The Good North Interview- From the Archives 2/05
The Good North is:
Luke O’Neil: vocals
Alex Jorge: lead guitar
Leo Crowley: guitar
Dave Riley: bass
Mike Morrissey: drums
As mentioned above, due to the MASSIVE amount of cds coming in for review, from EVERYWHERE(!), as of recently, we're just now getting caught up with posting interviews that I had wished to get up on the site MONTH's ago (so, naturally, some of the yappin' within will be outdated), but hey, better late than never- and THE GOOD NORTH, if you've yet to hear of them, are a ridiculously good band, so please read on! - Deek
IF YOU’RE ANYTHING LIKE ME, YOU REORGANIZE YOUR CD COLLECTION FROM TIME TO TIME, AND TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHO BELONGS NEXT TO THE WHO… ETC, ETC, ETC. THE GOOD NORTH’S LATEST (AND GENERALLY ACKNOWLEDGED BEST) OFFERING PRESENTS A CLASSIFICATION CONUNDRUM. WHAT ASPECT OF LIFE OUTSIDE OUR WALLS SHOULD YOU LET CONTROL THE DECISION? DO YOU TAKE THE CRITICS’ ADVICE AND LUMP THIS LOCAL BAND IN WITH BRITPOP HEAVYWEIGHTS LIKE OASIS AND RADIOHEAD? DO YOU LISTEN TO TRACKS 3 AND 5, DEFER TO YOUR SENSE OF SAD POP SONG HISTORY, AND STACK THEM NEXT TO THE CURE, MORRISSEY, AND THE SMITHS? OR DO YOU DECIDE THAT THE EDGY GUITARS, PEPPY BASS, MELODIC VOCALS AND INSISTENT PERCUSSION THAT APPEAR IN EVERY TRACK WARRANT THEM A SPOT NEXT TO EARLY U2 ALBUMS LIKE BOY AND OCTOBER? I STILL HAVEN’T FIGURED IT OUT, EVEN AFTER A RECENT INTERVIEW AT THE GOOD NORTH’S JAMSPACE, WHERE I CONSULTED THE BAND MEMBERS THEMSELVES.
LB: First, tell me about the band name.
Luke: Well, obviously choosing a band name is a difficult process. Since we were just starting out, and were influenced by a lot of bands, it seemed natural to us to look to a band that we really liked for our name. We were all big fans of the band Idlewild, and "Take me to the north, the good north" is a lyric from one of their songs. We used to joke that it would be one day our theme song. For some reason, even before we heard that song, the frontrunners among the names we were thinking of all had "north" in them.
Leo: Idlewild is kind of an obscure band over here, and that song is especially so. Also, it's a lyric from a song they didn't even play all that much, and it's not the title or anything. It's homage that probably only 500 people in this country get.
Alex: Plus, the first order of business when forming a band is to rip off every band you admire. At least the stuff that works.
Leo: And the last order of business? Keep rippin' off every band you admire!
Luke: After two and a half years, we've managed to sound like… ourselves. It takes awhile to get there, but bands really improve over time. You know how it is – you can see a band and think they suck, but a year later, you'll be impressed.
LB: Even six months later.
Alex: That's a virtue of playing together all the time, and constantly being in each other's company. It makes you tighter friends, and that translates into a tighter band and better music.
Leo: We'll jam out at practice, but we'll consciously avoid playing whatever's hot at the moment. We try to keep going with what we're building toward.
Luke: I think what we're really trying to do now is not write songs that sound like us.
Leo: No disco beats! There are a thousand bands in New York that have them.
Luke: It's true. Sometimes they work their way in, and we have to stop ourselves. But it's hard to stop, because they're so much fun!
Alex: Well, we can have as many as we want… but when no one else is listening.
LB: So you spend a lot of time in each other's company?
Dave: In each other's face… in each other's space….
Leo: Luke and I live together, and we all go out about 4 nights a week, whether we're playing or not. I think we just gravitate towards each other's sense of humor.
Luke: Yeah, we can go to a packed bar and just end up talking to each other.
Alex: Nobody else can tolerate us!
Luke: When we went to New York the other day, we were in this sweet club. The place was packed, there were girls dancing, and we ended up just talking to each other anyway.
Leo: I think that's originally why this line-up came together. All of us are around each other anyway, so it made sense and seemed like a natural extension of things.
