TORONTO, ON*–If you ever wondered what your favorite pop punk band would sound grown up, look no further.
Royal Tusk are two parts members of the (now-defunct) band Ten Second Epic, supplemented by a weathered gang of musicians. Their debut EP, Mountain, was released June 10th via Hidden Pony Records. The Hamilton, ON-based record label celebrated its fifth anniversary during this year’s NXNE at the Horseshoe Tavern. We caught up with frontman Daniel Carriere and bassist Sandy MacKinnon at the party on Friday; dialogue below.
Are you all from Edmonton? Are you still based out of there?
Dan, Sandy: Yes.
What’s happening in Edmonton right now?
Sandy: I’ll tell you – it’s June 20th.
Dan: Isn’t tomorrow summer solstice?
Sandy: It is! But only in Edmonton. Nowhere else. [laughs] Our days are way longer than they are in Toronto, actually. Because we’re so far north, the sun actually stays out a little longer than it does here.
Alright, I’ll take it.
Sandy: Just call me a science man.
So how’d you feel about the city growing up?
Dan: Oh, love[d] it. It’s a cool city, very blue collar, down-to-earth. I mean, you’re going to get your fair share of conservative, intolerant-type people anyway.
Sandy: Me and Dan grew up in the same neighbourhood; you could throw a punch by the time you were five.
Was that because you had to, then?
Sandy: Nah, it was all because you wanted to.
Dan: I had to, he wanted to.
How do you feel about it now?
Sandy: It is what it is. It’s still a super rough city, but I like it. I like the hockey team.
I was just about to ask that: how do you feel about the Oilers?
Sandy: Well, they’re dog shit, but I mean, like I…
Sam Gagner went to my high school.
Sandy: Was he a nice fellow? Mr. Cool? Walking around collecting high-fives?
I wouldn’t know; he was a few classes ahead of me! It’s great that you’re able to play in Saskatchewan and across the prairies. That part of the country tends to be neglected by non-local performers, who go from Vancouver to Toronto to Montreal and nowhere else.
Dan: I’ve found that some of the best fans and supportive people come from those cities where people appreciate you showing up.
Sandy: If you enjoy being in a band, you enjoy playing, right? It shouldn’t be a burden to play in cities where people want to see you play.
How do you think this affects the musical style of the prairies? I know we have the internet and all, but what did you grow up listening to?
Sandy: Punk and heavy metal; smaller bands that always played in the cities.
Dan: Edmonton isn’t the cultural centre of the world, but it actually has a great music scene.
That’s promising. [Actually, The International Jazz Festival is this weekend and Cashmere Cat’s in Edmonton on Sunday. It’s more happening than you’d think.] But let’s talk about Royal Tusk. Just for the record, who are you and what do you do?
Dan: I’m Daniel and I play guitar and sing.
Sandy: I’m Sandy and I play bass. [with Dan] We’re Royal Tusk.
Why “Royal Tusk”? Is there a story?
Dan: It’s pretty censored. We can’t really share it.
Sandy: There was an orgy. There were a lot of fireworks. If you like red wine, you will not like this story.
Boo, I love red wine. Now the first thing I thought when I listened to Mountain was, “this is not Ten Second Epic.” Not that I was expecting it to be. It’s catchy; is there anything in particular that you explored on this EP that’s worth mentioning?
Dan: Juxtaposed to Ten Second Epic?
Sure. Just anything new.
Dan: We didn’t have a foresight to shoot at any one kind of music. It’s just what happens when you get different guys in a room playing. You get a different sound. TSE was more of a rehearsed performance; you don’t really improvise. This is looser; the guys will change their parts.
You’ve used the phrase “player-oriented” previously. From the sounds of it, it sounds like group-writing. What exactly do you mean by that?
Dan: In some formats, you can’t change your part because it fucks everyone up. But in this band, there’s always something interesting and creative that happens during a show that you’re not expecting. Sandy and I live together, we flesh out the ideas, and we bring it to the guys.
Any new styles?
Dan: Maybe a different kind of vibe with how we approach the guitars. Maybe a less is more thing. A focus on tone.
There’s a folk influence, actually.
Dan: Oh, I love folk music. It’s interesting that came through, it’s a pretty upbeat record. It’s interesting you caught that.
Oh, it did. [Come through. Especially on “Shadow of Love”.]
Sandy: With TSE, we were more concerned about sounding massive.
Who did the album art?
Dan: This guy named Jud Haynes. He used to play in Wintersleep and he lives in Newfoundland; really great guy doing graphic art. We met him through the label and jumped on the opportunity to get him to work with us.
