Category Archives: Interviews

A conversation with Creed Bratton about his upcoming album and the end of The Office

With the finale of The Office fast approaching, I’ve had moments of deep reflection on the comedy that accompanied me through undergrad and beyond. Over half a decade, I came to care for the characters. I had a lot riding on the Pam and Jim storyline. I had a Dwight bobblehead. I was all in.

I always had questions about the character of Creed. His enigmatic presence in… what was it… Quality Assurance? was always a random highlight on the show. As an avid fan learning everything there was to know, I was surprised to find out that he was a member of an influential 60s folk pop band, The Grass Roots. That satisfied my thirst for knowledge. That is, until I caught wind of his current musical endeavours.

Creed Bratton

Creed Bratton has had an interesting 70 years (don’t let his hair fool you) on this earth. He traveled the world, he experienced the highs and lows of superstardom, and he built his role on The Office from the ground up. Literally starting as an extra, he pitched the idea of his character to the show’s producer and it stuck.

It’s that resiliency that makes his story so appealing. He has released a number of solo albums since his time in The Grass Roots, but his 6th, Tell Me About It, delves more into the story of Creed. Split into three acts (the last of which is released on May 21st), he takes us along the winding path that’s brought him here. I had the pleasure of talking to him about his music and The Office:

Creed Bratton - Tell Me About It

Tell me about “Tell Me About It

The album itself is an “audiobiography”. It tells the story of the ups and downs of my life. The success, The Grass Roots, the down periods, like a story. It brings up The Office towards the end. PF Sloan, the iconic writer and famous recluse who produced a lot of The Grass Roots stuff, is on it. Rainn Wilson is on it. I have the same band that I used for my “Bounce Back” album. It’s a lot like my live show, I sing original songs and then in between, I morph into Mark Twain, except the Creed version.

What inspired the “audiobiography” concept?

When we started recording the songs for this, my 6th solo album, my producer Dave Way helped me realize that all the songs were telling a story. He put them in an order and I thought “Oh my god, this does work!” We went from doing an album of songs to doing it like my show, with some comedy bits and spoken word bits, a concept album.

Is there a reason you haven’t written it all out in a more traditional autobiography?

I think it’s just reluctance. When you start writing that stuff down… I believe that there’s quite a few more chapters of it so I don’t want to do the book too prematurely.

How much of your Office character is grounded in reality? (i.e. Do you enjoy mung beans?)

I like alfalfa sprouts in my salads. I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever said “Mmm… mungbeans”.

…I believe your character actually lives in Toronto to “milk our welfare state”…

[laughs] We were actually kicking around the idea of getting Creed an aquacar, showing him getting into the harbour and driving off to Canada.

How have you felt like the show has changed since Steve Carell’s departure?

I used to think that he was the show. Nevertheless, this last season has been a really good one. It gets funnier and funnier. Now that I’m thinking about the finale, I think it will go out on a good note. It was impossible to capture what we had with Steve, maybe some time had to pass before people embraced the characters that were left.

Has the finale already been filmed? How was it?

We filmed it a couple of weeks ago. On May 4th, we’re going to be in Scranton, the whole cast. The town’s been great to us.

Have you encountered any resistance when promoting your music from people who don’t know you outside of acting?

It’s funny, some people from The Grass Roots era, the babyboomers, they know me from my pop music stuff. They come to hear the music. Not all of them are aware I’m a TV actor. When I performed in Boston, there was a younger, college crowd mixed in. They said that they came for the comedy because of The Office, yet they found that they stayed around for the music.

Along those lines, what do you feel like is the biggest difference between acting and performing music?

I don’t really think there is a huge amount of difference. One is singing with a guitar. The other uses the body as the tool you work with. When you get down to the nitty-gritty, you’re emoting and telling a story, whether through a visual or through the audio. They’re more similar than you think.

What do you feel is the next chapter for Creed?

The show is over, the album is finished. I’m making myself more available for film. I’m writing a screenplay and optioned another. I’m also writing a pilot with my friend Chuck… I’m [also] always writing songs. The songs are always coming through. I hear melodies and lyrics and I write them down all the time. Over the next few years, I’ll probably be more focused on releasing singles.

