Acid trips, guitar riffs and circumventing the music biz with the Headstones
Over the last couple months Hugh, Trent, and Tim, along with Rickferd Lyle and Steve Carr (Trent’s younger and better looking brother) have been working some magic on the new Headstones record. We had a chance to catch up with the guys during the process at Revolution Studios in Toronto earlier this year.
It’s not often that you get invited into the fold of a rock band that has been pushing the envelope of Canadian Rock ‘n’ Roll, but when Hugh personally extended that invite back in December it was one of those moments where it was nearly impossible not to bust out a “Hello, duh” in response (and thereby compromising any bravado I may have been able to falsely muster up until that point).
For those of you who know the 90’s Punk Rock band fronted by one of the coolest dudes in rock, Hugh Dillon, you know they are rock music purists. I’ve been a fan of the band since high school. They even played a couple of gigs in my hometown of Arnprior, Ont., with some local bands like Dogs Named Toy, and a few others that had the opportunity to open for them back in the early 90’s. Fast forward about 25 years and here I am sitting in the studio and chatting about what to expect from their eighth and newest album, Little Army.
There are two things you can count on from an encounter with the Headstones – it’s going to be genuine, and it’s not going to be conventional (a.k.a. dull). You can get to the heart of who someone is when you discuss the things they are most passionate about. For the Headstones that has been, and undoubtedly always will be, music.
Before launching into what’s ahead for the band, the following is a brief history of highlights of their career thus far. There is a more exhaustive list to be typed, but for the purposes of cutting to the chase, this one will have to suffice:
Headstones – Est. 1987 in Kingston, Ont.
1990 – Demo Gods Cassette
1993 – Signed to MCA Records
1993 – Released debut album Picture of Health
1995 – Teeth & Tissue released
1997 – Smile & Wave released
1997 – Nominated for a couple Juno Awards
2000 – Nickels for Your Nightmares released
2002 – The Oracle of Hi-Fi released
2003 – Headstones break up for eight years
2012 – Band gets back together
2013 – Love + Fury released
2014 – One in the Chamber released
2015 – Fuck It vinyl release
2017 – Little Army (Release date yet to be determined)
The Headstones family is tighter and more on the same page today than they’ve ever been. For an interview that reads like a family of brothers who lovingly inspire and admonish each other (emphasis on lovingly), and a boat load of f-bombs, read ahead.
Corey: It’s been a long road, fellas. You’ve signed a new deal and we’re standing in studio now talking about the new music you’re working on. Let’s maybe kick it off with why do this album in Toronto and Kingston?
Hugh: Well, we love the East End for a start, but ya, we’ve been doing pre-production at Chris Osti’s place called the Killing Room. We did a bunch of hardcore song writing sessions there. That’s where it all starts. We go over every other night and we work on songs relentlessly. Revolution has a great vibe, we love the East End, and we knew we could get some great beds here — then the masterwork is really in Kingston at The Hip’s Bath House Studio. It’s got the vibe, it’s got the authenticity, and I’m comfortable there. We move in, we live there, and we don’t leave till the record’s done. It brings us together with total focus. It’s old school, and again it all comes down to the songs. In this case, Trent came up with this riff that became Devils On Fire and it was exceptional – a riff where everyone stops ’cause they know they’ve heard something special. I usually like Trent’s work [he said with a big grin], but every once in a while he does something that I am fucking amazed by.
Trent: Yeah, it’s the nature of our relationship.
Hugh: So I was like fuck, that’s excellent. So we bonded on that song and we came up with the lyrics and Tim liked it.
Trent: Well, we told Tim to like it.
Hugh: Yeah, we told Tim to like it. But yes, we just hit something and it just flies – you get momentum from that. Chris has a lot to do with it, to be honest. He’s a kind and descent collaborator with an incredible patience, and an ability to get to the heart to the piece. And an incredible ear along with a great producer. He’s been with us a long time. Super talented.
Corey: So it’s kind of just like family putting this one together?
Trent: Yes, ever since the reunion Chris has been on board.
