by Sheldon Birnie
Moncton, New Brunswick isn’t overly renowned for producing hard hitting, fist pumping rock n roll bands. At least not ones who make waves across North America. The Motorleague are an exception, and have been on the road hard for the past few months in support of their sophomore full length Acknowledge, Acknowledge. Stylus caught up with singer/guitarist/chief-songwriter Don Levandier on a tour stop in Victoria, BC to chat about the new record, videos, songwriting and hard travelling leading up to their November 18th date in Winnipeg.
Stylus: How’s the tour going?
Don Levandier: Oh man it’s been pretty cool. We were down in the States for a bit. We’ve been all through Ontario. It’s been long, we’re about at the two month mark, and we’ve still got a month to go. We’ve got to go to a lot of places we’ve never been before. [Previously] we’ve toured mostly the East, Ontario and Quebec, and never really got deep into the US or western Canada as much. It’s been pretty fun, we’re having a good time. Eating a lot of “interesting” food.
Stylus: What’s the reception to the new record [Acknowledge, Acknowledge] been like?
DL: Good! It’s cool, people seem to identify with certain songs. It’s neat when you can go to a new town and people will actually show up and know some of the songs. That’s been really cool. Our videos have been a really good way for people to interact with our songs. People seem to be into the new record, so that’s cool.
Stylus: I was going to ask you about your videos. That’s how I first became aware of you guys, was through the “North America” video. How do you guys go about making, or coming up with, all these wacky videos? They’re all pretty unique…
DL: A lot of it is just experimentation. Just fun. A lot of the ideas come with touring. I mean, we’re in the van for five or six hours a day, your mind wanders. You come up with all these stupid ideas, and sometimes you just want to see if you can pull it off, and if people will react to it. Some of our videos are really terrible! It’s all just trial and error. The first one we ever did was just one shot. We got some puppets from the library, and it’s literally just puppets. But I think that over the past five years, I’ve just gotten to love experimenting with video. Videos are sort of a lost art. You know, Much Music isn’t at all what it once was to up and coming rock bands in the late 90s and mid 90s. Everyone was making videos. I mean, it has been revived somewhat on YouTube. But for me, for any up and coming band, that would be my piece of advice: get yourself a DSLR camera and learn how to make videos. People will often say to us, like, “Not every band can do that. You must be really good with computers.” No, man. Just look at our first videos, they’re terrible! But the videos get better and better as you learn. It’s a fun thing.
Stylus: As far as songwriting goes, how would you describe the evolution of your sound or songwriting from your first record [2009’s Black Noise] to this one?
DL: The first record was really rushed. We did it all in like a week. We didn’t really have a lot of time to experiment and suss out the songs. With this one, we had a lot more time in the studio. We kind of recorded it, went back to the studio a few months later and worked on it some more. We were travelling between New Brunswick and Toronto. The songs were a lot more sparse, in the recording session. We were able to do a lot more breathing, in the sense that we could try this or try that. Our producer that we had, Steve Rizun, wanted to push the band in a different direction to see what we could do with it and where it could go. The songs are mellower on this record, not so urgent. I read a review of the first record that said, “Holy Hyperactive Rock, Batman!” And you listen to it, and that’s kind of exactly what it is. That’s where we were, we were young when we made that record. I don’t know if it’s necessarily age, but we certainly had more time to write when we made this record. It was a lot of fun to play it for people who were like, “Whoa, this is different.” And we are a bit of a different band. We’ve had a lot of line-up changes. It’s a hard thing to do, touring in a rock n roll band. It’s hard to ask people to leave home for a month or more at a time. It’s tough. It definitely changes the writing when you’ve got different guys in the band.
Stylus: You guys have a bit of a punk rock background. How does that punk rock influence inform your work as more of a “rock n roll” band?
DL: It’s weird, because we always end up on different bills. Like, we’ll tour with Flatliners, who are one of our favourite bands and they’re straight up punk rock. We find ourselves trying to introduce our fans to their fans, and vice versa. You’re right in that we’re definitely more of a straightforward rock n roll band now. I don’t know if we were ever a punk band, or I would never call us a straight-up punk band. I’ll see reviews or whatever that refer to us as “punk rockers” or whatever, and I always cringe a bit, because someone will come to the show [with those expectations] and be like, “Those guys aren’t punk!” But, for me especially, we all grew up listening to punk rock. When I go home and listen to records, it’s like 90 per cent 70s, 80s, 90s punk rock. It’s weird. We ended up in a rock n roll band, but I think that’s just the mix of the four of us. I never really thought that was the direction we’d go in, but we’re enjoying it. It’s cool.
Stylus: Have you played Winnipeg before?
DL: We played once, in 2010, at the Pyramid.
Stylus: Oh yeah, how was that?
DL: We were on tour with Gordie Johnson’s band, and it was really cool. That was a huge room! I think it was the biggest room we’d ever played. It was awesome. It was such a great tour for us. We met Gordie at the East Coast Music Awards or something, and he was like “I want to take you guys on tour!” We were like, “Yeah, sure … that’ll never happen.” But sure enough, a couple months later…. I think we had this fear, at the time, of going west of Ontario. From like Toronto to Kenora and the Manitoba border there’s just so much woods, and rocks. It’s a pretty epic expanse of woods, and we were intimidated by that line. But once we got our feet wet, and got to the West it was awesome. There are so many east coasters out there. But we didn’t really get a chance to explore Winnipeg. I really want to see Confusion Corner, that’s a big thing for me. Last time, we literally drove in, played, ate some chicken fingers, and then drove out again. This time we’ve got a day or so to relax and check the place out. I’m pretty pumped up about that.
Check out the Motorleague, on tour with the Balconies, at the Union Sound Hall on Monday, November 18th.