Intellectual Toronto rockers Paint are the ultimate do-it-yourself band. Fronted by political activist and all around awesome dude Robb Johannes, Paint are embarking on another musical experiment. This Friday (October 3rd) the band will be filming their performance at the Cameron House right here in Toronto, allowing their fans, new and old, to participate in their artistic process as they put together their latest record, a live album and DVD combo. I caught up with Robb and asked him all about music, politics and all about Paint.
How did Paint come together?
The original lineup of Paint that formed in Vancouver in 2008 was the best we’ve ever been until recently; the five years between the release of our debut Can You Hear Me? (which just got a well-deserved 5th Anniversary deluxe reissue) and now have just been a valiant effort to try and be as great as we were in the beginning. I’m proud to say that at last in 2014 Paint is indeed that great again but it took a lot of trial-and-error. But the current lineup was the product of some informed and well-thought decisions and is made up mostly of musicians I respected from bands I was into, who happened to be available and wanted to be involved in something ambitious with vision and self-contained business ethics.
How would you describe your music to someone that’s never heard Paint before?
Classic rock of the future. Stadium rock for small clubs. A blend of new wave, Brit pop, post punk, and early alternative. And not afraid at all to write a hook. “Chick rock” sometimes because we’re rock ‘n’ roll for sure but not at all heavy, or with any of the cliched posturing of what often passes for “rock” music. We’re a very feminine alternative band. We get compared to bands like Suede, The Smiths, and R.E.M.
Tell me about Capsulated. What was the inspiration behind putting this compilation together?
Radiohead tried to do a “video album” with OK Computer before music television died and outlets such as YouTube made video a more accessible and affordable — but also unfortunately potentially watered down — artistic medium. They never completed the entire project but nowadays it’s entirely possible to put together music videos on limited budgets and have an audience.
The idea of a “video album” came about in 2010 before we even went into the studio to record Where We Are Today, and even though I was, and am, kind of done with that album, out of general principle the project had to be seen through to the end — and I’m glad it did because it spawned a successful IndieGogo campaign that reinforced our relationship with our audience, some cool Andy Warhol-inspired artwork, and the solidification of Paint’s visual identity.
Capsulated is a DVD compilation of music videos and short films for all ten songs on Where We Are Today, plus four from Can You Hear Me? and some supplemental documentaries.
You have a new album in the works. How is this new record going to be different than your previous work?
We have two new albums on the go actually: one is the soundtrack to a black-and-white narrative film called 11:11 (we don’t have a confirmed title for the soundtrack yet), and the other is a live concert DVD and live album that we’re shooting on October 3 at The Cameron House. We have so much new material that really transcends anything off our first two records, and Paint has become so much of a 360, multi-sensory experience with visuals, set designs, and orchestration. We try to break down the accessibility barrier between bands and their audience by respecting the audience’s intelligence and creating challenging and forward-thinking music. The new albums will differ in their complete lack of restraint in creating larger-than-life soundscapes with emotional and personal centres. The hooks are stronger, the ambition is greater, the instrumentation has gotten more dense and sophisticated, and the lyrics are as pure and honest as they’ve ever been. The new music is the truest expression of what this band is, and how music can bring people together.
You’re also adding a visual element to the new record (the DVD). Tell me a little about that?
There was a collaboration between U2 and Anton Corbijn on their 2009 record called Linear, which was a very minimalist experimental narrative film that was a visual accompaniment to the album. Given that a lot of music consumption happens in front of a computer these days, why not create visual landscapes to enhance the experience of listening to music? We took that idea one step further to create a more structured filmI had this script idea for 11:11 that was originally meant to be choreographed to four new Paint songs.
