Nachos, municipal politics, and Shawshank Redemption
Prior to the band’s appearance at St. George’s Church for Hillside Inside on Feb. 2, The Ontarion caught up with Hollerado’s Menno Versteeg to discuss touring, the band’s upcoming album, and their trademark DIY approach to the music business.
The Ontarion: You’ve played in Guelph before; have you had the chance to experience the city, or have you just been in and out?
Menno Versteeg: No, we have. It’s one of the places where we really enjoy hanging out. Lots of small Ontario towns can kind of suck. You just want to get in and out. And even the ones that suck sometimes remind us of home, so those are good too, but Guelph is one of those ones where there’s really good restaurants, a bunch of good pawn shops we like to go to, cool stores. So we really like hanging out here. And I was actually born in Eden Mills, just down the street. I was born just down the road, in a house, so my folks are here today at the show. We drove through Eden Mills and went to look at the house, so that was pretty cool.
O: You guys are known for a DIY type of approach, like drawing your website by hand, releasing your first record in Ziploc bags.... Is this a conscious effort to differentiate yourselves from other bands? Or did it just kind of happen that way?
MV: Yeah, it definitely kind of just happened that way. I grew up playing in punk bands and it’s kind of how you do things, you know, especially when you are playing in bands that aren’t as accessible. You have to do everything yourself. No one’s going to want to book you, no one is going to want to manage you. And it’s just also a cheap way to do it, when you’re starting off, like draw your own posters, do your own website. Basically, for the website, we got a grant to do the website and we hired this guy to do it, and it cost like 3000 bucks or something for this guy to do the website. And we weren’t that happy with it and we asked him to make a few changes, and he was like, “that’s going to be another couple thousand bucks if you want me to do that.” And I was like, “Really man? You made more on this website than our band made in this entire year!” and it was really true at the time. And I was like, that’s such BS. I’m just going to do it so we don’t have to deal with these kind of people. And that ethic just kind of transfers to everything we do.
We put our record out on our own, Record in a Bag, and we shopped it around to a bunch of labels, and no labels in Canada wanted it. They’re like, “I dunno what I can do with this, I dunno where it goes, you’re not quite right for us,” I don’t know what they said; every excuse. So we were like fine, we’re going to put it out ourselves. So we did that. And it’s funny now that all those same labels, without even listening to our new record, they’re all like, ‘Hey, can we put out your new record?’ and we’re like, ‘Not a chance, man. We’re going to do it ourselves. You had your chance,’ and we figured we could do it just as well, and we did, so why stop?
O: It’s no secret you guys like nachos, but what is your secret to making killer nachos?
MV: Yeah, just sharing them with friends, and using whatever ingredients are around. That’s the secret.
O: So you have no particular recipe you stick to?
MV: No, no. As long as there’s chips, and cheese, and some other things, and there’s friends to eat them with…. The essence of nachos is friends to eat them with.
O: On the topic of food, whatever happened to the Hollerado Hot Sauce company?
MV: Oh, it still exists, it just makes very limited batches. There will be one coming out for our upcoming tour [in the spring] with Billy Talent. It’s made by a friend of ours, by hand. So we can only make a run of like a hundred bottles, because we’re not mass producing it, he’s making it in his house. He’s a real chef, he’s amazing, he just can’t make them as fast as people want to eat them.
O: Speaking of the tour with Billy Talent, you’ve got this rider – what can you tell me about that?
MV: Well, you know, as you start to play more shows, and play bigger shows, the promoters ask for your rider. And until recently it’s always been like, we could tell them what we wanted, and it doesn’t matter: you get a case of water and two beer tickets. And that’s what you get backstage. But recently, as things have been getting better in terms of attendance and stuff for us, the promoters are more willing to give us a list of things. So it’s fun to make a rider with stuff on it. We don’t want to get too greedy or anything, we just want to get some chips and stuff, and some food, some drinks. And we like clean underwear, and so it’s nice on tour when you can’t find time to do laundry for a while, so some of the promoters give us socks and underwear. Yeah, so we’re doing a thing for this tour with Billy Talent, and we’re going to pick the winner soon, but we’re just going to find the best suggestion that people have for the rider, and we’re going to add that there. Someone said grilled cheese sandwiches. I feel like we’d never get it, because it’s too much of a pain in the ass, but that would be amazing.
O: That’s the best suggestion?
MV: That’s one of the best ones. But it has to be realistic somewhat too, so we’ll see.
O: So, you’re also going to be playing arenas [with Billy Talent].
O: What’s the largest venue you’ve played to date?
