Interview: Gay Nineties
Vancouver's Gay Nineties were set to play Calgary's X-Fest before severe rain ultimately cancelled the festival. Luckily, a planned interview we had with the band was still able to go on and Gay Nineties ended up playing a make-up show at Cowboys that night.
Under The Rockies' Mary McComish talked to vocalist Parker Bossley and drummer Malcolm Holt on former band experiences, touring and about the band's upcoming debut full-length record.
Thank you for playing a make-up show!
Malcolm Holt: We’re super stoked there’s a make-up show and we’re happy to be in Calgary.
Parker Bossley: And it was a wicked show. It was so much fun.
I know you’ve been playing a lot of festivals this summer, what do you like and what encourages you to play festivals?
Parker: Honestly, our favourite thing about festivals, aside from the fact they’re really fun, is getting to see and meet all of the great bands that are in Canada and in North America, from wherever, and just getting to meet and see bands and study them. Getting to hang out, find out what makes them tick and get inspired.
Malcom: We’re just finishing a tour cycle for an album and so we’re going back to write a new record right now. The coolest thing is getting to play a bunch of festivals this summer, seeing really inspiring bands and be influenced.
For festivals and a headlining gig or a bar gig, which you just did now, what’s your favourite and least favourite things to do with those?
Parker: My favourite thing about club gigs is the interaction. The ease of interaction, you’re so close to everyone. You can shake your head and know that your sweat has fallen onto their faces. And that’s a very empowering feeling.
Malcom: For festivals, today we played at 12:15 and we were still waking up. And you need a drink or two to relax and so all of a sudden we’re drinking at 10:00 AM. But that might be the best part of playing festivals, an excuse to drink at 10:00 AM.
Parker: And, also, if you were to say least favourite, this isn’t a real least favourite, I’d say this is the most challenging thing about festivals: is being sometimes super far away from your audience and feeling that great chasm of loneliness, where you can’t quite reach out to them. You can, sometimes, and sometimes you don’t and you’re like, “I’m so far away from these people”. Sometimes it’s tough.
Malcom: A positive thing with festivals is they’re almost 100 per cent all ages. Canada in general is a difficult place for an all age scene so it’s so nice to play to younger people. We really, really appreciate that.
I know festivals tend to garner big headliners. I know Ellie Goulding and Kendrick Lamar have played festivals you’ve played. Did you get to watch them and get inspired by them at all?
Parker: Totally. Things I’ve been inspired by so far this summer: Macy Gray was the sickest performer I’ve seen in a long time.
Malcolm: That was a surprising one.
Parker: She was so tall and badass and so sick and just owned the show. She just grabbed the audience by the balls and there’s thousands and thousands of people totally speechless.
Malcolm: Which is interesting, for an artist like that, because the world predominantly knows Macy Gray for one song 12 to 15 years ago. And yet, the fact that she’s still killing it at a festival that you’ve never expected to be on, Pemberton. It was a testament to her artistry. Maybe that speaks back to why festivals are so rad because you get this eclectic mix of artists. At the same festival we saw Charles Bradley play, who’s this soul singer, and he literally brought me to tears. It was so impactful.
Parker: And I got to play giant Jenga with him afterwards. That’s also the beauty of festivals, everyone just wandering around and you get to meet everyone if you want to. If you can get past their handlers… Which I can.
I know Parker was in a punk band called The Heck.
Parker: I wouldn’t call it punk.
I saw pictures and it’s very 2005 My Chemical Romance, Dresden Dolls. I love that whole imagery.
Parker: Yeah, that was my first band. We started it when we were 16 and it was just three really good musicians and doing weird prog music. And then we disbanded after Malcom joined.
Malcom: That’s how I met Parker, was in The Heck. I joined at the very end of it.
Parker: And then we both quit at the same time and joined an actual punk band.
Malcolm: Yeah, Fake Shark – Real Zombie! We played in that together for a few years, toured around Japan and England. That was real sloppy punk rock.
Parker: It was more performance art.
Malcolm: It was more performance art than it was music.
Parker: It was pretty wild. There could’ve been death… Let’s say.
Malcolm: There was one show where Parker. We were opening up for this band, Mindless Self Indulgence,
Oh, I love MSI.
Malcom: Yeah, MSI, they’re gnarly, they’re crazy. We were opening up for them and an 18-year-old Parker, super drunk, he stumbled around mid-set and it was a five-foot tall stage and there were this big row of speakers that were lining the front of the stage but for some reason there was a foot gap. So Parker tripped over his cable, falls head over heels into this gap and his legs are just dangling in the air mid-song. He gets up, fucks with his bass and then right back at it.
Parker: These were different times, Mary.
That segways into my next question. How do you go from that punk band to a more pop-streamed rock band?
Parker: Personally, the punk thing was always more of an experiment. I was always into pop music and I was always listening to pop music. I knew that eventually I’d want to do something like the Gay Nineties. So, for me, that was my experimental years. It was just, “alright, let’s get weird, let’s do this”. But I always knew I’d, hopefully, end up singing and writing pop songs.
Malcolm: I grew up very much in the punk rock scene. I grew up in Oregon as a teenager and that was it for me, that DIY culture, that was the thing. It was a good thing going to such extremes, as we did with Fake Shark, that it got all of that out of my system. It taught me to play less, really. It doesn’t need to be all spastic and crazy all the time, let the song be a song. It helped me grow.
Growing up, Malcolm did tap dancing and Parker did Ukrainian dance. Do you think, having that dancing background, helped with your performances now?
