*Full Band* Interview with Halifax’s KESTRELS
Kestrels are an alternative rock trio from Halifax, Nova Scotia, seemingly removed from the decade that birthed them. In a wash of 90’s nostalgia and grungy guitar gurgles, the band reminds me of many of garage rock’s finer points, which will delight hipsters and fans of melodic and noisy yet easily digestible amalgamations of indie alt-rock.
Buzzing guitars, distorted solos, and pop sensibilities sums up Kestrels’ sound pretty well I’d say, and I could see them going over well on tour with Wavves for some reason. With (2) full-lengths and (2) 7”s currently under their belt, Kestrels have plenty of material to work with in their performances, and you should go check them out when they play near you.
Their sophomore record, A Ghost History, was recently released on Canada’s Sonic Unyon Records, and took quite a while to record. Their website states that the closing track, “The Past Rests,” was tracked 23 TIMES before they were happy with it. For those of you who’ve never been in a studio before, that’s a VERY long time, but it sounds pretty damn good. As a little bonus, Tim Wheeler (ASH) lends his lead guitar talents on their track “Dumb Angel,” and you can give it a listen at their Band Camp page. I got in touch with Chad Peck, Devin Peck, and Paul Brown to talk about the new album, their influences and inspirations, signing with Sonic Unyon Records, and the land of poutine.
G- Hi there and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five! How is everything going at the Kestrels camp right now?
Chad Peck: Thanks for talking to us! Things are great. A few weeks ago we finished a six-week tour in support of our new record. We had a few weeks off and this weekend we flew to Ontario to play a major outdoor festival put on by our record label. We’ve also started passing around demos for whatever we release next.
Paul Brown: Things are going well these days. We just finished a summer tour that took us all over the east coast of Canada & the USA. We are playing a few festivals/other tour dates this fall too, enjoying the ride. I’m currently sitting in my friend’s backyard in Montreal, and I think that two stray cats might be about to have a battle.
Devin Peck: Morale is fairly high at the moment in Team Kestrels. We had a great summer and have some great things lined up for the fall.
G- Glad to hear that, guys! So you guys hail from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Can you tell me a bit about what it’s like up there? How is the scene, how are the responses at your shows, and where is the best place to get fries and gravy in Halifax?
CP: Paul and Devin just moved away from Halifax, but I’m still working as a teacher about an hour outside of the city. Fall is my favorite season, and it’s really beautiful here. There’s a huge music scene in Halifax. We did quite well there when we started the band in 2008/2009, but most of our time has been spent in other parts of the world over the past year. I’m not really a fries and gravy guy (vegetarian gravy is tough to find), so I’ll let the other guys drop some knowledge in that regard. I would recommend Halifax’s Robie Food for gastrointestinal delights.
PB: Halifax is great little city. I have always found that it punches above its weight when it comes music and art. The scene is alive and well; lots of garage and punk bands. There is a guy named Matt Grace who literally plays in every single punk band in town. He’s like a godfather. The response we’ve had in Halifax is always positive, but we haven’t been there enough to appreciate it as we should. On top of that, I just moved to Toronto, and Devin lives in Montreal now. So, we’re spread out all over the place. As for fries ‘n gravy, I’m certainly into that stuff, and unlike Chad who maintains an abnormally healthy diet at all times, I am happy to funnel whatever garbage down my gullet that I find. Try “Willy’s” on Blowers Street in Halifax if you want some good poutine.
DP: Having traveled so much this summer has made me realize how isolated Halifax is. It takes a LONG TIME to get there and there’s not much in between it and the nearest big city like Montreal or New York. It’s not a huge city either so playing there on a weekday if you’re a touring band (which often happens) generally equals poor attendance. Saying that, it’s a really vibrant scene and the people there love their music. You’ll see a lot of the same people at shows and everyone is a friend. There are a lot of really great bands popping up all of the time that keeps it interesting. I’m not really much of a fries and gravy kind of guy, but I know there are a ton of places to get it and I’m sure they’re all great in their own ways. I wouldn’t like to promote one over another!
