[Editor’s note (Leslie Ken Chu): Last week, music writer Daniel Dornbierer spoke with Joseph Blood, guitarist and vocalist for Vancouver-based prog-rock group Bend Sinister. They are one of 50 bands performing at this year’s West 4th Avenue Khatsahlano Street Party, the city’s largest free outdoor music and arts festival, happening July 12. The band, which has solidified its line-up with Blood, Dan Moxon (vocals/piano), Jason Dana (drums), and Matt Rhode (bass), has four studio albums and three EPs to their name and has toured across both North America and Europe with Metric, Hollerado, and Bad Religion, to name a few. Bend Sinister has also been nominated for such awards as Sirius XM’s “Best Emerging Artist” and the Western Canadian Music Award’s “Best Rock Recording” for their third full length, 2012’s Small Fame.]
I spoke with Joseph Blood last week about how Bend Sinister’s latest release, last year’s Animals, came to be, what the guys have been up to, his thoughts on the Khatsahlano Street Party, and how they snagged porn star James Dean for their “Quest For Love” music video.
Vancouver Weekly: First off, you must be pretty stoked to play the Khatsahlano Street Party.
Joseph Blood: Yeah, Khatsahlano, it’s definitely a great event, so we’re happy to be a part of it this year. We played it maybe two years ago, and I live – we all live – in Vancouver, so I’ve just gone down every year to hang out. Its nice – enables a wide demographic – all sorts of different people that aren’t going to go see us play in a night club or anything like that… And it’s free! All the bands are good. I mean, who else is in it this year? Lightening Dust, Grapes of Wrath – a bunch of wicked Vancouver bands so, it’ll be a good time.
VW: Will the set be a mix of the old and the new, or are you sticking to your latest album, Animals?
JB: We are playing a couple [of] older songs, but we are pretty excited about the new record, so we are playing most of that new stuff.
VW: How was working with [Grammy-nominated producer] Joe Marlett? (Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age)
JB: Yeah, he was great. Well, it was a little serendipitous. We had wanted to record in San Diego. We had met Joe when we were playing in Phoenix. And Dan, just through talking to him, discovered that the very studio we had been looking at to record, he was working in. So it kind of made sense. He was really great to work with, super laid back, and really let us do our thing. Worked very hard to facilitate any ideas we had. We had a crazy schedule. There were long days in a really fast pace, and he was working mad just to be able to keep up with the editing and everything like that we were tracking.
VW: What did he bring to the table besides a list of folks he’d worked with?
JB: We did a couple [of] pre-production days with Joe at the rehearsal space there, but there really wasn’t much in terms of like writing or arrangement. It was pretty much done. He even said that he didn’t want to get to involved in that respect. Like we [as a band] have been playing together long enough. So yeah, you know, he just allowed us to do our own thing. Sometimes producers feel a need to like, overstep their boundaries a little bit. Joe recognized when he needed to step in and when to push us along and when to leave us to our own devices.
He kind of slid in with everybody pretty well. And that was great. He was super present during the whole deal. There was this time where his brother was having a kid while we were down there doing a track, and he didn’t even go down to see him [laughs]. Like, take a few hours to see your nephew, man! He was really dedicated to what was going on and whatever he had to do to make sure it all came together.
VW: Right on. So what’s thematically different about Animals, and how is it different or better than your previous releases?
JB: This one for sure is probably the most collaborative of efforts. You know, the four of us have been playing together for a couple recordings, whereas in the past we were always dealing with line-up changes and people coming in and out. The songs are more written by Dan, and this one was really everybody coming in, so there were big chunks of songs where Matt had written all the chord changes for something. There was one song on there that I wrote from start to finish pretty much. Lyrics were more of a collaborative effort. Dan and Matt and I would hang out in the jam space and toss lines around. So I think that’s probably the biggest difference: that most of the material was a real group effort. Also, this time – and this is unheard of with most bands – is that our royalties are split completely evenly. So it’s not like one guy is getting 60%, and the others are getting 10 or anything like that. We each get a quarter of all the song-writing and all that kind of stuff. So I think that just shows the methodology of our band and how we click and connect with each other and trust each other too.
VW: So this is how you see you guys running from now on?
JB: Well, we haven’t started talking about another record. We’re still touring around with this one. So I’m not really sure what the plan is. We’re just focusing on this one.
VW: How do you find the crowds here in comparison to the rest of the country?
JB: Every city is certainly different. Vancouver is funny for us because we live here and tend to play a lot here. But it’s nice. We do more shows here now like Khatsahlano, a lot of these big outdoor events. And the crowd is always awesome. I mean, you know people go crazy during the summer time. And I love playing the festival circuit in Canada because people just go nuts from June until the first week of September.
VW: What have you guys learned about yourselves during this past tour, and what are you going to work on?
JB: The biggest change with the band recently is in terms of our touring. We are way more health-conscious than we used to be. When you’re doing so many shows in a row you gotta be in tip-top shape. Otherwise, you are just not going to be able to pull it off. That’s kind of a slow change, but definitely in the last few tours we’ve been more conscientious of what we’ve been eating and actually getting proper sleep. It’s not super exciting to hear, I know, but it’s just a bit of reality [laughs]. Yeah, I mean, we want to go and put on a good show every night, and touring is really tough on your body and your state of mental well-being. If you are totally going crazy every night, you’re eventually going to have to start cancelling shows and not [perform at] your top ability.
VW: Do you think that has influenced your music at all?
JB: The song-writing has never been really lyrically driven. It’s usually writing the music first, and lyrics are almost kind of… like we have to put them in, ya know [laughs]?
VW: Gotcha. What can we expect to see during the show at Khatsahlano? How do you go about performing?
JB: We usually have our go to set list, but you’ll kind of start getting into a set and realize that some things are not clicking. So you may need to change some stuff up on the fly. We’re pretty good at picking up cues from each other. If it seems were going to have to play something a little bit heavier, we will go towards that… Our tracks run the gamut of really dance-y pop tunes to way more medley-oriented stuff. So we tailor the set to fit what we think is best.
VW: One last question I gotta ask: whose idea was it to get James Dean in the “Quest For Love” video?
JB: We have this friend – he goes by the name Lee Roy Mires, and he’s a porno director in Las Vegas. I know him through the punk rock bowling tournament that happens in Las Vegas every year. Anyways, we went to this punk rock event, and he’s a fan of the band, so he says, “Oh, I really want to do this music video for you…” And we’re like, “That’s cool, but we really don’t have any money for a video of that song.” So he says, “Oh, I can get you James Dean in it, and it’ll just be really fun.” So we thought, why not? Anyways, we were visiting him in California, and he invited us onto one of his sets. He said, “Hey I’m shooting this video. You should come down and check it out.” So we said sure and went down, and he was talking to me, and he said, “I actually got a speaking part. Do you wanna be in the film?” I’ve never actually seen it, but I have a fully clothed, non-sexual speaking part in one of his pornos that James Dean is in as well. And so we met him, and he enjoyed the song, so… It’s a pretty goofy video… It was just kind of funny…
Bend Sinister will perform at this year’s West 4th Avenue Khatsahlano Street Party on July 12. Catch them at the CityTV Stage on MacDonald Street between 6 and 7 PM. Click here to view the full Khatsahlano line-up and set times. Animals is available now at local record stores and iTunes.