Nick Teehan interview

October 28, 2010

Usually when someone starts a sentence with, “I have this friend who’s in a band” I make some excuse to go because I know that someone’s going to hand me some awful EP to listen to, or try and drag me to a show that I don’t really want to go to. But I have a friend called Nick Teehan, and we’ve known each other for about a year now. He’s kind of a neighbourhood guy. A part of the Bloordale landscape as much as the pawnshops, and thriftstores, and the fruit stalls are- someone I half expect to bump into as I walk the short distance into the Annex, with a bag full of musty smelling books in his hands. Try as I might to avoid it, I’ve seen the gigs of lot of my friend’s bands. The difference this time though, is that Nick’s music had me coming back for seconds and third and fourth helpings. I’ve seen this guy perform more times in the last year than I can remember- as a part of a band called Barbarella, as the sax player for Pure Finesse. But my favourite is his zany but honest solo work which is based in his songwriting. It’s the topic of our conversation today prior to the show he’s playing tonight, Thursday 28 October, at Revival in Toronto.

Nicky Teehan - illustration by Natascha Malta

Illustration by Natascha Malta

Let’s talk about the release of your EP. Did you release it independently or through a label?

At this point we haven’t really put too much work into engaging with labels because we’re still in our infancy as a group. I’ve been playing with them for about a year and a half now and its taken us a while to put everything together. When you can’t pay for very many things, then the time that it takes to get done is a little bit slower. But it makes it fun too because you’re in your friend’s basement or his kitchen or something like that. We did an independent release of the album in July, basically just as a launch of our first real recorded material. We’ve been working towards just doing more shows just to showcase it because I think its the pretty much the most interesting thing I’ve ever done musically.

It’s interesting too because it’s got two different sides to it. Like on one hand your have “Robots” and “Raccoons” which are a little bit wackier, but you’ve also got “Sidewalk Friend” and “Stripmall City” which feel like they’re a little more mature.
[You can listen to “Sidewalk Friend” below, while reading on.]

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Well its funny, when I first started writing for this band it was a lot of things. But it was kind of a Tom Waits impersonation with Tom Waits ripoffy kind of tunes. There was a term that one of us coined at the time which was death polka. We were doing this kind of with brass and drums and it was really loud because I was yelling all the time. As my voice got back in shape because I hadn’t sung in a few years, what I realized was all that volume and all that energy was really obscuring the lyrical content- which is really the big focus of my work.

Some of the newer stuff we do is further from that mark of zany, but the ideas are still crazy. I just want people to be able to hear them. Sometimes I feel like I’m not really sure what people are going to call it.

I wouldn’t worry about it much. I feel that n the 60s and 70s where you had rock music and disco music and the 2 camps didn’t mix so much so you kind of had to essentially decide what kind of music you were making. But now you have this wonderful thing where choosing a genre isn’t really important. You can make whatever mix of music that you want.

I was trying to think about the music that you make and where it fits in because its not jazz even though it’s jazz influenced. But pop music isn’t quite it either. I want to say singer-songwriter, but that makes you sound like a folk singer. And your music isn’t folky at all.

Well, there’s new music that you haven’t heard. The most recent one I wrote I was intentionally trying to write a folk song because there’s a lot of folk gigs and festivals out there. So I wrote this song called “Isabella Morris”.

Actually I have heard that song. Is that why you wrote it?

Right down the street from here at Brock and Bloor, there’s one of those weird buy and sell stores that I go through when I’ve had a bad day and I have 8 bucks and I want to buy something stupid. And I bought all these cds that they were selling for a dollar each. And I bought this one which was All The Hits Of Ireland, or crap like that. But it wasn’t even sung by Irish people. It was sung by people from Ontario using a fake Irish accent. There were just all these songs about all these beautiful girls, and loss. I tried to do something along those lines but use a little more imagination and try to do it in a way that didn’t sound so much like a sea shanty. I’ve been accused of writing sea shantys in the past.

Are there any plans for a full length album?

Well, I’m really fortunate to have some really interesting guys in the band. My brother Rob, my sousaphone player, is a professinal writing classical music. And Nick Bulligan my horn player is in tons of bands- The Minotaurs, and Jim Guthrie’s band. I’ve had a few different drummers and they’ve all been in different bands- so it takes a lot of scheduling time to get people together. But we’re going to do some more recording as soon as we can. It seems different from even 5 or 6 years ago when people would release an album every 2 or 3 years. So we’re looking at another shorter thing in the next 6 months and we’ll have a full length one underway by the summer I think.

Are you writing a lot of new material for it, or are you going to go back to some of your old stuff- like “Cortez” and stuff like that?

I don’t think we’ll do too much of “The Concert Master Cortez Marches Down Queen Street Bleeding” stuff. I like that stuff and I want people to know some of these interesting stories, but I also don’t want to have an album with dozens of songs that have 6 verses. Musically that can be kind of exhausting and vocally its exhausting. I want to make things which are a little easier to ingest and everytime I write something new its kind of my favourite.

Where do you get some of inspiration for your song-writing?

Well, my mom’s a songwriter. She’s released 3 albums and written hundreds of songs so I was exposed to that environment a lot when I was pretty young. I’ve lived in Ontario all my life. I’ve only ever left the province for a few weeks at a time, and I find there’s this really unique thing about Ontario and the GTA and about Oshawa. There’s this real feeling of a crumbling crown jewel. Of this environment that was great once, but now its on the way out and we’re all trying to tread water. The manufacturing sector in Oshawa used to be huge. It used to be everything, and then I found as I got older that everything changed but you still had “the Shwas” walking down the street in their tear-away pants and driving their trans-ams like this displaced subculture. Now I’m in Toronto and there’s all these hipsters and I’m trying to figure out which one of those I am, and I’m trying to figure out where I fit in. And generally I don’t fit in, and a lot of my music is about that. Where do we all fit in and where are we supposed to go to find that. Is it a locational thing? Is it a time thing?

I know that Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen have had a bit of an influence on you, but do you have any favourite current acts?

I really like Rufus Wainwright. I first checked him out when he put out Release The Stars which wasn’t really very long ago. I remember the first time I heard him was in a GAP commercial in 1995 and he sang “What Are You Doing On New Year’s Eve?” for 20 seconds and I had no idea who he was or what the fuck he was saying because he doesn’t anunciate, and I rediscovered him 15 years later. There’s a lot of good songwriters out there, although I don’t go to a lot of shows. I like Antony and the Johnsons, and I like Patrick Watson, and Wayne Shorter for jazz acts.

I know you’re going to do- is it a solo show on the 28th?

Not exactly but it’s not the full band. We usually play with a 6 piece band with 2 trumpets, a sousaphone, drums and guitar and myself on sax and keyboards. On the 28th I’m opening for Tucker Finn at the Revival, and she does this altcountry songwriting thing and its her album release party. Because of the nature of the kind of show that it is- the sound that we produce as a 6 piece band can be really explosive. So we’re doing a 4 piece band. I could perform solo, but I prefer not to.

© Natascha Malta, Music Vice

Head’s up Toronto: You can catch Nick’s set at 8 PM sharp tonight at Revival, 783 College Street. Cover is 10 bucks.

Related internet links:
Nick Teehan

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