughing* Yeah, there are definitely a few odds stacked against Canadian musicians at the start, but like you said, that’s just another challenge.

Then again, the world has changed, so now you don’t necessarily need a record deal and key to the jumbo jet to get your career going. You can put your music online and find fans first that way – so at least when you do tour, it won’t be to empty venues. You have to be a little more creative in how you find your audience, but you can do it.

Yeah, as a band you are more accessible than ever now, but I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing, because so is everyone else. The new challenge is trying to find a way to speak through all the white noise and stand out for a second.

However, I will say that because there’s so much more music available, there’s so much more good music available. Everyone seems to like to focus on how there’s all this crap out there, but I’m constantly intimidated and inspired by what I hear. There are many bands we play with and other artists out there that just continue to blow my mind all the time. That’s really cool, I think – as a fan at least.

Absolutely. And you know, music has always been a reflection of culture, so who knows, maybe 50 years down the road people will look back at this time and see that it was the start of something that had never happened before – the accessibility of music. Not too long ago, you used to be able to go to a bar and see an excellent band all of the time – but you’d have never heard of them ever unless you were actually at that bar… and now…

Yeah, things have definitely evolved from that.

Jumping forward a bit, let’s talk a little bit about what you sent me: the music video for the song “Cry Wolf.”

We filmed the video in February – so before all this COVID outbreak hit North America and became as real to us as it has been. The song coincidentally deals with a lot of the themes that are relatable right now – being trapped and confined inside your own head with your thoughts, unable to escape them, being sort of forced into self-reflection.

We’re super proud of it. We got Steph Misayo Seki from a band called The Primitive Evolution to play cello on the track, and this is one of the first times we’ve ever incorporated a classical instrument into our music. That day in the studio was so much fun. Steph is so talented, and just watching her add to the song and hearing it get this new dimension from her cello was great. I really like that the part is not sampled – it was very organic – we mic’d up a cello, and Steph just came up with the most brilliant parts after having listened to the song demo. It was really cool.

That’s awesome. I really liked the tune (check it out below).

That being said, what other projects are you guys working on right now? Your tour has been postponed – so what else is coming down the pipeline? What else is on the go?

Well, we went into the studio before all this COVID stuff happened, and we did some work that kind of got put on the back burner because we were going to be on tour. But since the shutdown, we recorded a song and a video we shot ourselves in our practice room while social distancing.

How did you do that?

We took turns. I would go in one day, and the drums would be mic’ed up, and I’d record my drum part and film it. Then Alex would go in the next day and put down his bass part and film it, and then Karli the third day. Then we just mixed it remotely yesterday and put it all together. So that’s going to come out just probably, early summer, July maybe.

We also just booked some time in the studio because we found out studios are opening again during phase one – so we booked some time as quickly as we could. Karli’s been writing and sending us tonnes of demos, and so as long as things don’t get too crazy, I think we’ll try to get together and work on them.

There are definitely all sorts of red tape on how to do things right now – another challenge, I suppose. But it doesn’t seem to be stopping the music community completely. I have been recording the same way that I’m talking to you right now… with my phone. I’ll just sit and sing with my acoustic guitar, get a really rough demo recorded, and then send that track to another guy a few hours away. The mood seems to be one of “hey when we finally get to do this, this will be cool!”

It’s definitely cool that with the advent of software like Garageband or Logic, you don’t really need to know much to be able to share ideas back and forth with each other from all over the world.

It will do for the time being at least.

Absolutely. This virus actually let us take a bit of time off, too – which is something you need once in a while. We took a few weeks off because we’ve been going at this pretty full-time for a couple years now. We’ve seen each other pretty much every day for the last two years… so a little time off to clear our heads has been helpful.

Yet now I’m really excited to hear what kind of music we write with a fresh mindset. We had been in a cycle of “write, record, do shows – lather, rinse, repeat” for so long, so it’s going to be a nice change.

Time off is something that I think a lot of people forget how important it actually is.

Now, this next question is a bit off-script of what I usually put together to ask artists… but I noticed you guys have a lot of short EP releases – what’s the strategy there?

Initially, we just didn’t have money to do more, so we would just put out what we could afford to make *laughs*

But it goes back to what we spoke about earlier… it’s another experiment in being different. We thought about putting out singles or just 2 or 3 song EPs because we’re a relatively young band, and we weren’t sure we hadn’t totally found our sound. It was something different than the old way of putting out a full-length album. I feel like albums can get really easily buried and lost in the music scene today, but if you’re continually putting out singles, you’re always attracting new attention. We actually took a cue from a lot of rappers in that regard – we were just trying to think outside of the box. Because like I was saying, the industry is constantly in flux, and especially for an indie band, if you don’t have a full team behind you or a big budget, you’ve really got to find a way to make every dollar go as far as it can.

It’s definitely something I see happening more and more often these days – constant single releases in favor of a full-length album.

Absolutely, and it’s an efficient way for a band to stay relevant. For example, instead of having one CD release show in Toronto, we might do two or three single release shows. We still put together the same amount of promotion for them, and they’re still release parties. That’s important to note because it still gives those shows the kind of weight that makes them not just another gig – because there’s a purpose behind them.

Then, those release shows get followed up by a run of other shows in southern Ontario and northern USA to promote the release. With the money we make from those performances, we can reinvest into going back into the studio and recording another two songs – maybe with a new producer the next time. We would do all of that in a cycle – and it just keeps the band’s growth accelerating.

Keeping yourself busy all the time – there’s no lull – I like that. Instead of the “here’s the big buildup, here’s the CD release” and then silence for 6 months.

Yeah, it’s a low-key way of being on people’s radar and trying to stay in their faces. Because you know, I watch a lot of bands put out an album, and they have this massive build-up for it. They release the record and maybe do a short tour of 5 shows to promote it… but after that’s all done, I don’t hear about them for a while. What happens a lot after that, and maybe it’s just because their music didn’t get picked up on a playlist – I don’t know exactly what happens or why – but a lot of those bands just kind of fade away. So we’re trying to avoid that.

It’s definitely easy to miss an album release and keep the momentum going with so much continually coming out these days.

You see it all the time.

So another thing I wanted to talk about was travel.  You guys, from my understanding, head down south to the States a fair bit. Now, this isn’t something I’ve really talked about with another artist yet, but are there any challenges you face or advice you have related to playing out of your home country?

I mean crossing the border is never fun, but I don’t know, maybe we’ve just been lucky in that nothing too severe or stressful has happened to us concerning playing outside of Canada.

How about actually getting across the border?

I think a lot of bands get spooked about work visas. There’s a bit of a cost that comes with one at first, but it’s not really a big deal.

When we decided we wanted to start playing down south, we just kind of reached out to some people and went after it. Now, we have an agent and a manager, but before that and we put our team together, I just started asking people I knew had done it and people who managed artists “how did you do it?” and more often than not, they would just tell me. We were never afraid to ask.

Any advice to someone trying to do start playing down south?

Just do it. I can say that to expect for the first time you go down there, it’s like anything – you’ll be playing to about 5 people at first. But maybe you’ll talk to one of the guys in another band or a promoter, and then next time you end up playing another show or a CD release party and then you’re playing to 100 people.

There are a few learning curves at first with the visas and paperwork, but that’s something you just have to do if you want to go. Learn about it – it’s not hard, but it’s worth it.

What’s the whole States’ side experience like then?

People down there are great. The promoters are really reliable, there’s a lot of talent, and the fans at the gigs are fantastic.

Don’t get me wrong – I love playing in Canada, and I don’t prefer one country over the other, but the USA has bigger markets. We’ve been having a great time down there.

That’s great man, glad to hear it.

So we talked a little bit about the “new way” of doing things in the music industry. There seems to have been a shift where many artists are doing a lot of things independently. What are your thoughts on that?

It used to be people thought, and sometimes still people think this way, that getting that elusive record deal means you’re then home free – but that’s not true by any stretch of the imagination. You still have to do all of the work you would anyways, and I think people have started to realize this, and so more artists are going the independent route.

I’ve actually seen lots of artists become very successful doing everything themselves, and because of that, they owe nothing to no one, be it personally or financially. They own all their own music and their own masters too – and that can be huge.

That kind of speaks to the whole purpose of why I started the Creative Wealth Project. I personally think the independent route is very possible today, and so why not do things yourself and for yourself? There are a lot of other creative people out there who want to work with you, and you can form long-lasting relationships and get repeat business transactions from each other. I mean, I would love one day for this thing to snowball to the point that a band looking for an artist could come here and find someone who ends up doing their artwork. Or a new band or artist looking for tips on their profession could come here to read an interview like this one and learn some mistakes to avoid or take away other advice.

Absolutely. I have learned a lot of different things from a lot of different people in different roles to get where I am today.

Close up shot of Karli Forget
Hot Lips Band

I don’t doubt that. I mean, for me, music and writing might be my bread and butter, but as I’m sure you have too, I’ve worked with producers, graphic designers, videographers, etc. and there are all sorts of intricacies to their particular specialties that especially when starting out I didn’t understand. Yet they all were essential to my finished product, and so I found it valuable to learn about them.

Yeah, and I can attest to that. I have learned so much about so many things since I started music as a profession. I initially began booking shows when I was in high school because I just wanted to play some. I didn’t know how other bands got shows, so I just started asking. I knew a lot of great bands that rarely played because they told me nobody ever offered them shows – I never understood that. Like, why not ask for some or learn how to book them yourself? So I started asking questions, and things just went from there.

Since then I’ve learned a lot about merchandise – things like screen printing and how that works, how t-shirts are cut, what quality cotton of you should have…I’ve learned about cameras, I’ve learned about editing, I’ve learned about vans.

*Laughing* Okay, I’ve learned A LOT about vans. 

*Laughing* Oh boy, tell me about it.

But I get what you mean. Again, using myself as an example, I might be a guitar player who just thinks my focus should be on playing guitar – but it doesn’t take long in a music career to find out things and learn some lessons the hard way if you don’t dedicate some time to learning new things.

I remember when I found out that certain colors don’t print the same on t-shirts as they do album covers. That’s a mistake that could have been avoided by hiring or consulting with an artist instead of just assuming they’d print the same – and that batch of t-shirts would have turned out a lot better.

Yeah, and then there’s the business and legal stuff too – how to get commercial insurance, how to get a work visa, how to drop ship t-shirts to a venue while you’re on the road. It’s actually all been a sort of blessing learning all of this stuff when really I just started out wanting to be a drummer.

