The other day while riding a downtown elevator I met a guy who worked as a ‘talent buyer’. As the floors rolled by I figured it was the perfect chance to ask ‘when does one know when they are in the presence of real…?’ ‘Talent, kid?’ he replied. ‘Talent… Real talent is a funny thing. Sometimes you can see it as plain as pie, but sometimes it hides itself away pretty good. Usually that kind of talent is more unique… More interesting’. He went on to outline his skills booking high caliber jokers and magicians on cruise ships up and down the coast. I tuned him out, but he did manage to give me one actual piece of sage advice before jumping off at the 42nd floor. ‘Spotting talent is one thing, but spotting someone you want to work with is probably a much better bet’. With that in mind, Vancouver’s upstart pop quartet The Shilohs have quickly turned themselves into one of the most adored bands on the junior circuit. They work hard, play lots of shows for little or no cash, and seem carefree enough to make other people wish that a little of their magic would rub off on them. To date, they are in bed with two of the best local studios – JC/DC and The Hive – and have a full length in the can. On the eve of releasing their debut 7″ on some famous Jersey guys’ label Northern Transmissions jumped at the prospect of an interview. Oh… And for the record, they have talent – as after all they’ve played a fucking circus. – Introduction and interview with Johnny Payne of The Shilohs by Nic Bragg
NB: Ok then. Every time I’ve seen The Shilohs perform, I’ve noticed that you are constantly introducing new numbers into your songbook and experimenting with new sonic elements. I am wondering if you are still trying to find your hardpan and define your sound? Or is something else going on?
JP: That’s funny, I always think that too when someone brings in a new song. It’s always like “oh man, this song is too crazy guys…” but then once we record a demo and I listen to it in the car it just sounds like us. In that way we’ve found our hardpan I suppose. You’re talking about guys who like A LOT of songs, you know? When we rehearse there are a lot of ideas on the table. Endless inspiration and influence. But once we crack the tune and figure out how to make it The Shilohs everything falls into place. It’s usually one thing or another…”Click off that pedal, man…Maybe play the ride, Ben?…pass me that beer, Dan”. We just boss each other around until it works.
NB: How important is a sense of place to a band nowadays? I enjoyed the opening track on your record ‘This is Vancouver Music’. It paints a really bleak picture of living here though. I welcome your thoughts.
JP: Only a bleak picture of me living here. I dunno…Sense of place? I think it’s important to know where you’re from, and where you are, and where you were when you wrote the song, but there’s no need to preach about it.
NB: Why are so many musicians becoming involved with acting?
JP: It seems natural. Musicians should be great actors. Maybe they’re taking a vacation from their own heads or something. I can’t remember really because I haven’t memorized a monologue since The Importance of Being Earnest in grade 12. The other way around is mostly just embarrassing to me though. It seems so many actors all of a sudden fancy themselves country singers or blues guitarists and it’s just goofy, almost like they’re taking the piss out of it. Out of something born out of so much sadness. Taking the piss out of some movie role is just fun though, it’s mostly fake anyway, like Paul Simon in Annie Hall; everyone wants to see him play a sleazy producer, but no one wants to see Bruce Willis in a fedora playing Red House. At least I don’t anyway. I like Jeff Bridges though…
NB: Tell me, how did your new single on Matt Mondanile (Real Estate/Ducktails) label come about? How does it set up the full length ‘So Wild’? Other than the short eastern tour – do you see the about touring much soon?
JP: We opened for Real Estate here in Vancouver and I guess the harmonies must have been tight that night because Matt emailed me the next day about releasing a single of the first two songs we played at the show. It doesn’t really set up “So Wild” because we made that record so long ago. The band has changed. There’s a lot of road between Sister Rose and Private Lives. So Wild was a lot about my roots in music, and where I grew up…ghosts of the past. I’d rather tell the stories as they happen now. No one will notice any of this bullshit if the listening isn’t chronologically correct…So Wild is still a good record, that’s why we’ve held on to it so long.
We want to tour plenty but there’s nothing else planned right now. I keep hearing things about how we’re big in Portugal though so maybe the Mediterranean will come calling. You’ve been there, right?
