Ben SirGunner Records
By Bobby Gorman on April 7, 2017 at Email
Worst Days Down are no stranger to the road. The band, which features current and former members of The Old Sins, Audio Rocketry, Fire Next Time and many more, has cut their chops touring across the cold winter backdrop of Western Canada.
Now, just as their sophomore album, Elsewhere, became available – the band took their live show further abroad and joined label mates and fellow Edmontonians Owl By Nature for a European tour to support the album.
We caught up with founding member Ben Sir to ask about the tour, the ever growing Edmonton punk scene and, of course, his obsession with manatees.
- How’d the tour go?
A: Very well, and this is the first moment I’m actually thinking about how it’s over. Our day today started at 5 AM in Rorshach, Switzerland (where we played the final show of the tour,) and in the intervening 17 hours, our guitarist Kevin and I dropped the Owls By Nature guys and our other bandmates at the Frankfurt Airport, the gear in Lünen, (southwest Germany,) the van in Göttingen (central Germany,) and are on a train back to Frankfurt. If my responses sound psychotic and disconnected, that’s probably why.
It was very positive. To be back over here alongside Owls, and with the full band feels fulfilling. Two years ago, Ian from Owls and myself did a five week acoustic tour of Europe, all with the hope that I could return with the band, and perhaps forge a relationship with Gunner Records, who we are now signed with. So to be back here, seeing friends, with a record in hand released on a label we admire is very gratifying.
- How’d the tour come together?
A: It was an intersection of a few things. Ian and I became close friends over the course of that tour a couple years ago, and through him, Worst Days’ relationship with Gunner solidified. Both Owls and WDD have new records on the label, and as is the punk rock M.O, that means time to hit ye olde road. Owls hasn’t been overly active in the past year, and being in need of a rhythm section for tour, our drummer (Jerome,) and bassist (Murphy,) kindly volunteered to fill in and pull double duty on this tour. So it was the best possible scenario, tour the world with friends, keep pushing this album as hard as we can, and prove to Gunner that we are thankful for his support and (hopefully) assure him we aren’t complete idiots.
- Any “disastours” on this tour?
A: There has been a shocking lack of disaster both times I’ve been to Europe, remaining a touring Utopia in my head that I was thrilled to share with the guys this time around. To experience European hospitality for a band of our small level, is flattering and shocking the first time around. I still can’t wrap my head around how or why we are here and that people are enthusiastic to put us up, watch us play, and take care of us. I think the most problematic instant was a member of our tour party getting a q-tip stuck in his ear and needing a unimpressed German doctor to remove it. Really risqué stuff.
- What makes Edmonton scene stick out to you?
As with most people, I think it’s our community. The culturally barren months of winter (at least on paper,) I think creates a strong and bonded ethic that you have to make your own fun, as most sane people don’t think that going through the prairies between November and April is a smart idea.
I think we also have an underdog mentality, in which we know we aren’t getting the same attention Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal are, so what we lack in visibility, we can make up in enthusiasm. I call it The Wunderbar (a now closed pub and venue, RIP) method, that we try to embody at the bar and venue I operate, The Buckingham. It feels good to hear people say they love coming to Edmonton and how surprised some bands are by the hospitality. A scene is only as good as the people that comprise it, and I think we have a wealth of positive and talented folks.
- Why are Edmonton bands making names for themselves?
A: Persistence, positive outlook and support. The most obvious element is sticking with something because you love it. A lot of us have been involved with active bands for many years, and are beginning to enjoy some of the gradual growth that comes along with that. A large part of that is being a kind and positive person while at home and away. No one wants to work with jerks, and when you’re gone, or hosting a band within your city, you are an ambassador of your town and communities.
Going hand in hand with that is supporting those that you care about. The bands and people you love. It can be a small thing like setting your pals up with a place to sleep, or in this instance, having our album passed along to a friend’s label. You want to help your friends succeed.
- What caused the development to full band from acoustic?
That part was always planned, it just happened to take many years. My old band broke up in 2009 and at the time I felt I was playing with my best friends. It didn’t compute to play music with people I wasn’t close with so I started playing acoustically, all with the hope that eventually I’d have another group of pals to play with in the future. After a couple years of performing solo I kept writing songs with full band versions in mind. I missed the sweating, the screaming, but mostly I missed the feeling of being in a van with my friends, laughing at completely asinine things, smoking cigarettes and listening to great music. To quote the timeless classic ‘Happy Gilmore,’ it’s my happy place.
- Does sharing members with other bands impact our potential touring schedules or does it highlight the family atmosphere of Edmonton’s scene?
In theory, yes, but we have done a pretty good job so far of being creative. Often we will tour (at least regionally) with each other and share members. Cuts down on space and expenses by sharing a van, and though some of us will pull double duty, it’s simply funner to be with more of our friends. There’s also no shortage of band pals that we have in town that have kindly filled in when Kevin, Jerome or Murphy have been unavailable. In May we tour Eastward to Pouzza Fest and I’m the only full time member of Worst Days that will be on the road until the festival. We’re very lucky to be supported by great people.
- What effect does your dual citizenship and background have on your music and songwriting?
