Purveyors of: Heavy, layered noise rock that never slows down.
File next to: METZ, Death From Above 1979, Odonis Odonis, Drive Like Jehu.
Playing: Wavelength’s NXNE showcase, Sunday June 21 at Smiling Buddha (961 College St.).
Not Of is the project of two prominent Toronto musicians under secret aliases. John Ex (guitar, vocals) and Jason Seance (drums, vocals, synths) may only be two people, but with some equipment and a little bit of finesse, they’ve created a behemoth of a debut album, which was just released this March. The tracks are filled with thundering drums, crushing guitars, and layered with synths and vocal harmonies that will have you hooked. The band will be playing June 21st as part of Wavelength’s NXNE showcase.
So, you mention Drive Like Jehu, Kittens, Unwound and Jawbox as possible influences, but what other influences come into your music? A lot of people tend to say METZ, like most bands in Toronto (for good reason, though, they’re amazing).
Our influences are all over the place, but in terms of this particular project, these bands probably represent the common ground Jason and I share the best. The tastes that drive Not Of were formed in the same early/mid-‘90s crucible. I mean Fugazi, the Jesus Lizard, Shallow North Dakota, Helmet, Hot Snakes… these are all equally significant markers. The big thing about METZ for me personally — aside from being killer and sweet people — is that they helped to spearhead a local community for that kind of music. I remember seeing them for the first time opening for Obits at the ‘Shoe back in ’08 or something. I was in between bands and watching them, it was like, “Yes, this is totally my language.” It was far from the only thing that drove me to hook up with Jason and start a band like Not Of, but it was exciting to see a rock band that messy and noisy on stage again. I knew there was somewhere to land in the city.
So, what’s your guitar rig set-up (if you can go into that)? Do you split everything out, and then layer on the effects, or do you have a bass output like Scott Lucas from Local H?
Haha. How long do you have? I’m not really familiar with Local H, but there is a single output from my guitar that is then split along different chains of effects. It is an ongoing project. Ever since I pitched this as a duo, I knew I wanted to have a three amp set-up — essentially Fugazi in a box. Bitey fuzzy bass, thick mid tubey guitar, and shrill high solid-state guitar. That was the idea. The actual execution has taken over two years, and I’m still constantly changing pieces. The revelation that came early on was that, in addition to getting the right equipment to produce and sculpt the sounds, I also needed to adjust the manner in which I played the instrument. I don’t play all six strings too often, really — the sound is too indistinct and muddy. It’s a lot more single string patterns, and then choosing the right configurations of amps and sounds for each moment of the song. For such a noisy, aggressive band, it’s easily the most tightly patterned and refined playing I’ve ever done on a guitar. It’s a challenge, which I love.
You’ve described your past projects as “white guy indie.” Do you notice any difference between the crowds at those shows and your Not Of shows?
Well, whatever white guy indie is, I’d say that we’re still firmly it. But the crowds since we’ve started remind me more of what I experienced about 15 years ago. Attentive, patient, with a lot of people in the crowd in their own bands or active in the community. Really, the kind of crowds that you hope you’re playing for when you’re starting out.
Jason released a breakbeat solo album back in 2013, is there any interest to incorporate that into your sound?
Well, it’s more gothic electronic pop than breakbeat — it’s called DAVIDS and it’s really great stuff (davidsdavids.bandcamp.com). As for merging sounds, literally, I’d say definitely not. But that type of music still permeates what we do. In Not Of, it manifests itself most on things like the synth interludes and loops on Pique, or even a song like “Serves You Right”, which some people have described as goth-y. Jason is a huge fan of dance and house music, so I find it worms its way into his playing choices on the kit. We’re never going to play with sequencers and drum machines, but the feel is there in a subtle way.
Would you ever consider expanding to a three-piece, or is the sound tied down too much for that?
Never say never… but never. Haha. Certainly not to a traditional power trio. I feel that there’s still a lot more territory to be discovered with this rig and set-up. It’s not limiting; it’s inspiring.
You’ve said that you have been on the scene with various projects for around 20 years, have you noticed significant changes throughout the Toronto and Golden Horseshoe music scene?
I’m not going to win any points for insights when I say that the scenes are a lot more tied in — and respected — internationally than they were 20 years ago. Some huge walls came down in the 2000s, and now local bands see the States and beyond with a lot less intimidation than once was the case. No one is overawed. Other than that, it feels remarkably similar. On a micro level, it’s kids in bands, kids promoting shows, kids running labels… these are the engines. I think that the endurance of Wavelength is a case in point there. A Wavelength Sunday was one of the first gigs I ever played in Toronto — WL was a very new thing at the time. No matter how much the global reach of a scene expands, you never lose the need for tiny incubators of like-minded artists and crowds. Wavelength has survived because it is always relevant. Toronto’s indie scene has never been more vibrant in that regard: Soybomb, S.H.I.B.G.B’s, Long Winter, Geary Lane… it’s incredible. And the manner in which we’ve been able to meet so many new people and receive such great support in such a short period of time as a band is a testimony to the city’s quality. It’s just a great town to play in.
You released your debut album, Pique, free of charge on your Bandcamp. Do you intend to keep releasing free material or is it sort of a promotion to develop the fanbase?
Well, in the short term, Pique will remain free for the foreseeable future. We have close to a new album’s worth of material ready to record. The idea is, let’s play, build a fan base, record over the year, and when it’s finished, see if anyone is interested in working with us. There is no shortage of great labels here, and I’d like to think we’d be a good fit at one of them. But you don’t get anywhere waiting for people to give you an opportunity — it’s always going to be more appealing if people can look at you and go, “These guys are clearly driven to make great music, and they sound great live. I want to be a part of this.” So we’ll see. Bottom line, we’re just having fun. If it stays free, so be it.
Who are you most excited about seeing at NXNE this year?
Crosss. LO is killing me and those lurching seasick tempos are just awesome. Plus Andy’s trance-like sense of melody is beautiful. Then the entire bill that we’re on. Champion Lover, Bart, Dirty Frigs, Overnight… we feel lucky to be there and it all sets the bar really high. When you play on the same stage as bands you love, it elevates your own performance. The whole evening is gonna rip.
Any shout-outs for some of the other bands in the scene?
The Beverleys, for sure. They’re all over our album and just awesome people. Greys, Fake Palms (I know everyone is name-checking them, but seriously, WOW), Several Futures [disclosure: that’s WL’s own Jonny Dovercourt’s band], Nice Head… like I said. It’s a great city to play in. Oh, and they’re not bands, but Cask Music and Paul’s Boutique. My rig would be far less interesting without them!
— Interview by Kristian Johnson
Photo credit: Stephanie Bell