Meet our November Artists of the Month - 36?! 36? are the winners of last year's Peak Performance Project and have since gone on to release an award-winning album, where do we go from here?, and a split with fellow Calgary band, The Ashley Hundred.
We interviewed Taylor Cochrane and Scott White from 36? a couple months back and talked about their start as a band, growing up in Calgary, their experience throughout the Peak Performance Project and what they have coming up next.
Under The Rockies: You recently won the Rock Recording of the Year at this year’s Western Canadian Music Awards! Congrats!
Taylor Cochrane: Thank you.
Scott White: Thank you.
You were up against so many fantastic bands such as Gay Nineties and Dan Mangan – how did it feel for 36? to take home the prize?
Taylor: Surreal. All the other bands were so talented and so much more well-known than us.
Scott: More established. It was pretty surprising, I think, for some of us.
Taylor: I thought we would be the last one on the list that would’ve been chosen.
36? began as Taylor’s solo project, creating and retaining full control of the first three albums. What made you decide you wanted to add to the band?
Taylor: You can’t really share music just with yourself. It’s good to have a group you can trust with your stuff, you can put in front of people. These guys do an amazing job.
Scott: I think it’s so you can do shows of it, basically. In the end, it’s so we can play it live. I guess you’d done a few shows when it was kind of a solo project.
Taylor: It was kind of just acoustic. The music that I was writing was so much more dynamic than anything I could possibly do by myself.
Besides yourself, the band is Mike, Ryan and Scott. How did they become involved in the band? What made you approach them?
Taylor: We’d all known each other through being in other bands and just through the music scene in Calgary. Mike came after the album we got the award for, actually. That’s just the way it worked out, I guess.
Scott: We were all old friends. Taylor, Mike and I were in a funk-dance band before this. We were a six piece, we had keys and horns. Playing something that’s almost a polar opposite, like funk music, fun party music. But that sort of fell apart. We knew Ryan through recording at the Beach studios so, yeah, through mutual acquaintances. We’ve been friends for a long time too so it’s just a natural fit. There’s no auditions or anything, we didn’t put an ad out or anything, we just, “Who do you know who’s a drummer? Oh, Ryan”, and then he recorded a demo of drums for one of the songs on where do we go from here? and it was like, “yeah, that’s the idea”. He was basically in and we played a show with him and it all fit together.
Now that there are others in the band, do you all contribute lyrics? Or are lyrics still Taylor’s thing?
Taylor: I’ll write all the lyrics and the basic structure of all the songs. I’ll record a demo and bring it to the band and then we’ll work out whatever it ends up being.
Scott: On where do we go from here? we really just built on top of the demos he had made for the thing.
Taylor: That’s kind of what we generally end up doing is just building on top of demos that are already made.
Scott: The music is essentially written in there and me, Mike and Ryan just put our spin on what parts we do. There’s always lots of overdubs added like percussion and background vocals and synthesizers.
You were initially inspired by Say Anything’s ... Is A Real Boy. I love that stream of rock music, are there any other bands or artists in that stream or genre that inspired you?
Taylor: I grew up listening to Blink-182 and that kinda stuff. I still love Blink-182 with all my heart. Say Anything was what made me change from writing shitty pop-punk about girls and start actually writing lyrics about stuff. I’d say that’s how they inspired me the most is lyrically. It was very tongue in cheek, and they had that pop-punk sensibility that I was so immersed in and familiar with but they added other instrumentation and stuff like that. I’d say they were a turning point in my writing because of that. They wrote more allegorical story lyrics and things like that. I became more down with writing lyrics about something that was actually interesting rather than the same song about how I’m a loser all the time.
They have a lot more theatrical stuff as well. I’m a big fan of My Chemical Romance, so The Black Parade is a big album for me, and there’s that theatrical-ness and I really love bands that do that.
Taylor: Yeah, I feel it’s good to embody some of that musical theatre stuff.
Scott: I think a lot of people go to a show to hear good music, but to also be entertained. So you can’t get too up your own ass about being serious about it.
Taylor: We’re not like a joke band by any means but I feel like if anyone takes themselves seriously, they’re a joke to everybody else.
Scott: Yeah, you take your music seriously, I heard someone say, but you don’t take yourself seriously. We wanna put on a good show but also have a fun time with it.
Taylor: If naked pictures of me leak on the Internet, I’m not gonna make a public apology about it.
Scott: He’s very free that way.
So does that kind of music still inspire you now? What are you inspired by now?
Taylor: I never feel like I’m focused on one genre at all. I like to have fun with it and start writing a song and whatever it turns into, that’s just the way it is. There’s times when I’ll really like a band and that style will seep in.
Scott: It seems like you’re just really influenced by what you’re listening to now, which tends to be pretty new releases most of the time.
Taylor: I like to weird people out. Whether that means something I can do live or I guess I really like the dichotomy between really happy go lucky or relaxing music, or stuff that makes you scared to listen to.