Luke: There have been a couple of changes to the line-up since we first started, but this is the one we're most comfortable with. You wouldn't want to be in a band with someone that you don't want to spend a lot of time with. I think that's how a lot of bands end up hating each other.
LB: Touring, for example?
Luke: Right. At this point, we're only doing 2 or 3 gigs in a row, usually a NY-NJ-CT thing, and I think we have our fair share of hating each other. Fortunately, we can all make each other laugh, too.
Alex: Laughter is key.
Leo: Also, the good thing about being so tight is that you can hate somebody else in the band, and know that it’ll pass. Then next week, the guy you hate will be your favorite person in the band.
Luke: I keep a list of "who hates who" each week. The new one comes out tonight.
LB: Nice. Where have you been gigging up to now?
Luke: We've stuck to the Northeast so far: NY, NJ, PA, RI, and all over MA, but we don't want to keep it like that for much longer. We're about ready to go on a long stint.
Alex: This town is ready for us to go on a long tour, I think.
Luke: Plus the EP is getting out all over the country, so I think it's a good time for us to get out there. Last we heard, 85 or 95 radio stations have picked it up and played it. The best time to get out there is when you have a new thing to push, and that’s our ambition. We don't want to just stay around here. We love Boston and we love New York, but it's fun to get away from here, too. Plus, we often get better responses in those little, out-of-the-way places.
LB: Because you're exotic?
Luke: I guess so. I mean, people from Boston and New York have seen it all, but in those other places, people get much more excited.
Leo: Also, I think we're at the point where real fans come to our shows rather than just people hanging out on the scene. We’re in the process of building a following, and it's tough, but whether we play to 20, 50 or 100 people, most people who see us become fans.
Luke: We've been going at this for awhile, and I think we always thought we were good, but lately we've been playing Boston shows that are just packed! We're looking around going, "Who are these people?" Which is what you want. The weird part is that now, people at shows don't talk to us much because we're "cool guys in a band" or something. And we're like, "Uh, don't you know that..."
Dave: "…it's just us?"
Luke: … and we're kinda nervous too.
Alex: That's why we're at the back of the club, talking to each other.
Leo: It is a good sign, though. We've spent time trying to focus, and getting to know what our style is. While the band has existed for 2 ½ years, we have a slightly different line-up. I came on in August, and Alex joined in November.
LB: You've also been going pretty heavy at the promotional end of things, too.
Alex: Yup. We've been fortunate enough to play with some really great local bands at highly promoted shows. For example, we played the Boston Rising show in April, which was put together by our friends in The Model Sons. Those guys worked their asses off to put together a great program. It was designed to exhibit sort of an eclectic mix of Boston music, and it definitely did just that.
Leo: It sold out The Middle East Downstairs with all local bands on a Saturday night, and with national acts playing right down the street. We've also been really fortunate to have national acts pick us up as their opener. Deek's also been great to us, and so have Paul Driscoll and Chris Rucker at FNX.
Luke: The support of the radio folks really helps us reach people who aren't necessarily connected to the local scene. That's who we're trying to reach now: regular kids.
Leo: The people who go to shows every week know who we are and they have for awhile, so it's cool to get some radio play. That's how you get fans in the suburbs.
Alex: Obviously, on the Boston scene it's strictly an 18+ crowd. The radio is one way to reach the younger tier.
Leo: Right now is a really special time for Boston, because so many people on the scene are trying to build something. There's no back-biting or sniping. We're not New York or L.A., but the caliber of bands here is just as good.
Dave: It's more fun that way too, you know? Hangin' out with bands you like, that are your friends as well. It's much better than playing a show and leaving right afterward.
Alex: It's a fantastic rush to call musicians that you admire your friends.
Leo: The difference between Boston and other scenes is that when we play a show with other bands, they can expect to see us in the front row, listening to their sets, before and after we go on. In New York, guys will sit in the back room, drinking beer until it's their turn. It's really special here.
Luke: That does mean a lot. Fortunately, all our friends are in bands that we really like. Maybe that's why we're friends with them.
LB: And have you played many all-ages shows?
Luke: We haven't played enough, to be honest with you. Every time we play Providence, we play an all-ages show and we love it. They are awesome shows, but they're hard to come by. They're so much better too, because the kids come right up to the stage!
Dave: The excitement hasn't been sucked out of them yet.
Leo: At the all-ages shows, nobody's afraid to ruin their "cool factor" by actually liking the band, dancing, and being right up front. Other shows, people stand there with their arms folded because they've seen it all before, they're jaded, and they're worried about…"
LB: Their mortgage?
