LIDS: The Camp Wavelength Interview

Purveyors of: Dreamily layered noise rock, with hypnotizing, crushing beats backed by haunting vocals.
File next to: Holy Fuck, Metz, Constantines, Odonis Odonis, The Prairie Cartel
Playing: Camp Wavelength, Saturday August 29 @ Artscape Gibraltar Point
Get your ticket here!

It wouldn’t be surprising if your first reaction to someone describing LIDS was “How does that work?” followed by being told to “shut up and listen to it.” Brian Borcherdt (vocals and synths) of Holy Fuck, Alex Edkins (bass and vocals) of METZ and Doug MacGregor of the Constantines seem like an odd combination of musicians, but these friends and their self-described “stupor group” are pushing the boundaries of the Toronto music scene with their blend of dancey, droning, synth-fueled noise rock. LIDS will be playing Camp Wavelength on Toronto Island on August 29th. Kristian Johnson met up with them at legendary Ronnie’s bar in Kensington Market.

You guys released a single back in March, “Sarsfest” — what has the group been up to since then?

Brian Borcherdt: Well, right around that time we recorded again, and we haven’t finished that. I think it’s a similar story as the previous single: We recorded it in September, and I think in October the METZ record came out and it kind of was a similar timeline this time around. We recorded in February, released a single in March, played a couple shows, and then METZ’s record came out.

Alex Edkins: Yeah, blame it on me, yeah right.

B: He’s the only one in this band that’s busy. Doug and I, man, we just…

A: We haven’t done much because we do this whenever we’re home, and all three of us are rarely home at the same time.

Sounds like you guys have a Them Crooked Vultures thing going on?

Doug MacGregor: That makes you (Alex), Mr. JPJ.

A: I’ll take it.

That makes you Dave Grohl though, right? Nicest guy in rock.

D: Yeah, he is actually — I’ve met him, he’s nice.

Then you’d (Brian) get to be Josh Homme.

B: Ah yeah, there we go — that guy’s pretty good, he makes good riffs. I’ll take it.

You’re all pretty busy, but do you have any plans to tour, or is this more of a local project?

B: That’s a good question. I think we would love to see ourselves in a position where we could tour, and on a day like today, we spent the afternoon rehearsing and to be as good as we can be with songs we really love. It’s kind of hard to do all that with this idea in mind that you’re just not going to do anything with it. It kind of takes the fuel out from the fire a little bit, so I think what’s driving us is this idea that it’s going to continue, that there’s something there that we can always do — we’re just not sure yet how and when. I kind of foresee there being a moment when everything’s going to work out. Personally, I’m an optimist, and I think there’s going to be this moment where we actually have a full-length record and we’re going to tour. But in the meantime, I think portioning things out in smaller doses has seemed to work for us right now. Like, a single as opposed to an album, and a couple shows as opposed to a tour. For now that’s what we’re going for.

Have you guys ever considered collaborating or bringing in your bandmates from your other groups?

B: I guess we kind of did right from the beginning. “Blank Flag,” the b-side of “Sarsfest,” has Graham Walsh (Holy Fuck) doing a little bit. He brought over a sequencer kind of thing and a Doepfer modular synth and tweaked a little bit of our stuff just for fun — it gave it a nice texture right in that moment. He also was in the studio with us while we tracked the songs to just give a hand, help engineer, and he also gave some advice on mixing. This was the first time where we mixed it ourselves — it was the first time for me mixing something, so he was kind of there to give a little bit of advice. That’s one band, but no, we haven’t yet with the other bands.

D: I never thought about it, yeah.

B: Although, one of our first jams, just you (Doug) and I. Will Kidman (Constantines) came down and shredded a bit, that was super fun.

D: Give him a chord progression and he’ll solo over it.

B: Oh, and Hayden Menzies (METZ) did the album artwork.

A: There you go, so we’re one big happy family. We all lean on each other way too much.

So how do you think your other bands have influenced the bands’ overall sound?

A: I don’t think you can really help it, you know? What’s a band other than just a bunch of people collaborating together? You’re bringing in your specific influences and sound, and the way you play. I think the way you hear Doug play on drums, it’s there — he’s the same drummer as the Constantines and City and Colour. Brian, you hear his voice the same way, you hear the modulation of things. I mean, I play a different instrument this time around, but that’s who you are as a musician, so I don’t think you can really get away from it. With that being said, I think we’re all really excited to do something absolutely new that we’ve never done.

