Tough Age: The WL Interview

Purveyors Of: Surf-Pop Garage Rock
File Next To: Communions, The Courtneys, PUP
Playing: WL18, Saturday, February 17th @ The Garrison. Get tickets here!

Tough Age is a Toronto-based indie-rock trio. This past October, the Vancouver transplants released their latest album, Shame, on Mint Records. Wavelength’s Dora Boras caught up with frontman Jarrett Samson to talk about adjusting to a new scene, Riverdale, and the hermeneutics of tagging your album as “punk” on Bandcamp.

Looking at your Bandcamp, all your album covers have this consistent collage/cut-and-paste quality to them. How important is album art and visuals to you? How do you go about choosing artists or art for your albums?

I don’t know! I guess it is Very Important? I think on the collage side it appeals to me for the same reason I make music with pretty minimal takes and dubbing — first thought, best thought, and just sort of putting elements together to reflect the feeling. Our second album had a very minimalist collage/cut-up style done by our friend Ryan Dyck that I wanted as kind of a response to the first album’s cover art.

For Shame’s artwork, I had read and reread Don’t Come in Here by Patrick Kyle as I was writing the music for it, so the idea to get him to do it came naturally because I was informed by my reading of his work in what I was writing the songs. Ginette Lapalme, who did our 7” art, engaged with doing the work in a really cool collaborative way in that she listened to the music as she made the art and made art that reflected her sensibilities as well as her response the music.

I’ve worked in comics for over a decade and been reading them my whole life, so somewhat naturally comics are the biggest influence on my music.

Speaking of visuals, your cover photo on your Facebook is a really steamy shot of KJ Apa as Archie on Riverdale with a Tough Age poster on the wall. I’m not super familiar with the show but I can confirm he’s a hunk. How does it feel to be name-dropped in such a widely popular TV show? Has this brought you any good fortune or exposure? What do you think Archie’s favourite song of yours is? 

Haha, he is a hunk. The poster thing is weird because it really means nothing — it’s just set dressing. Our posters are in a lot of things just because they shoot a lot of stuff in Vancouver and Mint is based there. Riverdale meant something to me because I’ve been such a huge Archie fan my entire life but the name-drop itself doesn’t mean much beyond amusement and a small thrill to think that I exist in some version of Riverdale (even if I’m more of a Time Police guy).

It has brought us nothing tangible. Like it has moved the needle not at all. No one’s looking at our poster in that scene except people who already know us. About as many people are going to go home and listen to a band whose poster they saw on a TV show as will go listen to one whose sticker they saw in a venue bathroom— zero.

Also Archie took our poster down and replaced it with a Caddyshack poster, so I guess he outgrew us and probably doesn’t have a favourite song anymore.

Your album is tagged “punk” but also “not punk at all.” What does punk mean to you? 

Punk is the most annoying subculture. So many people who consider themselves a punk have some weird idea of what it means that also manages to exclude every other subset of people who also consider themselves a punk. I don’t make punk music in any sense that I think most people define it currently, so I have moved more and more away from it as a label to my music while still reflecting that the basic tenets of the scene I learned from still guide me pretty rigidly. I think punk doesn’t mean much to me personally anymore except as this own nebulous code of conduct but that’s okay as that code of conduct came out of the Vancouver scene’s definition, which stretched noise and experimental genres and all types of music in the same way that I found exciting when I first started listening to bands like the Raincoats or Dishrags or X-Ray Spex. Personal Punk.

What was the transition like moving from Vancouver to Toronto? Did you notice a difference in the audiences? Does either location have an advantage over the other? 

They are as different as two scenes can get, and when I moved here I found it very hard to adapt to those differences. Vancouver is such a relatively small scene that by and large there is an insane crossover of people and friends and the kinds of bands they play in — there’s a lot less ability to divide than in a city the size of Toronto. I think where the two cities mirror each other is that, while the forces may be different, both cities have strong DIY scenes that come about as a result of the oppressiveness of existing in a place where you don’t reflect the common desires. I think Vancouver has both a great advantage and disadvantage in being pretty off the radar of the east of Canada and Toronto has a similar situation with its central visibility. All cities are what you make of them, in the end. I wouldn’t ever advise anyone to move anywhere, ever, in a desire to “make it.”

“Pageantry”, the sixth song off of Shame, is a short little jam that takes on a much slower pace than the rest of the album, and has more of a serious tone to it. What was the inspiration behind that song? 

Throughout my life, when I make music, I tend to overthink it. All of my dumb songs have a thought and sincerity behind them that I try to reflect, which is why even at the height of our garage phase I wasn’t writing songs about pizza parties with cats or some shit. “Pageantry” is very specifically a story song, which I wanted to challenge myself to write more of since prior to that my songs were definitely in the confessional vein (“Castigation”, from our second LP, is the only prior story song I can think of). I wrote and directed a few plays in the past, and this song was about the characters from one of my unproduced ones, “Kim Moves On.” Aesthetically, it was an attempt to mine material in the vein of the great New Zealand artists Peter Jefferies or Alastair Galbraith, which is maybe why I say “bawth” instead of “bath”.

Are there any acts you’re looking forward to playing with at Wavelength? What can we expect from your set? 

I’m really excited for the line-up at our show, particularly Odonis Odonis and Freak Heat Waves. I haven’t seen Odonis Odonis since the new record came out and I loved it so that’s a natural. Freak Heat Waves are one of my favourite bands going, period — I haven’t played a show with them since years ago at Music Waste in Vancouver, so it’s been a long time coming.

I’m also really happy to see You’ll Never Get to Heaven and Joseph Shabason on Sunday!

As for what to expect from our set:
– We will play a number of songs we have written
– We will play them in a predetermined order
– At some point, whether from enjoyment or pity, at least one (1) member of the audience will clap

You just wrapped up your West Coast tour. Do you have any plans after Wavelength 18? 

More touring, a new record, living our lives.

— Interview by Dora Boras