Essentially, once you start playing for money, you’re an entrepreneur. Most musicians have to be. It’s really not that different than opening up a restaurant – yours just moves around a lot.

I’ve always said that – being in a band is like operating a traveling lemonade stand.

We’re almost getting ready to wrap up here, but I have to ask: do you have any favorite stories from the road or in the music business? These are always fun personal touches I like to throw into these interviews.

I’m not so sure I have one ready. We’re a pretty behaved band, we’re pretty focused… but I guess off the top of my head, I have one about our first away gig that we did and stayed at a hotel in Windsor. We partied pretty hard after the show, and Karli had this aerosol can of glitter spray, and for whatever reason, I insisted she cover me in it – head to toe. I just laid there on the bed and insisted she spray it over me… and dude, that shit was in our van, my clothes, and really just everywhere for months afterward. I don’t know why I asked her to do it – I had too much tequila, I guess… but when I went home and crashed next to my wife, and she woke up, and she was not impressed. I couldn’t wash it out. It was bad. Even now… sometimes I still find glitter on some of our equipment or in the van – and that happened over three years ago.

*Laughs* See, there you go – great story.

Last but not least, do you have any crucial advice for someone else just getting started in the music business or in music in general?

As a performer, or otherwise?

Well, my understanding based on the fact that you were the one who reached out to me for this interview is you’ve learned a few things about music and the business side too. I had that same responsibility once. My role in my former band, aside from being the lead guitar player, was also the guy who did all the business kind of stuff – booking shows, scheduling interviews, all that stuff – so do you have any lessons from along the way in that role? Things that after doing this for years now, looking back on your career, you might say, “I wish I knew this back then” or “doing things this way would have saved a lot of time or hardship”?

First and foremost, I’d make sure you always represent yourself properly.

Hot Lips Band performing
Karli Forget, Alex Black, Keith Heppler
Photo Credit: Dylan Weller

But when you’re first starting a band – just play. A lot. Play anywhere, because you’re going to learn just as much if not more from the crappy gigs like playing in someone’s basement with a blown-out PA. A show like that, even though it might be a terrible show at the time, is going to make your band a lot stronger down the road. Anyone can play well when you have great monitors and a great sound system, but I’m always impressed with bands who can go into a concrete basement where it’s almost impossible to sound good, but yet they always do. Or bands that are having the worst gig of their lives but you in the crowd can’t see any of that because they’re so slick about it – they’ve dealt with everything already that could possibly be thrown at them.

And lastly, I’d say to try really, really hard. There are so many people out there doing the same thing – so you have to put the work in. Playing music is fun for sure, but if you’re serious about it, it’s a lot of work – as I’m sure you know. Don’t skimp on things. Don’t cancel rehearsal to go watch Netflix or do something else. Show up on time, show up prepared, and do it regularly. We always try to be a self-sufficient band – we don’t want to rely on anyone else. We work very hard to be known as a reliable, professional group.

Great advice, Keith. I will say that I definitely know reputation goes a very long way. And not just your reputation for how you deliver on stage, but off stage as well.

Oh yeah – have you ever worked with a band that’s a bunch of dickheads? They’re the worst. It doesn’t matter how good they are – you’ll never play with them again.

Well, I think that’s all I have for you today, my friend! Thanks for taking the time to join me, we covered some great stuff today! Looking forward to checking out the new stuff you guys have been working on in the future!

Thanks Mitch, it was great talking to you!

Be sure to check out the band at their website and social media listed below – stay posted for tour dates (eventually) and new releases!

Website: https://hotlipstoronto.com/home

Of course, don’t forget to follow The Creative Wealth Project below – more interviews with artists, bands, graphic designers, and other creative industry types are coming soon in addition to useful articles to help you build your career in the creative world!

Art: An Interview with Robbie Woolner (Woolner Wood Arts)

Wood carved rock and roll heavy metal band figurines, drummer, two guitar players, bass player and singer.

If you’re anything like myself, you probably don’t immediately think of carving when you hear the word art, yet when you see it well done… that perception/association quickly changes. Robbie Woolner’s carved art is a perfect example to demonstrate that point with.

I was lucky enough to catch up with Robbie (an old friend I met in my Creekwater Junkies days) who’s become seriously talented working with wood and other mediums. He’s used his skills to start his own business Woolner Wood Arts (based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada).

In this interview, Robbie and I discuss how he started working within this unique niche of art and how he successfully used his carving talents to start his own business. Of course, I also managed to get some advice from him for other artistic types to help them do the same with their own creative talents.

Me: Hey Robbie, how have you been my friend? Long time no see!

Robbie: I’ve been good man, nice to hear from you!

Yeah, it’s been nice to catch up! That being said, it’s great to have you here today, because I think what you’re doing with Woolner Wood Arts is really cool. As I think you’re sort of familiar with the format of these interviews, let’s get started!

Let’s start with you: tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get started in carving? How long have you been doing it?

I started carving in 2016. Nothing fancy to tell really as I just went to the beach one day and brought home a piece of driftwood, picked up a knife and just started whittling it on my porch. The next thing you know, I had a face carved, and I started showing it to some people, and everybody loved it. I found that I loved doing it, and it wasn’t much longer before I started doing it full time.

Robbie Woolner of Woolner Wood Arts
Robbie Woolner

So you just started on a whim?

Kind of, yeah. I mean, my Dad used to carve when I was in my teenage years, and my Mom’s also an artist, so in a way, art comes with my genes, I guess. I’ve got artist genes in me.

That’s interesting. Kind of cool how carving, which is a craft that I will admit to me seems pretty unconventional, was just something that kind of popped out of the blue for you. Now I understand you do it as sort of a side hustle?

Yes, currently, that’s the case. I was doing it full-time for a while – but I’ve reduced my work to part-time at the moment. I took on a full-time job a few months ago, and so I’ve slowed things down since then.

I’m still carving, but I’m just not taking on as many commissions. I’m more so carving a lot of pieces for myself, things that I like that I will sell.

But you do you still do commissions, right?

Of course. I’m just not taking on as many because my time is limited. Some clients will come to me with an idea, but they want it done within a week. That’s fine, but many times, they don’t realize some of these things might take me a month or more to do properly.

I could see that. I’ve seen a lot of your work… it can be pretty elaborate.

Definitely.

So how would you describe your work? Of course, anyone perusing your site or this post can see some of it, but how would you describe your style?

My style is pretty obscure. The type of stuff I’m really into – skulls and heavy metal inspired art – I’d say that my style takes a lot from that category.

But honestly, I don’t need much more inspiration than whatever pops into my head at the time. Otherwise, I might see something online or somebody else’s work that I thought I could improve upon or change to my liking and so I’ll do that.

Well regarding your heavy metal comment, I can see in the background of our chat you are sitting in front of your massive wall of band t-shirts…

Yeah! Recognize this one? Creekwater Junkies! *laughs*

*Laughs* Takes me back! So heavy metal artwork is a prime influence – that’s cool crossing mediums like that.

Yeah, I’d say so. It’s definitely a massive influence on my art. I used to draw a lot too when I was younger, and the only types of things I ever drew were skulls and demons. I didn’t draw angels or puppies or anything like that, you know?

*Laughing*. Didn’t take you for the type. So do you have any personal influences then? You did say your Dad was a carver.

I would say that, yes, he would probably be my prime influence – both of my parents would be.

But also there are some heavy metal artists like Pushead (who did designs for artists like Metallica and the Misfits) and the artist that does Iron Maiden’s artwork – Derek Riggs – he’s been a significant influence.

I used to constantly try to draw Eddie of Iron Maiden (the band’s mascot). They’re my favorite band, and so I used to draw Eddie everywhere I went for years and years. Derek’s artwork was a big influence on me when it came to skulls and art themes like that.

I mean, I have to wholeheartedly agree with you on how cool their artwork is – my left arm is wholly tattooed in Iron Maiden artwork. They have some of the best artwork in music, in my opinion.

THE best.

So even though you’ve limited commissions for a little while – what do you like most about carving? About creative types of work?

When I’m carving or drawing, I find that it pretty much takes me to another place. I kind of disappear into my mind when I’m doing it – I’m not worried about things like this COVID-19 virus. I’m not thinking about it, and I’m not thinking about anything else that I usually think about. I just disappear into my own little world.

Sometimes I’ll be carving something, and I will look up at the clock and go “wow, I started doing this at 9,” and meanwhile it’s then 1 o’clock in the afternoon.  I always find myself asking, “where did those hours go?” but then I look down at my work, and I’m like, “oh, that’s where they went.”

Your slogan/tagline “Carve into it” – is that where that comes from?

That’s exactly where it comes from. I found that eventually, instead of just wood, I was picking up everything that was “carve-able” and making all sorts of different things out of all kinds of different materials… and so “carve into it” kind of became applicable – and I use that philosophy with life too… like, just jump right in and give it a shot.

A little life philosophy thrown in there too – I like that! But also… you don’t just do wood art then?

No! Anything that I think I can carve –  any medium that can be shaped or moved with another medium, I’ll pretty much try it. I do golf balls, I’ve done rocks, and right now, actually, I have a pool ball I want to shape into something.

Actually, now that I think of it, I saw something you posted about these bone rings you were working on.

Yeah! I have some bone rings I’ve been doing – making skull-shaped rings out of real bone. I also want to carve a couple skull pendants, and some people have asked me to do some dreadlock beads carved out of bone as well.

So if someone found like antlers, or something like that…

Yeah, actually, here’s an antler tip right here *shows me*. I’ve actually got a grim reaper already ready to go drawn on it ready to carve. So I’ll turn that into a pendant or something you wear.

Wow, that’s awesome.

Yeah but it stinks man – not the art, the actual smell of it *laughs*.

I’m telling you working with some of this stuff – bone and antlers – it smells like you’re at the dentist; it smells like burning teeth. It can be terrible – but otherwise, I like working with it, it’s a fun medium for art.

Hmmm… yes, I can imagine burning organic matter… working with that might smell a little off-putting *laughs*

Yeah it sure does.

*Still laughing*

So that kind of leads me nicely into my next question then – what projects are you working on right now? What kind of stuff do you have coming out?

I’ve been doing some fence board painting actually. I’ve made some things for my sensei, and I’ve got a few projects other clients want me to do – making some signs for people’s cottages and stuff like that, but as of right now, I’ve got a commission to do some work on a pool cue holder. The client wants it monogrammed with an 8-ball on it and a custom way to hold the cues.

