If you read my review of Let It Sleep yesterday, you already know just how much I love Poor Young Things new EP.
I sat down with the band over cheap drinks at Java House to get their insights on moving to the city from Thunder Bay, working their way into the Toronto music scene and finally recording an EP I have been looking forward to owning since I first heard them play a year ago.
I met up with them on what must have been the first cold day in Toronto all winter, and asked them about Let It Sleep before too much liquor took us off track and into topics like Diners Drive Ins and Dives, their house getting torn down and a failed attempt at a word association game.
I immediately had to ask about the difference between the music scene in their hometown compared to Toronto, a favorite question of mine for musicians not originating from the big smoke.
“Heavy metal is really big there,” Matt noted. “Compared to Toronto it’s non existent, even though Thunder Bay might do better than a lot of cities in Canada, it’s not comparable to Toronto. Toronto is the hub,” drummer Konrad Commisso continued. “You just need to be seen, you can’t really be seen in Thunder Bay.”
Guitarist Dave Grant pointed out the challenge of moving to a new city, after establishing a base back home. “Thunder Bay’s always been really good to us, fanbase wise. When we came to Toronto we lost all that, since we didn’t have many friends or family down here, so we actually started having a real following of people who aren’t your buddies, they’re your fans – though they turn into your buddies after a while.”
At one point, Poor Young Things were considering uprooting to Vancouver instead of Toronto, though no one in the band really seemed sure why they wanted to do that. “Growing up in Thunder Bay you’re always kind of taught that you have to hate Toronto,” noted Matt. Luckily, a friend intervened. “We talked to one of our buddies Jeff Heisholt, and he said ‘I think that’d be a mistake if you moved out there, you should come down to Toronto, that’s where everybody is, and I can help you guys a lot more than you will get out West'” Dave said. “To be honest, the people we’ve met down here have been some of the nicest people we’ve ever met and we’ve been all across Canada.”
Speaking of Jeff, Dave pointed out how vital he was in getting them on Bumstead’s radar. “Jeff produced the first demos, he brought them to Bumstead. They liked it, they came out to a few shows and we built a relationship from there,” he continued.
Having loved all of their material over the past year, I had to ask why they chose to start with an EP rather than an LP. “I think we could have done a full album but it probably wouldn’t have been as strong as we would have liked it to be, and now by the time we get around to writing a full album, we’re gonna have a lot more to choose from,” noted Matt. “We chose the six songs we had the tightest and most ready to go,” Konrad continued.
On the darker themes that weaved into the release, Konrad noted, “We never really start with any intent like ‘Oh this EP’s gonna be dark.’ I guess it just comes out that way.”
“The music’s always pretty driving, not necessarily dark, but the lyrics are. I always thought that was a good juxtaposition, writing wise, and,” Matt laughs “we’re just so sad all the time. It’s so cold in our house, and we’re getting kicked out.”
I ask him the question every songwriter hates, curious if the lyrics come from personal experiences or made up stories. “The Low Road is about… it’s tough talking about lyrics because you don’t want to say what it’s exactly about because it takes some of the fun out of it. The Low Road would be a relationship song. Hearts and Minds – I was just trying to write a song like Teenage Kicks, pretty much. Those guys are awesome.” Our mutual love for Teenage Kicks came up many times during the interview.
“The Americanist kinda worked on an Occupy Wall Street level, like a rising up of the youth. Blame It On The Good Times is about far too many Rolling Rock nights. I guess we do have kind of a dark sense of humour. Sometimes it’s stories, sometimes it’s real. I don’t think any of us really has it that bad, we were so lucky it’s like insane. We got signed to Bumstead a year after we moved to Toronto, I’ve got nothing to be sad about.”
Their songwriting process is fairly standard, with Matt taking on most of the writing duties, but he notes the importance of working on a song with bassist Scott Burke, “I usually give my lyrics to Scott, for quality control.”
“It’s kind of odd colaborating with Matt. It seems we come up with our best stuff when we’re not in the same room working on a song together. Sometimes I’ll come with a half written song and idea or vica versa. We’ve tried writing something at the same time but we usually hit a road block. It works best if we both know the direction of the song, split up and each write our own thing. Then we come together and agree on what works best and bounce ideas around,” Scott said.
When I brought up shifting away from their previous incarnation, Konrad noted, “We’ve been a band for five years, but a lot of that has just been learning your instrument in the garage. In Thunder Bay there’s not much to do except play hockey, drink and maybe pick up an instrument and make a band. A lot of that five years of being Money Honey wasn’t us at our most professional.” Matt added, “Money Honey also shifted too, we started with heavier rock and roll, and then turned into that kinda country twang.”
When asked about abandoning their Money Honey EP songs, they noted the typical growing pains every band goes through. “I don’t think any band who sits back and listens to the very first thing they ever recorded is like ‘Oh that’s gold.’ It’s like you’re looking at your school photos coming up,” Konrad continued.
I regularly bring up how much I miss “Heavy Sound” in their set whenever I hang out with them, and this time was no different, asking if they had any plans to rerecord it under the new name. “We could just write a better slow song,” noted Matt. Konrad pointed out how their set is always changing, “It’s hard to know what kind of catalog you’re gonna keep cause you’re always striving to make the best 40 minute set that anyone can see in the big city, the best songs that display what your band embodies to people. You’re always kinda crafting that, it’s like pottery spinning around. You’re wearing that down to get to what you feel best describes you as a band.”
On working with Jon Drew, they all had nothing but kind words. “Jon is a very interesting guy, really laid back and easy to work with. You don’t really feel any pressure when you’re recording, which is awesome because all eyes are on you, and it’s easy to psych yourself out. The ideas he had were really good, he would make minor adjustments that would really take the song to high levels of awesomeness,” noted guitarist Michael Kondakow.
Since they managed to land Jon Drew on their first release, I asked who else they would love to work with. Dave went big, pointing to Rolling Stones producer Jack Douglas. Mike chose Stephen Jenkins, noting “I just love Third Eye Blind and I think it would be unreal to work with someone who has written so many good songs.” At the top of Scott’s list: “Gus Van Go. He’s made some great albums, like The Stills and Hollerado, and I think we would be on the same page musically.”
On their best moments so far in the city: “First meeting with Bumstead, getting offered the record deal. Calling my parents and telling them I just got offered a record deal was definitely the best. The signing was pretty great too,” notes Dave. “My best moments have probably been all the parties we’ve had and all the people we’ve met,” said Matt. They all noted live music as a big one, Konrad highlighting seeing Arkells play The Ballroom at the MuchMusic Video Awards after party.
To close things up I tied it back to the theme of the EP, asking if there is anything that could ever break them up. “I think we’d be lost without each other,” Dave said. I am inclined to agree.
If you are in Toronto tonight, you should definitely come to their release show at the Horseshoe Tavern, doors at 9pm, 7$. Buy the EP when you get there, it’s well worth it.