It’s fresh.

A: Yeah right, let’s do whatever feels good right now.

B: This has been one of the easier bands to explain to our friends, what we sound like. “What’s it sound like?” “Well, it kind of sounds like all three of our bands mashed into one.” Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.

D: In some ways it does.

A: But we never planned it that way.

D: That’s what someone said once after we played that Telephone Explosion show at SHIBGB’s — someone was like, “Man, it sounds like you’re playing what you’d normally play anyhow, but all together and it’s good,” and I was like, “Ooooh, okay sure, that’s accurate, I guess.”

Going back to Them Crooked Vultures, it’s all like Queens of the Stone Age with Zep. I was definitely hearing Holy Fuck with METZ all kind of coming together.

D: I like to think of it as, you know that Marvel comic from the ’70s called The Defenders? They were a superhero “non-team” led by Dr. Strange, who, whenever there was a crisis, called together the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk. They were like a power-trio: They just got together to solve a crisis and then they went back to their merry way. So it’s like that. There’s a venue and people and they need to be rocked, and so we all show up.

Going from there, how do you guys feel about being labelled a “supergroup?” I saw one article where you were compared to the Avengers, so how do you feel about all that?

A: We just said, it’s the Defenders.

B: Yeah, fuck those Avengers guys, I’m more like the Defenders. But I’d like to put it out there: I’d like to coin the word “stupor group.” I think that’s more accurate.

D: Yeah, that’s more the Toronto thing. No one wants to be the Chickenfoot of the local scene. We’re a stupor group.

You all come from pretty different sounds, how do you reconcile these differences when you’re jamming?

D: We don’t think abut it.

A: Yeah, we don’t think about it. We did it because we’re all friends — I think we all decided to do this while we were at a bar somewhere, but you know, we’re fans of each other’s music, so we were all like, “This is exciting.” It’s fun to just go in blind.

B: It’s true… I never really thought of it before. It kind of took some of the guess work out of it, or maybe the insecurities out of it, because we were all fans of each other’s music, and we’re friends with each other but also fans of each other. That kind of gives you a little bit of confidence. It’s like, “I don’t have to think about this too much.”

Maybe this is a good moment to interject, and I will say probably where we’ve gone since the single, there are fewer drum machines involved. I don’t think that was something we brought in because we wanted to represent more Holy Fuck. Actually, I think that was something brought in because it was part of what we were doing because we didn’t know what we were gonna do yet, and Alex came over to my apartment a couple years ago and our first jam ever was in my apartment. I put in some drum machines and we came up with some cool riffs and ideas. Then, next time we got together with Doug, we were like, “Hey, this is what we did — should we lose these drum beats?” We weren’t sure so we kept them, but since then, I think on the next album that will be a little less.

D: It just didn’t work with what we were writing. Like, we tried and were like, “Songs are better without ’em.”

B: I think we’re probably moving towards something that will have its identity of its own. But right now, I’m happy with it.

I’ve gotta ask, how do you go about jamming in an apartment without pissing off your neighbours?

B: That’s where the drum machine comes in handy — it has volume. Doug doesn’t have volume.

D: It was pretty mellow what I got, the MP3s sent to me.

B: Yeah, we were just sitting in front of my little home studio thing — that said, I was living in a pretty cool building where my neighbours were all musicians, and so you can only piss them off so much. If anything, they were probably stealing our ideas.

So you’re all from bands that are sort of local legends, with a whole generation of new bands citing you as influences. How do you feel about having a legacy like that already?

D: I’ve never really thought about it.

B: It’s hard to tell you when you’re in the middle of it. It’s also good not to think too much about it, I think. To be honest, it’s something I would probably think of more, personally speaking, if I wasn’t playing music right now — like if maybe I had circumstances in my life that I wasn’t able to keep playing. Maybe it’d be easier to wax poetically on it some night with a cigar and drinking some fine port like, “You know, I was in a rock band once, QUITE the legacy.” But I think when you’re in the middle of it that stuff can be distracting. Of course it’s always flattering to see that you’ve made some kind of influence — we all hopefully do. But I think we all are thinking so much about what we’re going to do next. I think that’s the thing: If you start thinking too much about what you’ve done in the past, it’ll kind of distort where you’re heading.