That sounds interesting, how does that work exactly? Do you just sort of carve into it – no pun intended *laughs*

Actually, I don’t know yet how I am going to go about doing it because of the holder’s design. It has weights in it and rubber on it – and while mostly the client just wants it personalized, I am still going to have to figure out how to do that without ruining functionality.

What’s something like that cost then?

Things like that cost a little more, but nothing outrageous.

Pricing for custom jobs can be tricky, but for me, I usually charge by asking a bunch of people, “what would you pay for that?” and sooner or later, I’ll get a consensus of a price in or around the same price range. So that’s usually where I base things. Some of this stuff is super unique… and I don’t always know what to charge people *laughs*

Wood sign with Japanese text, two karate fighters in karate poses

Well, as long as it’s worth your time and you like doing it, I guess that’s a start.

Well, that’s the best part about it – I didn’t charge anything at first – people actually made me start charging for my work.

I didn’t even start my business, other people actually started it for me.

No kidding!? Elaborate on that a little bit… that’s interesting.

I don’t know if I can. Honestly, I just had people contacting me that they wanted specific things made, and so they pretty much pressured me to start selling my stuff so I’d actually make those things.

I mean I was having a good time by myself just doing it because I loved it, and I’d offer to give some things away sometimes – but then people started telling me “no, your hours are worth time and money, so I’ll give you 50 bucks for this” and I kind of said, “sure, no problem.”

That’s when I thought “well, I might as well start a business”.

Why not if there’s a demand for it?

Right? That’s why you start a business *laughs*

So do you have any favorite stories that have come from carving and doing this business since you started?

If I had to pick one, I guess it’s really just that first time that I carved something, the first piece of wood I brought home from the beach. I didn’t realize I had a talent at all when it came to this kind of thing. I just kind of sat there doing it, and at the time, it took me a couple days to do, but even now, when I look at what I made –  something I could do in an hour now – it reminds me of how far I’ve come.  

Not really an elaborate story for you – just me sitting on the porch with a couple of beers and ending up with this result – that’s my favorite story.

Three elaborate wood carved fantasy houses

I mean most of what I do revolves around me sitting here by myself, so there aren’t many stories to tell *laughs*

And yet… in its simplicity, that’s a great story. A piece of wood, a knife, a couple beers, and some time on a porch turned into a passion, talent, and business for yourself! That’s pretty amazing. And the fact that you said that basically, your business started because other people kind of did it for you – that’s a cool story too in itself.

I guess it is when you put it that way.

Now, this is a niche that I personally don’t know anybody else who does what you do. It’s very unique.

Neither did I when I started.

If you were to give someone advice – someone who wanted to get started in carving or in any kind of artistic medium for that matter – and if they were going to start their own business – what advice would you give to those people? For both carving and for business?

For carving and any art really – make sure you’re having fun doing it, that’s number one. I don’t really care what anybody else thinks about it, to be honest. If you’re having fun doing what you’re doing, and you can make some money on the side… then all the power to you, because that’s all that really matters. I’m having fun doing what I’m doing – that’s why I do it. The rest can come after that.

Straight, simple, and to the point: can’t go wrong with that advice.

Would you say there are any lessons you’ve learned along the way – things that maybe you could have avoided – things that if you went back and did it all over again, you’d do differently? From a business standpoint?

Well, first of all, my business really didn’t take off huge for me for awhile – I’m only really applying for income tax for my business this year for the first time because last year was the first year I made enough real profit.

And then, with things the way they are now, I’m not even sure that’s going to happen again this year… I had plans to do a showcase table with all my work at this local bar, but I haven’t had enough time to do enough things (apart from commissions) to fill a table right now. And with COVID-19 effectively banning public gatherings and bars being closed going into this summer… who knows how the rest of the year will go.

But for business, I would say to take all the courses that you can and learn as much as you can about your product or your craft that you’re doing.  Study and learn – what else can you say about business, really? I went and took some courses at business school because I wanted to learn more – if you don’t pay attention to your business and your craft every day or make an effort to learn more every day… it’s going to fall, eventually.

In my situation, for example, I’ve put some of my work on various platforms like Youtube and Facebook. I have a Youtube channel with some videos of my original stuff, and just by looking at it, you can actually see how much my work has progressed since I started. I only have some still shot videos with music at the moment – no live videos for now – but through my channel and my social media pages, I’ve met a lot of friends in that niche, and I’ve seen how effective social media can be. One friend of mine started a carving channel on Youtube, and he only had maybe 10 subscribers at the beginning… and now he just reached 15,000 within a year as of yesterday.

So it’s all about how you push yourself, how you sell yourself, and how much of your work you’re putting out there to the public.

That’s quite the jump in a single year – it just goes to show you how quickly things can change when you actually put your head down and just start something – kind of like you did.

Yeah, exactly!

Well, I think that’s great, man. I think that’s about it for today, though, so thanks again for joining me here at the Creative Wealth Project, and thanks for sharing your work and wisdom!

You’re very welcome Mitch, it was nice chatting with you!

Be sure to check out Robbie’s Facebook page for Woolner Wood Arts, where he’s most active (there are tonnes of photos of his carvings and updates for what’s coming up), but don’t forget about his Youtube channel to see some of his work!

Don’t forget to follow The Creative Wealth Project (below) so you never miss a post – and don’t be afraid to share – knowledge is power, let’s grow together!

Music: An Interview With Kyler Tapscott

Kyler Tapscott

For those of you who don’t know him, Kyler Tapscott is a singer/songwriter with some series skills on the fretboard. A phenomenal guitar player, he’s often played the role of mercenary using his tremendous talents to back up other performing artists in the studio and on the stage both nationally and internationally.

But now, that’s about to change. Based in St. Catharines, Ontario (Canada), the day has finally come for Kyler’s own music to step forth and take center stage as he recently unleashed the first single “Fire” from his debut solo EP.

Kyler and I both grew up in the same small town (Cobourg, Ontario), so it was nice to catch up with him again and talk about his new EP and what he’s been up to musically. Of course, I also made sure to ask him for some advice he has for both guitar players and anyone else out there trying to cut their teeth in the music business.

Me: Kyler, my man! Thanks for taking the time to link up and join me today.

Kyler: Hey Mitch, no problem. How’s it going?

Pretty well all things considered. Your new stuff sounds great!

Thanks, I appreciate it.

Kyler Tapscott in front of a classic car
Kyler Tapscott

Yeah! So, as you know, I’ve got some questions for you today about what you’ve been up to… obviously the new EP we’re going to talk about… but I’d like to talk about a few other things too that might see you impart your wisdom on any young guitar players or musicians trying to make their own way in the music business.

Why don’t we start with you: tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into music? I know that you’ve been playing guitar for a long time.

I started playing guitar when I was around 11. My Dad was a musician my whole life too… I actually truly started playing guitar when I was 7… but, I just didn’t stick with it… I just didn’t have it in me at that age. But when my brother started playing when I was around 11, I began to really play probably because he was doing it, and then I started spending hours and hours and hours on it, and I got a lot better than he did very quickly. And then he stopped playing *laughs*.

So when did you start playing professionally?

I think I was 16 when I played my first professional gig. I was backing up a Yukon singer/songwriter named Kim Rogers, with my dad on bass… that would be the first of many more to come.

How would you describe your music to other people? I’ll admit, the new single from your EP really caught me off guard just because my experience with your music before has been a completely different kind of vibe.

Totally different.

That’s a good question, and I find that you’ll probably notice that with every song I release from this EP, they all have a really different flavor. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s kind of just what came out. They all have a bit of a funky sort of groove to them – except for one, which is more of a folk tune – but I find it really hard to say.

Kyler’s First Single “Fire”

Maybe I just haven’t found my sound yet, or perhaps I’m just a little schizophrenic when it comes to music, but I have a lot of different influences that play into the way that I write. I don’t always stick with one sound. That might catch some people a little off guard, and maybe that’s a good thing – I’m not sure – I’m kind of just feeling it out as I go along.

I should probably ask – is this your first EP?

Yeah, it’s my first solo EP.

I’ve recorded before: I’ve been a sideman for years. Since I was 16, I’ve been playing for other people, and I enjoy that a lot – there’s less pressure. You just kind of show up and do your thing – but there was this side of me that I’ve really wanted to get out for a long time, and I don’t know why I hadn’t yet. So it’s been exciting to figure out everything and get this EP together as I’ve gone along with everything that’s been happening.

Okay, so you’ve told me before that your creative process changes all the time, is that correct?

Yeah, for the most part.

Sometimes I’ll hear something that sparks an idea. I might be listening to a track, and then 3 seconds of a song might make me go, “Woah, what was that?”. When that happens, I’ll make a note of it and usually record it very quickly before that idea’s gone. Because you never know… it’s just like catching butterflies: you’re just kind of trying to grab one… you’re just trying to catch an idea.

Anyways, I’ll take that idea, and then I’ll record it, and sometimes things happen quickly, and sometimes those things take years, but eventually, I’ll go back and find that it sparks something. I just try to be open with things that I think sound cool or with lyric ideas, so anytime I find something I like, I’ll write it down and then try to revisit it later. For me, there’s no one way of doing things.

So sometimes the lyrics come first, and sometimes the music comes first.

Yeah, but most of the time, it’s music. Most of the time, I’ll come up with some musical ideas that I build from, and then I’ll dip into my bag of lyrics or sayings and try to piece it all together from there.

So you’ve said before that you have a lot of different influences. I can get that just by listening to the first single you’ve released in comparison to having heard your other stuff before, but are there any big primary ones?

For my single “Fire,” it’s kind of steeped in pop. I’m a fan of John Mayer – I like how he’s got a depth to his musical side.

But I have tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of influences… it’s tough for me to pinpoint who I’d say I sound like because they’re all so different. *Laughing* I might have to just send you all the songs so you can tell me.

I mean, I would definitely be open to that… that would be pretty sweet! Alright, well, let’s try this then: as a guitar player, do you have any prime influences as a guitar player?

When I was a kid, Jimi Hendrix was a huge thing for me growing up, him and Stevie Ray Vaughn… if you don’t go through those two guys, are you really a guitar player? *laughs*

But in high school, I was really into Pink Floyd. David Gilmour is one of my favorite guitar players, and he never plays anything fast – ever – it’s all attention to the right notes. Growing up, I also loved the Dire Straits’ first record… Mark Knopfler – is such a badass.