G- Looks like I have a bunch of different spots to choose from next time I’m in Canada. Goodbye, form fitting jeans.
So Kestrels’ new album, A Ghost History, was released on Sonic Unyon Records, which is a pretty bigger independent label in Canada. How did the signing come about, and what was it like when you were asked to join their label family?
CP: I run a record label (Noyes Records) and Sonic Unyon distributes my records. I’ve had a good relationship with them for a long time and I’ve been a huge fan of their label from way back. They had shown some interest in our new album and asked us to play their Christmas party last year. After we walked off the stage, Mark (Milne, co-owner) said they were going to release our record. It was a monumental moment. Those guys are the best. They know music inside and out and have serious insights into not only Canadian music but music in general. They were extremely influential on me as a young man starting his own label, so for them to release our record was a major achievement. They treat us very well.
PB: Being signed to Sonic Unyon was really flattering for us. I originally lived in Ontario before I moved to Halifax, so I grew up listening to lots SU bands, and going to rock and punk shows at the SU space upstairs. The signing came about last December when we were invited to Hamilton to play the label’s annual Christmas party. After our set, they walked up to us and said that they wanted to release our record. It was awesome. We feel like being on Sonic Unyon is a good fit for us, and they are signing lots of exciting bands these days, my personal favorites being Ringo Deathstarr and The Megaphonic Thrift.
DP: The first show I played with Kestrels was the show where Sonic Unyon signed us, so I will take ALL of the credit for the signing and current upward trajectory of the band. Seriously though, those guys are all amazing people and work really hard for what they love. It’s refreshing to see, and it’s great to just hang out. They just put on a weekend festival called Supercrawl that we played, and it seemed like the whole city of Hamilton came out for the weekend to take in the bands and events and, luckily, the great weather.
G- How have your songs changed from release to release, and can you tell us a bit about where you find inspiration when you write new material?
CP: Lyrically, the songs reflect whatever is happening or has happened to me. That said, I sometimes grab some groundwork from authors to flesh out my basic concept, and to that end, Paul Auster, Samuel Beckett, and Dave Eggers are all over my lyrics. Musically, the songs are typically a response to our live shows. The first 7” (“Seaside” b/w “On Our Time”) was made before we had played a real show, and the first LP (Primary Colours) fell in line with that overall sound. After playing a lot of shows in support of that record, I found myself getting bored of long songs. As a result, our next EP (The Solipsist) was mostly short and fast songs. The new record took some of the approach of The Solipsist, but was a broader palate of expression in terms of dynamics, song structures, and intent. After playing our new record night after night for 6 weeks this summer, I can bet that the new one will have less lead guitar and more emphasis on atmosphere and bass.
PB: When you listen our records you can certainly notice the trajectory they have taken towards A Ghost History. Sonically, there is more complexity in the guitars than there was in the past, and our live show has been beefed up considerably as well with the addition of Devin. I feel that we have always been chasing a sound, and are always trying to make better records and write better songs. When it comes to new material, I find myself looking back as much as I look forward. I listen to a lot of the releases from Creation Records in the 90’s, as well as the Merge Records releases of that era. More recently, I have been listening to Whirr and Weekend. I really like a lot of the shoe-gazey stuff coming out of California these days, hopefully we get a chance to play there next summer.
DP: You can tell that the songs get more ‘confident’ or something from the past up to now and the new songs we’re working on are even more interesting, I think.
G- What is your personal favorite Kestrels song, or what song would you tell someone who has never heard you before to listen to? Why?
CP: I never listen to the records after they are finished, but I’d have to say my personal favorites are not likely the songs I would recommend to a new listener. I always end up liking the rejects and songs with subjects that are close to me. To that end, my favorite songs are “Primary Colours”, “Sailed On”, “Lose”, and “Drowning Girl”. For new listeners, I think “The Past Rests” and “There All The Time Without You” best represent our sound.
