Saturday, October 15, 2005

BOY: An Interview with Stephen Kozmeniuk

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Contributed by David Dedrick
I met Stephen Kozmeniuk in the odd confines of the Abbotsford Ag-Rec Centre – basically a gigantic barn built for agricultural fairs. While waiting for him, I was able to watch the road crew struggle with the sound mix, but I doubt they were able to do much with it in that huge, hangar-like structure with its corrugated metal walls. In fairness to the venue, it wasn’t built to house rock fans; it was built to house cattle (although that may be a distinction too subtle for some).

Boy’s debut album was essentially a solo album – Kozmeniuk wrote, produced and mostly played all the instruments himself (he plays guitar, keyboards, bass, drums and can fake it on a myriad of other instruments). It’s a delightful mélange of straight-ahead rock and baroque-pop – accent on the sixties. On the excellent Every Page You Turn, Boy’s newest record, Kozmeniuk has put together a band and stripped his sound down to rock’n’roll essentials, which is not to say it’s no longer eclectic – “People Come On” and “Same Old Song” harkens back to the jangle-pop sound of the Beatles or the Byrds; Dark Side/Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd can be heard in “A Line To Stand Behind” and “The New Number Two”; and no one could miss the Rolling Stones in “Diamonds”. Fortunately, Kozmeniuk isn’t a slave to his influences; while some of his favourite music may influence him, his own musical personality is strong enough to take his songs in new and surprising directions. My personal fave-rave track, “Black Cat”, a mellow country-rock/r&b strum-along, is lifted into the stratosphere by this great honky-tonk piano banging away in the background – that takes musical imagination.

When I talked to Kozmeniuk, he had just arrived after a ten-hour drive from Prince George. He was exhausted from the rigours of touring and battling a drawn-out cold; nevertheless, he was extremely gracious and kindly consented to this interview. We adjourned to a small anteroom to escape the AC/DC-blaring road crew where, wearing a toque and a slim-fitting coat to fight the chill of the arena, he answered the following questions.

Swanktrendz: So how’s the tour going so far?

Stephen Kozmeniuk: It’s definitely a different crowd than what we’re used to playing for – the Collective Soul crowd.

ST: Really? I’m not very familiar with them. Are they hard rock?

SK: They’re pretty pop - mainstream radio kind of band, adult contemporary. So, it’s a lot of older…adults. We’re used to clubs and younger people.

ST: Well, we’re big fans of your cds at ST.

SK: Oh, thanks.

ST: The first one was really eclectic and fun. Your new one’s still fun, but less eclectic – more straight-ahead rock and roll, definitely a West Coast sound.

SK: Yeah, that’s really where I was coming from. I mean, we did it out here; a lot of the guys in the band were from out here.

ST: Where was the first one made?

SK: It was done in Whitehorse and part of it was done in Edmonton. But I was seventeen then, I was pretty young.

ST: Well, that can be good: you don’t know any rules, there’s nothing to stop you from doing what you want.

SK: Yeah, but then we tried to tour the record and it proved to be really hard.

ST: Hard to perform on stage?

SK: Yeah, you really couldn’t do it when it all came down to it. You had to have a twelve-person orchestra and you had to be pulling in five or six thousand a night plus, and that’s hard for a new band.

ST: Sure.

SK: And it, really, honestly, just wasn’t that fun to play live. It was pretty boring.

ST: It’s more fun to play rock?

SK: Yeah, it is, it’s more fun to play rock and roll. It’s something you can perform and get into. I’d like to do something more experimental like that again. I think the next record will be-not like the first record, but not like this record.

ST: But that’s good, you’re supposed to change and progress. Would you say your influences changed between your first record and this record? Did you change what you’re listening to?

SK: No, not really. It was pretty much the same: old Beatles and Stones, Pink Floyd and The Who and whoever else. I find that the records I like to listen to are kind of all over the place, but it seems that, nowadays, people’s attention spans are just shot. I think the media is the number one reason why people are idiots now.

ST: You blame the media.

SK: Well, sure. I mean, look at the TV, look at the Press – how they sensationalize things in crazy ways.

ST: And simplify things in other ways.

SK: Exactly. What do they tell a newspaper reporter? To write to a twelve year old’s reading level. And they definitely shoot for that. They want people to easily understand things and not really give a lot of insight. And TV, man, I can’t even handle watching TV. I don’t know. Have you seen TV lately?

ST: So what you’re telling me is there’s going to be no Boy: The Band reality show?

SK: We have this great idea to do this mockumentary – not quite like Spinal Tap, more like The Office.

ST: Ah yes, great show. Was this album different because you were working with a band and not by yourself?

SK: There was another guy in on the other record, as well.

ST: I just noticed from the credits that you are one of those people that play lots of instruments.

SK: Yeah, I can’t really. I just pick it up and figure it out.

ST: That’s a skill not everyone has.

SK: It is [different] because the band came along. I would have had a band sooner, but growing up in the Yukon it’s kind of hard…it’s tough to find a band.

ST: Let’s talk about that a bit because you must have been a little…different than the people you grew up with.

SK: Oh, definitely.

ST: One of things musicians face, I mean, all musicians face this, is the reason you’re a good musician is because you spent a lot of time in your bedroom strumming your guitar or whatever.

