Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Robb's Favourite Albums of the Decade (2000-2009)

So I've started to realize that the decade has ended, and it feels like a relative non-event (seriously now, without the scare of Y2K, what could possibly be a more amusing follow-up rollover?)... Given my lack of religion, the holiday season is generally what I call my R&R time and I've taken a few moments to put together a list of 25 of my favourite albums that were released in the first 10 years of the new century:

1. Air Traffic - Fractured Life
2. Bright Eyes - Lifted (Or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground)
3. The Cure - Bloodflowers
4. The Dandy Warhols - 13 Tales From Urban Bohemia
5. Dawntreader - Santa Fe Stalker
6. Editors - The Back Room
7. Elbow - Leaders of the Free World
8. The Februarys - Brighter Side of Things
9. The Feminists - She Could Be
10. Ben Folds - Song for Silverman
11. Green Day - American Idiot
12. David Gray - Lost Songs 95-98
13. Idlewild - The Remote Part
14. Idlewild - Make Another World
15. In Medias Res - Of What Was
16. Jet - Shine On
17. The Killers - Sam's Town
18. Michael Franti & Spearhead - Stay Human
19. Modest Mouse - Good News For People Who Love Bad News
20. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Nocturama
22. Oasis - Don't Believe the Truth
22. Pearl Jam - Pearl Jam
23. Sleater-Kinney - The Woods
24. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
25. Hawksley Workman - Lover/Fighter

...of course I'm surely missing several but that's what a first scan of the record shelf has brought me. Perhaps best concert experiences should be another list to consider. But for now, that's all she wrote.

Love and rockets,

Monday, November 30, 2009

Video Kills?

Well hello, my cheeky wee monkeys (credit due to Craig Ferguson)... yesterday we shot the video for "Don't Blow Me Away" at a circus school in Toronto. We all have hidden talents we never knew of, most notably Marcus' ability to hula-hoop like Shakira. And of course, bets were on the table as to how quickly I'd have to be taken to Toronto East General Hospital for climbing and swinging from trapeze equipment in breath-holding capacities. Sadly for those with money on the table (but happily for me and my flesh and bones), no one was injured. Even when I belted Mandy with a Swiss ball as she attempted curtain acrobatics. Even Chris got up from behind the drumkit and took a few stage dives. I know, it's only rock 'n' roll....

It's an interesting time in the midst of the YouTube generation; whereas previously bands needed major label support and, consequently, wads of cash, just to produce a video -- let alone have it played on network television, or seen at all. Now, anyone with a video camera can upload a video to a YouTube or Vimeo channel, and potentially get a million plays. And why not? It's not as if MTV or MuchMusic actually play music videos anymore. At the same time, it increases the amount of noise to be filtered through (as do sites like MySpace), which can be overwhelming and translate into apathy. But for those so inclined, it's all part of the fun digging up some gold nuggets -- like hitting up a used record store and not realizing that what you find may change your life.

We have out last two shows of 2009 this week. it's been the busiest and thus far most rewarding year in Paint's life, and I attribute it almost entirely to Mandy, Marcus, and Chris for making it feel, perhaps for the first time, like a band, with every synergistic piece in place... if the world doesn't explode in 2010, I'd say it only goes straight up from here.

Best to you and yours,

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Shut Up and Scream"

When the CBC interviews a passing Hamilton steelworker on the sidewalk on their opinions of same-sex marriage, do viewers say "Shut up and go to the plant"? When CNN visits a Carolina housewife to ask her what her views on Roe v. Wade are, do viewers tell her to "Shut up and tend the house"? Generally not -- because the steelworker and the housewife are citizens of the democratic nations in which they live, just like everyone else; they account for part of the populous. In a system of democracy, politicians do not have a monopoly on the right to speak on political issues (though they've tried to drill that into citizens' heads for generations). Rather, their purpose is to voice what the constituents they represent feel is important to them.

So why is it that when a musician takes a political stance that so many onlookers so quickly say "Shut up and sing" as though somehow an artist is less of a citizen than the plumber or the doctor? Seemingly the days of Leonardo and Michelangelo, the great artists and philosophers (who were also commercially-viable entities) have long been erased, or romanticized, in Western consciousness as relics of an age passed when art was far from commodity, and artists themselves were often the first to comment and observe cultural and political dynamics; their cultural criticism was held in high regard for its unconventional wisdom and insight.

