By Darcy Penner
I was sitting in the Stylus office a few weeks back when Adrienne Yeung tossed Slates’ album Prairie Fires into the CD player. My excitement for the band quickly turned to annoyance when I found out how long I had not known about this fantastic quartet, and their post-punk, Americana influenced rock n’ roll. Leading up to their cross-Canada tour in support of Prairie Fires, Dallas Thompson took the time to send some emails my way and answer a few questions. They play Winnipeg on Saturday, July 7 at the Lo Pub.
Stylus: You are presently touring in support of your most recent release, Prairie Fires. Both this album and your previous self-titled full length were recorded with Jesse Gander at The Hive Studios in Burnaby, BC. What is it about this environment that draws you away from your Edmonton home to record?
Dallas Thompson: Jesse is a friend of ours and an accomplished engineer. When we were originally looking for a studio, the Hive was the only space in Western Canada that both interested us and had a tape machine. It suited what we wanted to accomplish at the time, as far as instrument tones and live recording was concerned. Most of the things that we weren’t wild about on the first one were worked out on Prairie Fires. Maybe the idea of getting out of our comfort zone played a part but really, Vancouver is just a great city with an ocean and a ton of veg food.
Stylus: Along with your album title, your bios, one-sheets and lyrics all reference living in the relatively isolated prairie city of Edmonton. Obviously we have a relatable existence here in Winnipeg, and our local artists regularly reference this as well. How does this existence affect your art, from the creative process, to the content, to your lifestyles as musicians?
DT: Isolation is definitely the factor, but I’m unsure if it trumps the fact that we’re living in the capital city of a petro-state. As far as the music is concerned, I’m not even sure how much of a role that plays anymore as an infinite amount of influences are available at one’s fingertips these days. Thematically, maybe it’s the residents who can a little insular that add that touch of spice to living where we do and the creative aspect That’s just a result of having 6 months of Winter. I’m sure folks all across the prairies would agree that writing music is a good way to ward off those -40 and dark all the time blues.
Stylus: You were one of the first bands to embark on the Solidarity Rock, Cuban tour, and even left all the gear you brought there for kids to play music. Evidently the experience shaped you guys, titling the first track off Prairie Fires after the Cuban city Sancti Spiritus. How did this experience influence the band and your music?
DT: That tour happened in January 2010. I can only speak from personal experience on this, but I’m sure the guys would agree to some extent. I consider myself a fairly privileged musician. I’ve been able to freely travel around the world to play wherever I’ve wanted, and in them meantime have accumulated some decent musical equipment. After spending two weeks playing shows for free, with people my age who are more or less stranded on the island and who don’t even have access to new sets of stings… I guess you’d have to be pretty calloused to not be impacted by a run like that. It was in Cuba where we decided we’d like to be an international band. Why keep playing pubs and punk-houses when you can play a squat during a riot or have to bribe your way out of Bosnia?
Stylus: It seems like you folks celebrate the DIY lifestyle a fair bit. Can you discuss the benefits and limitations to a DIY approach for Canadian prairie-bands, and what it means to you?
DT: I’ve never been the type to wait for someone to do something for me and really enjoy the challenge of seeing ideas through. If it fails, we learn from it and if it works out, we try for something bigger I guess. DIY to me is about celebrating opportunity, which these days is only limited by your own self-imposed restrictions. Plus, when you’re the captain of your own ship you can’t really blame anybody which makes the successes that much sweeter. I’ve always thought the DIY bands were doing something a bit more interesting. Take Greyscreen in Calgary. The dude (K. Stebner) plays shows using this ridiculous game-boy set up he’s created and it’s awesome. He loves it. Who are the bands that look like they love what they’re doing?
Stylus: Your criticism of the militarism within the Winnipeg Jet’s logo joins a Winnipeg (or just G-7 Welcoming Committee-affiliated individuals) tradition of addressing militarism within professional hockey (notably John K. Samson’s criticism of the logo, and Propagandhi’s “Dear Coach’s Corner”). What do you believe are the consequences of normalizing/celebrating the military within popular, non-military culture, such as professional hockey?
DT: I was impressed at how well John K. articulated the issue. As an elementary teacher, the visual of the student drawing the logo in his desk was bang on. Kids are so impressionable and that’s what concerns me. I don’t believe that the bluest conservative is down with the trickle down effects of celebrating the war machine. Of course it’s not a new phenomenon, I remember Tie Domi being celebrated in the 90′s, but it does seem more prevalent. It’s nice to see the momentum as far as responsible adults pushing for a less violent game.
Stylus: After you are finished your month long cross-Canada tour, what are your plans?
DT: I’m going to head to the Yukon for a while and not think about the band. (Ha!) Then I think the plan is to finish writing a new album, record in spring and head out on a larger tour next year. The opportunity to check out the Middle East has come about after playing a few shows with an Israeli band last summer. That’d be something else.
Stylus: Lastly, what are three (not obvious) records anyone who is into your band should be listening to?
DT: Oh man, you’re probably talking to the wrong guy about this one. How about anything on Daptone, Weights and Measures – Tonight the Lower Abdominals and the Rite of Spring (Stravinsky, not the DC one).
Catch Slates at the Lo Pub on Saturday, July 7th with This Hisses. $8, doors at 9 PM.