Leo: Exactly. But young kids aren't like that. Unfortunately, there aren't very many venues in Boston for those all-ages shows… or if there are, we don't know about them! If anybody knows where they are, let us know!
Dave: Well, you can't really make any money from them if you're a bar, because you can't sell much booze. Some bars I've noticed will charge the 18+ kids a bit more to see local bands, which I guess works. What they should do is lower the drinking age to 16, and everything will be fine!
Leo: You can print that!
LB: Any other political views?
Alex: Lower the drinking age to 16. That'll do.
Luke: Take off the smoking ban!
LB: I don't know. It's one of the best things that ever happened to me, so….
Dave: I know! How good is it that your clothes don't stink the next day anymore!
Alex: I don't mind going outside. I think I prefer it.
LB: Plus, you get to see a little bit of street life.
Leo: It's not so bad in the summer. Talk to me again in January.
Alex: My only problem is that you can see, about halfway through your set, people walking outside to smoke and then wandering back in. That's not so fun.
LB: Tell me about the new CD?
Alex: It's called Life Outside Our Walls. It's an EP, has 5 tracks, and they're all hits. Not a brick in the bunch.
Leo: We all have different opinions on which one is our favorite, and that opinion changes too.
Luke: I think they all represent different aspects of the band.
Dave: It's cool to just let the DJ decide which one he wants to play.
Leo: Our fans seem to favor different tracks, too. It's interesting that there's no real consensus, and that's what's cool about having different genres on the same EP. I think that the mark of a good recording is that I'm not bored of playing these songs, even after recording them in the studio, where you play them every day. If you're still excited to play them afterward, there's something special going on there.
Alex: The difference between this EP and the first record is that the first record has a few songs that we don’t revisit. When we recorded this one, we played the hell out of these songs, so they're representative of how we wanted them to be.
Leo: We were also lucky to hook up with Bob Logan at Small Church. His opinion became valued and trusted. He took a real interest in the EP and that shines through.
Luke: We took our time too, which makes a big difference. When we did our album, we banged out 12 songs in 7 days, but we took our time with this one -- about 2 months.
LB: And how do the songs get written?
Luke: It's pretty democratic. We hammer 'em out in here. When a riff sounds good, we'll play it again, and keep playing it until eventually, it becomes a song.
Leo: That's one of the ways that our tight friendship translates to the writing process. If we come in here to write a song, and something's not working, we aren't afraid to scrap it, or change it. We don't beat around the bush, and nobody gets offended.
Luke: It's good and bad because it means you write fewer songs, but the ones that you do write are more worthwhile. It guarantees that none of them suck because they've been edited so many times. Sometimes we get lucky and they come fast. Like tonight, we're working on one we wrote just the other night. Other times we'll struggle to get stuff out. But when it comes, you can tell that it's going to be a good song.
Leo: When you're not inhibited by the other people in the room, you're not afraid to rip yourself apart. I think that's why the songs are so tight. By the time we put them out in public, we’ve already torn everything in them down in here first.
Alex: We've definitely had arguments over minute details of the songs….
Luke: Which is a pain in the ass at the time, but it's worth it!
Alex: …but that is the process and it's working.
Luke: It's better than a lot of bands where one person writes all the songs and tells everyone else what to play. I guess that can be good, but all our songs are written by The Good North. Everyone was involved.
Alex: It's important that every member of the band have ownership of the material.
Leo: I think we're five people who would be creating, no matter what. So we all need to have input into what we create together. It makes it tougher, but I think we turn out a superior product.
Alex: I maintain that song-writing is a painful process, whether you do it on your own, or in a group. Sometimes it's incredibly painful.
Dave: That's true with any artistic process.
Alex: Yeah, but at least with this group of people, when we drill something and we cut out all the extraneous bullshit, all five of us mean everything that we're doing and we want to earn one another's respect. I certainly want to impress everybody in this room.
Leo: I think we all trust each other, and have each others' backs, so when we come to this room, we want to live up to each other. It pushes us hard.
Luke: I feel fortunate to have these guys. On many different occasions, I've said that one or another of these guys is the best I ever knew. I feel lucky to have them.
Dave: That is the truth.
LB: What is the toughest part of being a band?
Leo: Being a band!
Luke: Being a booking agent.
Dave: Sometimes the road can be difficult.
Leo: It's like being in a relationship -- sometimes things get rocky and you can't remember why you’re there. The next minute, you're like "Oh yeah. That's why!"