Parker: The thing is, I was put into dancing because I was already dancing. There’s so much footage of me dancing in my basement with my sister to albums.
Malcolm: For me, my mom was a professional dancer. She was a ballet dancer and then she taught dance when I was really little so I was put into ballet when I was 2, I took tap dance and swing and salsa. I’m absolutely more rhythmically inclined than I am melodically inclined. I would be just a dancer if I hadn’t picked up drums. Music is very rhythmic for me. What makes me boogie, what makes me move is what I want to play. Dance is absolutely the root of my drumming in many ways.
How long did you do dance lessons for?
Parker: I did it for six or seven years and then I moved onto skateboarding.
Malcolm: And gymnastics.
Parker: I was a gymnast the whole entire time. Gymnastics was my first love and I did that for quite a while. I realized I would never truly be good enough to make it to the top so I started skateboarding. I started smoking pot and skateboarding and then playing music.
Parker has a bunch of projects: Mounties, Gay Nineties, Fur Trade. Is it hard to find time for all those projects?
Parker: No. It’s basically like, I could work a day job full time and have one band or I could work in a bunch of different bands and make the same amount of low income money and keep going. You know, hopefully, eventually, maybe not be poor. But, for the time being, as a musician, with the three bands, I can sustain myself. I also write with a lot of other people. It’s a difficult climate right now. Three bands, or just two bands, is just the way it is.
Malcolm: There’s a band with this girl, Alexis Young, in Vancouver, that Parker co-wrote a bunch of the songs and me and Bruce from Gay Nineties play in and it’s called Youngblood. It’s a new project.
Both of you tour a lot with your musical projects. What’s your favourite thing to do in a new city?
Parker: A new city? We don’t really have days off. For me a day off is, I just want to drink wine in a hotel and text my girlfriend and be lazy as fuck.
Malcolm: Whereas Bruce and I are very different. We want to smoke pot and chill out in the hotel room.
Parker: But my favourite part about touring is being in the van and reading. I get in a zone and I just read. I finish books. I’ve basically gained a very great foothold of literature because of touring because I would never have the time to read as much as I do.
Malcolm: Days off in cities, when I found myself regularly traveling, just on vacation, I get anxious but with touring, you’ve got such a rigid schedule that any downtime you have or any little bonus you get from a city, it’s awesome because there’s zero expectation. You’re there to play a show and you’re there to do whatever you’re supposed to do. But you get these little windows where you might stumble across this cool little café or meet an interesting person. That’s the gem of touring for me, little nuggets that are unexpected, versus traveling where you took off this time from work and you spent all this money to go to, like, Italy for three weeks so you want to make every moment count. There’s all this pressure and it sucks. Whereas with touring, you’re there for a different reason so everything on top of that is bonus and I love traveling that way.
Parker: It’s a mindset and some people don’t like that mindset but I certainly do. It takes the stress off because you’re busy doing weird things but you’re also not busy at all. It calms your mind down if you can tap into that.
So Bruce Ledingham, your keyboardist, is the newest member change in the band. When he joined the band, was there a completeness sort of feeling?
Parker: Big time. It’s pretty crazy. Not to get too far into it but it’s a very interesting dynamic. We could almost do a documentary on the four personality types in our band and why it works. It’s a perfect full spectrum of emotions and of character traits that balances everything else. So when shit hits the fan, everyone’s like, “Oh, we’re still a unit, it’s fine”. Musically, he glued all of our phonetic energy together and made it smooth and sexy.
Malcolm: As a three-piece we were trying to do so much sound but with Bruce it’s like smooth and tasty tones. Physically, that beard and his robust nature, it fills that gap very nicely.
Did he make recording Liberal Guilt easier?
Parker: 100 per cent. The good thing about Bruce is he thinks about the things that I don’t think about which is sonic texture and gluing parts together and making things sound ambient and beautiful and atmospheric. For me, I really only think about melody and rhythm whereas Bruce paints and that’s a big thing for me. Where now, especially on this new record, I’m just like, “Bruce, do your thing”.
How was the creative process for Liberal Guilt different from your first EP?
Parker: Basically, that question could be answered by the answer to the last question which is Bruce came along and really did all of those things that we’re speaking about. That was the biggest difference, was writing knowing that we had that atmosphere and being able to relax and just let the songs happen.
You’ve been working on your debut full-length. How’s that coming along?
Parker: We’ve got about five songs in demo stage and we’re just going to write as many songs as we can in our studio, record them, figure them out and then in January record the best 10 or 12 songs and call it a day. I mean, we’re working really hard right now and it’s great. Feeling really good and creative.
Malcolm: We just built a studio in our jam space so we’ve got the ability to demo properly right after we write stuff. We’ll demo something and we’ll rehearse it as a live band and it’ll morph and then we’ll demo it again and we’ll rehearse it and it’ll morph. It’s been a game changer. We’re really stoked on this new stuff.
You think maybe a spring release?
Parker: Yes, definitely.
Your focus right now, both of you, is on Gay Nineties?
Parker: I’m working on the Fur Trade record as well, that’s about half done right now. We’re working on the Youngblood record. We’re working on the Mounties record in December. All of the other projects inspire everything. It’s just about finding a way to be creative 24 hours a day and keeping yourself in that space, which can be really difficult but right now we’re all doing it. I wouldn’t call those distractions, I’d say they’re fanning the flames, the creative flames in all of us.
For the rest of the year, Gay Nineties will just be recording?
Malcolm: I think so. We were going to do an east coast tour but we just cancelled it. We were thinking about it but we’re just enjoying writing so much and the juices are flowing.