I was also really into Steve Vai and John Petrucci from Dream Theater. Those guys were significant influences for me during my first 5 -6 years playing guitar. John Petrucci’s Rock Discipline DVD was important too. I remember I downloaded it, and at the time, I still had dial-up internet so it took like 3 days to complete.

Oh, I remember those days *laughing*.

Yeah, you remember the days.

I remember the first song I ever downloaded was Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper,” and it took me an entire weekend… I remember yelling at everyone in the house like “don’t anyone pick up the phone for the weekend!”

That insane dial-up connection sound brings back haunting memories.

Later, I got really into Tommy Emmanuel and fingerstyle guitar, and so I went down that rabbit hole for a couple of years practicing fingerstyle guitar. Guys like Adam Rafferty, who’s fantastic – he also does fingerstyle arrangements – and even guys like Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed. Basically, stuff that I didn’t really get when I was younger – I guess I just didn’t have the palette for it then – but later on, especially as a guitar player, I was like, “wow, this kind of guitar is actually the best.” In my opinion, the Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins records “Me and Jerry” and “Me and Chet” are probably two of the most tasteful guitar duet records of all time.

Then you’ve got guys like Django Reinhardt and these Brazilian guitarists Los Indios Tabajaras whom I also really, really enjoy… my influences are all over the map.

Kyler Tapscott and Jeff Biggar perform Los Indios Tabajaras’ “Maria Elena”

That’s a deep well to draw from, though, which is excellent for anybody reading that’s an aspiring guitar player. While you mentioned some of the more commonly known ones that people typically hear about like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn, I don’t think a lot of people might have picked out the other ones.

Absolutely. I think it’s very important to be open to what you listen to. Don’t close yourself off.

So what do you like most about music as a job?

It’s different every day; you’re not confined to one thing. If I’m really into gypsy jazz, then I get to work on gypsy jazz. And then if next month I find I’m really into country chicken pickin’ guitar, then I get to work on chicken pickin’ guitar. You kind of get to compartmentalize all that stuff too, so whenever you do a session, you have this encyclopedia of guitar styles or riffs, and then you get to add that to other people’s music and to your own writing. It’s very cathartic for me to be playing music and playing guitar. Plus, you get to tangibly see yourself get better at something. You know what I mean, you’re a guitar picker; you get it.

*Laughing* I do, I do… I mean, I don’t gig anymore… I haven’t been in a band for the better part of a decade now, but I’ve been going through some old stuff on my computer that I’ve recorded. Songs that the world has never heard before. Every time I listen to them, I just think, “damn, I’ve gotta do something with this.”

At first – a spark.

So, this is the part where I would ask you what projects you’re working on right now, but I know you’ve got your EP coming out one song at a time – side note – what’s that called by the way? Do you have a name for it?

Initially, I was going to go with a self-titled release – something just like “Kyler” – but I’m not 100% certain on that yet. I’m more interested in releasing the singles, just because it brings people back every month. You get to create more buzz that way, and I think you get to squeeze out every last drop of something if that makes sense.

Yeah, it does. The digital landscape has REALLY changed the way the music business works.

Exactly. I think, unfortunately, people don’t really listen to full albums the way they used to. Maybe they do – some people do – but I think the industry today is more focused on playlists. People today want to hear one song, and then they want to listen to another song by a different artist or another song with a different vibe, and I think it’s tough today to release a record that a lot of people will listen to front to back.

Kyler Tapscott with an acoustic guitar

It’s definitely noticeable, and that’s the kind of stuff that I want to drive home to these younger people that are getting into the game – or even experienced people – because it’s very accurate, the music business has changed A LOT in the last decade.

And it’s constantly changing.

Okay, so aside from the EP, do you have anything else on the go right now? I know gigs are canceled temporarily.

We’re in weird times right now, there’s no doubt about that.

But of course, I had some gigs lined up, and I was going to be doing some sessions with some other people and writing, and so everything has slowed down in that sense. Otherwise, I’ve just been trying to continue to write and collaborate with as many people as I can, learn as much as I can, and then, of course, try to get this project done as I continue to release new songs.

Alright, so I know you’ve been gigging for a long time, and if my musical career is any indication, then you’ve probably got a lot of cool stories from what happened along the way. Care to tell one?

Yeah *laughs* I’ve got a few… I guess I could tell you my encounter with the German police one time crossing the border…

I like where this is going…

Last year, I had all these health issues – I was diagnosed with colitis, and I had a case of this really severe joint pain – my knee ended up locking in place for almost 6 months, and so I couldn’t walk for a lot of that time. Even when I could, I had to use a cane and a knee brace. So, last year when I was on tour with Amanda Rheaume in Germany, one day, I found myself hospitalized; I had to leave a 6-week tour on day 9 to come home and deal with a shit show of health issues.

Luckily though, I was well enough to go back in June with her for a week, and so we flew into Amsterdam and Holland. While there, I got some “medicinal substances,”… and so here we are on our way to the German border, and this cop car just kind of kept tailing us and following us, around, and eventually they pulled us over. So at the time, I’m thinking, “shit, I have this stuff on me right now, and we’re on our way to a festival.”

Anyways, when they pulled us over, they said to us, “listen, you can either tell us that you have something you shouldn’t on you, and then we’ll have a small problem… or you can tell us nothing, and if we find it, then we’re going to have a big problem.”

As it turns out before they got to the van, I had taken my bag of “stuff” and put it in my knee brace – underneath my pants. They ended up searching the whole van. I mean, they searched everything – all of our pockets… they literally took the van apart.

Kyler Tapscott smiling with acoustic guitar on table

But the whole time I was just playing up my knee pain – almost to the point of being ridiculous, with the cane and everything – and so I’m sitting down, and they’re saying things like “oh so sorry sir, please sit down sir” even as they padded me down. And you know what? They didn’t find it.

So I don’t know if that’s a lesson to be learned here, but don’t try to cross the border with “medicinal substances.” If you do, though, make sure you have a knee brace *laughing*.

That’s a great story! I mean that’s perfect.

*Still laughing* I almost got thrown in a German jail for having that stuff – but I didn’t. I persevered! I persevered right on through!

*Laughing* that’s brilliant. So we’re almost done here, but any crucial advice you have for other people? Starting out – either just as a musician, as a performing artist, or any of that?

I think first and foremost, I’d say to just enjoy the process of learning and understand that it’s a labor of love – things don’t happen overnight, but whatever you put into it, you’re going to get out of it.

You should also be easy on yourself. There’s a fine line between being hard on yourself, which is a good thing because it pushes you forward, and being too hard on yourself, where you don’t actually allow yourself to be vulnerable and make mistakes. Make sure you continue to learn and play with other people. Don’t be afraid to suck for a while. I think that’s really, really important.

If I could go back and tell my younger self a few things, I’d start by saying to practice with a metronome – get your timing down. But also, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and put yourself out there – maybe you won’t have the best show, but go out and play again later and learn from your mistakes; don’t doubt yourself. It sounds cliché but it’s very true, at least for me… I probably haven’t accomplished a lot of things because I just got in my own way at times.   

I remember the first time I had to play to a metronome in the studio *groans*… I wish I would have practiced with one earlier too.

Anytime Mitch, take care!

You too. Keep pumping out those groovy jams.

Be sure to check out Kyler’s music streaming now (with a new single coming out each month!) on all major platforms and keep up to date with what’s coming out by following him on social media below!

Music: An Interview with One in the Chamber’s Gerrod Harris

One in the Chamber promotional image, Mike Biase, Gerrod Harris, Cecil Eugene, Christian Dotto

If you’ve never heard of One in the Chamber, well, you’re about to.

A hard rock band based in Toronto, Canada, they bring a fresh sound to rock and roll that boasts a unique punching power and swagger – just when you think you’ve got their style figured out, they pull out the ol’ rope-a-dope maneuver and put you on your ass.

I recently had a chance to “digitally” sit down (thanks to nobody’s friend COVID-19) with the band’s drummer and de facto manager Gerrod Harris to discuss the band, their music, and what’s coming up for them. Gerrod also highlights some takeaway advice/experiences he can offer to anybody trying to carve out a name for themselves in the music business.

Me: Hey, Gerrod, thanks for joining me today. Some crazy times out there, but thanks for reaching out and getting back to me so quickly.

Gerrod: No problem Mitch, thanks for having me. And yeah, it’s a weird time for everyone right now, but I think it’s a weird time, especially for creative people.

Alright, so I’ll just dive right into things. Let’s start with the band. I listened to your entire discography, I listened to the single (Blow) quite a few times actually just to get familiar with it – it’s pretty good! I’m excited, you know your guys’ style… I can’t really put my finger on it. So that being said, first and foremost, why don’t you just tell me a little bit about the band. How’d you guys get started? How long have you been together?

One in the Chamber drummer Gerrod Harris behind his drum kit
Gerrod Harris
Photo credit: Black Umbrella Photography

One in the Chamber started about 5 years ago… coming up to about 5 years now. 2 of the members, Cecil Eugene on lead guitar and Christian Dotto on bass, they’re from Mississauga. Our lead singer and guitarist Mike Biase, he’s from Richmond Hill, and as for myself on drums, I’m from Markham. But there’s not really much of a scene in York region *laughs*… so it’s just easier to say you’re a Toronto band. So yeah, we’re a Mississauga / Toronto rock band.

So how would you describe your music? You know, for me, I listen to your stuff, and I kind of pick out a bit of a Velvet Revolver vibe almost… but that’s not it. You have these melodies and riffs that are more reminiscent of classic rock or an 80’s rock sound, but then your guitar tone or a chorus melody will switch things up, and it’s just completely different. So let’s hear how you’d describe your sound.

Well, to me, we’re like a classic rock band. We’re kind of in the same vein as a lot of these up and coming bands in the United States like Them Evils or Black Top Mojo and Canadian bands like Crown Lands or The Wild!.  We’re kind of in that classic rock… I don’t like using the word revival because that sounds like a fad – but we sort of have that classic rock tone, and I think that’s the basis for us. That’s where it starts anyway, but then when we add all of these different things and styles and that’s when it gets unique.

Okay, so do you guys have any primary influences? Any specific bands or sources of inspiration?

Well, we’re all different and that’s part of it.