Speaking of singles, what are your thoughts on Leslie David Baker’s (aka Stanley) pop single?

Yeah, I saw it.

I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. From Creed’s perspective, what is it that you’re going to miss about the show?

I’m just going to miss how much we laughed. So much hilarity going on. The script is more hard work but, in between, the kidding with each other, it’s really the fun stuff.

Fans of my character, that strange old crazy guy… the writers came up with some great stuff and we’re going to say goodbye to him and all the characters and find completion. That feels pretty good. I don’t think the fans will be left hanging or disappointed.

Listen to “All The Faces” (featured on The Office finale) below:

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An interview with Deanna Devore

Deanna Devore

Deanna Devore

Deanna Devore‘s dreamy electro-pop sound is intriguing as it is simultaneously smooth and raw. Her chillout singer-songwriter stylings have really developed into a distinct sound on X Number Of Days, her upcoming EP to be released in January. This is perhaps no better demonstrated than on “Where Went Your Heart” which harkens back to days when I’d play Kings Of Convenience records on repeat. Based out of Chicago but originally from Toronto, she’s definitely someone to look out for. We asked her some questions in anticipation of her upcoming release:

Being from Toronto originally, what is it that drew you towards making music in Chicago?

I first went out to Chicago in 2006 to record with a producer/engineer (Bjorn Thorsrud). It could have been anywhere, really. It just so happened that he lives in Chicago and so that’s where I went.

What led to that initial break working with Bjorn Thorsrud of Smashing Pumpkins fame?

I was passed along in a sense from producer to producer, trying to find the best fit. A Toronto producer first heard my music and then put me in touch with someone in LA. I went out there to talk things over with him and was then put in touch with Bjorn Thorsrud, thus resulting in me going to Chicago.

What were some of your major influences for your new album?

I’m into a lot of electronic stuff that for the most part, seems to be coming out of Europe. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Little Dragon, Miike Snow to name a few. That kind of sound definitely influenced my album.

You play multiple instruments on your recordings, how do you translate that to your live shows?

The live set-up includes a synth/keyboard player, a bassist, a drummer, a back-up singer and I play guitar and sing. I do use a loop pedal and so I loop some stuff live as well as having some of the electronic drum tracks play from my laptop.

What is it that you miss most about Toronto?

The food! And family/friends of course…but I do miss Toronto’s ethnic cuisine. Malaysian, Jamaican, Indian, etc. I feel like that kind of food is way more authentic in Toronto.

Freestyling is an important form of expression in hip hop. If you had to freestyle four lines about your new album, what would you say?

X Number Of Days.
The kind of music that sways.
Electronic beats galore.
Won’t you see what’s in store?

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An interview with The Walkervilles

Windsor's The Walkervilles

On November 24th, The Walkervilles showcased their groovy Windsor, Ontario blues-rock sound to a crowd at The Drake Hotel, one of the best sounding venues in Toronto. Watching them perform their set, it was obvious that the band was having a great time and their enthusiasm was contagious. The entire crowd stomped along through the short set featuring soulful vocals and guitar rhythms. The band demonstrated a clean, raw sound that is increasingly rare these days.

Playing songs from their upcoming album, The Walkervilles opened the set with the lively “Misunderstandings (Holding You)”, before they rocked through crowd favourites “Get Myself Into It” and “Get By.” Their classic Motown-inspired sound had the crowd captivated for the majority of their set. They closed with the buoyant “Tell Me How You Want Me,” which was a great display of singer Pat Robitaille’s vocal talent. Their debut album Meet The Walkervilles – Live at Mackenzie Hall comes out Dec. 21st. We got a chance to speak to Robitaille after the show:

For those who don’t know, who are The Walkervilles?

The Walkervilles are a three piece Motown/Rock/Soul influenced band from Windsor, Ontario; right across from Motown itself, Detroit, Michigan.

It really seems like rock and blues are getting more attention as mainstream music. What do you think about that?