From what I understand, Royal Tusk originally started as Dan’s project. Did Ten Second Epic calling it splits cause you to change it from a solo endeavour to a full-fledged band, or did you always have that in mind and just no time to execute it?
Dan: I’ve always wanted to get a band together and sing in it.
Sandy: Dan had been writing songs for years and years and years. When he asked me to join, I was more than stoked to do it.
While Ten Second Epic was still going on? And then afterwards it all fell together?
Dan: TSE ending definitely made room on the calendar.
In this interview from May 2010 when Ten Second Epic first debuted in the UK, you liken TSE to “a soup: whatever ingredients you put in, it tastes like that.”
Sandy: I sound… was I intoxicated? I’m going to go with a good yes.
Dan: “My name’s Daniel and I’m the guitarist. Two days ago we partied but last night we took it easy.”
Sandy: We sound like total tools.
Dan: Wow, these guys are insightful. [laughs]
I’m going to ask you the same question about Royal Tusk–who provides what?
Sandy: Josh is like a fine cheese, like a you-have-to-climb-a-Greek mountain cheese. I would say Dan is the beef stock, which is what the soup is cooked in. I’d like to compare myself to a rare lotus leaf that is coming into the soup to make it intense… but it’s base, so you can take it or leave it.
Dan: Kurtis is like four pills of MDMA, and Mike–
Sandy: Mike is like a little sprinkling of weed.
Dan: Weed and McFlurry from McDonalds.
… sounds like a bitch cup.
Dan: I’d try it. I try everything once.
Sandy: That’s what life is all about.
Pretty much. How did you find Hidden Pony?
Dan: The guy who recorded our record was friends with the owner, and shared it. The guy seemed to dig, so I came down to Hamilton, we had a little boy-date and we got along. Soon after that, we had a deal.
Do you feel as though you’ve had a head start this time around, with a decade of experience?
Sandy: I would say we’ve had a bit of a head start from me and Dan having been on the road for the last twelve years.
Dan: That’s the toughest thing.
Sandy: It’s finding your groove. Some of the other guys might not have had that sort of experience, but they’re learning. Me and Dan may have been the most “absent-minded” ones in TSE—
Dan: Now we’re band dads.
Sandy: It’s the blind leading the blind.
What advice would you give to other artists starting out, especially from a place like Edmonton that’s not a cultural centre?
Dan: Do it if you like it. Don’t expect anything, because you’re not going to get anything for a while. It sounds like the most jaded thing to say, but really, you should like it when it’s shitty. And if you don’t, get a different job. If you don’t like it, I don’t want to hear you play.
Sandy: At the end of the day, these kids think they’re going to get a record deal and wind up in Mötley Crue’s tour bus.
Dan: On Mötley Crue’s tour bus! Doing blow off Vince Neil’s ass!
Sandy: But in all seriousness, it’s the most fun you can have, but take it for what it is, because it could be all gone the next day.
Dan: We’re all in this together.
Sounds like you’ve “been there, done that.” This next question might put you between a rock and a hard place. What is your favourite Nickelback song?
Dan: It’s the one where he’s like, “nobody wants to be the last one there.” Pretty epic tune. And I like the one where he’s like, “I want to be a baseball, I can play basketball…”
You’re butchering that one. Isn’t that “I wanna be a rockstar?”
Sandy: What’s that one I was laughing about while we were driving? It’s like, “You look so much better with something in your mouth?”
Oh, shoot. It’s either “Animal” or “S.E.X.,” I think. [Not quite. Turns out, there’s actually a song titled, “Something in Your Mouth.”] Alright, finish the sentence: if you weren’t doing music, you’d be…
Dan: How do you type this sound? Errrrgggghhhhh…. Errggghhhhh.
That’s going to slow this whole [transcribing] process down, Dan. You just screwed this up.
Sandy: I’d be sleeping on the street.
So. New EP. Upcoming music video. These Hidden Pony showcases, a mini-tour, and a larger nationwide tour towards the end of the summer. What follows?
Dan: If we haven’t gotten this across, we just like touring. So another tour. Also, we’d like to get into the states instead of just falling into the graveyard of Canadian legends.
Do you write on tour?
Dan: A bit, yeah. There is a time to jam. It’s a big party foul to bring a guitar out when it shouldn’t come out yet.
Can you pinpoint that time?
Sandy: No, let someone else do it.
[sirens; an emergency vehicle is coming down the road]
Sandy: Okay, I gotta get going. I think they’re after me.
We’re about wrapped up anyway. Good luck at This Ain’t Hollywood tonight, and thanks for your company!
*This summer, The B-Side reports from locations worldwide including Berlin, London, Los Angeles, and Toronto.