CM Slices & Dices With Organ ThievesWednesday, May 30th, 2012
The misty lights of Hamilton’s historic Corktown Pub glow, bathing a humble stage soon to be immersed in a spectacle of good ol’ rock and roll from Oshawa’s Organ Thieves. Now when I say “good ol’ rock and roll,” I’m not referring to the classic rock many of us have grown to love; I’m talking about the nitty-gritty sounds that demand your attention – the pulse of electric resonance that excites the nerves and plucks your heartstrings – and maybe even breaks one.
Somewhere Between Free Men and Slaves is the title of Organ Thieves’ unsparing debut album that has the ability to not only steal your attention, but also your heart and mind. This painfully honest expression is what music, in general, is all about.
Chuck Coles and Dave Baksh sat down before their set at Corktown Pub last weekend to speak with yours truly about the road to making the album, and what you can expect from the band this summer.
You may remember Baksh as the former lead guitarist for Sum 41 and Coles as the lead guitarist for defunct pop-punk outfit Cauterize. Since then, the two performed together in Baksh’s heavy metal brainchild Brown Brigade prior to the formation of Organ Thieves. “I had all these songs and I was like, ‘I really want to start doing my own thing if I want to keep playing music,’” explains Coles. “I kind of wanted to get rid of them in my mind so I took a chance on my own.” As a fan of stripped-down sounds, Coles writes his songs on his acoustic guitar. Throughout the years, this practice has amassed a virtual autobiography of song that he keeps stored in his parents’ garage. “I told them to burn it if I died,” he mentions wholeheartedly. “I had a lot of dark times in my life and there are songs in there from travelling. I just started picking pages out of it and making songs and thought, ‘Fuck, I should just do this.’”
Adapting his acoustic sound to electric, Coles met an eager companion in band mate Baksh. Brown Brigade came to a crossroads when the band’s love for heavy metal overshadowed the interest in the old ways of the genre. “We played a show and felt that cats that have been listening to metal for the past 30 years were being shunned by little kids. This was at the time where Chuck was like, ‘Yo, play some dub shit over top of this more rootsy kind of rock,’” explains Baksh. It wasn’t long after that they began jamming as a band. “I was kind of orchestrating because it was my project. I took the talent that everyone had, like: ‘Our drummer’s really good at this shit. Dave can do this here; he can paint more colour stuff.’ I started writing songs around the sounds in the room,” explains Coles.
The refreshingly modest frontman credits his band mates with his complete confidence in the project. “I’ve never been the singer for a band or the main writer for a band; I’m just blessed to have these people. I mean we make the songs together. I have the initial idea, but what’s possible is outrageous.”
The band’s current line up includes Coles, Baksh, Mike Smith, and the most recent addition, Theo McKibbon, who, during the interview, suggested Coles shoot a music video on the second level of the Corktown Pub, where someone was rumored to have hung himself. Apologetic, McKibbon introduces himself and encouraged Coles to take a look. Even approaching me later to apologize, McKibbon certainly has a personality as large as his later onstage performance would prove to be. The band’s performance, as a whole, only further exhibits their hunger for the energy and passion they breed. Baksh explains: “We take everything that we do so seriously and really achieve what we want out of our performances.” It did feel odd watching such a big performance in such a small venue.
If you’ve never had the chance to see them live, Somewhere Between Free Men and Slaves includes a 23-minute live in studio DVD, directed by Davin Black, to provide some context for the recording of the album. “I wanted to document it because there are a lot of things to learn about the way sounds are made,” says Coles ¬– noting, “what [Black] did, to me, speaks volumes. The record’s there but this thing really speaks a lot for what we put into it.” You can expect to see a six-part online series featuring the studio recording process set to release “in the next few weeks,” says Coles.
The recording process itself was smooth sailing for the five days they spent at B Town Sound Studio in Burlington, ON. “We did it live off the floor. That was something I really wanted to do,” shares Coles. “We did, like, eight takes for each song. Me and Dave were in this little room sweating like crazy,” he notes. Recording live off the floor is a process sought after by many for its textural qualities and authentic nature. For this approach, Coles was eager to seek out producer Greig Nori. Working with Nori is nothing new for both Coles and Baksh. “I work with him constantly,” says Coles, speaking of a recent trip to New York with Nori. Baksh also spent a lot of time working with the Treble Charger front man during his stint with Sum 41. “It’s crazy how much he learned and became a wicked, really really good producer,” adds Baksh. The band also recruited Canadian Musician contributor and dynamo Dan Weston to mix the album. “His ability to excite a track is kind of what the rough mixes just don’t have. His abilities are incredible,” explains Baksh.
In writing the album, Coles tried to capture moments in his life that others could relate to and gain support from. As a whole, the album details a feeling of disillusionment coupled with a reflection of the good times and the bad. “Music is a good thing. It got me through everything in my life. If I can give that back to anyone, it’s the least I can do,” says Coles.
It appears to be full steam ahead for the eager thirty-something rockers. With several shows and festivals on deck for the month of June, the band also plans to release an EP featuring some songs from the B Town sessions. “There are a few songs that we recorded that we didn’t put on this record, then we’re doing a 7” with Saint Alvia, and we’re going to demo another 13 songs. We’re at this point, so it’s time to really get it going,” Coles says.
If I may have one more moment of your attention – to anyone who happens to be a fan of hard-hitting narrative-style lyrics set to punk rock chord structures with bang on guitar solos, you could most definitely appreciate Organ Thieves. That’s pretty much everyone, right?