Interview with Ian Danzig, Owner of Exclaim!
When offered the chance to interview Ian Danzig, my geek-out-meter went through my skull and bounced off the ceiling fan in my bedroom. It went on to ricochet off of my neighbor's cat (well, it kinda went "through" the cat), but we'll just pretend that didn't happen. There are a few big things that Exclaim! is cooking up in Toronto this week, and Ian gave me the 411 on what is, has, and will be with their Spring Fling and Hockey Summit and Hootenanny.
Plus, I got to ask him his thoughts on Guitar Hero's effect on the future of Canadian musicianship, as well as what it would take for him to cash out and sell Exclaim! to Quebecor. I always make sure to work in at least one video game and one "sell out" question in every interview.
Ryan C: This year's Spring Fling is showcasing not only Canadian talent, but three of the four groups call Montreal home. Is there any particular reason that Montreal is so well represented?
Ian Danzig: The reason is there's just a lot of great music coming out of Montreal right now, but that could also be said for Canada on the whole. It's mostly a coincidence, the way the cards fell, when put this tour together. Strangely enough, two of the four are francophone acts.
RC: Like Malajube, who are pretty fresh on my personal radar; they've even been getting Spin's attention. When francophone bands do well they have a tendency to do extremely well in Quebec while not really registering more than a blip in the rest of the world, occasionally making waves in France. Do you have any idea as to how Malajube have come to see such success not normally associated with francophone acts?
ID: I honestly think it comes down to the music they make. It crosses a lot of boundaries and connects with people in different ways. There's elements of indie rock, they have some progressive elements, and they're really great live. It helps that there's more interest being paid to Canadian bands, Montreal specifically. They built up a solid audience in Quebec before tackling the rest of Canada, and through a lot of hard work they managed to see success even in the States.
RC: How much of an effect do you think Malajube's timing had on their success, 'cause I'm wondering if Groovy Aardvark could have "been" Malajube had they made their push when Malajube did.
ID: I definitely think there's a new openness largely thanks to The Arcade Fire with the spotlight they helped bring to Montreal. I think if Malajube had appeared on the scene 10 years earlier that they probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to reach so many fans.
RC: This year's Spring Fling seems specifically catered to my personal tastes, so I'm really excited with the bill. Aside from Malajube, there's a lot of electro and electronic influence in both You Say Party! We Say Die! and Champion, never mind the electronic blatancy that is Chromeo. I know that the magazine covers everything from folk to RnB, but I generally associate Exclaim! with indie rock, so why is there so much electronic music and influence in the tour's bill?
ID: The way we put these things together is that we look for a headliner to start with. To give a sense of perspective, we've done spring tours that were very much hip-hop based, acts like Buck 65 and Tortoise. Most recently we had The New Pornographers for headliners, and they definitely fall into the indie rock category.
Once we've found a headliner, we'll look for music to surround them with, particularly acts that people who'd come for the headliner might not know but will definitely enjoy. In the case of Champion, he's definitely a little more on the dancey side for his personal work but when he tours he brings a 10 piece rock band and that gave us a lot of options as far as building a bill around them that provided for a lot of flexibility. You Say Party brings up the dance punk, Chromeo has a strong 80's electro vibe, and and finally Malajube that provide more straight up rock. What's unique about the show is that whatever it is the people come for, they're definitely gonna discover something new by the end of it.
RC: While there's a definite cohesion to the acts, they're very different at the same time as you say. I wouldn't go see a Malajube-specific show, or even a Chromeo one, but throw them all together, and it's gonna be one fuck of a party because of the diversity! Because Exclaim! covers most everything, would it make sense to have a Spring Fling where there's a country artist, a rap one, folk one, and something like Chromeo?
ID: It's something that we've toyed with in the past. What we're currently doing is having it somehow fit together so that we wouldn't completely alienate parts of the crowd. In previous, we've done shows at The Reverb where we've used all three floors at the same time. Same thing with Masonic Temple years ago. With a few rooms we get a lot of flexibility that always went down really well. Taking these things on the road it's hard to continuously find spaces with multiple rooms.
Instead we'll do several tours, our Aggressive Tendencies tour for example. Would we put Champion inbetween two metal acts? Probably not; I don't see the metal fans really giving Champion much of a chance, and vice versa as well.