We love it. It’s America’s music. The foundation of popular music as we know it is built on traditional blues. It’s nice to see the mainstream pushing real, raw music again.

The band hasn’t been around long, but you guys already have quite a following. Where do you think that comes from?

I think that there’s a classic but fresh sound to the Motown sound, and that has helped us appeal to so many listeners. It’s the kind of music that any generation can relate to and enjoy. Lyrically, the songs have been striking a big chord with people too. The music is real, it’s honest and it’s fun. The three of us are having a blast playing together and the crowd picks up on that as well.

How do you guys feel about the music community in Windsor, and Ontario in general?

The Windsor/Detroit area has been hit so hard by this recession and I think that where you have struggle, you have great art. Some of my favourite artists in Canada are from Windsor. The music community is very cool, all of the bands rely on one another, and The Walkervilles have certainly been heavily supported by the scene.

I know you guys have quite a few projects on the go. How do you balance and prioritize each of your projects, and find time to collaborate together?

The band has really shifted over the past few months to a full time gig for us. We do have a lot on the go, and we’ve all had some good success with our other projects, but we have a clear focus on this band now. I’m sure when things slow down for Walkervilles we will pick up where we left off on old endeavours, but this band is exciting for us right now.

Do you have any plans for releasing your first album?

Our first album is coming out on December 21st. The band rented out an old court house in Windsor called Mackenzie Hall back in September. We basically built a recording studio in the building the night before and recorded 10 songs in one day. Everything was done live so the album has a heavy concert vibe. It’s called “Meet The Walkervilles – Live at Mackenzie Hall”.

With the current state of the music industry, what advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

Stay real! Focus on getting as good as you can. Don’t spend time online trying to convince people to like your band. Just play nonstop and it will all work out.

If you guys could be opening for any band right now, who would it be?

The Rolling Stones in 1973.

-Micheal Vipond Contributor

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Concert Review and Interview: Jeff Barkman (Nov, 19 2012 @ Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto)

Jeff Barkman @ Horseshoe Tavern

Jeff Barkman @ Horseshoe Tavern

There’s something amazing about shows at the Horseshoe Tavern. As one of the most historic live venues in Toronto, its atmosphere is rarely matched. Jeff Barkman and his brand of indie singer-songwriter music did not disappoint in maintaining that atmosphere. His set consisted almost entirely of new songs that will be on his next album, tentatively titled Ghosts. With his talent for songwriting on display, Barkman presented the crowd with some of the most emotional songs in his repertoire. In our last review, we said that the lyrics behind his first album Assembly Line Surgery were sincere; if this show is any indication of how his second album will sound, it will be nothing short of mesmerizing. The soulful approach to his new set of songs was captivating. With a stripped down set including just Barkman’s raspy voice and acoustic guitar, it was a moving set.

The opening acts started the night off on a high note. Exceptionally talented Montreal band The Damn Truth, fronted by the charismatic Lee-La, opened the night with an awesome hard-rockin’ blues sound that is rare in today’s music. Local band Tomahawk Love also brought an entertaining set with a good mix of covers and original tunes. The crowd was dancing through the whole set, right from the opening riff of their cover of Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?”.

Compared to the high-energy opening acts, Barkman’s set was quite intimate, something that works well at the Horseshoe. The audience was engaged as soon as Barkman’s voice was heard at the start of the first song “Chains.” With a setlist full of meaningful songs, Barkman kept it light by joking with the crowd and doing shots of whiskey in between songs, ending one of his most emotional songs with the comment “It’s really hot up here. I’m pretty sure I can smell every band that’s ever played here. Seriously, it smells like the Rolling Stones.”

Barkman capped the night with some of the most popular songs from his first album, including “Safe from Hell,” “Without You Within,” and the soulful “Assembly Line Surgery.” With much of the crowd singing along, it was a perfect way to end the night.

We got the chance to speak to Jeff about his first album Assembly Line Surgery, and how he has been influenced as a musician:

The first thing I noticed when I listened to Assembly Line Surgery was that every song really feels like it has its own personal story behind it. Is this how you always approach song-writing?

