Toronto based band Rebel Emergency have come a long way since being declared Toronto radio station 102.1 The Edge’s ‘Next Big Thing’ back in 2008. Skip forward to 2011, as this year saw the band release their third studio album Aphrodisiology, support Snoop Dogg, and tour across the country to glowing reviews. Ngawara Madison for Music Vice catches up with singer Roddy Colmer for a chat about the new record and touring.
Roddy! So happy to be catching up with you because I know how busy you guys have been. How was your summer? Let me in on some of your highlights.
Roddy: Yeah it’s been a few years for sure… Man, I remember our first show ever was at the Horseshoe in Toronto and we were inviting out labels, thinking we were gonna get signed that night! Haha. Thanks for the nice words, we had a great year, it was really fun writing and recording that album and we are all really happy with how it came out. We got to play in Western Canada for the first time which was also really great. Makes you appreciate the country more being in British Columbia and seeing how beautiful it is. We got to meet and make a lot of new fans out west which was marvellous, its always cool to check out the music scene in different cities and even to see how crowds react differently in certain places. I think we took some big steps this year and now we are ready to open our Christmas presents, play with them, and then get ready to rock out harder in 2012.
I’m pleased you were able to catch up because its always a pleasure to hear from you and hear about the band. I was talking to some friends the other day and it seems that you’ve really charmed a good chunk out there…
Honestly as a band we don’t try to act in any certain way or search out compliments, we just write and play our music and hope that people like it. And if they don’t I hope they find other cool music that inspires them or makes them happy. Each fan we meet or talk to online is very important to us and we really try to make an effort to make them feel good about investing their time and energy into our band.
It’s nice to see you hold such appreciation for, and consideration towards your fans. Relating to the subject of fan bases; I just wanted to speak about genres and style. Rebel Emergency are described as being “a blend of Rock, Reggae and Ska”. Certainly in Canada I find that there’s a saturation of Rock and Ska music.
One thing I like about our band is that you can’t really place the sound. There are obvious influences but it’s an interesting mix and nothing is forced. I think on Aphrodisiology we are closer to defining our sound but we are still growing as musicians and trying to reach our potential together. We learned a lot recording our first two albums with Commissioner Gordon, who did Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation album and worked with Amy Winehouse and Damian Marley and a ton of wicked artists. We were kind of thrown into the fire with him, he just put us in a room and said “show me what you got” and he liked what we had and we learned a lot from him in a short amount of time; mostly about letting the music breathe, letting mistakes happen. It was really an organic process of making music which we have kept ever since. We don’t try to distinguish ourselves, the music we make is just what happens when us four guys get in a room and start making noise.
Organic approach, I like it. You know what I was meaning to tell you, but I cant get that “Lion in a Cage” song of yours out of my head! The one with KO on it. That song puts me in such a good mood!
Yeah KO is great. That song was really fun to put together.
Who are you writing for when you write music? Are the songs personal or about general ideas and issues?
There is no target with these songs, musically or lyrically. Music is for everyone and musicians are just vessels for it. It sometimes feels like the song is already in the air or in the room and it is given to you and your job as a musician is to make it as good as it can be so that people can enjoy it. Even if a song is personal to me I will try to write it in a sense that someone can relate to it or hopefully be inspired or feel something from it. I get upset when I see some bands who have been around for awhile playing their better known songs half-assed. I think you owe it to the song and to the people who love the song and take meaning from it, to play it your best every time forever, even if you have played it 5000 times. There will always be someone there who is hearing it for the first time so you owe it to them to have it live up to their love for it.
Can you tell me about the creative process for making the new record?
Writing lyrics for Aphrodisiology was a challenge and I got some inspiration from interesting places…”Picture this” was written after I saw a video of the flooding in Japan. “Waves come crashing down but theres no drowning hope”…It’s always kind of fascinating to see how people come together after disasters to rebuild, it can be pretty inspiring. Same thing with ‘Lion in a Cage”. I was watching the Libyan uprising and the lyrics came out pretty quickly “You can’t keep this crowd controlled, unified by common goals…”. There’s a lot of change going on in the world – it’s been a pretty crazy year.
It sure has been! So was the whole of the new album inspired by current events, or is it a mixture? Were there any other interesting inspirations or subjects that you dove into when writing these tunes?
Ah no, not everything was based on recent events. One I liked writing was the last song on the album “Letters” which was taken from 8 or 9 love letters from the Civil War and WW1. I took a line or two from each letter and put them together to make a song. There were so many beautiful letters from these young soldiers to their girls back home, it was pretty amazing how eloquent these young kids were back then. I guess writing was the only way they communicated so words were used more thoughtfully back then.
There’s certainly a decline in literary eloquence and letter writing these days. It is all they had. Yeah thats it. Makes me feel almost romantically short changed to exist in the ‘noughties’ rather than back in the olden days of love letter and black and white photography! What a beautiful inspiration to draw upon for a song.
It’s a cliche that we hear a lot in this biz is that you are only as good as your last show. How was the tour this summer, and what were your favourite or most memorable gigs?
Touring was great. The highlight was a tour we did Across Canada with 2 really great Canadian artists, KO and Daniel Wesley. We are all great friends and every show was a party. We each jumped up for parts of each others sets which made it really fun. There was definitely a family vibe on the tour, but we also challenged each other every night and I think it made us all better. The coolest show we played this summer was in Toronto at The Guvernment. Snoop Dogg had heard some of our tracks and likes our band so he called a mutual friend and asked if we would open for him. He’s a very cool dude, exactly how you would want him to be. I’m hoping we get to play with him more next year.
Snoop’s like a living legend these days that must have been a lot of fun!
How do you feel his album differs from your previous recordings as a band?
We had a new producer for this album which made it a different vibe right away. With our first two in New York, we would be set up in a small room together and Commissioner would give us a pep talk and get the best performances out of us… the whole process was really organic. Matthew Von Wagner, who produced Aphrodisiology, was more of a mad scientist in the studio, experimenting with sounds and instruments, he would add some electronic loops or sounds here and there. It was a really different experience but I think it let us stretch out the sonic potential of the songs more. The basic elements of our band are still there, everything is played live to the floor, but there was definitely more time spent on everything surrounding the guitars, bass, drums and vocals.
Wicked.. so almost up with time, but tell me briefly what are the plans for the winter time? Are you playing any more shows? Writing?
We have some shows around Toronto in November and December including a New Years show at The Hard Rock which should be pretty cool. We will be playing a bunch more in December and January close to home and then will probably hit the road come Springtime. We’re hoping to dip into the USA next year and maybe Australia. Always writing, hoping to do another album next year.
Awesome! Sounds like a lot to look forward to. Great catching up Roddy. Thanks for chatting with Music Vice..
Thank you for having me!
© Ngawara Madison, Music Vice
TWITTER CONTEST! Rebel Emergency have kindly given us 3 copies of their new album to win. To enter, get on Twitter and Tweet or Re-tweet @MusicVice with the following status, including the URL: #Contest Hey @MusicVice, give me swag! I want to win the new @RebelEmergency album Aphrodisiology! http://bit.ly/Reb3l
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The contest is open until midnight on Wednesday 9 November. Three winners will be drawn at random and contacted by Thursday morning for their mailing address.
Rebel Emergency play tonight, Thursday 3 November, at Tattoo Rock Parlour in Toronto with Hello Beautiful, Bootleg Glory and Courtney Taylor. Doors are at 8.30pm, cover is $10.
Rebel Emergency feat. KO – “Lion In A Cage”