RC: It'd be able to keep my attention... well Toronto recently saw CBC mash up Kids on TV and Ohbijou for one of their shows, and a few days later the groups performed a second time together in a Church. Would Exclaim! approach people like Champion and say The Arcade Fire to do a one off show or a small tour?
ID: That kind of stuff depends on how adventurous the bands involved are willing to be in front of an audience, as well as where they are and what they're doing with their career. Kids on TV and Ohbijou are really in a place where it works really well to get experimental and to mash things up to see if there are some sparks, whereas if you take some established bands and force them into a situation that is not really what they feel they're about, it's something you wanna force on them. The bands would have to be the ones to instigate. We'd be open to the idea if some bands approached us; it's a great idea when it works, but we're not going to be the ones who concoct the recipe.
RC: Where do you see Spring Fling going or what do you see it evolving into in 5 years?
ID: Exclaim!'s been around for 15 years, and it's always been about exposing new music. Spring Fling is kind of our anniversary tour, this year being our 15th. I think as far as evolution goes it just comes down to things that you've noticed, like the amount of dancey electro stuff in this year's line up. Some years it's all Canadian music, and other year's we'll showcase bands outside of the country. We like doing other tours that are genre specific, like the Aggressive Tendencies Tour where we focus on metal and hardcore. We're looking at doing a Wood, Wire and Whiskey tour together that would represent alt-country acts, and potentially a hip-hop specific tour. Spring Fling will likely be where we're willing to mash some genres together while doing other tours that represent specific ones. That's how I see our tours functioning over the next few years.
RC: Next week we've also got the Exclaim! Hockey Summit as well as the Hootenanny. How is it going to be structured?
ID: Well this year we have 30 teams participating from all across Canada, all made of players who are a part of the music and arts community across the country, and the hockey tournament is taking place at York University with the final happening at Ted Reeves Arena.
Although all the teams come and play hockey, they're also responsible for putting together some kind of live music performance as well, which is called the Hootenanny. That takes place at Lee's Palace this Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Those get really, really crazy.
For a lot of people this is kind of like their New Year's weekend where they let loose and go crazy. Because it's an arts based hockey tournament, they all try to out do one another; you'll see teams dressed up in full costume throughout the whole weekend. One team, the Ottawa Songbird Millionaires outdo themselves every year; last year they were all aliens at a Star Trek convention...
RC: At a convention, specifically. Not aliens on the show?
ID: Yeah, they all had these brains oozing out of their heads, with straws as well so they could drink their brains. One year they came wearing hockey jerseys that had those fake kind of tuxedo shirt designs on them, and off the ice the wore monocles and top hats between games. There are some teams like The Morning Stars who started wearing capes on the ice.
One of the teams this year, The Hockey Lads, they're doing "The Who Sellout", and they've got white coveralls with patches on it that they're gonna be wearing all tournament long. They also put together a hockey summit to hockey summit calendar starting this April and ending next year, and it's all based on different The Who album covers. All the guys on the team dressed up and had actual photoshoots, no photoshopping, for a calendar where they reenacted twelve The Who album covers. They're gonna be unveiled on Thursday.
RC: There's something else called "Rink Rock", and looking at the schedule it sort of looks like another set of concerts... can ya fill me in?
ID: Rink Rock is what goes on at the hockey games. In most arenas you'll have canned music playing between puck drops, whereas for this tournament we'll have live music playing. We have a drum kit, guitar and a PA setup so there's always a group ready to jam during and between the games. At night the teams will put together their own crazy performance. It gets interesting because while bands like Sloan are involved in the tournament, they don't play on the same team so you won't really see the band playing together. One crazy performance out of the many good ones, the Halifax Ferries did the play Mama Mia! using only the April Wine songs instead of the Abba music. I don't even know what kind of crazy shit is going happen.
RC: It's incredible how dedicated everyone is. I know you've answered this question before, but I've never heard the answer; how did the crazy idea of the Hootenanny and the Hockey Summit originally come about?
ID: In the first year Tom Goodwin, our distribution manager at the time who also had his own distribution company called Tasty Records and a band in Montreal called The Local Rabbits, had a team called the Morning Stars who still play who kind of started it all. One year they challenged Sonic Unyon, a Hamilton record label, to a game. This rivalry is how it started, between the Morning Stars and The Sonic Onion Pond Squad.
