Toronto Homicide Squad: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyors of: Dark minimalism and calculated brute force.
File next to: Anagram, Death From Above, Scratch Acid.
Next show: Dec 6, 2014 at Soybomb

An interesting thing happens when Googling the band Toronto Homicide Squad; after a few solid links in a row to their works and reviews, past show notices are broken up by headlines like “Homicide Squad investigate weekend shooting,” “Three found dead,” and “More charged in daylight murder.” The drone punk fervour that is Toronto Homicide Squad provides a soundtrack for a city underbelly. Primarily instrumental, this drum/bass duo comprised of Gideon Steinberg and Brandon Lim create some dark musical chaos, great for working through the disjointed feelings of last week’s episode of The Walking Dead. For their latest 7”, “Slow Burn,” they’ve incorporated more vocals and guitars thanks to Huren and Billy Curtiss, respectively. THS has built on their strengths in their latest work and it shows. Come see them unleash some fury at Soybomb on Dec. 6. You’ll be glad you have the 7th to recover.

You picked a name that carries some pretty good foreshadowing of what to expect from your sound. Which came first? The band name or the band’s style?

Gideon: How the band’s name came to be is an interesting story. Brandon arrived to an early rehearsal wearing a sweater with a patch that he had purchased from an army surplus store — it was for the Toronto Police Homicide Squad. The image depicted on the patch was of a ghost-like grim reaper hovering over the Toronto cityscape at night, complete with a CN Tower. I found this equal parts amusing and horrifying — all I could think of was coming home to a crime scene, perhaps the murder of a loved one, and being greeted by a cop wearing a jacket emblazoned with the aforementioned patch, and how absolutely inappropriate that would be. That said, it does not surprise me that the police chose such iconography, with such callous disregard for how it may be perceived to represent themselves. Regardless, I had no doubt that Brandon and I had to appropriate the name for the band, and dropped the “police” from the phrase for obvious reasons. We based our first tee shirt design on the actual patch. The band’s style has never been limited nor defined — we give ourselves permission to create whatever we choose to do at any particular moment in time.

There’s an audible evolution in sound from Nein Bullets to “Slow Burn.” What’s been the biggest influence on your music between the two projects?

G: Between Nein Bullets and the “Slow Burn”/“Revengetarian” 7″, I went on a pretty serious metal kick. I suppose some of that worked its way into my songwriting, playing and arrangements. The inclusion of two guest artists was a deliberate act to broaden the horizons of the band — it’s important to be able to try new things. Both Huren and Billy added elements to the songs that I heard in my head, but could not create myself. With the guitar solo on “Revengetarian” that’s obvious, but at the time I was really struggling with writing lyrics, and I knew Huren would be able to emote what I wanted for “Slow Burn.” It was also very healthy for me to give up a certain amount of control of the songs.

A lot of people would find giving up control difficult to do. Have you always had an easy time doing that, or was it something you had to learn to do?

G: As a drummer I’ve spent most of my musical life playing a subordinate role to the primary songwriter(s). I’ve always had a hand in arrangements, which is, I feel, one of my strengths. Once I formed my own band, and had a huge say in the composition of my music — harmonically and melodically — I was overjoyed at being able to express these ideas I had with a very willing and able partner. I cannot state that enough: Brandon has been incredible at exploring whatever musical ideas I may come up with, and the opposite is true as well. I found it healthy to realize that others could contribute positively to what I refer to as “my” band, though in all honesty it is an equal partnership between Brandon and myself. The nice thing about a two piece is that there is no majority — every decision has to be agreed upon, or a compromise made.

Brandon: Giving up control of songs is something I’ve always been used to. As a bass player, you’re generally coming up with parts to match what the guitarist/songwriter is doing, essentially. With the Squad, we obviously wanted to turn the tables around on this dynamic. I remember having a conversation with someone who told me that they would often write songs on the bass first, coming up with the basic notes and rhythm, then translating that to guitar. This gave me the idea to start writing on my own for the first time, coming up with riffs and chords I liked, and after starting to jam with Gideon, he would often re-shape and structure my bass parts more to his viewpoint, which added a more cohesive and progressive structure to the songs as a whole.