Mike is a big classic rock guy, so for him, it’s all about bands like Led Zeppelin, Guns N Roses, and Motley Crue. As for Chris, well, he’s a big metalhead… like I mean a BIG metalhead, and so Metallica, Pantera, and a bunch of different progressive metal are where his background comes from. Cecil is actually just all over the place. He loves pop music; he loves rock music. Honestly, he loves and hates the most interesting things that you would just never guess… and he also went to jazz school! He went to York University for jazz, which is actually where I met him because I was also at York for jazz, so there’s a little bit of that jazzy-ness in there in our sound.

As for myself, I’m very similar to Mike. I love classic rock. But you know I also love a lot of 90’s rock. That comes from my drumming instructor when I was growing up. He was born in the ’80s and grew up throughout the ’90s, so every week he was bringing things to me that I had never heard of before. You know, I grew up listening to stuff like Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin, but then he’s bringing over Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine and stuff like that… so for me, that drastically changed my musical direction.

So if you look at all that, when the 4 of us kind of get together in a room, there’s a lot of different ideas that surprise us. There are a lot of ideas that naturally we react like “that’s a weird sort of twist” or “I don’t know if I like that or hate it” … but it’s just because all of us have ideas and we’re all coming from different places. For us, that makes things really cool and fun; it makes it different what we’re playing. Because of that, it kind of leaves things really wide open.

One in the Chamber band members, Gerrod Harris, Christian Dotto, Cecil Eugene, and Mike Biase
From left to right: Gerrod Harris, Christian Dotto, Cecil Eugene, Mike Biase.
Photo credit: Keelan Nightingale

That’s pretty cool. I would have never guessed the jazz part, but then hey, maybe that’s why I had such a hard time putting my finger on exactly who you guys sound like! So how would you say your creative process works then when you guys write your music?

When we first started, everyone was coming from different spots musically. Cecil had already been in a couple of bands, and so had Chris and Mike. I had only really been in a high school band and a couple other jazz things at that time. So Cecil and Chris were bringing in a lot of their own material that they had written before, and we were kind of adding stuff to it. That’s where our first demo EP comes from… it’s a lot of songs that were written as a group but started off as nearly completed songs from individual members. After that point is when we kind of started sitting down together and actually writing music.

And now?

Everything on our 2018 debut studio EP, “I’ve Got Something to Say,” is a very collaborative effort, and I think that’s what makes it so different from the demo EP we put out before that.

So now, our process is that different guys bring in very rough, very foundational ideas like a riff or a chord progression or a melody into the practice space, and then one of us will kind of jump into it. We’ll be jamming on it for a little bit, and as we’re jamming, it just kind of grows. Sometimes it grows into a full song, and sometimes it doesn’t. I find it to be very organic. It’s a lot of fun musically for us to actually sit down as a group and put different pieces together. At time’s we’ll just stop playing and be like… “okay, well, how to do we get from here to here?” and then we start to connect those dots.

Do you guys all write the lyrics? Do the lyrics come first?

The lyrics are primarily written by Mike and Cecil. Actually, scratch that: they’re only written by Mike and Cecil *laughs*.

Musically it’s a group process; everyone has input on everything. But lyrically,  I don’t even attempt… that’s not something that I do, and lyrically Mike and Cecil are fantastic. They just come up with these ideas, and half of the time, I don’t even know the words. Like, come on, I don’t need to know the words I’m the drummer! *laughs*.

But we’ll be in the studio and Mike will be singing his vocal take and that’s all I will be able to hear, so when he comes out from the vocal booth I’ might say something like “Oh my god that was brilliant!” and he’ll reply “Oh you liked it eh?” *laughs*

So do you guys write the lyrics after the music? Or do you have some written beforehand?

It’s weird, I don’t think once someone’s brought in lyrics and said let’s write a song around these lyrics – I don’t think we’ve ever done that. But between Mike and Cecil, they’re both walking around with these little books that they’ve always got words written down from ideas that we never finished or ideas that they had written but never got put to song. So usually we’ll be jamming, and then Mike will drop what he’s doing and run out to his car and he’ll grab his book, and then he’ll be flipping through it trying to put a melody to some of the words he’d think would go with whatever we’re playing. Or sometimes he’ll start writing as we’re playing.

Like I said, it’s all very organic.  It would be tough to say that the lyrics are a starting point because sometimes they already exist before the song does.

I like that, I dig it. Alright, so I know you guys just released a single, Blow. Are you guys working on anything else right now?

Drum kit and neon logo for One in the Chamber
Promotional artwork for the band’s new single “Blow”

Yeah, so as you know, we just released Blow with a music video and everything. At least, for the time being, we just want the focus to be on the single, promoting it, and the music video. But of course, we’re working on other things too. This whole coronavirus situation has changed things a bit, but we’re working through it.

That’s good to hear, I’m looking forward to what comes next.

So, I’m just going to ask: do you have any favorite or cool stories from your musical journey thus far? I know that I have stories for days from mine…

*Laughing*

Yeah, I mean, when you play in a band for 5-10 years, you have lots of cool stories you never thought would happen. You have lots of just shit-show stories that act pretty much as a sign to where the local music industry is at. One of our early shows – I think we signed up for it through it for Sonicbids… Which in itself for anyone listening – don’t sign up for Sonicbids *laughs*.

Oh yeah, I definitely made that mistake once too.

That was a lesson that took a little longer to learn. We signed up for this record showcase sort of show. We show up, we’re holding our instruments, and we actually had to pay to get into our own show – all of the other bands had also paid to get into the show. Then the promoter who put it together was there for maybe 5 minutes at the door. Supposedly, he was at the door for a few minutes where he put on this awful video on a projector; it was like a homemade newscast saying that this was his label, and it was doing big things. It was… *groans*. But you know for every story like that, you get a good one too.

For example, in our first year, we got to open this huge show; it was huge for me anyways. It was huge for the band too, but for me, well, two of my favorite bands are Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, and we got to open for Scott Weiland at what would actually be his final performance. Ever.

Really?

Yeah, he played Adelaide Hall on what I think was December 1st, 2015… and yeah, the next gig was the one wherever they found him when he had passed away on his tour bus before he actually played the show. So you know even at the time it huge for me, because it was like “Oh my god, I got us this gig opening for one of my absolute heroes” and then he was gone. Just looking back now, it’s… well, you know.

The last one. Ever. That’s just, man that’s… that’s a story.

Yeah.

Like now, I’m sitting here, just imagining what it would be like to open for a personal hero… it would be like me opening for Ozzy Osbourne, and then afterward, he kicks the bucket or something. I mean, that’s going to happen sooner than later now, I’m sure… if you listened to his last album it’s pretty much a farewell letter.   

I loved that record. I don’t typically rush out to listen to Ozzy, but the fact that Chad Smith from the Chilli Peppers was on drums was enough for me to be like “Day One, I’m going to listen to this,” and I was just blown away.

It’s really not like anything else in his body of work. But when I finished listening to it, I felt it was perfect for its time. Like, I’m not somebody who’s going to rush out to listen to Post Malone anytime soon, and he’s featured on a track, and then you’ve got a song with Elton John – which I ask “how did these two guys never collaborate before?”, or “why are they doing it now, or if at all?”. But somehow, it all just worked.

Yeah, exactly.

So I know you mentioned the Sonic Bids thing, and I think that is excellent advice in itself, but do you have any other advice from your experience that you would give to other bands or musicians who are just getting going?

Certainly.

Even now, 5 years into things, there’s always something to learn. There’s always something that’s like “okay, I wouldn’t have done it that way, but this is the way that we have to do it,” and you have to ask yourself how you can adapt.

Photo credit: top left – Melissa Aquino, bottom left – Nicole Wolfe, right – Gary Munroe

Take right now, for instance. All of our gigs have been canceled, but we still have this single coming out with no live shows to promote it. This was supposed to be the big year of drop the single, drop the music video, play everywhere in Ontario and Quebec, and then do more content in the fall. And now it’s… “okay, how do we continue doing this without shows?”.

So we’re figuring that out. Live streaming looks like a good option… but for every live stream that I’ve watched, most of them are just not as exciting as I would have hoped, or the quality sucks, so again it’s like, “how do we do this right without busting the bank?”.

I think when you’re starting a project, whether you’re just starting it, or you’re in the middle, or you’re deep into it… staying open, putting the time into it, and just taking the time to figure things out is what you have to do. You know, think about what makes the most sense for you, and don’t be afraid to have to learn how to do something new for the sake of the band.

I never used to use photoshop, and now I design all the essential posters for the band. I took a simple website that we had on Wix, and I’ve done everything to completely revamp it and update it. For the social media aspect, I try to make sure to take the time to figure out things like the best time to post or how to post to reach people that aren’t already following us.

There’s always something to do, and there’s always something to learn, and I think that as long as you’re willing to kind of put in that time, you’ll eventually start to find your way.

Great advice, Gerrod. I think that’s pretty much all I have for you today, so I’d just like to say thanks again for joining me here at The Creative Wealth Project! I really dig the single, and I am looking forward to more material in the future!

Thanks Mitch, it was a pleasure chatting with you.

You too Gerrod, keep in touch!

You heard the man folks, it’s out now, so without further adieu, here’s the video for One in the Chamber’s new single “Blow.”

Music video for “Blow”

Be sure to follow the band on their website and social media listed below to check out their other tunes and keep up with all that’s happening with One in the Chamber!

Website: www.oitcband.com

Graphic Design: An Interview with Jordan Versluis

Artwork depicting skeleton in a spacesuit in black and white. Black Mountain IV band poster.

For anyone looking for some top-notch graphic design, let me introduce you to Jordan Versluis. Based in St. Catharines, Canada, Jordan’s work clearly demonstrates his keen eye for detail across a body of work that ranges from logo design and branding to band t-shirts and album artwork.

Jordan’s demonstrated skillset emphasizes symmetry and composition across most of his artwork, and while he usually takes a minimalist approach to his designs, the results are spectacular.

I had a chance to chat with Jordan about his artwork and how he built a successful freelance business as a graphic designer, and he generously offers plenty of takeaway advice for anyone trying to make an income leveraging their creative talents.

Me: Hey Jordan, how you doing my man? Thanks for joining me today.

Jordan: Hi Mitch, thanks for having me.

We talked a little bit before connecting here, so I guess we can just jump right into the questions. That being said, for the sake of those who don’t know you or your work yet, let’s pretend and assume that nobody’s heard of you yet…  can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

Jordan Versluis
Jordan Versluis

*Laughing* That’s probably a safe assumption, but yeah sure.

I’m the creative director at a web design and development firm in the Niagara region, specifically St. Catharines, Ontario, and I also have a pretty steady freelance gig going where I work with clients such as yourself, musicians, artists, and small businesses.