SK: Oh yeah, girlfriends hated it; parents were like, “Do your schoolwork.” My girlfriend’s like, “What are you doing? Spend time with me.” And my friends are like, “Dude, let’s go out for some beers. Let’s go get high.” I wasn’t really into that; I spent a lot of time in my room playing music. I was totally different. People don’t understand why you like to do it. It’s something that’s truly amazing and probably kept me out of a lot of trouble growing up.

ST: The ability to write a song – to have a song pop into your head – is something beyond my ken.

SK: I think it’s an extremely exciting process. It can be the most frustrating thing that you can ever go through and the most intense. That’s how I find it. You’re kind of going blind for so long and then, just all of a sudden, after all that darkness, that all of sudden something just pops in there, you know. And that’s why you do it. That’s why you put yourself through this whole struggle.

ST: That’s why that whole birth metaphor to art is pretty common, I guess.

SK: Yeah, exactly, exactly.

ST: How did you end up on Maple Music?

SK: I released the first record under a different label [Bumstead Records], and then I played some stuff to the A&R guy there – he’s just a friend – and he really liked it. He said he wanted to put it out, wanted to show it to the label. He was just a friend, you know.

ST: Networking – so important.

SK: It is. I never think of it as networking. But it is.

ST: How did you hook up with Brenndan Macguire - through the label?

SK: No, he’s a friend.

ST: He’s worked with Sloan, I know. Didn’t he produce the American Flag?

SK: Yeah, he’s done some stuff for them. I think they were working on some new stuff. I heard it and it sounded really good – better than anything else they’ve done.

ST: I love their first album. That’s why I brought it up. They kind of disappeared.

SK: I think Brenndan went to Toronto and worked on some stuff recently. Brenndan’s an interesting dude too.

ST: It’s the story with so many Canadian indie bands. They do some great stuff, but you’ve got to work or work at it or just disappear…

SK: Yeah, it’s a tough go, man.

ST: Sorry if I’m being depressing.

SK: No, I think it’s something totally worthy of talking about: the state of Canadian music. I think it’s fantastic. There’s tons of great music coming out of Canada – tons of hype coming, but then, you know, actual results coming too. I think something people don’t understand is when they think they see a band that’s doing really awesome, chances are they probably aren’t doing that awesome. It’s weird. It seems to actually really make it in Canada, you have to…I don’t think there’s any point in releasing a record in Canada before you’ve released a record somewhere else – especially an indie band. Look at Sam Roberts, he can’t do anything in another country – he can hardly get a release in another country. And if it does, it’s selling 800 copies. But then you look at The Dears, they can’t sell anything in Canada, but then you look at them in the UK and the States and they’re doing way better. The Stills; it’s the exact same thing. I mean, they’re selling out huge places in the States, but in Canada, they’re doing small clubs. It’s a weird, “eat your young” mentality in Canada. I mean, Canada’s an awesome place, but we have a weird attitude towards art.

ST: It’s a perverted modesty – we can’t seem to proclaim ourselves or our own.

SK: That’s totally it.

ST: It’s a double-edged sword though, isn’t it? You want an audience at your shows – you want your fans there, you want your smart fans that will understand what you’re singing to them, but you also want to sell your records. So then you get the guys who are there to be seen…

SK: To get drunk. You know, one thing I thought was amazing: we just got back from Japan a little while ago and no one gets drunk at shows. It is amazing. It’s so different from Canada. You know, in Canada, it’s about selling beer at a concert, not selling a band at a concert. The whole experience of just going to a concert, it’s just about getting hammered.

ST: And yelling.

SK: And yelling. In Japan, the only guy yelling in the crowd – you know, yelling stupid stuff - kept shouting he was from Brampton, Ontario – the only Canadian in there. I thought it was funny. It doesn’t matter who you are. I saw a million bands in Japan…

(Another band member walking by shouts out: “It’s art, man!”)

SK: The whole crowd, they almost hang on every word you say. You get crazy applause right after you play, and then the whole crowd is dead quiet. They hang on every word. I saw that happen to Oasis; I saw that happen at The Black Crows; even bands like Slipknot, you know…Duran Duran.

ST: The fans are waiting outside already [It was 4:30 – three and half hours from showtime].

SK: Yeah, these Collective Soul gigs have been packed. It’s insane. Every show’s been sold out.

ST: This is a weird venue [basically a cattle barn].

SK: They’ve been doing secondary markets. I think they’ve been touring Canada, hitting all the main markets. And now they’re doing things like Prince George, Grand Prairie, which don’t usually get shows. Which is kind of cool because they’ve been some of the best shows, I think. It’s weird being the opening band. It’s awesome though; it’s a really cool tour and everybody’s having a pretty good time. I lost my voice at the beginning of the tour. First day, I got a cold and I’m still getting over it. My top range is gone right now. I’ve been doing this for a really long time now – day after day. It starts to wreck you after a while.

ST: When you get back, do you recharge or do you have to kick yourself in the butt and get back to work?

SK: You need to recharge, but you never really get to. As soon as you get back you’ve got a million things to do you let go. Usually there’s a good week of work that you have to do and then maybe try to get some sleep again, as much as you can, which is definitely a good thing.

ST: All right. Well, thanks for your time.

SK: Thank you.

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