WHOOP-Szo: The WL17 Interview

Purveyors of: Music for all the other rejects.
File next to: Elevator, Sleep, Six Organs of Admittance
Playing: WL17 Night 2, Saturday Feb. 18 @ The Garrison. Get tickets here!

WHOOP-Szo are the archetypal, unsung workhorses of the Canadian DIY music scene. Happily and nobly making art on the margins, playing any show in any town, this London-via-Guelph crew blasts out teeth-rattling stoner rock on stage, while steadily broadcasting lo-fi psych-folk experimentation on record through their own Out of Sound imprint. These are things they have been doing since 2009, approximately. One day their song will be sung. Until then, catch them at Wavelength’s 17th anniversary fest, alongside tour-mates Julie & the Wrong Guys and some other fabulous bands at the Garrison. 10-4, Wavelength’s Jonny Dovercourt got band papa Adam Sturgeon’s 20…

Who is WHOOP-Szo? How did you all find each other?

WHOOP-Szo started as Kirsten Palm and myself, Adam Sturgeon. We’ve had a few incarnations of the band, including Brad McInerney of Kazoo! Fest and a sibling duo rhythm section. Those were back in the days of living in our hometown of Guelph, Ontario. We’ve basically been the same five members now for about three years, with the addition of Joe Thorner, Eric Lourenco, and Andrew Lennox. Currently we all live near London, Ontario.

Now that your band has been around for a close to a decade, do you feel you have perspective on the evolution of your sound? Is there a logical narrative to it in hindsight, or has it been more of a go-with-the-flow thing?

Our band’s sound has taken shape following two distinct paths:

1. Recorded.

2. Live.

Our live show is all about the tone, volume, and release of our passion for live music and performance, and draws on the influence of one band in particular: Elevator.

Recorded, our songs follow a narrative… from the lo-fi, psych-folk introspection we associate with well-being and identity, to the improvisational “Let’s figure out how the hell to pull this off, ‘cause there’s no way to stop the train” kinda ordeal. The heavy syncopated riffs and lush vocal harmonies help us tell a story through emotion. But yeah, we go with the flow, however over the years we have refined that flow to a consistent stream of “This is how we want this to sound.” Our life and work experiences detail our lyrical content, and we identify heavily as speaking the truth of the false Canadian narrative.

You guys appear to really love touring. Tell me a story about that delightful old school bus you guys were driving the last time we crossed paths. (Is it still going?)

Many a roadside have we seen. Our poor bus finally bit the bullet last May, just before a monster western tour loop to boot. It really was like a traveling green room, complete with stinky futon and sticky floors. Truth be told, we took hella care of our vehicle and still do. It was always fun hitting train tracks or bumps in the road as a bigger guy in the back. Closest comparison would be to getting “popcorned” on a trampoline. Always extra exciting when this happens while you’re sleeping. It all ended in a cloud of black smoke while the old bus bled out on the side of another road after another show.

Who or what is the Citizen’s Ban(ne)d Radio? Your new album moves into some lusher territory, including the anthemic “All My Friends.” Was there a unifying theme or concept behind this record?

Citizen’s Ban(ne)d Radio is a compilation of recording experiments… We’re still working on that defining record, but are ever pleased with how this one has been received. It’s kinda like this idea that we’re all alone out on the road (get it? CB Radio?), in our singular vehicle, doing our singular thing. That’s what making music feels like a lot of the time for us as a band. Being alone, but together. We’re a regional Ontario artist, and so many of us feel this weight heavily, while bands from larger markets see bigger opportunities than us, and our endless tours and off-stage sales, our fanbase, our friends all become nominal participants in an industry that rejects us due to our relative isolation. The album is an homage to the indie artist, the unsigned, the marginalized and whatnot. The name is really something you can draw your own narrative from. I write about Canadian history, about my family and community experience. This name, Citizen’s Ban(ne)d Radio, it represents that for me, but as a band we all see the world through our own lens and felt this was the best name to give to each person that may hear our music. Music for all the other rejects.

How did you connect with Julie & the Wrong Guys for these tour dates, and how have the shows been?

Julie [Doiron] has put us up a few times in her beautiful home in Sackville, New Brunswick, and recently we participated in this Greville Tapes Music Club thing that she also did. Eamon [McGrath], who is in the Wrong Guys, was also a part of that project and took a special liking to the band. We’re really stoked to do the shows with them and can’t wait to set a tone for them. We’re just kicking things off with them now in Ontario but hope to do more in the future.

Big question: How do you think music and art can make a positive difference in people’s lives? Especially in light of the horrible things happening in the world right now?

Music is a release. When you’re in rehab, or therapy for example, they tell you to keep a journal. This is to help you keep track of your emotions, triggers, and all that counsellor mumbo. I find this to be hard, because I can’t always say what’s going on inside, and a lot goes unsaid. Other times too much has been said. With music, I feel that I can say what I can’t put into words. Even the sheer act of sweating is a huge release that is entirely healthy. Just gotta remember to stretch before the show. Seriously though, sure I can write a fun song, or at least turn a crazy experience into a fun track, but without music in my life, I’m not sure I’d still be alive and I don’t say that all too lightly. Time and time again, it’s filled the holes, the nooks and crannies of my being that otherwise would have gone unfilled. I’ve been able to re-evaluate my life through the songs, and looking back, I continually find new meaning in the music that resonates with me. It’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me and so many people I know.

Bigger question: what did you have for breakfast this morning?

Two cups of coffee, triple cream.

— Interview by Jonny Dovercourt