How did you get into art & design? How long have you been doing it?

I think my introduction to the creative world probably came around the time I was about 11 or 12 years old. I actually started that early because my cousin was running a Dragon Ball Z fan site, and I was pretty into the show at the time… you know like pretty much every normal 11 or 12-year-old boy *laughs*.  Anyways, he had me take over essentially managing the site because he thought he was getting too old and mature to watch the show any longer, at least to be associated with it online. So I took it over.

I eventually found that managing the creative aspects of that website became my obsession; updating the design, creating new iterations, coding, developing the graphics… all of those things.  Though I started to realize over time that I had wholly neglected actually updating the website other than the visual aspects.

Through that, I slowly started to gain a bit of notoriety online in that circle because of how well received my graphics and my website designs were… so I think that sort of lead into my first sale. When I was 12 years old, a woman from the United States mailed me a $20 bill to build her anime website for her. That was my first freelance gig.

Everything else came pretty organically after that thanks to my work and reputation in the anime world.  I mean, yeah, they were all just dorky little fan kids like me, and they wanted to have an excellent website to work with… but some people weren’t interested in learning that aspect of it, and I was. So I guess I ended up filling a bit of a niche.

So did you start doing web design before you were doing art then?

Yeah, the artwork came a long way down the road. I very much started in the digital world.

Initially, my interest was in digital design & development, and so I started working with websites. Over time I became a lot more graphically oriented. For example, I started creating little banners, badges, and advertisements for people. Before Facebook or Myspace existed, any venues through which you would network needed a specific set of dimensions, and so I worked within that landscape. Then the artwork element came just by me enjoying what I was doing and then trying to branch out my skills and explore what else could be done.

Eventually, I started exploring creating my own anime and graphics, and around that time, I breached out into the deviant art website. There, I became very familiar with some of the artists and with a lot of different styles of art. So for a while, I just played around with different styles, combining 3D modeling and photomanipulation and things like that – just crossing different mediums, and that was probably the beginning of my mixed media approach to design, which is what you can see nowadays in my artwork.

Like the stuff you did for my band once upon a time.

Yeah, the artwork I did for your band is very mixed media inspired. It was all done digitally, but it doesn’t look that way. I think my passion for that kind of work, or at least my skill in doing so, came about in those early days jumping between different platforms and seeing how they could combine their best features with one another.

Creekwater Junkies t-shirt design by Jordan Versluis depicting a day of the dead painted woman holding a snake and a dagger
T-shirt design Jordan did for my band Creekwater Junkies

It’s a really cool piece. It’s got some photorealism to it but then also some very artistic stuff. I think it’s a really unique design, so that’s awesome knowing how it came to be.

Now, I think you answered part of this next question, but how would you describe your particular work? Your style? Your niche and specialties to other people?

Like most artists would say, an artist’s style changes over time as he/she becomes more proficient in a particular skill and their interests change, or at least as the demand for what they’re doing changes.

That being said, mostly, I would describe my style as being influenced by older hardcore DIY. A lot of that particular aesthetic comes from old hardcore posters and marketing, you know, like the ones in the 1970’s and 80’s hardcore scene in New York. They all had this cut and paste photocopier kind of vibe… where textured elements came from having a piece of photography that was photocopied hundreds and hundreds of times in succession. It all worked to create a gritty, low detail, low-fi kind of look, which was very much the aesthetic of the time, and very much the mentality within punk and hardcore music as well. That’s what really solidified my approach to the way that I treat my designs, which are mostly influenced by black metal and later hardcore art.

I can definitely see some of that in several pieces of your work.

For sure. If you look at some of the original black metal artists and their art (or I guess maybe the 2nd wave of black metal … I’m not sure, it’s a convoluted history), you’ll see what I mean. Dark Throne’s Transylvanian Hunger is a prime example; covers like that one where the art is just two-tone, white and black, very dark, very low-fi… it can be very ambiguous in its nature or its subject matter. Sometimes it takes a second glace to figure out what’s going on because essentially everything is represented or lost in either black or white.

So I’d say the music scene is a part of your design style then.

Yeah, and this is something I think that you can relate to because you’ve been in bands before and played shows. When I used to play in some local bands – just your typical crappy hardcore bands and pop-punk bands – when got into that world, it’s what really introduced the music-oriented side of my graphic design work.

Being in bands, I was introduced to a lot of musicians who eventually saw that I was capable of doing some digital design and so it led to me trying out my hand at band album covers, band logos, and t-shirts. That developed the aesthetic that eventually I became known for – that DIY kind of hardcore style, that black metal kind of look.

Any specific influences then? Any artists to compare to?

I think a lot of people in the past have likened my style to Jacob Bannon’s from the band Converge. He’s an incredible artist, and while his style has changed significantly over the years, my favorite of his work is what he’s created for other bands. A lot of bands signed to the Death Wish label get artwork from him, and I really like the work that he’s done for groups like As I Lay Dying, Trap Them, or Rise and Fall. Of course, I also like the work he’s done for Converge itself.

I definitely get a lot of my influence from him – I’m not going to deny that. But you know, I guess that’s a compliment to some artists.

So how does your creative process work? How does it differ between your own stuff versus when a client contacts you for work?

It really depends on what their idea is, to be honest. Very early in my days of freelancing, it was tough for me to tell who a good client would be, a good client meaning someone who would be fun to work for or someone with whom I feel we would produce a good outcome together.

You’re not always going to make something that you’re completely happy with, and that’s something that I think most freelancers – as artists – struggle with on a day-to-day, client-to-client, or commission-to-commission basis. You want to ask yourself, “how do I make sure that I’m happy with the product I’m putting out,” but there’s always going to be some concession or some giving up of your own standards. Sometimes the things that you want to do or want to have input on in the project are trumped by whatever the client wants to do. I’ve gotten a lot better at determining from the onset what type of client is going to adhere to the way that I want to work, or at least adhere to my specifications for a good working relationship, and ultimately that’s conducive to a good project.

When creating for myself, I tend to just look at other artists or sources of inspiration. Often there are pieces that I will see, and I will think “here’s how I might do that piece” or “I really like what this person did here,” so then I might mess around with a style they’ve used. I’m very honest in that a lot of my creations are actually not that creative originally… I see a difference between being creative and skilled.

For example, when I’m challenged with a specific piece of subject matter or a request, that’s when I’m really able to step up… but if you were to plop me on a chair and say “come up with something brilliant,” it’s probably not going to happen. I’m more of a skilled individual than the type of artist who will come up with beautiful things on the fly.

So in that regard, I think that when I work with clients, it’s actually a lot easier for me to provide solutions to what they’re asking for because I’m not tasked to come up with the concept myself; a lot of clients come to me with one.

Again I think a good example of that is the artwork that you and I worked on together. You had a rough idea of what you were looking for, and so I took that idea and interpreted it in a way that I knew it would work solely based on the medium you would be producing it. In that case, it was going to be on a t-shirt or print, so I worked on the project with that in mind.

I think the main difference is that when I’m actually tasked with a specific request, I’m able to approach the artwork in a way that’s like solving a problem, and I’m much better at approaching things that way than by coming up with something on the whim. There have been occasions where I’ve been inspired to create something out of thin air, but it’s just been very few and far between.

I really, really liked that artwork, and I’ll admit I was bummed when things went south with my band’s reunion. There was some stuff going on with the group, and ultimately, we didn’t end up using it in a t-shirt capacity like we had intended, and I was like, “dammit, I really wanted one of those.”

Yeah, me too. I always try to get a copy of the work that I do from different clients.

So I guess everything started as just a hobby, but what do you like most about graphic design as a job?

First of all, I’m fortunate that I’ve had the career path that I have… I’ve never wanted to do anything but what I do, and I’ve been lucky that most of my jobs have been somewhat conducive to my career now.

Everybody kind of starts working as a teen at their fast-food job or retail job, which I’ve absolutely done myself, but for my first big boy position, I did graphic design at a retailer here in Canada, and now I am where I am. I’ve got my day job at the design & development firm, where I mostly focus on brand design and development, working with small businesses to develop logos and necessary print collateral. Then I’ve also got my freelance gig.

It’s an interesting blend: I feel that the opportunities in my freelance career and in my professional career feed off one another, which is great… because there’s a lot of back and forth with my skill development. There are things I do in my day job that I know I wouldn’t be as good at if I wasn’t able to practice them daily in my freelance work and vice versa, so I’m able to draw from both sources and use those skills in my solutions for clients.

For starting out when you were only twelve years old, that’s a pretty good long gig to have been able to establish – very cool. What kind of projects are you working on right now, then?

Unfortunately, with the way that everything is in the world right now with COVID 19, things have slowed down for me on the freelance side of things. So, instead, I’ve been picking up a few older passion projects that I kind of just let fall by the wayside because I got bogged down with work or with other freelance projects.

Recently though, I just finished the branding package for a local bar that’s opening up that is owned by a friend of mine; that was an interesting project that I am very excited to launch in its full exposure. Right now, there’s just a couple of teasers on Facebook and Instagram, but it was a very thorough and comprehensive brand package that we designed together, and it really pushed me out of my comfort zone. It was a lot of hand illustration which I’m familiar with but not super proficient at – but it was just something that we agreed was necessary for the aesthetic that we were going for, for that particular brand. It ended up turning out really cool.

That’s awesome, I guess in one way all the extra time many of us have right now can still be useful – picking up old projects and such.

Okay, so this has probably my favorite question that I’ve put together in my makeshift attempt at being a journalist, but do you have any favorite or cool stories from your journey as an artist?

I think this kind of ties into what my favorite part about being able to do what I do is, but I think the coolest story that I could tell is the one that’s told any time I go to a place where I don’t know anybody, and I see them wearing a shirt that I’ve designed. Or whenever I’m out, and I see someone walking around downtown, and they’re carrying a bag from a record store that I branded, or when I see people posting on Instagram or social media with a bottle of beer for which I designed the label.

Seeing my work out in the world is flattering and satisfying, but also surreal. For me, working for some of the businesses that I have, with how much I admire them, it’s surreal to be able to do that and see the results in the real world. It just kind of makes me realize that “I did that” and that’s it’s out there and people are interacting with it and I think that that’s very cool.

Absolutely, and that’s a new story every single time you’re out in public and see it happen. That’s like the never-ending story, except with a different plot, and no crazy dragons, unless you draw dragons – I mean, I don’t know.

