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the thrush hermit article.
- Subject: the thrush hermit article.
- From: "james r. covey" <JRCOVEY\!/ac.dal.ca>
- Date: Tue, 16 Apr 1996 18:11:29 -0300
hey there folks. i thought some of you might be
interested in seeing the unedited version of my
thrush hermit article, which appears in the
current issue of _the coast_. so here it is...
They're the rock and roll dreamers of the Halifax alternative pop
scene, and as of this week, they're one giant step closer to living out
that dream. Thrush Hermit have signed their big record deal, and like
the Halifax bands that have blazed the trail ahead of them, it's with a
US label. But unlike Sub Pop signees jale and The Hardship Post, this
young and ambitious quartet have adventurously decided to go major label.
They've signed a potentially long-term deal with Elektra, the high-
profile Warner Brothers division. So how do they feel about being
labelmates with Jerry Lee Lewis, Emmylou Harris, Bjork, and Metallica?
"We're totally content with it," says Joel Plaskett. "We got some
things. We obviously made a lot of concessions." Rob Benvie adds,
"Every major label deal is not in the artists' favour." The two
vocalist/guitarists are impressively articulate about the nature of the
music business, as well as the tradeoffs they're making by signing this
deal. Hardly surprising when you consider the company they're keeping.
For the past four years, the band have been an integral part of the scene
revolving around Sloan's label Murderecords. You might say that they've
been going to rock and roll school, and taking careful notes.
"The industry is fundamentally evil, but you can deal with good
people and still make good records," Plaskett says. "This deal took a
long time to feel comfortable with, but we're pretty psyched now."
Despite the musical maturity and industry savvy that the band are
exhibiting, the band still find themselves working against a young-and-
innocent image that is partly a result of the way they were introduced to
fans years ago. "We first went on tour with Sloan when we were 18 and
just out of high school, and the press was centered around that, and now
it comes back to haunt us." Benvie notes that their image is also, to
some extent, deserved: "We'd rather be, you know, throwing TVs out of
windows, but we're more like, tucked in bed by nine."
More than anything, the two guitarists and their bandmates Ian
McGettigan and Cliff Gibb are excited at the possibility of touring on a
much more extensive scale. Plaskett looks forward to better venues and
more peace of mind: "[We'll be able to] go out, and think, if the van
breaks down, we don't have to call our parents and get them to bail us
out." The kind of label support that Elektra can provide will help them
overcome the natural geographical disadvantage that Halifax bands face
whenever they want to take their show on the road. "We live in Nova
Scotia, we don't live in New York where you can tour the east coast and
build up a fan base really easily. We have to drive 15 hours to our
first big show -- Montreal or Boston."
"When we've been on tour in the States we've felt like losers -- not
very confident," says Benvie. "Our records weren't available, and there
wasn't opportunity for radio to play us, except for a couple of singles."
But now with American distribution and tour support, the band hope to
realize a sustainable level of success that can't be had for a Canadian
band in the US within the independent scene. "We have to be free to do
the things we want to do, because we're ambitious young lads. We have to
have money to pay the bills."
And how would that level of success affect their lives at home in
Halifax? "Right now, I feel like no one really cares about us at all,"
says Plaskett. "I think people might acknowledge the fact that they like
our music, or that we're good. But in the wake of a lot of other
releases.. there's so many good bands here!"
Both Benvie and Plaskett are convinced that widespread fame would
simply allow them to play more often here, rather than turning local
appearances into a rarity. "We want to be the house band, and play
somewhere every week!" Plaskett enthuses. He'd rather not have fame in
the US translate into the kind of celebrity status at home that might
force the band to keep to themselves. "The smaller you can remain in
your hometown, the better it is for you, if you think about it. Just
because, this is the place that we live."
After four years on the Halifax scene, two-self-released cassettes,
and two EPs and a 7" on local labels Murderecords and Cinnamon Toast (as
well as 7" singles on Bongload and Genius in the US), the band are still
enthusiastic about the advantages of a small, isolated scene. They
express some distaste about the "networking frenzy" that they encounter
on tour in southern Ontario.
"Everytime we play there we get all these tapes chucked at us, and
that's cool, but it's be kinda cooler if bands were like the Motes, from
Truro, who didn't do anything, just made a tape and stayed in their
houses," says Benvie.
Plaskett agrees: "They maintain a certain mystery that way. And
excitement too. I think a really important thing to keep is the
excitement surrounding a band. I think, with us, it's really hard around
here for people to view our band with any sort of anticipation."
Although the band have no complaints about how they've been treated
at Birdland, the lack of a smaller venue for alternative bands bothers
them to some extent. "We really should be playing some place in Halifax
Being part of a thriving scene also allows the band to indulge a few
other projects from time to time. Their ongoing classic-rock-
deconstructing side band, the Tim Robbins Experience, where the three
front members switch instruments and let loose their more comedic and
bizarre tendencies, has won more than a few fans.