MV: They’ve all been really outdoor… all the big places are big outdoor festivals. One of our biggest shows ever was in China, actually. We played a festival called Midifest, in Shanghai. It was our first time. We just basically got off the plane and played to 10,000 Chinese people. They were crazy. They were so happy about just seeing a band from North America play. Yeah, but indoors, yeah we’ve never played a big indoor place. We played one convention centre. We were opening for… I don’t even know who we were opening for, Metric or something like that? And it was a big festival thing indoors, besides that… that was it.
O: You guys have described yourselves as childhood best friends.
[Pipes in the church basement where we are having the interview are rattling loudly.]
MV: You know what this is like? Have you ever seen Shawshank Redemption?
O: No, I actually haven’t.
MV: Oh, you’ve got to watch that movie man, it’s like the best movie ever. Well spoiler alert: at the end, when he’s trying to escape, he’s smashing this pipe with a rock. That’s what this reminds me of.
So childhood best friends. Yeah, there’s two guys who are brothers. And we all grew up together and we’re really, really close. We all date each others’ brothers and sisters and it’s super weird. [laughs]
O: So were you guys friends before you were into the music, or were you into the music and that led to being friends?
MV: No, we were friends before. The music kind of just happened.
O: Do you have any pre- or post-show rituals?
MV: That’s a good question. Let me think about that. I just like to relax right after a show. I just need to sit in a chair and not talk to anyone. I think sometimes I feel like an asshole because I can’t focus on anything. I just need to decompress. That takes about 10 minutes, that’s personally for me, and then back to normal. And then pre-show, not really. It just kind of depends on the situation.
O: Back to the topic of touring, you guys must be experts on municipal politics after 2011’s Meet the Mayor tour.
MV: No, I think it takes years and years to be an expert in anything, especially at that. But we definitely learned a few things, like one of them being how accessible your municipal politicians really are. I really realize municipal politics is a level of government I really like, because it’s the stuff that affects you on a day-to-day basis. There’s a pothole on your street? It’s municipal politics that’s hopefully going to fix that. It’s a lot of things that really affect you, like the transit, and everything day-to-day. A lot of people ignore municipal politics, and the federal politicians are the rock stars, but I think they get too much credit. They are way more talk and don’t get as much done as municipal politicians.
O: Would you have any advice for anyone looking to get involved in municipal politics or run for mayor or anything, based on what you saw on tour?
MV: Yeah, interesting question. There’s some mayors that we met, that… they loved being mayor. And there’s some mayors we met that loved doing the job of being mayor. And the ones that loved doing the job of being the mayor, I liked a lot better. The ones who are just really doing it to be the mayor, you can tell, and they were a bit of a turn-off. You know, people like Rob Ford. He just wants to be the mayor, you know? He doesn’t care about his city at all. It’s pretty gross.
O: You guys are based…?
MV: We’re never really based anywhere. Any band who says they are based anywhere isn’t working hard enough. I live in Toronto when I’m not touring, but everyone kind of lives where they can afford to, and [on whoever’s] couch […] they can crash on. It’s kind of fluid where everyone lives.
O: Do you want to talk about the upcoming album, White Paint?
MV: Sure, it’s coming out. I’m really excited about it coming out. I think it really embodies the spirit of what we’ve been up to the last five years, just playing a lot of shows and working hard…. It’s been a long time since our last album, so … you get older, perspective changes. This album, my grandfather died during the writing of this album, and it really made an impact on the perspective that comes from it. He was a really cool guy, and he’s always really encouraged me to seize the day. And he was really honest about things. When I first started in music, I was terrible, and he’d be like, “Listen, you’re terrible. If you want to do this, you’ve got to do it. Keep going, you’re so terrible, keep going.” I actually got that tattooed on me the other day. [Versteeg shows me a tattoo of the words “keep going” on his arm in simple handwriting.] Keep going, to think of him. And that’s kind of what we did, and what we’ve been doing, and we continue to do. We just had a party where we invited all our friends, and we painted 10,000 albums. We painted them white, all of us just did that. And it really kind of brought it home to me the community we have, what great support we have, and you can really just do something. You don’t have to wait for people to say it’s okay or hand you the key. You just gotta make your own key. That’s what this album is about to me, and I’m excited to get it out.
O: What would you say differentiates it from your earlier albums, Record in a Bag and Margaritaville 2: The Reckoning?
MV: Well, that’s for you to decide. It’s a different album, but hopefully it’s still us. It’s hard to describe your own music. I could tell you the stories around making it, but as far as describing it, that’s up to you to do.
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