Spoils: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyors of: Post-folk-punk-rock.

File next to: Fugazi, PJ Harvey, METZ, Sleater-Kinney.

Playing: Wavelength’s “Doors Open Toronto” After Party, Saturday May 27 @ Bike Pirates (1416 Queen St. W). Tickets available here, or at the door.

Spoils is a four-piece political post-hardcore band from Toronto, consisting of two lead guitars, bass and drums. On their 2017 album As If A Beast, their two lead members trade off vocals that go from growls to sneers to lilting melodies.

I spoke to Griffin and Bryan – who both sing and play guitar – in advance of the Wavelength show. The other members of the band are Sean (bass) and Adam (drums).

With three of Spoils’ four members having come to Toronto from far-flung music scenes (St. John’s, New York, and D.C.), their musical experiences and influences are wide-ranging. Bryan includes D.C. Dischord Records bands like Fugazi among his influences, along with Netherlands post-punk/no-wave band The Ex. In contrast, Griffin’s personal influences include Tori Amos, PJ Harvey, and the Mountain Goats. For Griffin, the post-hardcore sound Spoils developed has more obvious foundations in the loud, political music they came face to face with after becoming involved in political activism and “punk” spaces, including the anti-folk scene in NYC and artists associated with Burnt Oak Records and the DIY scene in Guelph including Households and Richard Laviolette.

According to Griffin, they and Bryan met when “[their] two bands were both on tour playing the same house in D.C.” and after Bryan moved to Toronto, neither of them were actively playing music and wanted to find a project to work on together. This led to the formation of Spoils, in January of 2013. Their newest release As If A Beast is an eight-song album which was recorded at the end of 2015, with their current drummer, Adam, who had joined the band the previous year. More than a year passed between the recording and release of As If A Beast, during which time Bryan says they mixed — and remixed — the songs several times, and “we were also still kind of getting to know each other musically and as people… remixing the album over and over together was part of the process of us getting to know Adam.” Despite the process taking longer than anticipated the band is definitely happy with the final results, and are enthusiastic about hearing feedback from anyone who listens to it.

Griffin and Bryan note the difference in space and time they are able to give to music now as adults — all of the members of the band are in their late 30s — compared to other projects they worked on in their 20s. With more responsibilities, stronger roots being put down, and some members of the band also having children, the ability to dedicate time to their music projects is much different, which they note as a factor in the process of making this record.

I asked if this also has influenced what they are bringing to their music in terms of songwriting and lyrics. For Griffin, the most dramatic difference is that this is their first “genuinely collaborative songwriting project.” They also note a “less intense urgency” in terms of what they want to say in their music and they are able to “practice more intentionality now” with their songwriting.

Bryan describes himself as being “incredibly didactic” when he was writing music “10 or 15 years ago” or that he used to be “up on a soapbox.” He says that now he feels more “invested in preserving the important ideas that I want to communicate,” as well as “finding a way to do that that is inviting or accessible” so that people might be more likely to “want to read [their] lyrics, and think about them,” rather than feeling like the band is “screaming down their throats.”

Griffin lists death and experiences as non-parents among some of the themes on the album. The other major theme Griffin speaks about is the privilege that exists “speaking from an anti-racist position as a white person.” Griffin says that a lot of the lyrics – which they and Bryan write together – tackle the power and ambivalence that accrues as white settlers. “I think if anything was like a major theme in our writing… it’s the question of how to live with the ambivalence”.

Both Griffin and Bryan talk about the complexity of “scenes… and capital ‘C’ community” throughout our conversation, and point to it as another theme on the album. Bryan adds that this often means “identities, and the spaces that allegedly support and include those identities”.

Spoils is excited to be part of Wavelength, as it fits with their interest in wide-ranging musical styles and seeing bills with diverse acts performing together. Griffin also points out their shared ethos in regards to “DIY and community based” projects. “It feels like a door opening,” Bryan notes. We can’t wait to see the show on Saturday!

– by Ainsley Naylor