At the end of the day it’s just a huge compliment.

B: We all play music for its own sake, but nobody wants to be forgotten. No one wants to fall in the forest and know that there was no one there to hear them. It’s nice to leave with some reverberations.

D: A couple years ago I went to this show at the Great Hall to hear Do Make Say Think. In the late ’90s, they were one of the bands in Toronto that I really liked. And around that time in ’98, I came to Toronto and Justin Small, the guitar player, was working at [the restaurant] Utopia, and I was like “That’s the guy from Do Make Say Think — he’s giving me a lamb burger.” And fast forward to that show at the Great Hall and Mike le Riche who was in The Darcys — he works at Paul’s Boutique [music store] next door and now’s in Fake Palms — introduces me to this drummer and the drummer’s like, “You like AC/DC!” and I go “Yeah, how do you know that?” and he’s like “’Cause when I was 15, and I started playing drums, I emailed you, ‘How do I learn to play drums?’ And you told me, ‘Just listen to AC/DC.’” And 10 years later he’s like, “Yeah, I tour!” It’s awesome.

B: It’s like you passed the lamb burger.

Have you noticed any changes in the Toronto scene throughout your time in it?

B: Yeah!

D: Absolutely!

B: Doug and I like to talk about it. Sometime it makes you feel old or jaded, but sometimes it feels good. Sometimes you’re commiserating in a good way with each other.

D: I remember coming in the late ’90s — it wasn’t a fun place to play.

B: I think you and I probably moved here around the same time. In fact, I probably moved here a little bit ahead of you, sometimes we’ll joke around about being the guys who’ve been around the longest. I do think it’s changed for the better. It’s easy to get crotchety about it and be a curmudgeon, but honestly, Toronto, it’s had many scenes and many scenes before us, many scenes after us, but I like the way it’s progressed in a lot of ways. Not everything has been good, but musically, it has been good. There are more bands, there are more venues, there’s more communication between people, there are more young people moving here, there are more things to do.

D: Not to kiss ass here, but in the ’90s there was always good stuff happening, but everything was atomized. It was all these pockets of scene, but with certain things happening, not just Wavelength, there was this shift in mentality with all this cross-pollination. It kind of opened things up, made a lot of connections with people who otherwise would have been toiling away in their little obscurity.

B: I like to think — not that we can take personal responsibility for it — but I think some of our peers were some of the people who made some of those big changes. There are always gonna be people making good changes. It’s not like we own that exclusive right, but we saw some people fighting for change, and fighting to do things in the right way. It makes you proud when you see that’s caught on.

Toronto just created a Music Officer position to oversee music tourism in the city, try to open up regulations for venues, and generally improve the scene. What do you think
about this?

D: If it meant relaxing all the red tape and just a lot of the puritanical laws around venues and stuff, then that’s good. It’s like when you go to some of the venues in Europe, when they fund arts there, they fund the venue. And when they have more lax rules with music and alcohol, when you treat people like adults, they tend to act like it. And if there’s too much red tape and treating people like children, they’re gonna act like it.

How have your respective fan bases reacted to this new band?

D: It’s pretty good — it’s more enthusiastic than I expected.

A: We didn’t do it for any kind of reaction, obviously. It was just something we wanted to do, but it’s been great. The fellas at Telephone Explosion were kind enough to release our single. Steve and John from Teenanger, a great local band — I talked to John the other day, and I was like, “How’d it go?” and he said apparently it did just fine, so you know, I think it’s cool. We’ve done a couple shows in town that have been really fun, and the people like to dance. It’s all just done honestly, for the most basic reasons. We love making music, and that’s it — it doesn’t really matter. Hopefully it’ll be heard outside of Toronto. We’ve got a leg up.

D: We definitely haven’t been able to play as much as we’d like. Alex comes home and I’m gone. I come home and Brian’s gone. Or we’re both at home the same time but we got two days off between tours it’s like, “Sorry, not playing music.”

You gotta watch some Netflix right?