Up until this album, Worst Days Down was certainly personal and autobiographical. Many of the songs predated the full band lineup, and as such the lyrical content mostly reflected my own background and experiences. I feel very lucky to have grown up both in Canada and The United States, and been exposed to multiple cultural experiences. Driving long distances between Edmonton and Minneapolis yearly was normal to me from an early age and I think really impacted my ability to tour. Movement, travel and distance thematically re-occur throughout the new album, which wasn’t intentional at first. But it’s both largely what I write about, but also where I feel centred and wanting to write the most, while being gone.
- What is the cause of the restlessness found throughout ‘Elsewhere,’ both the song and album?
Most of these songs were written throughout uncertain chapters of my life. When my old band broke up, I knew I wanted to continue playing music but wasn’t sure how. I took a volunteer position in Guatemala to take some time to figure it out. While there I figured my best shot was playing acoustically, despite having no clue how to do so. I learned a lot in those years, and regardless of any setback or lack of talent on my behalf, I knew what I wanted to accomplish. A lot of the songs come from that perspective, of getting out into the world and pursuing what you want regardless of the logic behind it. Some of the later songs (Elsewhere, Heavens No, Entropy, Everything You Never Did,) are almost reactions to those initial songs. ‘Elsewhere’ was a name that I felt tied the albums themes together, and had a similar tone.
The song ‘Elsewhere’ itself is actually about a friend who kept silent for two decades about being sexually abused as a child, and how growth and change, both personal and geographical, could help them work through it.
- How does touring Canada compare to touring to new places such as Europe?
The drives are very long. Coming over to Europe and talking with bands and people is pretty funny, as the drives between cities are nothing for us. To drive eight to twelve hours between shows is totally normal to us, and over here a four hour drive is treated as a nightmare. That said, by the end of this tour I was lamenting 400 km drive, which I will have to rid myself of come May when we head to Montreal.
- Are you excited for Pouzza Fest?
Very excited. The lineup is fantastic and I feel very lucky to be included in it, even as a smaller band. There are plenty of friends bands to see, but other bands that I’m a huge fan of and will be seeing for the first time.
- What keeps you going back? Fondest memory of the festival?
This is the third time I will be at Pouzza Fest, but the first time I’m playing officially. Two years ago when coming back from Europe I played an unofficial acoustic afternoon, and the first year I just attended. My best friend, who lived in Vancouver, and I flew to visit a close friend who lived in Montreal at the time. There are certainly no shortage of brutal hangovers, great shows and wild nights to (try to) remember, but my favorite memories were of that first year just sitting on my friends balcony, smoking cigarettes, having beers and reconnecting with two people I missed greatly, in a beautiful city. In 2015 my favorite memory was having a ton of our friend’s bands over to our rented apartment to make brunch and struggle through the hangovers. Just enjoying good people with the punk rock backdrop that brought us all together.
- How do you, as a smaller band, work to make your set standout amongst the lineup?
Interesting question and certainly one I’m curious about myself. There are so many good bands to see, and being a relatively unknown one, how do we pull people in? I suppose I’ll defer to work ethic. We’re touring hard and trying to get our names out there in order for people to hear the album, which they will hopefully enjoy. Thus far the response has been extremely positive, and my confidence hasn’t been shattered, but we’re also lucky to have good people working with us. The New Ground Agency in Canada has been helping with booking and connecting with bands, Gunner has been great with his support, and we’ve been working with a publicist named Melanie Kaye who kindly took us on as a client despite our low profile. We’re lucky to have people in our corner, and our part of the bargain is to work hard and be nice.
- What makes Pouzza stand out amongst other punk festivals?
The city itself. Quebec is such a unique culture, and Montreal is it’s crown jewel. I had never been to Europe before going to my first Pouzza, and it was like walking into a time warp. The old buildings, the cultural priorities that differ from Alberta. Don’t get me wrong, I love Gainesville, but what’s cool about Fest is it takes place in such a small town when it’s vacant due to the college football game. Montreal is an international destination and cultural hub, so I feel it amplifies the experience and with a unique cultural spin.
- Have you tried Pouzza?
This may be sacrilege (sacra-licious?) but I have not, and truthfully have no desire to. I’m not a huge food person in general, and though the concept is hilarious to me, I do enough bad things to my body already.
- What’s with the manatee obsession?
How much time do you have? It’s been a lifelong thing and I don’t know what or why it started, but I know it was in the 3rd grade. I still have a papermaché manatee I made in the fourth grade in my apartment. I just wrote out a novel-length response and realized that most people will think I’m insane, so I will say this: they make me happy and always have. Their biggest threat is being hit by motorboats, partially due to their curiosity and willingness to interact with humans. For my 30th birthday I wanted to do something personally fulfilling so I drove from Edmonton to Crystal River, Florida with a friend. I was in a dark place at the time, and needing to do something for myself. It was my third attempt to swim with manatees, and the first successful one. In many ways Manatees make no sense (they have no predators and don’t prey on anything,) and we were told that our interaction was up to the manatee. I split off from the group and a 10 month old baby sought me out, swam inches away from me, stared me in the eyes, and began to pet my shoulder. It was the happiest moment of my life. Thank you for indulging my obsession.