By Jack Derricourt
You could hardly pick up an indie rag this summer without seeing some blissful music writer’s account of The Ketamines’ summer tour. The band is a pop brainchild, birthed from the foreheads of James Leroy of Lethbridge and Paul Lawton from Toronto, and driven onto the frenzied wasteland highways of Canada by a revolving door of musicians with Lawton as the ringmaster. With the release of their second full-length, You Can’t Serve Two Masters, and a lovely fistful of singles coming out on Hozac, Pleasance, and other juicy indie labels, it’s a time of shining for The Ketamines. Feedback called Lawton up in his recently flooded hometown of Toronto to talk shop and chat about the shipwreck that was Sled Island.
Feedback: So tell me about The Ketamines’ flood experience.
Paul Lawton: It didn’t really seem that different. I’ve played Sled Island every year since it started, and I kind of favour the basement shows, and the house parties, and the Tubby Dog shows over the main stage anyway. So the fact that it turned into a series of people playing in houses was not that different from what happens anyway, which is why I think it happened so quickly and why it was so well organized. It was kind of amazing.
We played this one condo with Jay Arner from Vancouver, and it was packed. I’ve never seen so many people in one tiny condo ever, and they were just stuffing wads of twenties in a mason jar. We ended up getting paid better than what we were supposed to for [officially] playing Sled Island. Then we played Tubby Dog on the Saturday, which is the best place to play in Calgary anyways.
FB: Were they picking up the slack when other venues closed down with the evacuation?
PL: Weird Canada was supposed to have their Sled Island official show at Tubby Dog, and they had scheduled a tweet that said, “Weird Canada—Sled Island at Tubby Dog today, BE THERE!” Tubby Dog was just like, well, we’re all here, we have a PA here, let’s just do it! And the drummer in Ketamines, Jesse Locke, is the managing editor of Weird Canada, and he just took over. We rounded up all the people still in town: us, Jay Arner, Biblical—a super good heavy psych band from Toronto, Monomyth, all these crazy bands. It was awesome.
FB: The new material you guys are making has a really different sound from stuff off the last record, Spaced Out—especially the new single “All the Colours of Your Heart.” Did you make a choice to go for different funkier direction with the new songs?
PL: No, there’s no direction, ever. We like to describe ourselves as genre agnostic. I think we play with garage sometimes, but it’s never our intent to be a garage band, or a psych band, or a pop band. Whatever the songs are that come out; they are what they are.
When we play “All the Colours of Your Heart” live, I see people physically uncomfortable with it, thinking, “What is this? I thought this was a punk band. I thought this was a garage band.” I want to see a band take chances and do something different. You’re competing with everything now; and if you’re just going to play the same structures over and over again and be a ‘garage band,’ then why are people even leaving their house to come see you these days?
FB: As a commodity you have to sell to people, do you think a band needs to be collectible—through small runs of singles and other products—to be relevant these days?
PL: James and I constantly talk about this. We’re putting out four singles this summer, and all four together form one giant cover. What I wanted to do was have the first one in a run of three hundred, the second at 250, the third at 200, and the last one at 150. It creates this frenzy, because you want to have all four. But James is very, “I just want people to get the music, I don’t care.” I just don’t think it’s enough. There are so many bands out there, there has to be some extra excitement.
The thing that convinced me not to go that way is that, you look at those bands that did those limited edition singles, and they’re gone. It’s a cheap move, to hold back from people like that. It works to sell records fast, but if you’re playing a long game, it’s the wrong way to do it. Why would you not want to let some people get your music?
FB: You’ve dropped a lot of band names, but who would you say is the one band in Canada everyone in Canada should be listening to right now?
PL: Tough Age from Vancouver. We brought them to our Victoria show and everybody danced. They’re coming on tour with us in Ontario in mid-August. It’s a monster band: they’ve got great pop songs, they’ve got great stage presence, and they sound amazing live—I think they’re gonna go places.