*Laughs*

Even going back to my band days – being in a small local show where many people in the audience were wearing shirts that I designed, or when bands that were playing had shirts that I created are their merch table –  that’s was really cool seeing that; it just felt so homegrown.

That’s really cool. I definitely have had my share of times being on stage in front of big crowds and just seeing t-shirts with my product on it – let alone one that I designed – it was awesome. So that’s got to be a really good feeling.

Yeah, it’s pretty satisfying.

Okay, so this last question is a good one too… it’s kind of the whole point of the Creative Wealth Project – but do you have any key takeaway advice for other people in the same line of work –  graphic design or artists – that you would give to anyone just starting out?

Absolutely.

I think that there’s a couple of points I could make, and we can break them down between artists and graphic designers, and then people who are trying to make a business out of what they do.

On that artistic side of things, I would say to always challenge yourself to create something difficult, and always push yourself to find the things you don’t like about your artwork. I read a great blog about this concept, and I won’t be able to articulate it as well as the author, but his message was about taste and why it makes your work disappoint you.

Essentially, as your taste gets better, you’re able to look back on older work and actually articulate what’s good and what’s bad about it. All artists go through phases where they’ve made a new piece, they’re excited about it, they put it out into the world, and whether or not it’s well-received, a few years go by… and then they look back at it and think “that’s just junk,” and they hate it.  

I’m sure that happens with music too, or any artistic medium really, but in the early stages of your development, you’re not exactly able to look at your work and understand “why don’t I like this?” or “why didn’t it work?”.

As you develop skill and experience and, by extension, taste, I think, then you’re able to articulate and understand what works about different things or what doesn’t work about them. You’re able to apply those feedbacks and turn them into corrections for future projects.

So from the artistic side of things, I would say always look at your work with a hell of a lot of scrutiny, – beat yourself up for it – it may feel bad sometimes, but something positive will always come from it.

There’s an illustrator, Tom Froese, who said, “I wish you much discontent with your own work. Unless you’re constantly dissatisfied with where you’re at as an artist, you are not getting better”

 I like that. It’s very applicable to a lot of things I’d say.

To me, it really helps, and I still have a screenshot of that tweet on my phone because I go through – well, everybody goes through – those creative slumps. Sometimes you’ll look back on the body of your artwork or your portfolio, and you’ll just think “this is awful” or “why am I doing what I’m doing?”, or you’ll think any other thought or symptom of imposter syndrome – which I believe it’s called… and so for me, I still go back and look at that quote to realize and remind myself that I dislike the things I used to like because, hopefully, I’m getting better.

Dresscode apparel co. tag design by Jordan Versluis

As for things from a business standpoint, and this comes because I understand that business is an important facet of being a musician, or an artist, or a creative person looking to make an income from their skills… my advice is to learn how to manage relationships with people.

Having a successful freelance gig is not necessarily about how good you are – because there is such a thing as “good enough” for most types of clients. It’s actually really about managing people, managing relationships, and managing expectations, and then over-delivering on them.

I think I’ve gotten more traction (or my reputation has gained more traction) from my ability to deliver what I say when I say it’s going to be done, more so than the actual quality of my work. The quality of my work also has a good reputation, and so I’m extremely grateful for and lucky to have that, but the majority of feedback that I get is not only that the work is good, but that everything was exactly as the client expected it would be. That happens because I purposely set up and manage those expectations from the start.

So people management, client management, client expectations… those are huge aspects to the business- end of freelancing as an artist that will forward your career weight equal to or surpassing what your artistic talent or merit might be.

That is excellent advice, and it’s good that you brought that up and even separated the art and business tips… because my experience working as a musician was that a lot of people who are good musicians are terrible businessmen… and that a lot of good businessmen don’t know jack shit about music. So then you get this big conflict of interest, and I think that -, and this idea is the intention of the Creative Wealth Project – people should be open to draw from and learn from the wealth of other people’s knowledge. I think that to really be able to make a career out of your creative skill set, you need to know about marketing, you need to know about human relations, you need to know about management… all that stuff.

I think that’s a great point because marketing is another significant aspect to all of it.

Learn how to market yourself. I don’t necessarily mean to say you should absolutely know how to manipulate algorithms on Facebook and social media or that you should know how to write the most captivating Instagram post. I don’t do that stuff – I post my work on those platforms, and that’s about it – but understand what you’re good at and learn how to sell it in a quick pitch. To successfully make it in this business is so much more than just whether you’re talented or not as an artist.

I mean, look at some of the most successful bands going today. A lot of pop music, for example, it’s pure marketing. Look at some of these other bands that make what’s sort of a marketing and music crossover. For instance, I’m a huge fan of the band Ghost, and it’s not necessarily because I think that they’re the most brilliant songwriters. They have an extremely entertaining and marketable gimmick. Their business and marketing ethics, what they do, and how they do it, or whatever Tobias Forge does now – it’s a good chunk of why they are so successful.

Bands like Slipknot were actually devised in a board room by a dude who wanted to put together this pitch-perfect marketing package that included a specific number of members who would dress a certain way. That band was a tremendous idea that demonstrates how powerful marketing something like music as a product can be… so yeah, marketing is a huge and important aspect of this business, whether you like it or not.

I absolutely agree. I definitely wish I knew the things that I know now – the things I learned when I went to school for several years to study the business of entertainment – when I was actually performing professionally in a band, but I guess that’s kind of what it’s all about. You live, and you learn… and if you’re not learning, well, you’re probably not really advancing on anything.

Mistakes are important.

They sure are.

Well, I think that pretty much wraps things up for today. Once again, I want to say thank you so much for taking the time to have this conversation, it’s been a blast and I absolutely think that you provided some really great insight and advice today and I can’t wait to share it.

No problem Mitch, it was fun. Glad I could help.

Thanks Jordan, let’s talk again soon.

For anyone in need of graphic design, I can personally attest that Jordan is speedy to respond and will absolutely come up with something great for whatever your project may need… so don’t be shy to contact him through one of the mediums listed below:

Website: www.jordanversluis.net

     

Music: An Interview With Katey Gatta

Katey Gatta close up shot with coffee

Katey Gatta can do more with her voice and an acoustic guitar than most people can with a full band, and if you’ve never heard her sing before, you’re about to find out why. Sweet and soft one moment and then sultry and soulful the next, her music is like an emotional hurricane… before you know what’s really happening, you’re left completely blown away. 

Based in St. Catharines, Ontario (Canada), you might first notice her as the innocent-looking girl not wearing any shoes up on stage… but when she starts singing… you’d better be prepared to stay awhile because her siren’s call will quickly draw you in and mesmerize you with her secrets.

I’ve known Katey for a few years now, and I’ve been fortunate enough to see her perform numerous times. So, it was fantastic that I was able to catch up with her and shoot the shit about her upcoming album, life as a full-time musician, and of course, grab some takeaway advice for anyone who might want to follow in her “barefooted” footsteps.

Hi Katey, long time no see! It’s been what, a couple years now, yeah?

Yeah something like that! Nice to see you Mitch!

Nice to see you too! So for those who don’t know you, tell us about Katey Gatta; tell a bit about yourself.

I’m a singer-songwriter based in St. Catharines, Ontario (Canada). My sound’s a mix of Etta James and Joni Mitchell. I’ve been playing music for the past 10 years in bars and restaurants, and I’m now transitioning into playing my own music full-time on the road. That is, whenever we’re allowed to go back on the road.

It seems everybody’s hurting right now in the music industry – not being able to gig and all – but that’ll be fun when it happens… I miss the road myself sometimes.

So how did you personally get started with music then? Did you start singing first, or playing the guitar?

Katey Gatta sitting in a coffee shop
Katey Gatta
Photo credit: Lauren Garbutt Photography

Playing air piano on my parent’s coffee table when I just a kid was the first indication… I’d just be watching sesame street trying to play along with it *laughs*. Pretty much as soon as I could talk, everything came out in song. My parents put me in lessons when I was very young, which was great. Actually, some of my first gigs ever were doing national anthems for major sporting events. I sang at games for the Toronto Raptors, the Buffalo Sabres, and the Toronto Blue Jays, when I was about 9 or 10 years old.

Really? That’d be interesting to go and see that footage sometime… that’s a pretty cool start.

Yeah, so the fear of large crowds for me really never became a thing… that was just a normal part of the job.

That’s awesome. So you’ve pretty much been a musician as soon as you could talk.

It’s really been a lifelong thing.

You mentioned a few other artists when you described your sound, but would you say it’s your music that sounds like them? Or your voice? If you were to describe the Katey Gatta experience to somebody and they’ve never heard you before, what would you say to them?

Well, my music is definitely folk-influenced and includes a lot of introspective lyrics. I find myself very inspired by 1930s – 1940s jazz artists, and I also really love pop & jazz standards from the 1950s and 1960s, so I’m trying to incorporate elements of that into my songwriting now.

I find whatever music I make reflects – at least a little bit – whatever music I’m taking in at that time. I’ve been on an Etta James kick for the longest time… I can’t seem to get enough of her. So, in her case, I find inspiration in the way she phrases things or how she uses the rasp in her throat… those elements just kind of find their way into some of my songwriting… and maybe the attitude behind it too.

That’s really cool! You know, it’s kind of funny you mentioned your 1930s and 40s influences because I was sitting here with my brother the other night, and I showed him the video of you and Dan (Serre) performing “That’s Okay, That’s Alright.” We both agreed pretty quickly that you could almost hear that old-timey radio static noise coming in to introduce the song. As in, it would sound appropriate for it. So it’s very cool that you mentioned those old influences.

That’s actually what we were trying to go for. And on that note, the thing I love about exploring older music is that it’s a never-ending well. There’s just so much to sift through and find – it’s just as exciting as trying to find new music today. Everybody might know about the popular hits, but there is also this plethora of other music that was made that was never on the radio – that music still got made, and it still influenced what other people did.

Katey Gatta and Dan Serre performing “That’s Okay, That’s Alright”
Video Credit: G3 Designs

That’s very interesting. Today, obviously, the digital landscape has really changed a lot of things – now music that’s actively distributed is not just limited to the songs being played on the radio.  With everything out there on streaming services, you can discover bands you’ve never listened to before and then go and get access to their entire catalogs of music. I think that’s pretty cool for music fans.

Yeah, it’s almost like tracing your heritage or your family tree. You can listen to a song, figure out who the artist was inspired by, go listen to them, find out who that person was inspired by, and just keep going further and further back to trace their roots. 

