Ornament & Crime debrief after crossing Canada for the first time

INTERVIEW: Ornament & Crime share thoughts and photos from the road

This past fall, Vancouver duo Ornament & Crime learned some of their greatest lessons as a band yet while touring across Canada for the first time. What drummer Suzy King and singer and guitarist Thomas Hudson learned while on the road for six weeks is invaluable for any aspiring touring musician who, like the band, forges an independent path whether out of necessity or choice. Vancouver Weekly asked King and Hudson about their highs and lows from coast to coast, what they would do differently, and what they would do the same.

Vancouver Weekly: Did you have a favourite town or venue? Did you play any particularly memorable shows?

Photo by Suzy King

Thomas Hudson: Towns were kind of all interesting for different reasons. I loved Quebec City and Montreal. All the big and the small towns were really neat. For venues-

SK: I really liked Phog.

TH: Yep, Phog Lounge in Windsor was really neat…. It had a very close and personal kind of feeling. It also happened to be the only venue on tour where people specifically knew to come to the Phog Lounge on a Friday night because they knew there would be good bands.… It was neat to meet some people that just basically wanted to know what we were about and knew that our music was going to be good in one way or another.

SK: By the end of the night, we could tell how different the crowd was from the usual kind of “Great set” and handshake or something that you get after a show… In Windsor, there were a lot of people that showed up to see us,… At the end of night, everybody just wanted to spend time with us. I think that was the interesting gratitude afterwards.

VW: On the tour, did you face any unexpected challenges? Was anything easier than you expected or more difficult than you expected?

TH: I think the challenges are so a part of what you expect is gonna happen on tour that as long as there are no cataclysmic events, you’re like, “Well, this is exactly what I thought it was gonna be.” You know you’re gonna have a couple of bad shows. You know you’re gonna have a good one. You just don’t know when they’re gonna happen or where they’re gonna happen.

SK: Yeah, and maybe you didn’t make enough money to put into the tank.

VW: Before you guys went out [on tour], you got some invaluable advice from a Chicago band.

SK: [Y]ou kind of realize not everybody back home is leaving to tour, and I didn’t really feel like I had anybody to ask. I just was kind of doing it and guessing at what I had to do, so it was just kind of nice to hear [North by North drummer] Kendra [Blank] talk about it and know that I was on track…. I felt ridiculous that I was messaging like 15 to 30 bands per town, and she would message 30 to 40.

VW: How much overall did you rely on DIY networks, and did you make any more good connections throughout the tour?

SK: I learned that it seems easier to go through a promoter or have the venue book the bands, and we only had maybe two or three shows like that, and they were my least favourite because when you don’t make that personal connection with the bands you’re playing with, it changes the night. They don’t know you before you show up. They don’t really care. They haven’t brought people out. But the bands I was in conversation with, they were offering to poster and bringing lots of people out, helping set up the show. Those were the really good shows.

Photo by Suzy King

VW: I remember you guys had considered extending the tour by seeking [art] commissions or I think also some design work when you were on the road, or filling in dates between shows.

SK: In the end, we decided to focus on music. In the time between [shows], we wanted to be taking pictures and making art and writing.

TH: And we went to a lot of universities, dropping off records and-

SK: Yeah, instead of doing the CITR mail-out, which we did before, we decided to just hand-deliver our record to all the radio stations, so we took our time doing that stuff instead…. What was nice about doing it by hand is there was radio stations that weren’t on [CITR’s] list that we were able to go to in person and talk to people in person. Again, the in-person thing is so valuable.

TH: So it’s a lot of driving to talk to the next one person.

SK: But it’s great. That’s the thing about tour that really gets me really excited. And it changes people’s perception because you’ve actually left the place you’re from…. Some places don’t take vinyl, and some places love cassettes, so we kind of brought everything with us. “What do you want? What’s going to end up in your library, and what’s going to end up in the trash?”

TH: We burned a couple of CDs just to hand out because some people would keep the vinyl and keep the digital, but realistically, day-to-day, the way they sort their music is they grab CDs off the shelf.

SK: CDs are a medium that we almost avoided, so it’s kinda funny that we had to make CDs to give to the radio.

VW: Besides the meeting with radio stations and campus media, I know you guys were making a real effort to garner other sort of press. Did you find that was difficult besides the radio stations, being a DIY band?