Admittedly I'm the first to cringe when anyone speaks publicly on sensitive political issues, musician or otherwise, because of the stakes involved in advancing the position amidst generalized public perception. However, I can't help but wonder what it is about musicians specifically that warrants "Shut up" calls from onlookers with so much more frequency. Rush Limbaugh and Michael Stipe are both in the business of entertainment, so why should one's political stance be elevated over the other's due to their so-called "legitimate" claim to speak on political issues. One wears a tie, the other has a mic stand -- they're both still citizens.

Historically speaking, art (and music in particular) has been intricately connected to political resistance and counter-revolution, from the days of slaves passing esoteric messages of liberty through song, to Bob Dylan delivering messages of change through folk songs, to Public Enemy warning us to "Fight the powers that be." Artistic revolution is almost inherently politically subversive; it becomes a catalyst, or a subsidiary of cultural change which does not bode well for those invested in, or standing to benefit from, the maintenance of the status quo. Fittingly, any artist, like any other citizen, would be demonized for challenging the dominant political position -- it is merely the relationship between art and powerful cultural revolution that inspires a more heightened opposition to their voice.

I highlight that an artist who challenges convention, for the right-leaning Arnold Schwarzeneggers and Ronald Reagans of the world are rarely instructed to "Shut up and act." Yet, the left is constantly at war with its public image and the legitimacy of its position when art and artists go political.*

Few words have ever rung more true than Joe Strummer's adage: "You have the right to free speech, unless you're dumb enough to actually try it!"

Bigger cages, longer chains?

Should artists "Shut up and sing," or "Stop whispering, start shouting" -- as any citizen in a democratic system is entitled to, whether we agree with their position or not?

Be well,

* An obvious exception to this would be Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil, who is now Australia's Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts -- but Australia has proven again and again to be the progressive black sheep of so-called "Westernized" nations.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Distant History....

Well, I must say it's been quite the journey seeing all of our photo archives up on Flickr. To think that Paint as we know it is the product of so much refinement over years of, at best, sporadic communion and the slow process of trimming and narrowing the vision... it feels like the 2009 lineup here in Toronto has absolutely no connection whatsoever to the first one of 2001 in Vancouver. I know the one thing that's probably changed the most is me from the humble beginnings of Paint as a folk-based political entity when I was 18, to the introduction (cheered along by Matt Laforest) of vintage tube amps, distortion pedals, screaming electric guitars, and a general "wall of sound" more true to my inner noise... Maybe it's not such a bafflement after all when I take the journey Paint has gone through in tandem with my own personal journey into adulthood: the band in its various incarnations represents different stages in my young life, like choosing awful outfits and hairstyles; attempting to tease out existential questions like, "What's it's all about?"; seeing the inside of some of North America's harshest and most violent prisons and urban settings as a social activist; and, ultimately, stumbling through most of it with the assistance (or crutch) of whatever easy cure I could get my hands on -- and now through the lens of clear eyes and commitment to my wife and what is, in the inner circle, referred to as "Paint Toronto."

Can You Hear Me? is a loud record, yes, but so basic in its melody and structure. I doubt there are more than 6 chords on the entire album. As much as I wish this sound and vision had been discovered right off the bat, I hardly doubt I would appreciate it as much, or feel that I earned it, had I not gone to hell and back to see it become what it is now... Enjoy the photos!

All my relations,
Robb Johannes

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A few Inches....

Not referring to the size of Luke's penis (although admittedly we did have to sit him on a booster seat and put him right up front in our recent press photos to make him look like a regular-sized human). The new record, Can You Hear Me?, was shipped off yesterday to the pressing plant for hard copy CDs, and the day before for mythical digital distribution... We're very excited. Although I've not slept in nearly a month now, pouring hours into the album artwork, layout, and overseeing the last few inches... It'll be worth the wait. I assure you.

In the meantime, we await for the end of the garbage strike in Toronto -- never is a statement more clear of how badly citizens need a service than having to smell uncollected waste melting in the humidity of the first days of summer. Part of me hopes it goes on forever to remind everyone just how significant such workers are, but at the same time my lungs are probably telling me to quarantine myself.