RC: A friendly rivalry of course...
ID: Well it started out as a friendly one and it ended up becoming less friendly (LOL) as the years went on. Each subsequent year more and more teams wanted to be a part of it. We didn't want it to only be about competition on the ice, though, and as a result there's some very strict rules in regards to how teams and individual players are punished and rewarded for things like penalties per game and over multiple games. Thing gotta be both fun and competitive at the same time. Because the teams are made of people in the arts, the idea was put forth that the teams also had to have performances. Because the players aren't necessarily on the same teams as their friends and people they work with on a day to day basis we end up with a lot of fun performances with teams that otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to really let loose and have fun with people they don't really perform with otherwise.
RC: Like a mash up, or sorts.
ID: Exactly. The teams get to do something unique. Some teams will have comedians, people who are design and graphics orients, and others. The Ninja Tune team last year put on this crazy puppet show, and they had a whole section of their show that they did in French as well.
RC: Is Kid Koala or Lederhosen Lucil in the summit this year?
ID: I don't think so... One year they had Amon Tobin on the team. Now he moved to Montreal but he's actually from Brazil, and he knows nothing at all about hockey, but they wanted to have him on the bench just to yell things out.
RC: I've got a bit of a random question, but it's only because I have to work video games into everything I do. The game "Guitar Hero" has taken over America in the past year. I can't remember where I read it (note: and I still can't find it on Google. Did I see it on TV? Dream it? Help me out!) but some big guy at the Musicians Institute said that Guitar Hero is a threat to the music industry, that more people are going to be content to sit on front of a Playstation instead of actually learning an instrument. Do you think statements like that actually have any merit, is this music industry in danger from Guitar Hero?
ID: (LOLs) That's probably the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard! I don't think they're related, in any way. I think it gets an audience into music, and no matter how people get into it be it a live show, hearing stuff on the internet, Guitar Hero or Dance Dance Revolution, I think they're all good things. It's absurd to say a game is bad because it'll satiate people who'd otherwise learn to play a real guitar. If someone wants to learn how to play, they will, and if they can figure out how to use the Guitar Hero interface and it turns them onto the real thing, why not? My perspective is that the more people that are engaged in music, in any way, is all good.
RC: Last thought. After running Exclaim!, a nationwide magazine that's been a success for over a decade, is there any chance you're going to "cash out"?
RC: Heh, well, it's not impossible to think. Some people will get out "while the going's good", or they'll get bored and decide they want to pursue something new. Are you planning to keep pushing Exclaim! further?
ID: Well for now I'm gonna keep doing it. Going into it originally it wasn't a business venture per say, though I did turn it into one. It essentially began and grew out of my passion for music. I find myself asking the question sometimes, "If I stop doing this what will I do?" I think that as long as I continue to find it fulfilling and continue to enjoy doing what I do I'll keep going. It's really an exciting time to be working in a media outlet, because of the different platforms, how technology as evolved and how people are interacting. With what we're doing with the magazine, the website, the nationwide tours, we really have a limitless range of options as to what we can do and engage in. It keeps it both fun and fulfilling.
RC: So no chance that Quebecor Media is going to buy you out?... Ian? Ian....
Ian's phone died... fast forward through four minutes of redialing thinking that I'd actually pissed him off...
ID: Sorry! If they called I'd listen to what they had to say... never say never is my answer I suppose.
RC: For a billion dollars?
ID: I probably would, ya, (lol)
THONKS pour la scoop Mr. Danzig. The details for your events of awesominity rest below.
Exclaim! Spring Fling
Champion with Malajube, Chromeo, and You Say Party! We Say Die!
April 4 / Toronto** / Phoenix Concert Theatre
410 Sherbourne Street - (416) 323-1251
Tickets at Ticketmaster, Rotate this & Soundscapes / 19+ / $15
2007 Exclaim! Hockey Summit of the Arts
April 5-8 at various locations
Refer to this link for detailed locations and scheduling information (there's too much!)
Photos from Jerrold of BlogTO's Flickr set from last year's Hootenanny
EDITS: It's Masonic Temple, and Sonic Unyon, not the crap I had before!
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