Yeah, when I write, I can’t write anything that’s just mindless or meaningless. Every single song that I will ever take the time to record and promote and play live will have a story attached to it. Some of them are snapshots of certain moments in time. I’ve had guys jam with me that say “Man, I like how all your songs are about something.”

Watching some videos from your old shows at The Drake Hotel, I thought it was really cool that you started every song with a story about where it came from. Do you always try to have that connection with your audience?

Well that was a really cool gig. I definitely find that it’s something important, and something I want to do more. The Drake really lends itself to telling stories because the sound in there is so beautifully crisp that the audience can actually understand every word that you say. You can connect with your audience on a very real level.

Who has had the greatest influence on your music?

It’s hard to pick a greatest influence. I’ve had so many different influences at different times in my life, but my first big influence was probably Kurt Cobain. I got Nirvana’s MTV Live Unplugged record when I was about twelve. Man, I killed that record. I played it absolutely to death, then I put it down for a couple of years, but I still go back to it. It’s definitely one of my favourites.

With the state of the music industry today, what do you think is the best way for prospective musicians to gain exposure?

Write your ass off. And play shows. Play all of the worst shows you possibly can, where you’re playing for a completely empty room, and just learn to play regardless. Believe it or not, I’ve played something like 200 shows. A lot of those were some of the most heartbreaking shows you can imagine. Seriously, just me and the bartender. And the worst is afterwards when the bartender says “Dude, you’re amazing!” and all you can say is “Thanks… Glad you enjoyed it… Kill me now…”

So do you have any plans for recording and releasing the new album?

I haven’t really even hit the production stage yet. I want the next one to be a lot more low-fi and dirtier sounding. With Assembly Line Surgery, the songs are just a collection of stories. A lot of times, with first records, you end up having a collection of all the songs you’ve ever written. You pick the best ones and make a record. With the second record, the theme is a lot more coherent. I hit a writing block a little while ago and started talking to some friends about it. I had a really rough childhood and my friend said that maybe I should try writing from there. I was really daunted and intimidated at writing from those really horrible places, but they turned out to be real songs with real emotions, and that’s something I care about. I want the production to match that feeling.

Lastly, if you were stuck on a desert island with a CD player, a ton of batteries, and one album, what would it be?

I’ve got this record by Ari Neufeld. It’s called Old Man Songs By A Boy (For A Girl). Seriously, my opinion of this album is like “you’re welcome for telling you about it.” I got a chance to see this guy perform at someone’s house, and I got the chance to make friends with him. It’s amazing. This album is seminal for me.

-Micheal Vipond Contributor

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An Interview with Paul Smith from Maxïmo Park

Maximo Park returns with The National Health

One of my favourite memories of first year university would be locking my door, closing the blinds, and jumping around to the freshest britrock that I could find (my secret’s out). During that phase, I remember listening to bands like Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand on repeat, almost to the point of nausea. I was obsessed, and I wasn’t the only one. North America was swept up by that sound and it was inevitable that the tides would turn. Eventually the modern British Invasion subsided and bands were left to either adapt (as the Arctic Monkeys have) or fade into the distance (The Bravery?).

One band that stood out to me during that phase was Maxïmo Park. They sold millions of records as one of the best bands of that movement but they they were never as big in Canada as some of the aforementioned bands. I’m not sure why as their debut album A Certain Trigger contained absolute gems like “Graffiti“, “Limassol“, and my anthem “Apply Some Pressure”:

That debut was good enough to be nominated for Britain’s prestigious Mercury Prize. After that success, they released two more solid albums, Our Earthly Pleasures (in 2007) and Quicken The Heart (in 2009). I hadn’t heard much about the band in the years since, until recently discovering that they were recording. The results of those efforts is a new album called The National Health, released last month. While my britrock tastes aren’t as all-encompassing as they once were, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the album. One thing that has always struck me about Maxïmo Park’s music is the honesty of lead singer Paul Smith‘s lyrics and he’s in form on this album. Darker brushstrokes to reflect times that are tough for many. The lead single is “Hips and Lips”:

