“Work hard, party harder.” The motto’s as widespread and basic as “YOLO,” but Toronto-via-Kitchener six-piece Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs are flipping it around: they party hard, but they’re working even harder as they prepare to release their self-titled album.
Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs will arrive on July 28th via Dine Alone Records in Canada and Burger Records in the United States. The band hit the road last week with the Flatliners and recent Juno winners the Dirty Nil as part of Dine Alone’s label showcase tour. Vancouver Weekly shot Coffey a few questions ahead of their stop at Venue Nightclub on June 3rd about the band’s new album, why they play less country music now, how Meatloaf found his way into the Iron Lungs’ sound, and not fucking around.
Vancouver Weekly: You recently premiered your new single “Judy”. Does the whole album burst with as much runaway, sky-fisting energy, or have you packed other surprises? What else can we expect?
Sam Coffey: No, you nailed it. This album is going to be full of sky-fists. We wanted to make a classic rock record, and I think we dialed it in pretty well!
VW: I’ve read that the album deals with feeling isolated as a teenager and escapism, topics you know very well based on personal experience. What did you turn to in order to escape besides, I assume, music?
SC: Well, first off, I’d just like to get across that my life growing up (and still to this day) was laughably easy. I just think it’s an easy nostalgic emotion to hone in on for me. Music meant so much to me when I was that age, and I hope I can help somebody the same way it helped me. And I love watching Over the Edge and Stand by Me. Coming-of-age stories are the best.
VW: You’ve also said the album touches on growing self-aware within urban sprawl. Did many of your formative experiences happen at shows? Is the sense of self-discovery something you hope to capture or give people at your shows?
SC: I never went to shows growing up, to be honest. I just didn’t know they were happening or what it was about. I remember the effect when I first started to go though. It felt like I found something that I could fit in best with and had something to contribute to, a sense of community. That was important for me, just something I could work on and contribute to and feel good about.
VW: The band has now expanded to a six-piece. Where did you cull the other guys from? Were Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs missing something that made you say, “We need more members” or, “Yes, we’ll take on more members”?
SC: It happened very organically! I had moved to Toronto from Kitchener where the original four-piece lineup formed. I could feel the Kitchener lineup fizzle out because I was never around, and one night, Joel [French] and Dave [Tyson] were drinking beers and playing guitars at their place and invited me over, and the entire band was there. We started playing the songs I wrote cuz we went to each other’s shows at the time, and we formed the band right there in Joel’s bedroom on Ossington & Queen. Literally a day later, Tyler [Stoddart] from the Kitchener lineup gave me a call and told me he was quitting the band, so I just called it quits and started anew in Toronto.
VW: You unabashedly love country music. Who are your favourites?
SC: I love country! I love Gram Parsons, John Prine, Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, and Sturgill Simpson is great!
VW: The band has kind of stopped playing country music though. Was there an Iron Lungs revolt? Did the guys put their foot down and squash your yearning to play country? Or was it a natural change from adding new members? Are the band’s Meatloaf and E Street inclinations more theirs than yours?
SC: It happened naturally. Most of the guys just didn’t like country that much and didn’t have an interest, but that didn’t stop me from writing it. I have a biiiiiig back-log of country songs that I’ve been writing over the years. They’ll definitely see the light of day sometime soon because I feel good about them. I love the new Meatloaf/E-Street band thing we have more than what we did before though, and that is definitely a direct result of hanging out with the guys. We used to just get pissed up in Liam [Doyle] and Richard [Stanley]’s kitchen and listen to Bat Out of Hell over and over again, so it started shining through when we were making our last album Gates of Hell. Now, we just sound like a full-on classic rock band that really likes English music.
VW: How well do you know everyone in the Flatliners and the Dirty Nil? Have you played shows with them before? Have you or any of the Iron Lungs played in other bands with any of them before?
SC: I think we played with Dirty Nil a looong time ago. They played “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin! We haven’t really played around with any of the bands, but we are VERY excited and feel SO LUCKY that they are taking us out on the road and takin’ us to school! “Back 2 School Tour 2017: Ernest Goes Back to School”!
VW: I’m going to pull a minor Nardwuar and point out a small Vancouver connection you have: You put out your first releases, the “All to Myself” 7-inch and a split cassette with the Shakey Aches, on Toronto’s Hosehead Records in 2012. A couple of years later, one-half of its founders, Patrick McEachnie, moved to Vancouver and essentially started a west coast branch. Did your relationship with the folks at Hosehead go beyond putting out a couple of records with them? Did you all party together in Toronto? Hang out together at shows?
SC: Yeah! Pat [McEachnie], Mikey [Simpson] (also of Hosehead), and I had a podcast when I first moved out [to Toronto], and we hung out and went to shows all the time, but then Pat moved out west. I still hang out with Mikey all the time though. He’s one of my closest pals because we both like complaining. Mikey’s record collection is absolutely insane, and whoever gets to hang out in his living room and listen to it should consider themselves fortunate.
VW: Are there cool stories behind how the band linked up with Dine Alone or Burger Records? How vastly different were their operations compared to what you were used to? Did anything surprise you?
SC: Totally! We first met Lee [Rickard] from Burger when we opened for a Redd Kross show in Toronto. We were smoking weed out back and eating cookies, and he came and hung out and then liked our set, and they’ve been looking out for us ever since. They are the best, and we always wanted to be on Burger Records.
Same goes for Dine Alone. I’ve wanted to be on that label since I was 18 years old. It’s still insane to me that we’re working together. I just sent them our new album, and they liked what they heard! We’re working closely with them now, and it’s a total dream come true.
VW: Many musicians reject being termed “retro” even if their music is very obviously inspired by the classics. “We put our own spin on the classics!” they say. Do you care if people call you retro? Do you view yourselves as putting your own spin on the classics? On the flipside, many musicians totally own just playing good ol’, straight-up rock ‘n’ roll. I’m guessing you don’t sweat it; after all, you made an entire album that’s steeped in the theme of nostalgia.
SC: I love being called retro. That’s what we’re going for! We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel over here; we’re just trying to make good songs that will last the test of time. I guess anything we do is putting our own spin on them, but we definitely set out to make a big classic-rock radio record. The end goal is to open for Cheap Trick.
VW: What can people who’ve never witnessed Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs expect at your show? What can they expect live that they just won’t get from the records?
SC: Watching a 29-year-old adult pushing himself to his physical limits (which are low) for the sake of applause and praise! We leave it all out on the stage, and we’re going to certainly have to try extra hard to set it up for Dirty Nil and Flatliners. They make it look incredibly easy though. We still look like we are trying extremely hard.
VW: The band is crossing Canada for the first time. Have you been doing anything specific to prepare, mentally or physically? Has anyone bestowed any particularly sage advice upon you? What do’s and don’t’s have you heard most frequently?
SC: Quitting our damn jobs! Buying duffel bags and looking up weather forecasts! We’ve pretty much set up places to stay in almost every city, and we’re even going camping at Jasper Park for two days! It’s going to be fun, and I’m excited to see how we stand up to it. I’m bringing extra antibiotics. Serge [Da Silva] from Trigger Effect and Turbo Haüs told us to always be on time which is something we take VERY seriously. We are adults and don’t want to fuck around, we wanna be pros!
Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs play Venue Nightclub with the Flatliners and the Dirty Nil on Saturday, June 3rd. Tickets are $20 +s/c at Red Cat Records (both locations), Zulu Records, and Neptoon Records.