Garbage and a new record. We wait for them all....

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Our new record will make you deaf

Well, hello.... so, it's been quite a process making this new record (which is likely to be called Can You Hear Me?). It was initially something that began as a demo which I was going to take with me to Toronto to shop around to labels and have something to pass along to musicians to form a Toronto chapter of the band while Matt, Paula, and I kept writing songs together. After playing back the dailies of the first couple days at Maximus Sound, however, there was a sonic character to first couple bed tracks (I believe it was "A Gentle Art" and "An Evening to Myself" but I could be wrong on the latter) which captured the energy we had been pouring into the songs as we wrote and performed them in and around Vancouver... So, the nucleus of a new record was born and we approached the remainder of the sessions with that general mindset.

We tracked and tracked for about two months, during which time I got married(!) and started to get things organized to move to Toronto. I think two days after I laid down my final vocal, I was on a one-way plane out of Vancouver with no furniture, no money, no set plans -- just a beautiful wife, a bunch of guitars and records, and a safety in knowing that if the plane went down, my last vocal tracks were on Claude Laforest's hard drive!

After the New Year, we shipped the tracks to EchoPlant Sound, where Ryan Worsley finished a few vocal tracks with Paula and went straight into mixing.

Mixing long-distance is strange; every record I'd played on up to this point usually involved everyone in the band sitting in the studio with the engineer for days and weeks hammering it out. This time, Ryan would mix a song in Vancouver, email it to me in Toronto, I'd make notes, pass the notes and songs along to Matt and Paula in Vancouver, they'd add their two bits, we'd send it all to Ryan, and he'd go back and work on the songs again. Every song has been fully mixed three times now, a couple (like "After") have had a couple extra passes.

As we're now in April, it seems like all the songs, shy of a few small tweaks, are done. All I can say is, "Wow," and "Holy freaking f*ck, these songs are LOUD!"

Of course, it's easy to lose perspective on things when you're totally hoiled up alone listening to mixes -- so the songs have been let loose on a few close colleagues to make sure that everything sounds as great as we think it does, and affirm that we're not losing our minds.... THEN, and only then, will mixing be complete.

But that doesn't mean it's over then by any stretch; there's still artwork, mastering, packaging, etc., etc., and the new lineup in Toronto has to get out and start rocking the faces off audiences.

Though you might like to know all this in the meantime.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

What a drummer SHOULD look like....

Alas, Matt Laforest has reverted back to his original Homo Habilis state now that I'm not around to class him up every few days.... Please send him sympathy, pretty soon he'll be receiving government benefits. The definition below says it all: "Handy Man."

Homo habilis (pronounced /ˈhoʊmoʊ ˈhæbəlɪs/) ("handy man", "skillful person") is a species of the genus Homo, which lived from approximately 2.5 million to at least 1.6 million years ago at the beginning of the Pleistocene.[1] The definition of this species is credited to both Mary and Louis Leakey, who found fossils in Tanzania, East Africa, between 1962 and 1964. Homo habilis is arguably the first species of the Homo genus to appear. In its appearance and morphology, H. habilis was the least similar to modern humans of all species to be placed in the genus Homo (except possibly Homo rudolfensis). Homo habilis was short and had disproportionately long arms compared to modern humans; however, it had a reduction in the protrusion in the face. It is thought to have descended from a species of australopithecine hominid. Its immediate ancestor may have been the more massive and ape-like Homo rudolfensis. Homo habilis had a cranial capacity slightly less than half of the size of modern humans. Despite the ape-like morphology of the bodies, H. habilis remains are often accompanied by primitive stone tools (e.g. Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania and Lake Turkana, Kenya).

Homo habilis has often been thought to be the ancestor of the lankier and more sophisticated Homo ergaster, which in turn gave rise to the more human-appearing species, Homo erectus. Debates continue over whether H. habilis is a direct human ancestor, and whether all of the known fossils are properly attributed to the species. However, in 2007, new findings suggest that the two species coexisted and may be separate lineages from a common ancestor instead of H. erectus being descended from H. habilis.