It was 5 days deep into the annual Toronto-based music festival called Canadian Music Week when Jason Zerbin and Peter Mol parked their RV out front of the Supermarket on the crowded Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market.
“Hi, I’m Jason,” they said to the bearded man sitting in the restaurant section of the venue. They say down and waited. Nothing happened. Finally the drummer for the evening found me sitting towards the back, while I was wondering why they were sitting quietly beside the owner and proprietor of the Supermarket. Maybe they were good friends?
“I was thinking, “man, this is the worst interview ever,”” Jason said as finally introduced himself to me. “I thought he was you, so we introduced ourselves and I just sat down expecting him to talk. It was extremely weird.”
Funny enough, these guys had apparently had some pretty bad interviews. Ranging from topics from “where do you take your groupies”, to “where does your name come from”, Zerbin and Peter told me of past media availabilities that have apparently been lacking. I sheepishly looked down at my notes to make sure I hadn’t made that a question – thankfully there was a lot more to talk about. Their new LP Darling, released in April was gaining traction as they brought their large touring RV across North America. The single and video for “Worlds on Fire” had brought them to the attention of Fontana North and finally they were gaining recognition for their work.
I had missed their show, sadly, the night before at the Garrison, however as we sat down the pair seemed tired. I knew it had been a good one. As they settled down for our conversation, we started there:
Playback – how was the show last night?
Zerbin – I don’t know. You never can really tell from the stage. It was fun. It was our first show with this new drummer.
Playback – Yeah, I was a little confused, what happened with your drummer, Duran?
Zerbin – Fantastic guy. He just peaced as soon as we were done the record.
Playback – He couldn’t do the tour?
Zerbin – Ah.. you know. Life leads people in different directions. Really he’s an axe wielding murderer on the loose and we’re just tired of covering up for his sins.
Disclaimer : Duran is not a axe wielding murderer
Playback – the project itself started in ’09, right?
Zerbin – well, when this comes up there’s always a bit of a caveat. The project as it currently stands today where Peter and I are sort of the main guys, playing most of the parts on the record, is only about 2 years old. We sort of grandfathered in my personal project and it warped itself into this collaboration. Ultimately, the sound changed, and this record was really the first where it feels like “our sound”. We released and EP a while back that was sort of hinting at the future which sort of really began to solidify what we were going with.
Playback – Do you feel that this has resulted in a sort of disconnect from your earlier works with such a shift in focus?
Zerbin – Honestly, I feel it’s a testament to, in the beginning, not really knowing what we wanted to do with this. Where as the two of us playing this together and collaborating, really takes on a whole other level.
Playback – Tell me about your time in Edmonton – do you like it out there?
Peter – Edmonton is cool city, but it’s changed a lot since I’ve been there. It feels like it’s on the rise culturally. Really, I just love it out there, I mean, I’ve been there my whole life.
Playback – where did you play out in there? And who did you play with, for that matter?
Peter – We played at Starlight, Pawn Shop, Edmonton Event Center, pretty much any bar or stage that would have us.
Zerbin – Edmonton seems sort of like a place where venues go to die, though. There’s a lot of turnover.
Playback – it happens in Toronto as well. Every once in a while a venue will shut down and some diluted fool will think, “we should put a venue in there!” and it ends up failing just as miserably. Ultimately it”s the passion that drives it but it’s funny to see this kind of turnover.
Zerbin – it’s really a tough time for live music in general.
Playback – what inspired the move to Victoria? Was it a life thing?
Zerbin – for me it just came at the right point in my life. I was getting married and I just didn’t want to live in Edmonton anymore. Really, it didn’t change much of anything from a creative standpoint. With the internet collaboration has become so insanely easy over long distance. Sure, that changes the dynamic, but I feel generally in a positive way. Additionally, Victoria has always been a place that I’ve always looked to as a very beautiful part of the country – Edmonton really can’t offer that.