NB: Yes, Portugal is very nice. I am not sure how your music would go over there as it is pretty sophisticated. Anyway, one thing I did like about the band was the dual songwriter attack. I think that is a smart move. What would you say are the similarities and/or differences between your writing and that of Komaszczuk?
JP: Mike’s songs are wise. They have this omnipresence to them the way that George Harrison’s or Richard Manuel’s do. Mine are more personal, or paranoid or something. I’m not passing on any lessons, I’m trying to learn them myself! Dan writes songs now too, so you have to factor that into all this mess.
NB: Are you interested in the medium of the rock video? Any plans to support ‘Private Lives’ or ‘English Roads’ – both very generic titles – with some thing people can watch online?
JP: I’m not really interested in videos. At least not in the traditional 80s/90s sense of a band playing along to the record in a warehouse or something. I like films though…short films. I have an idea for videos for those songs. Two videos with different stories but the same character and theme. They’re in pre-production…hehe. I’m the actor…hehehe. Whaddaya mean “generic”?
NB: Nothing, I am just throwing that out. Here’s a good question…What pitfalls have you avoided? What events in your short career do you wish you could have back?
JP: I guess we’ve avoided compromise when it comes our music. We’ve been pretty good at being aware of a song’s merit and it’s faults on the ground floor. I don’t think we’ve ever written one for the sake of pleasing a crowd or fitting in. That comes mostly from having Dan in the band. A man of impeccable taste. I don’t need anything back…well…actually we played a circus once. There was no need for a band to be there. I almost lost my head to the trapeze then we played “baby please stop crying” by Bob Dylan and I think all 3 of us were in a different key. I still owe Mike for that one…
NB: I plan to do a series of interviews with other Vancouver bands on the bubble. Tell me something about the relationship you have with say… The High Drops or Capital 6?
JP: I could say a lot about all those guys. But it might be better if you meet us all at the legion one night and hang around a while. Then you’ll get the whole scoop on those relationships…Great bands though! Two of the best around!
NB: Sorry, I said that I wouldn’t just leaf through bios and other people’s writing but get lazy. What can you tell me about moving into the Waldorf Hotel for creative reasons?
JP: My my, you are well informed! Well…It wasn’t for creative reasons actually. My girlfriend and I split and she kept the apartment and the bed so I needed a place to flop. My friends in the hotel said I could move right in to a furnished room and so I did. It did become creative, though, as I wrote quite a few songs in that time that, of course, don’t really work as Shilohs songs. Just sad ones about sorrows and bewilderment that are probably best performed alone. I recorded them in there too. It was somewhat conceptual I guess; Just Tanis (the heart and soul of Shilohs engineering) and me and a four track in the room. There were some other people around from time to time, actually, but only people who were in the songs or part of that time. Anyway, I could go on about this one for a while and this interview is about the band, no? Wait, what is this interview about?
NT: That seems as ridiculous as someone deciding to read more poetry to help their lyrical angle. Right?
JP: Huh? Did you even read my answer? Wait a minute…You prefabricated this whole interview, didn’t you? Perhaps you should have answered the questions yourself…
NB: That would have been duplicitous. Tell me, what is ‘West Coast’ pop?
JP:Shit…I guess you can hear waves crashing in the song’s breaks? Or in our case rain falling on the hood of your car out on the street. It’s loose but there? Stoned but holding it together? Tracking sand into the studio from your shoes?… It’s just fucking music…What should I say? Out west when you hold a seashell to your ear it plays Help Me Rhonda?
NT: Along the way I assume you are planning a metamorphosis of sorts. Why are bands constantly changing up their program?
JP: For us it’s not conscious. We were a country rock band until Mike’s pedal steel broke, so he turned to guitar and it went pop. I think good bands just roll with the punches and don’t try to adapt to anything. Like how the velvets got their pedals stolen and made the third record. I think that’s better than being too aware of what people think or what’s hip and saying “Well, this isn’t working…better buy a distortion pedal and get Mutt Lang to write us some songs”. Sticking to your guns, right? Believing in the dudes in the room.