D: How’d you know?

Everyone watches Netflix.

D: I have nothing else to watch, so the other day I was watching Law and Order SVU, and it’s one based on the Chris Brown thing, but I’m like, “Is that Dave Navarro?” And he was playing the producer, and thankfully, it was just a little bit. I see that guy and I’m like, “I feel like the victim now.” But then I’m like, “Wait a minute, I haven’t seen him with a shirt on in years.” At least with this show they’re like, “Dave, put a shirt on.” I think his guitar straps are Louis Vuitton. I saw him in an airport and he didn’t have a shirt on in the airport.

B: Wow, that’s cool. I like that idea of wearing your stage clothes during the day, and if your stage clothes are a lack of clothes, fucking rock’n’roll, man.

D: I can’t stand getting on a plane where the guy next to me has got shorts and sandals on. I don’t know what to do, even in first class. It’s like, I paid this much for my first class seat, and there’s a shirtless guy next to me?

Imagine shirtless, shorts and sandals.

D: That sounds like Sammy Hagar.

Have you noticed much of a difference between the crowds at shows for LIDS and your other bands?

A: Yeah, there’s a mix of stuff, musically, so there’s a mix of reactions too, but we’re open-minded.

D: Our next show in the tent at Hillside will a big thing, because that’s when we’ll get the most broad crowd. You get the hippies and the indie rockers and the EDM kids, and they’ll all be hanging out — and just greying guys with ponytails, you know?

A: We’re gonna get them all to do a circle pit.

D: Actually, when I met Brian was at Hillside, and he was playing with By Divine Right and we did a workshop together.

A: Did you really?

B: Yeah, it was our first time playing together.

D: Cosmic Freakout.

A: Wicked!

D: This jam we made up — but was it with you guys that we did the Hawkwind cover, we did “Hurry on Sundown.”

B: Actually, were you with the Cons that year?

D: Yeah, I was.

B: Yeah, that’s what it was.

D: We did “Hurry on Sundown” and Bry goes, “This next song’s by Hawkwind,” and there’s these two guys on opposite parts of the crowd with ponytails just stand up and go “YEAH!”

A: That’s just like a Simpsons skit. That’s so good, I wish I could have seen that.

D: It was like Ben and Jerry.

B: Maybe I get some of my greatest pleasure at the current moment because I feel like, with Holy Fuck, we’ve been kind of pushed in with the dance crowd — which is fine, because it’s wonderful to play for an audience who’s dancing and receptive and they’re open-minded, and traditionally it’s been fun. Sometimes you find yourself being pushed on the wrong stage and you’re like, “You know, we’re more of a punk band.” But many people don’t understand that. Maybe that’s part of the guilty pleasure I have with playing in LIDS, where you get to just be a little more work about it. Maybe we’ve kind of veiled it in such a way in Holy Fuck that people genuinely missed and are like, “Oh, they’re a snappy fun dance band.” And then they go, “It’s pretty loud and noisy or whatever.” I think with LIDS, it’s been a bit — just that immediate pleasure, being able to play with local punk bands in a sweaty basement, and you know, “I’m where I belong.”

Yeah, SHIBGB’s is like the sweatiest of the basements.

B: Yeah, I love it.

D: It’s a great place, man. It sounds awesome.

B: Yeah, it sounds surprisingly good.

You’ve got a few festivals coming up. Any one you’re particularly stoked to see?

B: The Wavelength one is gonna be some friends.

A: It’s like heavy Toronto content, and it’s pretty amazing. It’s all Toronto bands, almost, and it’s really quite an incredible line-up. Basically, everyone I’m excited to see. I think that sounds like I’m lying, but I’m not lying. I like basically all of those bands on that list, that I saw at least.

B: It’s gonna be a lot of fun.

D: It’s actually a good time for Canadian music. I remember last year, Constantines, we played our first show in a while at the Field Trip and we were looking at the amount of people there. It was like, 10 years ago, to get that many people out to see Canadian bands, it wouldn’t be as varied as, say, our band and the Sadies and Fucked Up. It would be like Limblifter and Holly McNarland. You know, it’s fine, but you’re not seeing Fucked Up do their crazy shit. There’s a couple thousand people watching and you can have that broad spectrum of more experimental music, and there’s that many people interested.