PB: That’s a tough one, but I’d have to say that my favoUrite song is “The Field Where I Died.” I like how that song soldiers on at a moderate pace, and I have also always enjoyed the guitar tones that Chad creates in that song. If you have never heard us before, I would actually recommend that you listen to “There All The Time Without You” because of the screaming guitars, the catchy chorus, and the noisy build up near the end. It sums up what we are trying to accomplish pretty well.
DP: I think a ‘safe bet’ for a new listener would be a song like “Decoder.” It’s short but still asserts the Kestrels sound and theme. I like playing “The Light” (fast and short), but “The Past Rests” is also fun to get noisy and weird with.
G- How has your reception been in the states, and how does it compare with your performances abroad, both in terms of how you play and the audience reaction?
CP: Playing in the USA was really refreshing for us. We’ve decided to spend more time there for the next little while. You can get lazy and disillusioned playing to the same people for too long.
PB: We had a blast in the states, and the reception was definitely positive. It’s always hard for a band to come into another country and play shows that are worthwhile, and to make enough to get you there and to your next show. But everyone in the US was great, especially in Boston and Brooklyn, and we’ll definitely be able to come back. In fact we’re planning a tour in states in March! We’ve played in the UK as well, and the response there was also welcoming, particularly in Liverpool. The logistics of making another UK tour happen are certainly more difficult, but it is definitely in the works.
DP: Reception was really positive in the US. The hypothetical list of amazing people we met would be never-ending. Having never been there to play, we had no idea how it would go, but we were very pleasantly surprised by the reactions from everyone. It is different playing to total strangers, because it’s like you can sort of reinvent yourself and really invest something else into a performance without fear of the normal factors of playing to your friends. I’m not sure that that all made sense. Not holding anything back, I guess.
G- What is your writing process like, and who in the band typically comes up new music? Do you have a primary songwriter, or do you write music more organically through jamming during rehearsals?
CP: I write most of basic elements of the songs and we arrange them as a band. They almost always start on an acoustic guitar, and then I start running the lines through my plethora of fuzz boxes to get the sounds in my head. We don’t jam in the typical sense of the word, but we’ll sometimes stretch things out on stage if it feels right.
PB: Chad is certainly the primary song writer in the band, and when it comes to guitar and vocals it’s all him. Devin and I also contribute our own bass and drum lines and weigh in on the song structure, but it starts with Chad. Interestingly, we NEVER jam and we rarely practice as a band. Song writing is done through email, and the three of us each have our own set up for demo recording. We exchange files back and forth, and I’ll lay down a drum track to a demo that Chad has recorded. It works remarkably well considering that no one lives in the same city. Even when Devin and I were in Halifax, Chad was two hours away shacked up in the country.
DP: Chad is the primary songwriter, but he encourages creativity and input from myself and Paul. Generally, we all listen to the same kind of stuff so everyone is pulling in the same direction. There aren’t many ideas that are created in rehearsals, probably because we rehearse much less frequently living all over the country. Bizarrely, it somehow works.
G- Can you give us a few examples of any bands or artists in particular that influence your style? Who do you typically like to listen to, and are there any acts that you think we should know about?
CP: The holy trinity for this band right now would be My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr, and Superchunk. Other bands that interest me: La Sera, Beach Boys, Megaphonic Thrift, Gastr del Sol, and SIANspheric. We also played with some amazing bands this summer…Aim Low, Airiel, Speedy Ortiz, Adult Dude and Soccer Mom being the ones that stood out most upon returning home.
PB: Right now I am listening to Whirr, Weekend, and Forgetters like crazy. But my staples would be Sonic Youth, Guided By Voices, Archers Of Loaf, My Bloody Valentine, and Superchunk. If I had to recommend any bands to you I would recommend Metz (metz.bandcamp.com), and White Lung (http://whitelung.tumblr.com/). Although, you guys probably know about that stuff already. I also have a side project with some friends called Virgil’s Girls (http://virgilsgirls.bandcamp.com/).