Benvie says, "The Tim Robbins headspace is so wacky. In Thrush
Hermit, the songwriting is from the heart and it's a more individual
thing. In the Tim Robbins Experience, all the songs are written
together, and if a song is absolutely absurd, it doesn't matter." It's
also an opportunity for some creative musical plagiarism: "The parts are
pieced together -- they're all parts from other songs. We'll take an
eight-bar section from a Led Zeppelin song, and incorporate it with,
like, a Shellac riff or something, but we've figured it out the wrong
way, so it's the wrong notes."
Tim Robbins Experience releases are even more rare than their
performances, although crowd favorite "Countdown to the Grammys" has
recently been released on the 11-band compilation cassette _I'm Going
Crazy In This Town_, which accompanies the latest issue of local indie
zine _Left Hip_. When asked if TRX will do any kind of extensive
recording, Plaskett replies, "That takes a backburner, it's secondary."
He adds, though, "Some people like it more, and I can't tell whether
that's cool or not!" Benvie says, "They're such seperate bands.
Occasionally [the Tim Robbins aesthetic] creeps into Thrush Hermit. But
the bands will never amalgamate, we'll never be switching up instruments
for the 'Tim Robbins effect.'"
Benvie, and bassist Ian McGettigan, can also be seen from time to
time playing in Crappo 2. This band, with a rotating cast of local
musicians, is the project of multimedia artist Laura Borealis, who has
proved to be a key connection for Thrush Hermit. She directed their
"French Inhale" video, and also hooked them up with Chicago's famed
indie-rock producer Steve Albini, who recorded their latest EP, _The
Great Pacific Ocean_.
When asked if they are still happy with that record, the band agree
that it captures their live sound remarkably well. But it was recorded
in the space of only two days, and drummer Cliff Gibb remarks, "There's
all kinds of little things that I kind of cringe when I hear because
I wish I could have the time to do over again." It seems that the Albini
aesthetic also represents the band as "pretty bare and dark sounding,"
in the words of Joel Plaskett. Rob Benvie agrees: "Even our upbeat
songs sound darker because of the way Steve Albini records."
The groups are eagerly looking forward to the kind of recording
session that their Elektra contract can pay for. There is a very good
chance that they will record their debut full-length with Doug Easley,
another indie-rock sound engineer who is well-known for albums by bands
such as Pavement and The Grifters. They hope that a session at Easley's
famed Memphis studios will translate their simultaneously reckless and
hard-rocking live aesthetic into a record that can successfully
communicate the various dimensions of their band. They cite _Wowee
Zowee_, the latest Pavement LP, as an example of a successful attempt at
"the elusive 'loose-but-tight'," as Plaskett puts it.
It shouldn't be surprising that the Hermit have had plenty of time to
stockpile a large number of songs, but Benvie says they're resisting the
urge to release an unusually long debut. They're planning to include 15
songs on the record, and because many of their songs are quite short, the
LP will probably run a modest 45 minutes. They'd like to see it
available early this fall, but if that doesn't happen it will be out no
later than next January.
In the meantime, the band's contract does not prevent them from
putting out independent releases on other labels, and so they are set to
release a new 7" single on Murderecords early this summer, featuring two
new four-track recordings. Also, a video co-directed by bassist
McGettigan and Warren Auld (best known on the music scene as the
guitarist for the now-defunct Horseshoes and Handgrenades) is set to be
released. It's for the song "Patriot", from the _Great Pacific Ocean_
EP, and the group can't help but laugh as they speak of releasing the
first video from the EP a full year after the record's release -- yet
another incongruity of the indie-rock existence that may now be, to some
extent, behind them.
Plaskett and Benvie are both quite willing to talk about how they are
not just trying to create a sound, or a record, but a career that will
be meaningful for them. Benvie says, "A lot of times we're really
concerned about how, ten years from now, if you look back at our band,
how it will all make sense."
Plaskett, too, waxes philosophical: "I think it's very important not
to pollute good ideas. To have what you have, stick to it, be
adventurous within that, and take risks or whatever, do things you like,
but not blur whatever your initial intention was." He projects an
assured, considered confidence about their signing and its implications
for the band. "Thrush Hermit is a story and a history. This LP will be
the first chapter of a story. The EPs were like, a prologue."
Benvie, also seems convinced that the band has done enough groundwork
and is ready for something bigger. "For a band with more reasonable
aspirations than us, who are totally, you know, dreamers, it would
totally work if someone wanted to work really slowly from the ground up.
But we decided instead of going in really small steps, to go in larger
steps. Not that we're jumping in over our heads, but just making a
larger leap at this point."
And when Joel Plaskett sums up the band's decision, he's frank and
succint: "A lot of bands work and go on tour. It's not to say you can't
do it that way, but I don't want to get a job. I want to rock it up full
_James R. Covey <jrcovey\!/ac.dal.ca>_ sloan net is a discussion of the
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