TH: I think those things came up unexpectedly. You actively try to think of, “Who could we talk to in Montreal to spread the word?” But in the end, you might find that there’s nobody really that you know, or they’re people who are busy. So the better things happened just because of natural connections, like the podcast that we did in Toronto. That wasn’t on the list when we left Vancouver.

Photo by Suzy King

SK: We went to Phono Pony’s show, and it was an old friend of [Phono Pony drummer] Shay [Hayashi]’s that now has a podcast called Endeavours…. Our timing was uncanny crossing paths with certain bands, and we just happened to have time to stop in Toronto that night on our way to Windsor to see their show.

We sort of gotten back what we’ve put in. Time is probably the biggest challenge as a DIY band because we do everything ourselves…. Nobody’s going to work as hard for you as you’re gonna work for yourselves…. We put so much time into everything so far.

TH: Once we’ve made all the art and some supplementary materials like videos and things like that and kept it all in the same artistic scope, then there’s that much less time to be booking shows which is that much less time to get publicity.

SK: I feel like there needs to be a different allowable window for DIY bands ‘cause you don’t come out with all this promo and all this stuff with your record ready six months beforehand like a mainstream band who has all these people. But if you try to send your record somewhere three months or four months after it’s come out, it’s kind of old news by then which is really hard for DIY bands. I feel like a year window is more realistic for an underground band.… Certainly, if you just didn’t do anything for six months, and now you’re trying to promote your album, that’s a different story than if you’ve been working at it actively…. Especially as an underground band, nobody’s album comes out with a bang.

VW: Did you come to appreciate anything about Vancouver more after having travelled across the country?

SK: Not to be so sentimental, but I feel like I just have a lot more love for how hard the artists are working here. It was really refreshing to get out of the city and to meet all of the other musicians who are also getting out of the city,… Vancouver really does feel like a small town sometimes.

TH: The biggest thing I noticed is how secluded Vancouver feels. There’s a lot going on in Vancouver; there’s more bands than you can shake a stick at. There’s a lot less bands in Fredericton, New Brunswick, but because they all know each other, it’s different. They can all be creative together and push each other. But at the same time, there’s only one place for them to play. They can’t play every weekend. They gotta play once a month or something. So it’s neat to come to Vancouver where there are lots of bands doing lots of things. But we’re far from anything else. You either play in Vancouver or you think about driving a thousand kilometres away from it.

VW: Did you guys end up playing mostly conventional venues, or did you guys end up playing a lot of DIY spaces like houses and record shops and stuff?

Photo by Suzy King

SK: We wanted more of that, actually. I think that would be something I would look for more next time. That stuff almost needed more time to research…. But I feel like now that we’ve made connections with people in towns, we can ask those people.

VW: Realistically, how soon do both of you think you would be able to do this again? Or how soon would you want to do it again?

SK: I want to do it right away. I guess it’s trying to figure out what to do next because Canada is really big. I mean, maybe 10, 20 years ago, you could have had more shows in small towns, and I don’t mind playing to two people if they’re super into it…. But it’s also just a matter of being able to afford the gas in our van to drive that distance. So we’re kind of looking at like, “How can we do America? How can we do Europe?”

TH: I definitely want to go out east again. We’re either gonna have to go even longer and try to string house show after house show after cool beachside resort after. You’re going to have to try to do that so that you play every two hours down the road, or you’re going to have to be airlifted from Winnipeg to Montreal because there’s nothing between. I would love to play in Thunder Bay, but it takes eight hours – what is it? It’s eight, it’s um… yeah, it’s so far away.

VW: So it sounds like the two biggest things that you would do differently are researching more active DIY spaces and doing maybe even more face-to-face with campus radio or other media and venues especially. Would that be the same advice that you would give to other musicians who are aspiring to do the same trek? Do you have anything else that you would add on top of that?

Photo by Suzy King

SK: Now we know the other bands that just went through the same learning curve and struggles as we did booking it and finding stuff out, and now those are the people we’re talking to. So the next time we do this, we’ll have that much more to grow from. But I guess just do it. Just go out and do it.

Ornament & Crime play The Railway Stage & Beer Café this Thursday, Dec. 14th. RSVP here.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu