In the conversation, singer/guitarist Ben Spurr and bassist Luke Melchiorre talked about their debut full-length, Expatriate (QRO review), their recent dates with fellow Torontonians Tokyo Police Club (QRO spotlight on), the few American states they haven’t been to, Canada, Toronto, socialism, a large woman rubbing their genitals, free Bibles, and more…
QRO: How was your recent tour with Tokyo Police Club (QRO photos of TPC from the night before, opening for Weezer)?
Ben Spurr: The Tokyo one was the best one, but it was the shortest. This has been better than any of the others. This is our third time in America, and this has been the best one. That’s encouraging.
It’s a big fuckin’ place. Depending on the area, we do better or worse. I think on the East Coast and in the Midwest has been the best. But we definitely feel improvements – the other night, in Pittsburgh, we heard ourselves on the radio.
QRO: How much have you toured in Canada?
Luke Melchiorre: A lot.
BS: We’ve been through Canada quite a bit. At this point, in all honesty, we’ve been through the States almost as much.
LM: We’ve been more in the States this year.
BS: We’ve been through the States, like I said, three times, for probably a total of like twelve weeks. In my opinion, we know the States a lot better than most Americans. I think they’re like five states we haven’t been to…
QRO: Including Alaska & Hawaii?
BS: Yeah, and like Tennessee, Kentucky, and Oklahoma… Literally…
QRO: All of the Western states? Montana, the Dakotas?…
BS: We haven’t been through Montana, but we’ve been through North Dakota, we’ve been through Wyoming. It’s cool to do that in an election year. We try to make a habit of asking people about who they’re voting for. It’s been a trip, man…
QRO: Do you notice any differences between American & Canadian audiences?
BS: There’s so much difference among American audiences and among Canadian audiences that to generalize would be kind of silly. It depends on the night…
Our audiences in the Midwest and the East Coast, like I said, have been blessed, but I don’t think that has anything to do with people. I think that has to do with promoters, who you’re opening for, and how much they play you on the radio. There’s not like any fundamental difference between American audiences and Canadian ones.
I find, actually, a lot of times, small town audiences are the best. Because it’s an ‘event’, if bands come through…
QRO: Did you guys do any festivals this year?
BS: We did South by Southwest (QRO Festival Guide).
QRO: How was that?
BS: Probably the greatest thing, musical, I’ve ever been… It was amazing. Anybody who likes good music should go to that. You agree, right?
LM: It’s a great festival.
QRO: What are you doing after this tour?
BS: We’re playing Europe after this.
QRO: Will that be your first tour of Europe?
LM: Yeah. I’ve been to Europe a bunch of times – I’m Italian. My dad’s Italian, I have dual citizenship – have been there a couple of times.
QRO: Where in Italy?
LM: My dad’s from Abruzzi, which is on the Adriatic coast. Really good wine from there. I was just there this summer. I’ve been there probably seven times.
But it’s our first time as a band, and we’re very excited. It’s a pretty cool thing, to be able to go to Europe.
QRO: How’s it been, since the release of Expatriate?
LM: It’s been very nice. We’ve had a lot of opportunities, in the States, to see people singing our songs. It’s nice to go somewhere where people have been well prepared for you coming. Where people are into the songs.
QRO: How did the recording process for Expatriate compare to that of your self-titled EP (QRO review)?
BS: Well, it was longer, so it took a while longer. We had a good producer on this one, so that was good.
LM: His name’s Chris Stringer (We’re Marching On, Ohbijou). He does a lot of cool bands in Toronto.
BS: It was new; it was nice.
QRO: Did you feel any extra ‘first full-length’ pressure?
LM: There was more pressure among the four us that – I think most bands say this: the most pressure comes from the other guys, and vice-versa, than pressure from anybody else.
BS: It’s fun to make an album, and feels like it’s a real ‘statement’ or something like that. So there was pressure from ourselves, to make it good.
QRO: How did your friends react the first time they heard “Killing Off Our Friends”?
BS: They all liked it…
LM: That’s a good question. It’s not really typical, at a party, for somebody to come up and say, ‘Oh, track eight, man – what’s that about?’ No one really said anything. There’s certainly a lot of people that maybe that was referring to that could have said something.
I don’t know – it’s a good question. No one’s said anything to me…
The Coast playing "Killing Off Our Friends" live @ Arlene's Grocery, New York, NY on September 25th, 2008:
QRO: Is there a Gypsy Rose Lee of “Song For Gypsy Rose Lee”?
BS: She’s a film star from the nineteen-thirties.
LM: Natalie Wood starred in a movie about her. A bio-pic.
QRO: Do you have any post-Expatriate material?
BS: We have one new song, “Queen City”.
LM: Not to talk too much about it. When bands talk about their new albums – it’s like talking to a man during sex. I wouldn’t trust ‘em…
QRO: On this tour, have you noticed the strong ‘loonie’ [Canadian dollar]?
BS: Love the strong loonie!
LM: Yeah, last night we had a couple bottles of Crystal…
QRO: As Canadian musicians, how much state support from the government have you gotten?
QRO: How does Obama influence Canadian state support?…
LM: No, that’s true…
BS: I hear he’s socialist, and we’re pro-socialist, so…
QRO: Hey, look at what Bush’s doing with Wall Street…
LM: Yeah, I don’t know when Bush became Russian, but I’m happy.
QRO: Do younger Toronto bands like yourself feel overly compared to 2003 ‘Canadian Invasion’ groups like Broken Social Scene (QRO interview), etc.?
LM: To me, those are all really cool bands, and we like them all. I don’t think we worry.
The weird thing about ‘scenes’ is that it depends on the night. There’s a lot of great bands from Toronto. If you’re asking bands we like, Ghost Is Dancing is a really good band; Wooden Skies are a really cool band. There’s so many good bands – arkells, Timber Timbre…
BS: It’s like New York – there’s a lot of shitty bands, too.
We know a lot of the bands that are going on, and they’re very nice. There’s not a lot of attitude. I think it’s a good place to be in a band – Broken Social Scene, sure, but also Born Ruffians (QRO album review), Tokyo Police Club, etc.
I think [Canada] is a lot more interested in Britain. I don’t know if that’s important now, but it was at some time. There’s a crosspollination there. British bands come through there, it’s sold-out. Toronto, for me, is at the center of a lot of stuff. We’re interested in what’s going on in the States, but we’re also interested in what’s going on across the globe.
Any time I talk to any band from anywhere, they’re like, ‘We love going to Toronto!’ If you’re local, it may be hard, but if you’re from out-of-town, it’ll be really great.
QRO: You guys appeared on CTV & MTV Canada. How was that?
LM: It was great. MTV Canada does a good job of putting a lot of local bands on. Very helpful…
Any time you’re on national television, I’m not complaining. They do a really good job.
The Coast playing "Floodlights" live @ Arlene's Grocery, New York, NY on September 25th, 2008:
QRO: How did the band all meet?
LM: I’ve known Ben from kindergarten, and I’m brothers with Jordan [Melchiorre, drums], and Ian [Fosberry, guitar] has been best friends with Jordan since grade school.
QRO: When did you guys start the band?
LM: We’ve been fucking around for ten years. We only really started getting serious three years ago, but we’ve been playing for a long time.
QRO: Do you guys have day jobs back home?
LM: Yeah. Me & Jordan work at American Apparel, just to make money. Ian’s a graphic designer, and Ben works for a breast-feeding charity.
It’s hard to go to work when you’re on tour as much as we are, but all of those jobs are kind of flexible.
QRO: Ben, do you normally do that ‘walking forward, almost to the lip of the stage, playing guitar’?
BS: I make a point of it, yeah. It’s very dangerous…
QRO: Are there any songs you particularly like playing live?
LM: Anything that’s new. You know, we’ve been playing a lot of these songs for a long time. Any time you talk to any band, what they most enjoy playing is their new songs.
“Killing Off Our Friends” is always fun. It’s hard to say. There’s songs you get more tired of than others.
QRO: Are there any songs that you can’t play, or don’t play?
LM: Obviously, when you’re making a set list, there are songs that are expendable more than others.
It’s funny – we were in Pittsburgh, and a song that we don’t play that much, someone requested, “The Moon is Dead”. We played it in New York, but we didn’t play it in Pittsburgh, and someone was upset.
It’s always like, ‘Oh, sorry – I didn’t mean to not play that…’ But, at the same time, it’s very flattering.
QRO: What cities or venues have you really like playing at?
LM: You know, it’s weird – we’ve been to every state in America but seven, or six. I really like Austin. Obviously New York; I think it’s probably, well not the best city in the world, but the best city in North America. Minneapolis, I think is underrated. Chicago, obviously, is great. I didn’t like L.A. – I loved San Francisco.
If I had to do a top five, it’d been San Fran, Austin, Chicago, Minneapolis, and New York. But again, I haven’t been everywhere, but those are the best towns.
The Coast playing "Nueva York" live @ Arlene's Grocery, New York, NY on September 25th, 2008:
QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?
LM: Yeah – it happened in New York. We were in Brooklyn, and we were seeing our friends Chairlift – I don’t know what was happening, but we were visiting their home, and I was outside of their home.
This larger woman came out – and let me just say, when I say ‘larger’, maybe she was two hundred pounds. Which is heavier than I am, but not that heavy. She came up to me, and lifted me up, without asking me, and put me on a dumpster, like a garbage can, and rubbed herself against me. And rubbed my genitals…
Didn’t explain what was going on, didn’t explain anything. Literally rubbed my genitals!
And I went through a period of being flattered, very frightened, embarrassed…
QRO: Did she then just leave?
LM: Literally, she did that, smiled, and left. And to me, as a tour story, that was always very touching…
The other tour story that is funny and weird, our car broke down in Clinton, NJ, and we were driven to New York City to make a gig by a fundamentalist Christian who gave each of us free Bibles, and asked us, as we were driving from Clinton to New York City, about our views on religion. And, in a very polite way, try to explain why Jesus is the right way to go.