So how does your creative process work when you write music then? Do you have a regular routine?

I try to have routines. I try to write something at least once a day now, or at the very least, sit with my guitar and pick away at this or that, but for the most part, it just kind of comes. I’ve learned over time to try and not to really put too much pressure on the creative process while it’s happening. There are days when I don’t feel the most inspired, but I sit down anyways with my guitar, and I try and chip away at what I can. Sometimes I just play for myself, and on those days, it’s enough.

I find that having a dedication to making space for music every day is helpful, but I’ve never really had to do anything to kick start the creative process if that makes sense. I usually just try and be honest about what I’m feeling or what I’m thinking about. Sometimes even interactions I’ve had that day play a part – someone might say something to me in a conversation, and that will spark a song or at least an idea that I’ll write down and end up using somewhere down the line.

So for you, sometimes it’s the lyrics that spark something and sometimes it’s the music – you’ve always got a bunch of things on the go at once.

Yeah, but I do find I’ve been writing the parts separately more often. I’ll write out full sets of lyrics for a song and have no music written for it, but then the musical side of the song will go through a few different iterations until I land on what I feel it should be.

Right on. So, your prime influences – personal and musical – if you had to pick a few, you’d say…?

Well, in terms of someone whom I could model a career after… I would love to have 10 percent of Joni Mitchell’s life – even just 10 percent would make me so happy. Her creative output is so vast and so intricate… she’s amazing. I’ve also been on a Nina Simone kick because I just watched her documentary. The dedication she had to her craft… I just found it so incredible.

Katey Gatta performing solo with an acoustic guitar
Photo credit: Linton Armstrong

There’s also this woman Connie Converse, who was in Greenwich village (Connecticut) around the same time that Bob Dylan was doing his thing. Her story kind of goes like this:  she tried to make it as a musician, had little to no recognition, and eventually, she just got in her car one day and disappeared. Poof. No one ever heard from her again. But they found her demos 50 years later and released them, and her record of living room recordings became a sleeper hit.

So that one hits home a bit because there’s this big part of me that really likes the idea of just creating without the worry of consumption.

Yeah, no kidding! That kind of thing seems to happen a lot in the creative world. For example, right now, I’m writing a lot – not just for the Creative Wealth Project, but I’m writing a fiction novel too – and I’ve been really diving into some of my favorite authors’ works and their biographies. What I’ve noticed is that some of the most prominent influential works and authors cited by modern writers were during their lifetimes, actually living in poverty – for their entire lives.

These authors existed in a world where nobody knew or cared about their work, and yet long after they’ve died, their work ends up becoming hugely influential on not just other authors, but on many different creative people. Metallica, for example, wrote a few songs about the mythic Cthulhu found within H.P. Lovecraft’s lore – when Lovecraft was alive, nobody cared about him or what he wrote.  Yet many years later, his creations have gone on to influence one of the biggest metal bands in the world and hugely successfully authors like Stephen King… so yeah, it’s kind of cool how that works with art.

It’s very cool. I mean, clearly, as a musician, I would like to have enough success in that I can be a human that can put food on the table and pay my rent on time… and maybe get some guacamole when I go to Chipotle *laughs*… I’m not looking for much more than that.

But I also think there’s something to be said about great music, the kind of music I want to make – it’s often ahead of its time, and you don’t always recognize it or celebrate it as it’s happening. I think anything good should take a little time to grow on you; it shouldn’t be immediate. There should be enough layering within it that it takes someone a few listens or a few times through experiencing it or however it’s consumed to really grasp what’s great about it.

I think I agree with that sentiment too.

So you’ve been performing music now professionally for a while – and a lot. I know personally that I used to see you perform very regularly when I was bartending in Niagara, so what do you like about playing music for a living?

When we first met, that’s when I had just started playing music full-time. Up until then, it had always been a side thing that I did through university and my post-grad in college, and then I had a “real job” in Toronto for a bit. It wasn’t until I was about 25 that I thought it was time to give music a real shot. Switching to becoming a full-time musician, however, has come with its own challenges.

Never in a million years did I think I wouldn’t want to go to a gig – I never dreamed that would be something I would feel or say out loud – but now it happens. When you do anything – and I mean, I play over 250 dates a year – when you do anything that much, at some point, you’re going to get tired of it, and you won’t always love it as purely as you do when you play for yourself.

About a year into playing music full-time, I realized I had hit a wall in my development – and I knew I had hit it. When that happened, it was hard and a little humbling to force myself to go back to square one and start working on things that I hadn’t in a long time. Performing so often, you can be more acutely aware of your deficits, and it really transitioned my thinking from “oh, I know what I’m doing” to the realization that “okay, no, maybe I don’t.” The only thing left to do then is to put in the work and start improving.

That all being said, the sheer love of music is what always ends up carrying me through it all… it’s why musicians like myself don’t end up quitting; why we keep trying and keep pushing forward. For me, I have a harder time connecting with people on a human level than I do on a musical one… so it’s music that really lets me do that; it opens all those doors of an emotional connection for me. I’m horrible at communicating my thoughts and feelings in real-time. Music lets me process my emotions in real-time; it allows me to work through all my shit in songs and let strangers see who I really am beneath all the layers I use in everyday life.

I like that… kind of like you get to show off many colors without having to actually say what they are.

Exactly.

Photo credit: Left – J.P. Kelly, Top right – G3 Designs, Bottom right: Steph Montani

I know that you’re working on an album. I know this, of course, because I was one of the lucky few that got to listen to the demos… and I must admit when you sent them my way there were a lot more songs on that playlist than I was expecting to receive – but that’s a good thing – you get to choose from a vast catalog.

*Laughs*… that’s about half of the current catalog. There are still so many more songs that I didn’t include in that playlist that will sit collecting proverbial dust. To be honest, I’ve been horrible about demoing all my work. I’m great at creating mental blocks that lead to procrastinating and putting things off for the longest time.

I sat on a batch of songs for a long time that just seemed to keep growing, and when I sat down to start sorting through the tunes and figure out what would work on an album, I realized I had over 50 songs to demo. Shit. *more laughing*

Procrastination… it always seems to get the best of us, no? Are there any other projects that you’re working on aside from the album? I’m also guessing that because the album’s not yet done, you don’t have a tentative release date for it.

Right, there’s no tentative release date yet. I do know it’s going to be called Silk Screens though!

I’ve had a few other things on the go as well. I was lucky enough to collaborate with Danny (Serre) on his album that just came out under the moniker Six Men Get Sick. For anyone wondering, I keep referring to it as ambient post-hardcore… but Dan says he’s not so sure if that’s true *laughs*. So check that out for yourself and make your own judgment. But I helped wordsmith the lyrics, contributed some backing vocals, and helped with all the branding/design. His punk band (the Shitbats) is getting ready to release a record too, so I’ve been helping them out a little with some branding and website stuff.

Wow so keeping really busy then, that’s good.

I like to keep crazily occupied. Typically too, of course – well not right now, but when life goes back to normal – there are always regular gigs to play. For me, it’s always a balancing act between trying to work on my own stuff and not getting overwhelmed with everything else.

Considering how often you perform, do you have any favorite stories from your musical journey?

There’s a few I can think of.

Playing covers has let me weirdly weave my way into being a special part of someone’s life, which is special in its own way. I can’t tell you how many times people will come into the venue, and they’ve just gotten eloped, and I would end up playing their first dance. And they get to have this strange, spontaneous memory, you know? Those kinds of very heartwarming little moments that can make you feel closer to people you don’t know.

Someone also tipped me via cheque once on tour too, which was really funny. I was playing a show in Kingston at the Musikki Café (when I was on tour with Edmonton singer/songwriter St. Arnaud), and the show was just a “pass the hat” type of situation… anyways somebody in the crowd wrote me a cheque with the words “you sound better than Norah Jones” scribbled on it. They just handed it to me. That one was really cool. I actually still have it taped on my refrigerator.

Katey Gatta in retail store with cart
Photo credit: Lauren Garbutt Photography

Since I can remember, I try not to wear my shoes while I’m playing. It gets a little more difficult to maintain in the winter these days. Anyways, last summer, I was playing at the Niagara Brewing Company, standing on my little carpet or whatever, and this little girl with her parents was walking by, and she made her family stop to listen. Her mom explained how much she loved singing, so we picked a song she knew, and I asked if she wanted to join me. Next thing I know, she was right beside me on the carpet, ripping off her shoes and was ready to start singing. *Laughing* I like that one a lot.

That’s a classic! And very cute. Okay, so, this part – and the whole point of why I started The Creative Wealth Project – this is where I’m going to ask you about advice. Myself, I have worn many hats: musician, writer, I’ve worked in the sports industry, I’ve worked in the education industry… but as you know… there are so many mistakes that most of us make in this industry – we look back, and we’re always saying to ourselves: “if I would have just read about this somewhere or someone had told me that before, maybe I could have avoided that mistake…”.

That being said… what advice do you have for people starting out in the music game?

Personally, when I started, I tried to model a lot of the decisions I made after the Beatles.

I knew that they had played hours upon hours of cover gigs, and while sometimes I can admit that can be soul-sucking, I’d recommend to any musician who wants to get good to play as many gigs as you can. Don’t think you’re ever above a gig. You’re probably not. Everybody has ten thousand hours to put into getting good – everybody. The moment you think you’re hot shit and have nothing more to learn is the moment you start slipping. You should always challenge yourself to get better in some way, shape, or form.

I’d also recommend trying to be consistent with practicing… I was never somebody who practiced or spent time at home with my instrument unless I absolutely had to, and now I’m trying to fix that bad habit by creating better ones. You can always see a difference between somebody who sits with their guitar for three hours a day and somebody who doesn’t.

I think all of us musicians can relate to that last one *laughing*. That’s some great advice, Katey.

I do believe that’s pretty much all I had for you today, so I want to say thanks for taking the time to chat, and it’s been really great just catching up with you in general!

Yeah! Thanks Mitch! Thanks for reaching out!

Anytime Katey, keep in touch!

Well, we’ve talked about it, so now let’s hear it:

Check out Katey’s live off the floor performance of “I’m Not Shakin'” from her upcoming album Silk Screens!

Make sure you keep up to date with Katey by following her on one (or better yet, all of) the mediums below:

Website: www.ktgatta.com

She’s also generously offered the option to listen to her catalog of demos she’s narrowing down for Silk Screens… so don’t be shy to check out a private playlist here if you’re interested (click the icon below):