Playback – what happened in Alberta with those elections? I mean, that’s messed up.
Peter – I honestly didn’t even pay attention this time around.
Playback – you may have been one of the 5 people who didn’t vote there, voter turnout was close to 60%.
Zerbin – Yeah, I feel that there’s a misconception about people in Alberta where maybe they’re seen as more conservative than they actually are. There is a large group of very vocal people who have a tendency to monopolize the political conversation out there.
Peter – The Wildrose really screwed both themselves and the Conservatives when they joined the government last year.
Playback – aren’t the Wildrose the far-right, former Canadian Alliance fucks?
Zerbin – That’s a good illustration of the difference between BC and Alberta – living on the Island full of, essentially, hippies – it’s always kinda been hard for me to find a Party that really represents my ideals. Last Federal election I voted Conservative, almost out of habit, but now I’m just so freaking pissed at this Government. I’m actually angry at Harper, and I don’t think I’ve felt that before. They’re just doing whatever they want with very little accountability.
Playback – especially in the response to the Ottawa shootings, all of a sudden we need a Canadian-style PATRIOT Act, all the while the US version is being gutted in the States?
Zerbin – Yeah, it’s crazy stuff, and I feel, especially being someone who actually made a conscious decision to vote for this party, that it’s reflective of the people he’s supposed to be representing.
Playback – Oh for sure. It’s representative of the needs of the government in power, not the needs of the people who but them there… Anyway, sorry for the political side-discussion there.
Zerbin – No, that’s totally fine it’s important stuff!
Playback – tell me about the dynamics of collaboration via long distances.
Peter – it’s super-easy.
Zerbin – well, writing is easiest to do in person. So we’ll be together for a period of time and bring our ideas together for a cohesive song. But when it comes to production – he has a studio, I have a studio, we both can play the full gambit of instruments, it’s becomes really easy to play back and forth over email.
Playback – so you did most of the new record in your home studios?
Zerbin – when it came time to do the record we both got together at my place on the island and brought in a producer friend of mine, Jay Took, who was basically just there to run the board, so we locked ourselves away and got most of it done then. Afterwards did a little bit of post-production and songwriting via distance, but ultimately we ended up adding the last song on there that was written in NYC with this guy we had just met. He had a bunch of kids keyboards, a ProTools from 1999 – there was so many problems in this session that he gave me. For instance, the tempo changed a bunch of times but he didn’t even know because the age of the software made it okay, but only on that session. Anyway, it was surreal, there were these turtles he had in the room that were just having sex the whole time – it was weird. Anyway, that song was ‘Ibiza’.
Playback – tell me about the album art. Where’d the visual inspiration for the record come from?
Zerbin – I tend to curate it but we worked with a photographer called Ann Cynn, her photos just have so much emotion in it. She lives in Norway now, and still isn’t very well known, but I was always looking at her stuff and communicating with her, and it just worked out. Generally the feel is a combination of desolate and whimsical, which encapsulates the soul of our music if not the sound of our music necessarily.
Playback – tell me a little bit about this ‘sound’. I mean, when you are writing independently of one another, do you find you’re writing for yourself, or are you writing for your audience?
Peter – it depends on the day for sure, but I think at the end of the day it’s really about what I’m feeling. Through that it just eventually turns into something that people agree with or identify with, it sort of happens naturally.
Zerbin – I just self-indulge. It’s all for me. Sometimes I’ll write a song with a purpose, but a lot the times it’s really just about spitting out what’s inside.
Playback – do you feel you get more satisfaction of hearing your music yourselves or knowing that others, your audience, enjoy it?
Peter – I’d say a little bit of both. I mean, we’re proud of what we’ve done.
Zerbin – It’s important to be able to listen to listen to your music and say, “that’s good”. And I think that this is the first record we’ve done where, in every song, there’s points where we go “Yes! This is good.” Music is my life, my calling, my passion, and it’s really good to finally produce a thing that I can ultimately know is really great.