I was able to ask Paul Smith some questions about the career arc of Maxïmo Park and what’s next for the band:

“A Certain Trigger” seemed to come out right when the UK rock invasion of North America was taking place, what are your favourite memories of that time period?
A couple of shows that stand out include playing with Vic Chesnutt at the Levi’s shop in Austin. Even through the show was weird it was amazing to be a new band in the same room as someone who I’d listened to and be playing on the same bill. Also, playing in Tonic, NYC before it shut down because it was a cool venue and we’d seen some experimental music there before. The list goes on: I bought my favourite Leonard Cohen t-shirt and some rare (ish) ECM records in Toronto; going to Amoeba Records in San Francisco and LA for the first time; driving around the Hollywood Hills at night with our pals The Blood Arm; visiting Motown’s Hitsville Studio in Detroit. So many good times!

What was it like to be nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize so early on?
It helped to get our music into a lot of new people’s lives so we were extremely grateful for the exposure. Being on an independent label and not being fond of compromise, we needed all the help we could get and the Mercury prize is seen as quite a prestigious, music-lovers award as opposed to something like the Brits, which is very much an industry-driven award ceremony. Of course, the Mercury has now become an annual industry event but at least it provokes discussion and is judged on merit rather than sales and celebrity.

It seemed inevitable that the immense worldwide mainstream success of British bands like yourselves, Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, Kasabian, and Franz Ferdinand would eventually cool off, how do you feel like you’ve had to adapt to stay relevant?
We always felt out on a limb to some extent, being from the North-East and being on Warp. I think it suited us to keep our distance from all the hype even when it was at its most intense, so that after the boom for British bands was over we remained confident of our own motives and, hopefully, stood out from the more derivative bands. We made our first album without thinking too much of a particular audience, so even when we gained one, we tried to pursue our own creative path safe in the knowledge that we naturally lean towards what we would term ‘pop songs’ in our writing. A band should evolve naturally according to their own influences and creative ambitions and I think we’ve done that, album by album.

You’ve said that your latest album “The National Health” seeks to tell a darker story that mirrors the times, what most inspired this direction?
I read the newspapers and watch the news every day – it’s almost an addiction to current affairs! I also don’t drive so I get public transport everywhere and try to observe the world I live in, which I then combine with my own personal viewpoint and experience in the lyrics. Some of the music, like the title track and a song called Banlieue, were also pretty dark and aggressive musically, which, in turn, helped me to find words that matched up in some way. I think the album is about finding light within this darkness, by pulling yourself up out of your own personal problems. It acknowledges the complexities and negative side to life, especially in a global recession, that seem to have made people more conservative and cautious, but ends up being quite positive and upbeat because we always find a way to start anew, somehow.

What excites you most about hitting the road for a tour again for the first time in five years?
Just playing the songs to people, really, because we love them and want the world to hear us! Oh, and we also get to see really inspiring places, from the idiosyncratic small towns to the excitement of the big cities.

It seems like your latest video highlights the virality of Youtube, how do you feel like distributing music has changed since your last release 3 years ago?
It’s all online now! We still love and are avid consumers of the physical product, specifically vinyl, but the world has come to appreciate the convenience of the double-click and I can see that point of view, too. People don’t put a record on so much, they watch something on YouTube or link to it on a social networking site. Playing live was always one of our strengths so that’s helped us sustain ourselves since physical record sales are in freefall, generally-speaking.

Are you coming to Canada/Toronto anytime soon?
Not in the near future, but we’d definitely like to return sooner rather than later. It costs a lot to come over so we have to make sure people are going to come to the shows before we make the commitment, which sounds really dull, but that’s the reality! I have great memories of playing Toronto and Montreal so we’ll see if Canada catches on to The National Health and then we’ll try to make plans.

Freestyling is an important form of expression in hip hop. If you had to freestyle four lines about “The National Health”, what would you say?
This album is raw
It’ll have you down on all fours
Like Bob from Twin Peaks
It’ll turn you all into freaks!

Maxïmo Park’s North American tour includes dates in Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Details here.

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