Alex: For me, the hardest part is balancing the rest of my life. I feel like I live two different realities. The band is one reality, and the other is work, girlfriends and whatever else.
Luke: Ideally, we won’t have to do that for too long, but it is a lot of hard work. Practice, promotion and all that stuff. It's a pain in the ass, but it's necessary work that we have to do. It must be nice to be U2 or the Strokes, and not have to do it, but we're not there yet. A lot of bands do all that work and then give up before it pays off.
Leo: The other tough thing is that, as much as we appreciate our accomplishments, they fade fast, and we start thinking about the next thing, the next level. Asking, "Now what?"
LB: And what's the best?
Dave: Playing a sweet show, where the crowd's lovin' it!
Leo: As much as I love playing shows and being on a stage, I think playing with these guys is the best thing for me. It has been the best therapy during some tough times. I can have a great time playing whether there's a crowd there or not.
LB: Luke, how has being a music editor for the Weekly Dig affected things with this band? Does it affect your approach at all?
[Interview paused here, as Uncle Tony, the jam-space manager, stops by for a chat.]
Luke: What did you ask me, again? Oh right. It definitely helps all around. I think it makes me a better writer, to be a person who talks to writers.
Leo: I think the fact that Luke's been so involved in new developments in music, from his early days as a DJ, and now as a music editor.
Luke: Yeah, it's also helped me make some connections. It's closed some doors, and opened others.
Leo: I think it's also helpful to have a music critic inside the band. It keeps us focused.
Alex: Shit doesn’t fly with Luke.
Luke: Well, I would never want to put a CD out that I would hate, or that I would give a bad review, because I know what would be said. I also know that writers read lyrics, so I pay close attention to our lyrics. Plus, it's had an effect on me as a music critic. I know how hard it is to be a band starting out, so I try not to be really negative about new bands.
LB: Tell me about the CD release party you have planned.
Leo: It's at T.T. the Bear's with the Bon Savants, Bravery, our really good friends The Information, and we're headlining.
Dave: We're trying to make it more of a "night" rather than just "band-on, band-off."
Alex: I'm very excited about it!
Luke: It's the type of thing we would all probably go to anyway.
Leo: Actually, our friend Carl Lavin who runs "The Pill" and "The Plan," is so dedicated to building a scene that he cancelled "The Pill" this Friday night to bring their crowd over to T.T.'s. He has single-handedly turned Great Scott's over in Allston into a great place to see bands. He's got follow-through, good taste, commitment, and a lot of ambition.
LB: And do you have distribution?
Luke: Actually, we just got picked up by CTD in Chicago. Our CD is already in Tower Records, Newbury Comics, and HMV in New York. The CTD thing has a lot to do with our label, Primary Voltage, and Evan Koch, who works tirelessly to build really good, stable bands. Our label just signed The Information and Babystrange.
Leo: Evan is really a self-made man. He spearheaded that label and we depend on him for a lot. We call him "Coach."
LB: What do you depend on him for?
Luke: We can’t handle money! It’ll go straight to beer. He's also been working towards getting us distribution in the UK, which is a big deal for us.
LB: What would be your ideal venue, and ideal bill?
Leo: On the moon! With Radiohead, Oasis, and of course, we're headlining.
Dave: In a moon dome? Or rockin' out in space suits?
Leo: ON - THE - MOON!
Dave: As for influences, I’m a metal-head from way back… but I think my ideal venue would be T.T. the Bear’s with Bon Savants, Bravery and The Information. What can I say? I'm a dreamer.
LB: You may get your wish.
Luke: Well, basically that's what we did for CD launch, is we put together one of our ideal bills, for the level we're at. It should be a great time for me. If we blow up, my answer would probably be Glastonbury with Oasis.
Leo: If we blow up, I want to play with Nelly. Imagine a Britpop night with Nelly and his entourage! He’s so poignant! Think about it. "Why do I live this way?"
Dave: If we blow up, I'm going to run around putting really fancy restaurants along the highway. No more fast food.
Leo: By the way, a big shout-out to the Dakota Steakhouse in CT at… whatever exit that was. Sharla is the best waitress in the world. She treated us like rock stars. I don’t know what was weirder: the fact she asked us for a business card, or that we had some to give her! Thanks Coach!
ASK FOR ONE YOURSELF! CHECK WWW.THEGOODNORTH.COM FOR SHOW DATES