But in the process of shooting with director R. Stephenson Price (who we previously worked with on “Boomerang” and a bunch of documentary projects), we realized we were creating something very special. The dailies were just beautiful visually, and the story needed more time to take shape than to just be the length of four pop songs. As a result, we changed our strategy and approached it more as aQuadrophenia sort of project, where it’s a film first and the music — as well as the band — are just part of the entire universe that exists within the film. So the next Paint release will be a movie accompanied by a soundtrack rather than just a collection of songs. Paint’s entire approach to making music has been shaped by visuals and the premise that music is a shared experience that appeals to the ears, eyes, touch, and heart.
You’ve chosen to crowdfund the latest album/film combination. What has that been like for you? Is crowdfunding something you’d pursue again?
It was very uncomfortable at first. Money is hard to come by these days, and artists these days have to really sell the idea of paying for music in addition to the million other responsibilities that we’re burdened with — so, to ask our audience for help took a lot of swallowing our pride. But in the end, the entire pressing of Capsulated, as well as the completion of the “Boomerang” music video (which was since been selected for festivals), and the entire film component of 11:11 were all covered by the campaign. So we’re eternally grateful for the generosity and commitment of our audience in becoming an integral part of our journey and survival.
Successful crowdfunding likely helped us to gain FACTOR funding to record the soundtrack to 11:11 (again with Ian Smith) — but we’re very aware of not trying to bleed our audience or come to carry unrealistic expectations or entitlements over their attention. It’s safe to say we’ll make another crowdfunding effort (in fact, the concert DVD and live album that are being filmed and recorded on Friday will find its eventual release assisted by scaled donations that will be offered the night of the show) but not too close to the previous effort, or at least not until we’ve delivered completed products to those who were gracious enough to pay in advance.
Tell me a little bit about your run for mayor of Toronto. Besides your experience in social activism and politics, how do you think being a frontman of an awesome band would have helped you run this city? If you could give voters some advice on this upcoming election, what would it be?
The Robb Not Ford: Robb Johannes for Mayor of Toronto 2014 campaign began as an effort to address the disconnect between candidates and communities that got us our previous mayor. Young people, artists, students, lower-income workers, and marginalized communities have all been discouraged by political representation that is truly not representative of the diverse socio-economic realities that face most Torontonians. Being mayor, or any kind of representative isn’t about having power, it’s about empowering, and giving your community a voice. The Fords have made it entirely about power, privilege, and entitlement.
I didn’t feel that simply voting was enough to make a difference this time around; a concerted effort of civic engagement is absolutely necessary not just on October 27, but on a daily basis to promote responsible citizenship and holding governments accountable.
Being a frontman of a band isn’t really all that different from being a mayor; you’re just one vote of four (or in the case of Toronto City Council, one vote of 45), you’re not the most talented, educated, or intelligent, but you’re the most willing an able to bridge all participants in a discussion and be the public face of the city. It’s up to the mayor, like the frontman, to articulate what a valuable and effective council (or band) has worked to create.
Of course, I do have the benefit of having affected change in federal laws through my work and activism in prisons and the Downtown Eastside Vancouver. And anyone who knows what kind of organizational skill and management goes into being in an indie band, it’s the most thankless and grinding work imaginable. Being mayor would be like a vacation compared to fronting Paint.
Running for mayor, however, has been another example of how privilege really rules in the end; every “mainstream” candidate, and even the more publicized “fringe” candidates are all highly privileged and disconnected from the harsher realities that most Torontonians have to endure in this great city. So the only real advice I would give anyone in this election is: put your focus on your City Ward and who is running for council, they’re the ones who can directly affect change in your community in a way that a mayor absolutely can and should not. That and remember that voting once every four years and giving your community’s affairs the blind-eye in between only works for conservatives — to make progressive change, we all have to do more than just vote.
Finally, our magazine is called Addicted because we like to highlight and feature the positive things that we can’t get enough of, that fuel us and that make us happy. What would you say is your positive addiction?
Being on stage with the best band in the city is worth all the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into it. But honestly, music and politics aside, just taking my dog for a walk probably brings me more happiness than anything on earth.