Sudbury's Casper Skulls Are the Heroes Who Escaped the "Armpit of Ontario"
The band also premiere the new video "Love Brain" off their new debut EP 'Lips & Skull'
Musically, the city of Greater Sudbury does not have much going for it—now or ever. Save being immortalized as a hard boozin' community in Stompin' Tom Connors' classic "Sudbury Saturday Night," the Nickel City as its called is probably best known for producing the late '90s rap-rockers Project Wyze. But Casper Skulls are looking to change that. Of course, the band's Sudbury natives—Neil Bednis and Melanie St-Pierre—have since relocated to Toronto, but they still rep their hometown hard when it comes into conversation.
Toronto, however, has quickly embraced Casper Skulls as its own. After playing a show last December, they were quickly courted and scooped up by the nurturing arms of Buzz Records. It's a good fit for both Casper Skulls and Buzz, which adds another hotly-tipped act to its stacked roster that already includes Greys, Dilly Dally and Weaves. What's so great about Casper Skulls is that in the eight or so tracks they've released so far, it's become increasingly tough to pigeonhole them. One minute they're cranking out irate shoegaze on "Mink Coats," the next they're name-dropping the Blue Jays on a rowdy post-punk track called "Devotion," and then they somehow pull of what could be the greatest Pavement song that Pavement never wrote, "Errands."
On their just-released debut EP, Lips & Skull, it feels as if the band just giving us the tip of the iceberg. Where Casper Skulls are headed, I have no idea, but it sure is exciting to watch them effortlessly flip the script with their sound. Noisey has the premiere for their brand new video "Love Brain," as well as a Q&A with Bednis and St-Pierre, who schooled us on Sudbury's music scene and shared the stories behind each and every track on their EP.
Noisey: You two are both originally from Sudbury. I can't think of many… I mean, any bands from that city.
Neil Bednis: There's a band from Sudbury called Vicious Cycle that were on Deranged. And then there is another band that I think were on Deranged as well for a bit called Statues.
Actually, I have heard of those bands. I had no idea they were from Sudbury though.
Bednis: There's also Mick Futures, who put out a record on Telephone Explosion. I think that's everything.
Melanie St-Pierre: And Vicious Cycle aren't a band anymore. They broke up and now they're all graphic designers. Mick Futures is still going pretty strong, I think.
Is there much of a scene in Sudbury? Or is it a place you need to leave in order to get anywhere?
St-Pierre: We got to meet a lot of people, and being from a smaller town means you don't know too much about what is out there. People start bands and have the mentality of "big fish in a small pond," but once you get to Toronto you realize you're nothing. It's a big reality check. But the community there is very supportive and you can easily get lost in it.
My roommate in university called Sudbury the "armpit of Ontario," so that has always been my lasting impression. I've never been there though.
Bednis: I think that's North Bay, actually.
St-Pierre: We played a show in North Bay once, and I don't think we're ever gonna do that again. It's just too far away and there isn't much of a scene there.
So Sudbury is an underrated music city?
Bednis: Totally. They have a new music festival called Up Here, which bands like Dilly Dally, Holy Fuck, Odonis Odonis played this year. So they're trying to do cool things there.
St-Pierre: Yeah, they're trying to bring a lot of Toronto to Sudbury, because a lot of Toronto bands played it this year.
Bednis: Definitely over the last few years the Sudbury music scene has slowly grown, in terms of bands and the quality of the music.
St-Pierre: And art too. They've got a lot of muralists that come and paint.
When did you guys come to Toronto?
St-Pierre: Well, I went to Sheridan College in Oakville to study fine arts. Neil and I did two years of long distance because he was still in school in Sudbury for social work. And then he moved to Oakville for my last year, and after that was finished we moved to Toronto. In that one year we were in Oakville we met Chris [Anthony] and Fraser [McClean] and started the band.