Chris: Hugh will come back from wherever he is in Europe or whatever life experiences he has gained, and just come into the basement and let his subconscious roam, and wwe’ll decipher some lyrics out of that to the guys presenting a song idea, or maybe Hugh has a song idea.
Hugh: Or yours. It’s just a wicked relationship – there’s no bullshit. You just trust everybody.
Tim: Creatively, it’s just real easy. There’s none of the usual things you hear about in bands. There’s not people fighting over ideas or squabbling.
Corey: So how does this one feel different?
Hugh: This is just one of those experiences where you know you are on it, and it just takes off and builds momentum. Because look, we wouldn’t have gotten a record deal unless the songs were exceptional. It’s very old school this time around and it’s also because they heard the demos, and man we worked on them hard. Then we started playing them live, and that’s a big barometer too because people want to hear Tweeter or Three Angels or Something Stands for Nothing, and we love playing those songs because that’s what got us here. But, for us to stick in the new songs, and if those new songs aren’t so above extraordinary people don’t give a shit, I know what I was like when I would go to a show and have a few beers or whatever when I was younger, but if the band wasn’t playing the hits I didn’t give a fuck unless it’s that rare song that is going to be a future hit where you’re going, “Holy Fuck, what was that?” I can still remember seeing Billy Idol on the White Wedding tour, and I remember he played something off Rebel Yell at the time and thinking, “That is fucking awesome.” So, when we played Devils On Fire and then Rickferd came up with the lyric for this song called Captain of the Shit Out of Luck and instantly I was like “What the fuck is that?”. Tim did it with Unsound. They’ll just be fucking around noodling and I’m always attracted to the riff, so I’ll isolate it and ask, “What is that?” Usually at first the guys are like “Oh, uhhh what?” “Play that fucking thing you just played.” But when you hit and everybody knows each other so well, and it’s such a relaxed, fun atmosphere to be playing in at this stage of the game for us, you’ve seen it, the live shows. Those shows are explosive for a reason – we get together and we hang out and we have fun . . . and then we kill it.
Corey: I think about two years ago when I caught the Barrie show, and how not having seen you guys perform in years it was still the same amazing, in your face, pedal to the metal, kick-you-in-the balls type show – and fans love that.
Tim: No matter what state we were at in our career we never phoned it in. I don’t remember ever phoning in a show – it was always do or die.
Hugh: One time we “Acided” or LSD’d it in though. [Everybody laughs] Seriously, one time we were in Winnipeg opening for 54-40 and someone spiked our drinks with acid and we got up there, and luckily we were still young enough that the focus really wasn’t on us, it was on 54-40. But the fans loved it because they were thinking “This band does not give a fuck.” We started experimenting with things that night like, “Let’s not finish this one.”
Tim: Or, I’m going to take off all my clothes.
Hugh: Or you sing the next three, I’m going to be over here at this thing that looks like a bar until I recognize one of those songs. Just one of those nights.
Corey: So after the brief hiatus (eight years), what was it like to come back together again?
Hugh: The thing people miss is that this is driven on friendship and loyalty. You’ll see Steve now in the pictures and shit. People forget there are brothers in the band. Trent and I were friends before I was the singer and he was the guitar player. We’re not a band that was put together by a label or anything stupid like that. Trent had a wicked drinking problem as a young man and I helped him. [They look at each other and laugh]
Trent: More like my mentor. [Laughs]
Hugh: But it all comes down to loyalty. Because the dude who played on the first songs we had with us, Randy Kwon, I grew up with in Kingston. He was in my typing class, so all of us come from these lengthy friendships. It’s very organic, and it’s not just a weird band. And Randy passed away. He had called me up before he passed and he had written Cemetery, Losing Control and other shit on the first record, but when he told me that he had cancer he really wasn’t asking for anything, but he just knows we were loyal. So for us, that first gig back was tough, but it was fun and the old relationships come back and it’s so much fun. Fuck, we don’t like a lot of people in the world, but we kind of tolerate ourselves. In fact, we were pretty funny, and then we started writing and it took off. It always comes from a real place, otherwise it’s horse shit.