Does the band have any more collaboration efforts in the works?

G: No collaborative efforts in the immediate future, with the exception of whatever engineer we choose to work with for our next release. At the beginning of “This Way’s for Show, That Way’s for Tell,” we voices screaming.

Was that screaming a sample from somewhere? What’s the significance? It’s really unsettling!

G: Wow, you’re going back to our first demo tape- the early days. It’s a sample from the movie Taxi Driver, the scene where Travis (Robert De Niro) goes to rescue Iris (Jodi Foster) from her life as a prostitute. If you listen carefully to the end of the track, you can hear a second sample of the blood pumping out of the body of one of the pimps that Travis shot dead. Significance? Not sure. There is one to the title, if you care to know. That refers to a person I knew in high school who, in either a misguided attempt to garner attention, or as a cry for help arrived for class with a multitude of lacerations on his wrists — but they all ran perpendicular to his arm. We all know that a serious suicide attempt involves cutting the vein parallel to the arm, in order to split it open and maximize the chances of death. So, this way’s for show, that way’s for tell. … I think I just liked the sample.

What are you looking forward to most about playing Soybomb?

B: What I’m most looking forward to about playing Soybomb is having more than 9 people in the room. Last time we played there was for an unofficial NXNE show that had like 10 bands on the bill, we were first on at 7pm, so the only people in attendance were a few of the bands and the Soybomb crew. It’s always a bit surreal when you finish your set and there’s still daylight out too. I still felt it was one of our best performances ever, but hopefully there will be enough bodies in the room for us to unleash maximum chaos this time.

G:I love playing on the floor rather than a stage, so Soybomb certainly fulfills that — not being on a stage allows me a more direct and intimate connection with the audience. We have a saying in the Squad: “Basements over bars.” We prefer alternate venues to bars and clubs, where perhaps the emphasis is not so much on hanging out and drinking, and more so on the cultural aspect such as fostering a sense of community and engaging the music.

(of course i have to ask) What’s your favourite homicide-centric TV show? Why?

G: Hmmmmm… True Detective. Creepy, mysterious, methodical, intelligent. I stole some dialog from an episode for lyrics.

B: One of my favourite homicide/detective-type shows was actually shot in Ontario. Durham County, which aired back in 2007 for three seasons. It starred Hugh Dillon, from Hard Core Logo and the Headstones fame, as a detective who’s tasked with investigating the brutal murder of a young girl whose body is found in the woods. What makes the show especially creepy is the suburban setting it takes place in and how the suspected killer lives literally across the street from the detective, who’s known him since high school. I grew up in the suburbs of Scarborough, right on the border of Toronto/Durham Region and felt the show really managed to capture the alienation and disconnection one feels in that environment. There’s supposed to be such a strong sense of community and model living in the suburban landscape, but you can’t help but pick up on this feeling of discontent that lurks right underneath the surface. The thing about the suburbs is that you could live your whole life there and still not have a fucking clue who your neighbours are. You may see them and wave once in awhile and be on a first name basis with a few, but for the majority you still have no idea who they are, what they do, what they’re capable of behind closed doors… I also grew up in the same part of Scarborough where three of Canada’s most famous killers lived. Paul Bernardo and Colonel Russel Williams even went to the same University of Toronto Scarborough campus where I studied! I have a theory that there is some kind of Hellmouth in the area that’s causing people to do evil shit. What’s even crazier is that I also went to the same junior high school as Luka Magnotta. I was in Grade 7 at the time and he was a year above me in Grade 8. His real name was Eric Newman. All I remember is that he was pretty quiet and got picked on quite a bit. He really HATED it when people messed with his hair, so of course jocky assholes would walk by and try to give him “noogies,” or whatever the fuck it is when someone grinds their fist against the top of your head. Bet they all feel pretty fucked up about that now!

– Interview by Raina Hersh