Scott: Anxious or something?
Taylor: If music can just make me feel anything, whether I’m trapped in a song listening to it.
Scott: Like Pig Destroyer?
Taylor: I’ll love a band like Pig Destroyer just as much as I’ll love an artist like Beyonce.
Scott: Or D’Angelo, Tame Impala, things like that.
Taylor: I just like music that makes me feel something and I’m not just like, “Oh, that’s an nice melody,” or “that’s an interesting chord progression.” I don’t give a shit about that kinda stuff. If I have some sort of emotional response that’s what I like, I guess. I know that didn’t answer your question at all. There’s no bands that really are that influential anymore. I’m more influenced by wanting to be trying new things with writing than anything else. I don’t want to just write a song because I want it to sound a certain way, I want to allow a song to be whatever it is.
36? has around for nine years and you’ve had multiple releases, you’ve released all of these independently? Do you like it that way? Is it nice to have that creative control?
Taylor: I’m a total control freak so I don’t like the idea of someone else producing our record. I’m not gonna be a control freak about distribution of stuff. If someone wants to sign us but also lets us play what we wanna play, I’m not gonna be like, “I only want these market demographics listening to it.” I don’t give a shit about that kinda stuff. I just want people to hear it. If they like it, that’s great, and, if they don’t, they can get fucked.
Scott: I think it’s worked pretty well so far, we’ve been able to afford physically pressing copies, we got vinyl recently. It’s nice that fortuitously the vinyl plant opened up, so we didn’t need to get it shipped to us which is one of the big expenses. I think the one we were looking at before was in England or something.
Taylor: It’s crazy, shipping costs.
Scott: And you have to buy a minimum of about 200 or 400 copies. It’s been good to do it independently, because, where do we go from here?, we definitely took our time doing that, it took over a year to make.
Taylor: Doing it independently, at least we know what releasing a record means so, if someone does wanna sign us, we know exactly what that distribution means so we know if someone is just trying to fuck us out of a bunch of money or not.
Scott: You can already get your music out there pretty easily if you sign up for Tunecore and they get your stuff on iTunes and Spotify and Rdio.
Taylor: Tunecore kinda fucked us over.
Scott: They got our name wrong a couple times.
Taylor: They got our name wrong and then refused to fix it themselves. So, fuck Tunecore.
Scott: It’s cause of the question mark, there’s another artist, I think he’s in the UK, he’s ambient/electronic, but it’s written just “three six”.
Taylor: Yep, Tunecore shit the bed.
Scott: They still have put our stuff out, it’s probably just coding or something. Punctuation in band names is a new thing.
There’s so many bands with punctuation.
Taylor: It’s weird, when you’re distributing through iTunes or a certain number of things, you can’t have words that aren’t capitalized at the beginning and shit like that. We have so many songs where it’s like, “I don’t wanna capitalize the title, fucking goddamn corporate pieces of shit.” We’re all about saying fuck the system, even the system of writing the titles of songs.
Did you all grow up in Calgary?
Scott: Yeah, well Mike was born in Vernon, BC, but all of us grew up here.
What were your experiences growing up in Calgary like?
Taylor: I feel like, irrelevant, almost.
Scott: We got music lessons and went to public school. I was in bands so that was a big musical thing for me.
Taylor: It was nice to be right after the baby boomers because they figured out all the corporate shit so they could have money to put us in music lessons. They made all the money so that I can be really broke and just be a leech for a little while, figure out my shit. And then maybe I won’t be living in a box when I’m 35.
Taylor: No, I’m not allowed to live for that long.
What was the Alberta music scene like growing up?
Scott: I didn’t really know anything about it. I went to the Barenaked Ladies when I was 12 or something. All you really had is Nickelback or something, at first.
Taylor: I feel like growing up I wasn’t nearly educated enough on who was out there to even comment.
Scott: I only really started getting aware of it once we were kind of established. It feels like it’s gotten better since we were doing the funk band shows, five years ago.
Taylor: I think maybe we’ve just gotten better as well so it’s hard to tell if the scene has gotten better or people just give a shit about us now.
Scott: I think people always think it’s country music but it’s really not.
Taylor: It’s really kind of eclectic weird shit. Lots of weirdos here.
Scott: Lots of punk, lots of metal now I see, lots of indie rock, lots of trippy stuff too.
Taylor: So many people here just do tons and tons of psychedelic drugs. It’s just a big part of it, you gotta be okay with illegal substances. Cause even if you don’t do them, your friends are gonna do them.
Scott: I think with like a certain amount of that oil money floating around, people have been able to afford getting guitars and gear. People are making everything. It’s really only recently we realized. It felt like there wasn’t anything good but now there’s almost too much. Last night there was four really awesome shows happening so you can bounce between Palomino, Broken City, all those different places downtown.
Taylor: Yeah, Nite Owl had the Peak thing.