So the band was formed in Oakville, another city that doesn't have much of a scene. Burlington, on the other hand, has an amazing music history.
St-Pierre: Yeah, not really. I didn't hear anything about Oakville while we were living there.
Bednis: But we've officially been living in Toronto since August 2015. So a little over a year. We played our first show in March of last year, and started playing together in January-ish.
The band is pretty efficient then in getting shit done.
St-Pierre: Yeah, we put out the 7" that year, and started recording it a month after we formed the band. And then we pressed it in March, so it was pretty quick.
Do you keep up that pace? Like are you working on a full-length now?
Bednis: Yeah, so we're almost done writing the full-length. I think in mid-March we're going to record. Most of the record is done now. It's gonna be a lot more melodic. I think on the EP everything is really dry sounding, and the LP will be more representative of how we sound live with a little bit more reverb, a little more effects. We use some new tunings we haven't tried out before too.
St-Pierre: It will still have spoken word and the same vocal treatments. We get a little bit poppier. You can say that.
How did you hook up with Buzz Records?
Bednis: We played a show in Hamilton with that band the Dirty Nil, and Fake Palms were also on the bill. Shehzaad [Jiwani] from Greys just happened to be playing bass for Fake Palms, and he told Ian [Chai] from Buzz about us. And then we played another show in Toronto with Fake Palms and Ian was there, and that's basically how it started.
St-Pierre: I was just coming out of the washroom and Shehzaad was like, "Hey! You guys are really interesting. I want to talk to you about Buzz." And then we sat down and talked.
You recorded the EP with Shehzaad and Josh Korody. They seem to in-house producers for Buzz Records the way 40 and Boi-1da are for OVO Sound. Did you choose to work with them?
St-Pierre: The thing about Buzz is that it's a really big friend group. Everyone likes each other. I think it was more like Shehzaad just saying, "Hey, I'd like to produce your record." And we said yes. It was our first time recording something a little more serious than a single, so it was nice to have him in the roombecause he'd give us pointers and we have the same taste in music. And Josh too. They're a great team together. Josh had done Dilly Dally and Weaves. And of course, Shehzaad had done the Beverleys and the Dirty Nil. So we just thought, "Why not? It's the sound we're going for."
Bednis: I think any band can go with whomever they want as a producer. We just thought it'd be fun. Plus we're fans of everything they've done.
The EP is loosely based on Richard Hell's book, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp . What was it about the book that inspired you to write about it?
Bednis: We both read it together, and I just liked the dynamic between Tom and Richard. They're parallel opposites but they could also bond over something. They were both really intelligent, but Tom was pretty relaxed, whereas Richard would always debate things. He was pretty eccentric. I think we just wanted to look at the duality of interpersonal relationships and that duality within oneself.
St-Pierre: Especially in friendships, because there's a song on the EP called "Lips & Skulls," which was based on a friendship I had where one of us was more reserved than the other, but we complemented each other well.
Bednis: It also is about when those things don't work, when they clash. In the book it talks about how their relationship fell apart. They were just two different people.
You've said that the songs you write are stories about how certain things have affected your lives. Can you talk me through the stories behind each song?
Bednis: The first track "Devotion" is about being devoted to something, whether it's the place you get coffee or the type of coffee you drink, all the way to being devoted to a law like capital punishment. "Lips & Skull" is about the duality of man, as we were talking about, the relationships of two people. "Errands" is about having to run errands for someone who died that you didn't particularly like. I think I said in another interview that it also examines how both people are flawed: the person running the errand and the person who died. They're both kind of bigots.
St-Pierre: "Love Brain" is based off of a relationship I had. It's about when you're not in love with someone but you try and convince yourself that you are, so you stay with them even though you make each other miserable. And that's what the video is also about. A love brain represents a flawed relationship.
Bednis: And the last one, "Caught On A Wire," is about depression and anxiety, and what it's like to be at the end of your rope.
Cam Lindsay is a writer in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.