You guys are huge local scene promoters. Are there any local bands you think deserve a shout-out?

B: All of them.

A: Yeah, all of them.

D: Yeah, but just off the top of my head, who’s working and served us a drink is Mimico, who we played with at our release party.

B: Yeah, that release party we did, we played at Double Double Land, and I would say on paper it’s the best show I could ever have been involved in, you know? In reality, the P.A. cut out and it was a bit of a strenuous show for us, but just having that awesome flyer that Julia Dickens did — she made this incredible flyer, and it’s us with Fake Palms and Mimico. I mean, I will always treasure moments like that as much as…

D: The time we played with Darlene Shrugg.

B: Yeah, playing Darlene Shrugg — these are moments that rival any of your greats.

D: Or the Soupcans and Teenanger, at the Telephone Explosion thing. Have you got that Mick Futures record?

B: No, I’ve heard it’s awesome.

D: It’s awesome.

B: I keep hearing that.

D: That’s Sudbury.

It’s still Ontario.

B: Yeah, it’s so cool to play with these bands. That’s the biggest thrill: Playing with some of your childhood favourite bands like at a festival or something — that’s a guilty pleasure. But to be able to play with your comrades, your peers, your contemporaries — I think for all of us, that’s been some of the fun with playing in LIDS. All those bands are so cool. I just heard one of the Fake Palm songs on Bandcamp or Soundcloud? Soundcloud, probably. It was a killer jam.

Yeah, I’m covering this band the Dirty Frigs as well, they have some good stuff.

B: I just missed them at a Wavelength show in the west end in the Junction. Not just now, but I went to that show and had to run and see some on that night, so I’m looking forward to hearing them ’cause I’ve heard good things about them.

So, tying things up, all of your bands have played numerous Wavelength shows over the years. What was that experience like? How did it help you out?

B: I think for Holy Fuck, specifically, it was a big thing because my first show for Holy Fuck was a solo show at Wavelength, and part of the impetus to get me to do what I wanted to do was this. I kind of had this idea for what I wanted to do for a while, but the confidence to get up on stage and do it — I mean, I wasn’t very good, and it wasn’t a great show, but it was an idea. You know, sometime you have an idea — it’s one thing to have a band, when you have bandmates and everyone encourages each other to go up and do the show. But this was just me alone with these stupid Casios, and I didn’t see other people doing that specifically, but I saw that at Wavelength every Sunday night — I saw people taking risks and taking chances.

And it was because of that that I had the confidence to do it in the first place. I wouldn’t have probably ever have done it if it wasn’t for Wavelength, because I knew that there was a place where I could go and do that, and Jonny Dovercourt was so easy to deal with, you know, easy to email, easy to get in touch with. He was really receptive and that’s all it was. It was like, “I have this idea, and it kind of goes like this.” I was kind of able to describe it to him and I had an opportunity to do it. It wasn’t very good, but that’s okay, because Wavelength let me try it, and especially back then, it let people get up and try something. And I think that’s a very important part of any scene — to have that kind of support, and also that it gave a little bit of emphasis to being a little bit weird.

Like, if someone got up there and just grabbed an acoustic guitar and did Coldplay covers, they would’ve gotten fuckin’ booed off the stage, rightfully so. You can do that anywhere, but here’s something special where I can do something different. You can try to challenge either yourself or the audience, or everyone together. I never personally felt that it was pretentious, and it felt like that could have potentially been a real chin-scratching kind of environment, but I just thought it was fun.

But it let people experiment, and I think that’s a good way to describe what make Toronto a unique scene: That you know it is fun, but a lot of our best bands did something experimental in the nature of how they approach the stage, and they’re unique, they’re different, they’re bold. Not all the bands, but the ones I like, and there’s a lot of them. That’s my personal part in this — just having that forum is incredibly important.

A: Boom, he said it.

D: I’d say, hey, we wouldn’t be having this conversation if I hadn’t played Wavelength for the first time. It just changed everything, right? So there you go.

LIDS plays Camp Wavelength Saturday, August 29 at Artscape Gibraltar Point (Toronto Island). Get your single day tickets here! Or better yet, join us for the whole weekend and get a Festival Pass!