Scott: Nite Owl has been a really good thing for the scene.
Taylor: Nite Owl is the shit.
Scott: Two stages and they always have bands of every type.
Taylor: We’re not gonna pick favourites on venues because they’re all amazing.
Growing up, did you ever feel like, “I wanna get out of this town”?
Taylor: Growing up I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere, but I didn’t feel the need to stray, I guess. I just felt like I was this fucking loser. I still feel out of place, not in Calgary, in particular, just in this whole, whatever this system is we’re all living in. I never felt the need to leave Calgary, personally.
Scott: For a while there you were like, “We gotta move to Vancouver or Toronto,” you were also talking about moving to Berlin there for a while, remember that?
Taylor: I didn’t ever feel like Calgary was a reason to move. I felt like I just wanted to experience other places. It wasn’t that I didn’t have enough here, I just wanted to see what other places were like.
Scott: I think some people feel the need to leave, but I don’t think you have to.
Taylor: I don’t think it’s necessary, not anymore at least.
Scott: As long as you have a way to get to Vancouver or Toronto or tour, then you’re probably fine. We have the same infrastructure with labels, major label infrastructure maybe, that will feed a music economy in a certain way.
Taylor: There’s the Canada Boy Vinyl record label that’s coming out but I feel like it’s a good place for music. It doesn’t know what it is yet. There’s not a Calgary sound, I don’t think, and I think that’s good. I don’t want to sound like one of six bands that sounds the same and I don’t think anyone else here does either. Maybe that’s the Calgary sound but that’s not a sound.
With Canada Boy Vinyl, the Peak Performance Project showcasing all of these local bands, are you feeling positive for the future of Alberta music?
Taylor: The Alberta music scene has good reach and is good at exporting bands. We were able to tour the UK and we’re probably going to be touring Europe next year. The scene really supports pushing the bands out there because we all know how great the music is here and we want everyone else to know.
Scott: The industry association really helps bring in the people who want to export us. If you can get into the system, it’s pretty supportive.
I first heard of your band through the Peak Performance Project. How was your experience throughout the project?
Taylor: It was amazing. The bootcamp was easily one of the best weeks of my entire life. It was really great to be around that many like-minded people who were interested in breaking your band. You’re either with a bunch of artists that are in the infant stages and really stoked on learning whatever they’re gonna do or you’re with a bunch of industry people that are very, very supportive of what you’re doing. You’re all just off in the woods somewhere learning about the industry and partying like crazy, not sleeping, everyone’s in very fragile states.
Scott: There’s a lot of 4 AM bedtimes and then getting up at 6 or 7 to go eat breakfast.
Taylor: Nobody sleeps so everybody isn’t awake enough to have their guards up so it’s a very nice atmosphere of people that are very fragile but in the best way possible.
Scott: It gives you an idea of what you need to be doing if you want to make the band commercially viable, in a sense, or if you want to be able to sustain your activities as a band.
Taylor: They teach you stuff for taking a band in a bunch of different directions, not just being a band on radio. Being a band who can break through any kinds of means, be it like media, in the press, music licensing in movies and stuff like that. Very eye-opening but in a way that doesn’t feel like school. You want to be there and feel sad when you leave there.
Scott: It was really good for our band, for sure, especially the funding that came out of it. The last year has just been a blast. We wouldn’t have been able to do half the stuff we did this year if we didn’t have access to that.
Taylor: Well, we would, we’d just be a group in debt instead of a bunch of individuals that live in debt.
What advice would you give to musicians in the project currently or musicians interested in entering the project?
Scott: Work your ass off at it. Put your heart and soul into it.
Taylor: Put everything you can possibly can into whatever it is that you’re doing. There’s so many different ways to be successful. Do your own thing and if you put everything you are into it, someone’s going to like it. I feel like everyone’s experiences are going to be totally different and all the different experiences are going to have their own positive elements of it. It’s hard to really give advice other than to put yourself out there and see what happens.
Scott: If anything, it should be a reassurance you’re doing something right already so why not build on what you’ve already got. Just being picked feels really special so just do the best you can.
Taylor: If you don’t get accepted right away, keep plugging at it, don’t get jaded and keep going for it.
You just released a split with the Ashley Hundred in August. What does 36? have planned next? More music, more shows?
Scott: Right now we’re focused on learning some new material, jumping right into that. We hope we can debut these songs live before we start recording them. Next year we’re eyeing another full length LP. With where do we go from here?, we hadn’t really played a lot of the songs live in front of people so we’re going to try and learn tons of demos.
Taylor: I’ve got about 20 demos for the new stuff and I think the band’s actually looked at maybe three or four of them so we got a long road of figuring out which ones suck ahead of us.
Scott: We’ll learn a lot of them and then whittle down the best nuggets in there, the really good shit and put them on the album. So we’ll be writing, in the next year recording and hopefully releasing something as well.