Where do Vancouver musicians go?
By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 11, 2014
Beside the industrial waves of the mighty Fraser and alongside the barbwire fences and railway tracks is a building long past its prime. Weather-beaten but still venerable, the musical dormitory is both a rehearsal space and a hangout spot for My Mother the Carjacker (MMC).
I joined them as they took shelter from a rainy night in the late winter of 2013. The trio set up their equipment for a session in their humble abode—the sprinkler room. Dan Whittal, Liam Worthington, Allan Heppner, and a 12-pack of beer got down to work; nitty-gritty work, hold-all-my-calls-I’ll-be-here-awhile work.
“We take it really seriously,” said lead singer and guitarist, Whittal. “But we don’t act serious, and that makes all the difference.”
Every band has a different dynamic and MMC’s characteristic is very distinct, since they have one central understanding: “At the beginning we agreed, ‘Don’t tell anyone they can’t do something,’” said bassist, Worthington. “If they write the part, let them write the part. If it doesn’t work with the song, obviously the guy would know anyways.”
Vancouver’s live entertainment scene is not always welcoming to newcomers, so MMC embraces the bumpy ride. It’s all up and down, resembling their fast-paced tempo and off-topic banter during their live performances. Still, it’s difficult for a unique band to stand out in a big crowd—like a car with a funky paint job honking in rush hour traffic, there just isn’t enough room.
“The thing about Vancouver is that it is really tough to get people out, we are kind of spoiled for music,” said drummer, Heppner. “There is also a lot of it, because it is a big city. So people see a lot of shit bands, while there are good bands playing all the time. If they don’t like one, they could go to another, because there are 50,000 clubs and bars.”
Like so many other local musicians, they are choosing to take their talents out of town. MMC is not ignoring Vancouver or trying to escape it; they simply know that they must meet their fan base halfway.
“The thing is with booking out of town, you will need to give yourself a three-month window,” said Worthington. “So yeah, we are definitely actively looking towards a fall tour. We are always trying to play out-of-town shows. We are looking at Whistler, Kamloops, Kelowna, Nanaimo, and Victoria. We want to do an extensive BC tour. Prince George, we’ve been asked to go there so many times. And then there is Nelson and Revelstoke. You can have a full-month tour of just BC.”
In early February, MMC returned from Kamloops after a short three-day trip to enjoy some good ol’ Vancouver sushi with me. They all nodded in agreement that the trip, albeit short notice, was both profitable and invigorating.
“We were cruising down the highway when a guy beside us was like, ‘Pull over! Your tires are fucked!’” Worthington, the designated driver in the band, retold the experience. “Oh God! We pulled over and checked it out and it was gone.”
“We didn’t notice at all,” said Whittal, “but it had been dragging for a while.”
“The truck belongs to Hey Ocean!,” Worthington said. “We borrowed it for four hours and fucked it up. They knew it was coming soon so they gave it to us. Whatever, it happened and we dealt with it thanks to the most brilliant man alive, Brian from FortisBC.”
The band laughed off the experience of standing on the middle of a highway during one of the coldest weeks of winter, lifting up their three-wheeled truck in order to fit a jack underneath. In retrospect, the situation could have been disastrous: they could have missed their show, or worse. Adversity comes with the territory when you’re touring as independent musicians. Safety is first, fun is second, but money is always a close third.
The sacred title of musician is respected by MMC: none of them would openly announce that that is what they are. Like judges, doctors, and politicians, Whittal, Worthington, and Heppner don’t feel they have legitimately earned the honours yet—not as a professional title, at least. The definition is still debatable between the three as they contemplate their own identity in the grand scheme.
“When someone asks you, ‘What is your job?’ you cannot say that,” said Worthington. “It’s what I aspire to be… and it’s getting closer and closer every year, but we’re not there yet.”
They speak enthusiastically of other bands, bands they look up to, while drawing a line for themselves. This mark keeps them grounded as they continue to strive for that ultimate goal.
In the summer of 2013, they took on a new initiative: their second album. But before they could return to the studio they decided that they wouldn’t half-ass the job. This time they were serious. Even if they couldn’t call themselves professionals, they would behave like professionals.
“You have an album coming out?” said Heppner, impersonating the public when he told them about their first album.
“Do you even play an instrument?” Worthington mocked.
“Your name is Liam?” Whittal added as the band laughed off their anonymity.
Campaigning for their Kickstarter was a brand new challenge for the group. On stage they were exuberant, but individually they were reserved and far from forthcoming when it came to asking for money. Getting someone to come to a show was one thing, getting them to download music was another, but getting them to chip in to a creative piece of work that has yet to be created is a whole other beast. Sucking up their pride and doing what they needed to, MMC, with the help of many, met their $6,000 goal.
“It gets easier over time,” said Worthington. “When people actually start following you, it does get easier for sure. Especially on social media when we can get the word out about the Kickstarter. Now people know that the album is coming out and we put out little teasers of the album and the recording process. We are just slowly building hype.”
The day after they returned from their harrowing road trip to Kamloops, the three members of MMC were putting in the hours at the studio, recording layered tracks for their new album. I placed myself on a couch and watched as they worked.
Occasionally an error would arise, one would notify the other, and instead of countering with defensiveness, the response would be in jest and with appreciation. Jokes played in the background just as the music played in the foreground. Even though every moment spent in the studio was precious, there was no indication of anything being rushed. There were no shortcuts.
When it comes to the importance of studio time versus show time, MMC recognizes the value of both and doesn’t take either for granted. That being said, it’s not every day they get to work on recording their new album.
“You’re not going to be recording as much as you are playing,” said Heppner. “If you have nothing to record, then you need to be playing because that’s how you exist as a band.”
“But the way you keep on existing as a band is by having something to record,” Whittal added. “And that is a hard one to—”
“It needs to be a really good exposure show!” Worthington interrupted. “Or we are recording an album. The show needs to be absolutely worth it. In my opinion, studio time is so much more expensive than a show is, so it needs to be a really well-promoted show with great exposure. It would be the show for sure! ”
“Especially for us,” said Whittal, “shows are kind of our thing.”
Genres are harder to define than ever. Avant-grunge, funk rock, and danger polka punk are just a few attempts at characterizing MMC’s sound with words. But they don’t care about creating a theme or focussing on a certain category. What they want is to generate music with unpredictability—the I’m-up-on-my-feet-and-moving-without-knowing-it kind of music.
…Or of Something Else, their second album, will be available in the spring of 2014, and although they are always looking for new roads to explore and new places to play, you can catch them around town at local venues playing their balls-on-the-walls-all-hands-on-deck-feels-so-good-it-can’t-be-butter kind of music.
For more information about My Mother the Carjacker, their music, and where they’re performing, visit their Facebook page (www.facebook.com/mymotherthecarjacker) or follow them on Twitter (@MyMotherCarjack).