DP: I think that musically I’m the black sheep in the band in that the majority of stuff I listen to wouldn’t really be associated with the Kestrels sound. The Marked Men for instance are my favourite band, and they’re a punk band from Texas, nothing like us. Those kind of bands are what I listen to most, and maybe it comes out in my playing, I’m not sure. The White Wires from Ottawa have a new incredible record out and Mean Jeans rule. Outtacontroller and Tongan Death Grip are two of my favourites from Halifax.
G- Are there any bands or artists in particular that you hope to work or share a bill with in the future?
CP: We’re doing three shows with Ringo Deathstarr in October. They’ve been one of my favorite bands for quite some time, and their new album (Mauve) is phenomenal.
PB: I would love to share a bill with Superchunk or Archers Of Loaf someday, both great bands. Both have also served as an inspiration as well, and prove that you should just write the music that you want to.
DP: I’m pretty excited to play with Ringo Deathstarr next month. I didn’t really know about them until I started playing in Kestrels so it’s exciting to get this opportunity.
G- Right on! All good choices, for sure! So can all of you tell us about the craziest or most memorable show Kestrels has played to date? Where was it and what was it like?
CP: We played a show at the Halifax Pop Explosion a few years ago that ended up with my guitar hanging out of the wall. The two opening bands went well over their set times with song after song of dreadful mid-tempo Canadiana and left us with a fifteen minute set. In protest, I threw my guitar headstock-first through the wall of the club and it was suspended mid-air for a few seconds. We didn’t get asked back to that bar.
PB: One of my favourite moments in Kestrels history was a festival that we played in Nova Scotia last year. The place was packed and we conveniently started off the set with some gear issues. But once we got going again, it was the most ferocious set we’ve played. Chad hucked his guitar across the stage at the end of the show, and the energy in the place was electric. That show ruled.
DP: The ‘craziest’ I would say was in Detroit where we played in an art gallery in a building in the middle of what can only be described as a set for a post-apocalyptic movie. Our first American show, and what an introduction! The people at the show were really great though, which helped bring us out of our stupor.
G- Excellent! I miss being onstage! Lastly, as a band that is currently in the building stages of their performance career, what advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands everywhere who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?
CP: There are obviously no hard and fast rules, but here’s what I believe to be important: write good songs and see your vision through to the end. You don’t want to be the person diving headfirst and blind into whatever wave is being hyped at any given moment in hopes of catching some residual fanfare. That will always be an empty pursuit.
PB: Tour. Get your band to a proper level of musicianship, and then hit the road. Meeting new people and playing shows in towns you’ve never been before is one of the most rewarding things that you can do. As for making music, get it out of the garage and get it recorded. Whether you want to record on a tape deck or in a studio is up to you, what counts is that you get the songs recorded so that people can heAR your songs. I’ve seen bands who have played for years and never really recorded anything. they get stuck in a stagnation that gets noticeably frustrating. You will also become a better musician in you consistently record, it allows you to pick yourself apart and to improve. Lastly, if you ask Chad, he’ll tell you that wearing shorts on stage is a recipe for failure in music. I’ll admit that I’ve broken this rule before… for shame.
DP: First things first, the music has to be ready. Be super prepared – practice! You can be a marginal bass player (like myself) and still play good shows with practice. It’s an awful feeling to know that you screwed up, and it sticks with you for the rest of the day.
As for touring, being basically attached at the hip for six weeks this summer to the same two people has made me realize how lucky we are and how important it is to have such a great camaraderie. You’re going to have to tour for extended periods, and that means seeing the same people every single day pretty much all day for a month or whatever or longer. I didn’t really think about that before we left but luckily we managed to make that work with very few ‘meltdowns,’ and we did have some days off between shows to mentally recover and have fun in Chicago, New York, etc. so plan for that as well. It’s also a great opportunity to see places you might never get a chance to again. Have something you can lighten the mood with. In our case, we would watch ‘American Hardcore’ and quote lines from it to get a laugh. Just have fun!