Corey: This new album that you’re working on with new members taking part, is it different?
Hugh: We’ve just been so lucky. The last year took a wicked turn for us and we were lucky to get Rickferd, and he is such a stand up guy. We had some health issues last year and Rickferd stepped in and helped us out, and usually we say thanks and send him on his way, but he was such a stand-up guy, and he was so good, and Trent and him got along so well it was, “Fuck, he’s in.” Steve is playing the keys now, and it just took off. The whole year and personal change was rocky, but has just been a blessing in disguise. You have to fight thru the hard times, and ya it just took off and is fun again. We Love what we do. We’re music lovers first and foremost. All we want to do is write, record, and PLAY. It’s pretty simple.
Corey: You guys have been really hitting social media with the build-up out of this album. How has that stuff changed the way you can go to market with new music today?
Trent: It’s changed a ton. Back in 2003 when we ground to a halt, there wasn’t YouTube or Facebook or any of that. Then we come back and after the first gig we did there was pictures all over Facebook and everything. There was just more immediate attention from everything you do, so we’re actually enjoying doing these fun things because it’s almost immediate gratification. It’s total connection with people who buy the record and show up to live shows – they’re the folks that fucking matter – if it wasn’t for that reaction Hugh would not have written Been This Way for Years, and pushed the rest of us into Love + Fury . . . it’s made all the difference.
Hugh: Trent is really technologically proficient. He got me to Skype and FaceTime, so almost every morning we grab a coffee. I have a Trent button on my computer and I’m not kidding, it’s gotten to the point that my news is the reporter on my computer who just so happens to be Trent. I don’t even look at the news – I just ask Trent. But it’s that type of camaraderie that you must have. As we got older, we realized how well we know each other and get along so well, and it’s just killer. To have Chris be able to step in and corral all that energy and put it in the right place – because he listens and really picks out the strengths. We just fuck around, but all of us are really good at one thing and all together, we’re great.
Corey: Let’s go back to last summer’s Sound of Music show in Burlington that you guys did with The Cult – an unreal performance and the crowd was loving every second you guys were on stage. What I thought was cool was the 9,000 people there could have been a crowd of 500 and it was the same show. You guys put everything into a live performance. Has that changed for you over the years?
Hugh: There’s a bunch of people who are true rock ‘n’ rollers that show up to these shows, that it somehow touches them in a way that they understand that authentic rock ‘n’ roll. We get that energy from them. You can tell because you can see it in their faces and they are going, “Fucking yes!” That Sound of Music gig probably was one of the best gigs of our life. What was so great about that gig is that it was kind of like a homecoming, in a sense. There were guys that used to be in the band back in the early 90’s that showed up and we are all hanging out together, so it was really cool.
Corey: Last one, guys – how has singing with Cadence changed the game for you?
Hugh: This isn’t a band that just goes through the paces – we do this to save our lives. That’s why we do it. It’s that fire inside that just makes you want to do it. We’re back together having more fun than ever and it’s back like it used to be, only without all the bullshit. What’s funny about this record deal is that these Cadence guys remind me so much of the original MCA guys when we got our first deal. That’s what it feels like this time around. We had songs before we signed to do Picture of Health. We already had Three Angels, and when Tim got here we started writing Something Stands for Nothing, and a few other things, so we got that deal. But MCA came to the gigs. They came to Ultrasound and they really came to watch, and with Cadence it was the same way. We worked on the songs and they showed up, and all of a sudden there is a record company again that cared. I haven’t seen music business people really give a shit about music in a long time, and they do care. They were here this week talking about real things and real music. They gravitated to the songs we put on the demo, and they wanted to meet us. For us to get a deal at this stage of the game and for these songs comes down to one thing: THESE SONGS ROCK . . . so it’s changed in a strange way. I guess the biggest thing right now is we just appreciate it more than we did, and to have that type of support is great.
Corey: Fellas, thanks so much for taking the time. We can’t wait for Little Army to hit.
Corey Kelly / @CoreyKelly76
PRE ORDER – LITTLE ARMY HERE
Headstones on Social Media